The other day a client asked me if she had enough money.  My response was “what is the purpose of the money?”  At first my question caught her off guard.  She did not get what I was asking so I explained with a story.

When I was in Palau, Micronesia I went exploring in the jungle and came across a large circular stone (about six feet across).  It had obviously been carved because there was a one foot hole in the center.  At first I thought it might be a grinding stone commonly seen as part of a wind or water mill.  But knowing that the islands don’t have wheat or grains to be ground, I knew that this was unlikely.  Upon returning to the nearby village I asked a local what the big round stone was and he said it’s “stone money.”

Being the President of the National Bank, I figured it would be prudent to quickly learn about this local currency before someone came in asking for change.  It turns out that Palau was the quarrying site for the Stone Money of Yap (an island chain about 280 miles to the north).

Now picture this, you need some money to buy a house, banana tree or whatever someone on a tropical island might need.  To get some money you jumped in your outrigger canoe and paddle hundreds of miles across the open ocean without the aid of GPS or even a compass.  If you actually found the right spec in the ocean (there was always the strong chance that you paddled hundreds of miles slightly off course and ended up at the wrong spec) then you had the pleasure of sitting in an uninhabited jungle banging on a piece of stone with another stone.  Frankly, it would make today’s reality shows look like romper-room.

After months of banging a stone into a circle, you would be ready to take your newly minted money home.  Keep in mind, there is no billfold big enough to hold this currency but that is where the hole in the center comes in handy.  You simply stand the stone up on an edge and insert a log into the hole.  Now you can wheel your money down to the outrigger Barney Rubble style.

You think the trip down was difficult, just imagine paddling back with a few extra hundred pounds strapped to the side of your canoe.  One bad storm and you were a mini Titanic.   Actually, it was how close you became to being a Titanic that determined the value of the stone.  Most people think it was the size that mattered but actually it was the motion of the Ocean that determined the value of your stone (I had always wondered where that saying came from 🙂 ).

If the trip back was exceptionally difficult; lots of storms, shark attacks, and crew members perished… then the stone was considered significantly more valuable compared to a stone that was leisurely paddled the 280 miles back.

My client liked the story but didn’t get the connection.  I explained that money has many shapes and forms but essentially comes down to the value you place on something.  The something can be tangible like a house or car.  The something can be intangible like time or piece of mind.  Furthermore, everyone places different values on the “something” i.e. some people place great value on designer labels and others could care less.  So again, I asked her “what is your money for” and I could see the gears starting to turn in her head.  Then I said “once you know what your money is for then you can determine if you have enough.”