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The Psychology of Greed: Why People Pursue Money at Any Cost

10 Mins read
Illustration showing the psychology of greed

The pursuit of money and material possessions is commonplace in today’s modern society.

For some people, this pursuit can become an all-consuming obsession that leads to unethical or even illegal behaviours.

This behaviour is what we refer to as greed, and it is a complex psychological phenomenon that has been the subject of much research and debate.

Greed holds much power in influencing human interactions and as someone that is a part of society, you are most likely not new to it.

What then is greed?  

In this article, we explore the psychology of greed and why some people are willing to pursue money at any cost, even if it means compromising their own values and relationships.

We also examine the negative consequences of this behaviour and offer suggestions for overcoming the grip of greed.

What is Greed?

Greed according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (such as money) than is needed.”

The keyword here is “excessive”.

Excessive connotes that something has gone beyond normal to the extent of harm.

Eating food is good and healthy but excessive eating leads to health challenges. Drinking water is definitely good and recommended but excessive drinking of water could lead to hyponatremia which can be life-threatening. In the same way, an excessive desire for anything leads to challenges.

Greed can be associated with anything (food, social status, power, relationships, etc) but in this case, we will look at greed as it relates to money.

You might ask; “How is the desire for money wrong? We need money to survive. The more money you have, the more you are able to meet your needs. So why then is desiring more money associated with excessive? When does money become too much?”

Brief History of Greed

Greed is a universal human experience that has been present throughout history. It can be traced back to ancient philosophical and religious texts, where it was often regarded as a vice or a sin.

In many cultures, greed is associated with excess, and it is considered to be a destructive force that can lead to personal and social harm.

According to a journal published in Academia, the history of greed can be traced back to the development of human civilization. In early societies, resources were limited, and individuals had to compete for access to food, shelter, and other basic necessities. This competition led to the development of a “survival of the fittest” mentality, and also set a momentum where humans were driven to acquire more resources than their peers to ensure their survival and prosperity.

As societies became more complex, the pursuit of wealth and power became more institutionalized. The rise of capitalism in the Western world in the 16th and 17th centuries created a culture that celebrated individualism and the accumulation of wealth. This economic system placed a premium on the pursuit of profit and encouraged individuals to pursue self-interest above all else.

Today, the pursuit of wealth and material possessions continues to be a dominant force in many societies. According to a report by Oxfam, the world’s 2,153 billionaires hold more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of the global population. This vast inequality has been attributed to the pursuit of profit at the expense of social and environmental well-being.

The history of greed is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that has its roots in the earliest stages of human development. While the pursuit of wealth and power can be a source of motivation and innovation, it can also be a destructive force that perpetuates inequality and harm.

Why are people greedy?

Greed is considered to be part of human nature and there are different opinions about if it should be termed good or bad since it has driven innovation that improved society in some ways.

It is believed that greed-geared capitalism helped improve the social status of poor people who were able to work their way into better ways of living.

Here are some reasons people are greedy.


People need money. They want to be able to meet their needs and take care of themselves and their families. Poor people always have unmet needs and there is an ever-increasing stack of challenges that requires money to be solved.

Sometimes, they go as far as borrowing to meet their needs and end up borrowing to pay their debts. It is an unending cycle of lack. This forces them to pursue money at all costs because they have limited options.


People who are not contented are always dissatisfied with their lives irrespective of the level they are at or what they have. They are in a perpetual state of want and this influences how they pursue money and the need to make money. 

Unmet emotional needs

Greed can stem from emotional trauma and unmet needs. In a bid to replace the emptiness of emotional distress, a person can attempt to use objects or possessions. What happens if this becomes an addiction or there isn’t enough money to fund this habit? A constant need to get money.


Envy often works alongside greed. People who are envious of others are usually greedy. They want to have things that are not theirs, lives they don’t have access to yet and they are determined to do anything to make that happen. Anything includes going to great lengths to have money without considering the means. They convince themselves that the end justifies the means.


People who have a sense of insecurity do not consider what they have enough. They always compare themselves with other people and end up feeling inadequate. They want to measure up to a certain standard and this drives an excessive desire to make money.

How does greed affect your relationship with money?

Remember the keyword in our definition of greed — excessive.

The excessive desire for money is not a good approach to building wealth.

Making more money will always be a need because asides from taking care of your personal finance and gaining financial freedom, you might want to build generational wealth for your children.

This means you have to do more than usual to set the ball rolling. But the need for money ought to be in check, just enough to keep you safe from making financial decisions that are detrimental to your money goals. 

The relationship between greed and money has never been a good one. It comes with an illusion of more money but in the long run, you are creating unhealthy money habits and losing money.

Have you ever been a victim of Ponzi schemes? Why do you think that despite the outcomes people still fall victim?

There are good and legitimate reasons to need more money but have you checked if that desire is fueled by greed? When greed becomes the basis of your financial decisions, it causes more harm than good and you may never come to that point you think you have enough.

Greed only leads to more greed and it’s an endless loop.   

Effects of Greed

1. Poverty

You might be wondering how the excessive desire for money leads to poverty. When desire leads to desperation, it causes wrong decisions. For greedy people, this need to get rich quickly often overpowers their ability to make logical decisions. This leads to making uninformed financial decisions that result in losing the little money you already have.

2. Debt

Greed can be a source of debt. When you borrow money to meet up with a certain lifestyle, it puts you in a bad position financially. It is obvious that you don’t have enough money to meet that standard of living, how do you intend to pay for it? Also borrowing money to invest in schemes that might not be legit because it promises to give you 10x your money in 5 days is ridiculous. What happens when they aren’t able to deliver on their promises?

3. Loss of human capital

It might seem far-fetched but nobody wants to be associated with a greedy person who has an unhealthy desire for money. This means that greed isolates you from a network of people who can influence you into making better decisions. It becomes difficult to navigate through situations that require people that can help.

4. Hoarding

Have you ever met someone who keeps money without any plan? They keep saving and saving endlessly but not with the goal to build wealth. Fueled by lack and in a bid to reduce lack, they neither spend nor invest the money they keep. It is difficult for a person with this mindset to beat poverty. 

5. Susceptibility to fraud

An excessive desire to make money quickly makes you susceptible to fraud and sham schemes. You’ll meet people with ridiculous and unreasonable terms that prey on your desperation. 

6. Unhealthy money habits

Greed leads to unhealthy money habits like gambling, betting, excessive shopping, etc. Why do you think people gamble and bet even when it is clearly not good for them? A consequence of discontentment is being in situations where you have to spend above your budget or satisfy habits that are detrimental to your financial health.

7. Entitlement

Have you ever met an entitled person? They believe they have a right to everything including people’s money. When people are driven by greed, they are quick to look for money anywhere including feeling entitled to the income of their family, friends, and superiors. They believe they deserve what they didn’t work for. 

8. Overspending

Ironically, people who want to have money tend to spend money. Remember that greed doesn’t only relate to money alone. Greed for power, social status, possessions, food, etc can influence your spending habits to an unhealthy level. 

9. Anxiety

A constant and excessive desire for what you don’t have will result in anxiety. Always in a state of worrying about how to get what you want and keep with the standard of living you’ve set for yourself. Anxiety can lead to making bad decisions and might even result in bigger health challenges that require you to spend money. 

10. Defrauding people

We cannot talk about how greed affects people without mentioning that it puts you in a position to hurt the people around you. A greedy person is more likely to be dishonest in their dealings with people especially as it relates to finance. They become manipulative and would do anything to meet their needs including defrauding people of their hard-earned money. 

How do you escape this cycle?

Greed has existed for as long as society itself. Humans have always been greedy and always will be. But seeing that being greedy doesn’t leave you in the best of circumstances especially as it relates to your relationship with money, how then can you break out of this cycle and start building a life for yourself that will put you on a path to financial freedom?

Have the right mindset

The first step is having the right mindset towards money and your desire for it. Do you even believe greed is wrong and has adverse consequences? Having the right mindset and knowing that there are lengths you can’t go for money will help you make the other decisions that will bring you out of this cycle.

Evaluate yourself

The next step is self-evaluation. Sit down and ask yourself questions.

  • Why do you do the things you do? 
  • Why are you interested in making money?
  •  What is your goal for making money? 
  • How much do you think will be enough for you?
  •  How far can you go to make money?
  •  Are there limits you can’t reach in pursuit of money?
  •  What is that thing you would do anything for?

Asking yourself questions and answering them honestly will give you an idea of what motivates you and your disposition toward money in general. 

Seek professional help

Sometimes our behaviours can be traced back to trauma and experiences that were left unchecked. Growing up in poverty or not having access to some experiences in life can lead to certain behavioural patterns that affect the way you view money. After evaluating yourself and honestly answering these questions, it is important to seek professional help.

Have a plan

Having a plan implies that you know what you want your life to be about and what you need to do to make that happen. Why are you looking for money? Is it just to gain financial freedom or do you want to build generational wealth? How do you intend to use the money from your income to make this happen? Having a plan gives you a sense of direction and ensures you are not easily veered off your path.

Have multiple sources of income

What better way to come out of greed than having your own money? How does this work? Have a source of income. Develop valuable skills you can exchange for money. When you’ve established one source of income, go ahead to look for other ways you can make money. This way you are certain that you’re able to meet your needs without putting yourself or others in harm’s way. Also, there is a sense of responsibility that comes with handling the money you work for.

Financial education

People make a lot of bad money decisions because they are not knowledgeable about money and the way it works. If money can affect a person’s life so much, it is only wise you learn about it. Read about people who have the kind of life you desire. What did they do and how can you incorporate those lessons into your life? Follow financial education blogs like Cowrywise and learn. Just keep learning.

Set money goals

Now, as you’re knowing about yourself, you have a source of income and you’re learning about money, it is also important to set money goals for yourself. Ask yourself: How much do I earn and what do I want to do with it? How much will I spend daily or weekly? I want to buy land in 5 years, how do I achieve that? Have a budget to help you keep up with these goals. Not only will you be able to track your expenses, but you will be happy seeing the life you want for yourself coming to play.

Network with the right people

People are generally influenced by other people. If you are trying to change a habit, it is important to be around people who live the kind of life you want to live. That way you see how they manage situations and what lessons you can learn from them.

Save and invest

To get over greed, you need to be in a place where you are not selfish and excessively desire money. For that to happen, you need to have a sense of security. Saving and investing help you build that sense of financial security and you don’t need to be in a constant state of need when you have a financial backup.

Be content

This is as important as anything, don’t get carried away by everything you see. Being content with what you have irrespective of whatever standard you see around you will help you be a better person.


Greed can manifest itself in different ways and for different reasons but the ultimate goal is to become a better person who doesn’t only think about themselves but also about the wellbeing of others around them. A life not driven by greed is possible and it starts with the right mindset and a sense of financial security.

Start building that life now with Cowrywise


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