Money might not make the world go around, but it sure does lie at the heart of many of life's biggest decisions, such as what job to get, when to buy a home and when to retire.
Attitudes to money develop over time, shaped by our own values, those of our parents and the broader society we live in.
To understand how someone thinks about money, then, is to get a glimpse not only of their bank account, but a deeper understanding of who they are as a person.
And so to a fascinating study released this week on Indigenous attitudes to money.
The study is the first of its kind, funded by NAB and conducted by the University of NSW's Centre for Social Impact in conjunction with the First Nations Foundation.
Researchers surveyed 564 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders online and conducted a further 56 face-to-face sessions in two remote communities in northern Australia.
First, to the obvious: Indigenous people don't, on average, have much money. Indeed, half of all Indigenous people experience high levels of financial stress, compared with just one in 10 of the broader Australian community.
Our nation's first people struggle disproportionately to pay bills and are more frequent users of high-cost credit sources such as payday lenders. It's a disgrace. And we should do so much better.
More interesting, though, were the responses people gave researchers to the question: "What does 'wealth' or 'being rich' mean to you?"
To most Australians, the question might immediately conjure thoughts about home ownership or the size of their super nest eggs.
And this was true for some Indigenous people. But for many, their thinking was completely different.
"Wealth was more commonly perceived in non-monetary terms, such as caring for family," the researchers found. "Few participants expressed a desire to be rich or have a large amount of money. Instead, wealth was described as an absence of stress or worry about money, or as being able to provide for others."
The importance of family and community to Indigenous life shone through, with three-quarters of respondents saying they had shared money with family, and nearly half saying their family helped them with money "often" or "a lot".
Ian Hamm is a Yorta Yorta man and chairman of the Indigenous financial literacy body the First Nations Foundation. He says Indigenous people have a unique cultural attitude to money.
"Aboriginal people think of ourselves as a collective," Hamm explained to my colleague Natassia Chrysanthos this week. "That has many strengths but also comes with obligations. One of those is that you share what you have."
The researchers found the practice of "humbugging", or asking family for money, is common in Indigenous communities. This could be a source of support, but also a drag on an individual's desires to get ahead financially.
"Saving money and investing in large or long-term purchases can be difficult in a culture in which the individual and wealth accumulation are not always highly valued," they found
So, should we be re-educating Indigenous communities to be more selfish with their money? We might think twice before reaching that conclusion.
As one financial capability worker who assisted with the study notes: "Aboriginal people have already lost so much of their culture, and to discourage them from sharing is to lose more of that culture ... we want to work to fostering an attitude with clients of sharing and caring while also planning a future where they don't have to worry about money."
Indeed, there may even be much for non-Indigenous people to learn about money from the Indigenous culture.
Amid a popular feeling that our relentless race for economic growth and wealth is simultaneously leaving some behind and driving others to distraction, it may be worth spending some time listening to the quiet voice of Indigenous Australians on the meaning of money.
As the researchers found, Indigenous people often equated "wealth" with having enough to share.
"Having money was considered desirable because it helped participants to 'help other families', 'give out money to [their] siblings', 'give to poor people' and fund programs (e.g., to reduce youth crime)," they found.
"Wealth was spoken of as a metaphor for family, community, culture and knowledge. More important than paying bills, one participant conveyed, was 'knowledge learnt and shared'.
"To this participant, it was this kind of wealth that made them 'rich physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually'. Wealth was 'nothing to do with money', for they were 'rich with love because of [their] family'."
"Another participant wrote that, while 'being rich' meant 'cash' by definition, it 'should be what else you have in your life??, like love and family'. For another, 'wealth [wa]s seeing others flourish'.
Australia's economy today is the envy of the world, with strong opportunities for jobs and wealth creation. And there is much work to do to ensure our first peoples share in those opportunities.
But amid the modern malaise of overwork, stress and debt-fuelled consumption, we might also learn a lot from our first peoples about the true purpose of money.
As we seek to put Indigenous Australians on a more equal footing, and rightly give them better access to the benefits of today's economic opportunities, we should also save space in our national conversation for this Indigenous perspective on what it truly means to be a rich nation.
To live comfortably, yes; but to also use our wealth to care for those in need and forge stronger communities.
The true sharing economy was under our noses the whole time.
- SMH/The Age