Top 4 Ways Spending Money Can Make You Happy

Money: you can’t take it with you when you die, so what to do with it after you’ve brought home all that bacon*?

Money Bag73% of Americans die in debt, yet only 7% of people with debt think they are going to take it to the grave. Clearly we’re okay (and a wee bit naïve) with spending beyond our means and beyond our years, so if we’re just going to burn holes in our pockets anyways, is there a way to do it well?

Money can’t buy us love (that lasts), but studies show the ways we spend it can buy us a bit of a well-being boost.

Here are 4 nuggets of spend-till-you’re happy wisdom: 

  1. Spending money on others makes us happier. Studies show that personal spending is unrelated to happiness, but people who spend more money on gifts for others and charity donations are happier– even after controlling for their income. I’m going to retype that first point: personal spending is unrelated to happiness. So that feel-good twingle you get when you click “Add to Cart” for a new pair of slippers is momentary, fleeting. The feel-good twingle you get when you give your friend an unexpected half-birthday gift**? Kind of lasting.
  2. Spending money on experiences makes us happier. Way more people report getting happy from an experience they bought—like a vacation to Kauai or a How to Make Tamales Once and For All cooking class—than people who bought material goods. With experiences, we can anticipate them and savor them after the fact. I know a lot of people who love their Louboutins, but they’d technically have been happier if they’d spent the $725 on an Airbnb overnight getaway in the country, canoodling with a special someone in front of a roaring fireplace.
  3. Spending money on something we’ll enjoy later makes us happier. That anticipatory principle is a serious big deal. Signing up for a yoga retreat that’s 3 months away and excitedly waiting for that first sun salutation on the beach—that’s a recipe for happiness… more so than buying the retreat and departing for it that night. Knowing you have cake in the fridge will make you happier to have it later—like for dessert tomorrow night—than if you just demolish it the minute you frost it. (This is asking a lot, I know.)
  4. Spending money on frequent small pleasures makes us happier than the big happiness hits. We’re wired to adapt to everything amazing, everything awful, and everything in between—this is just a thing we do because we’re human. One big happiness-inducing purchase a year won’t hold a candle to a bunch of spaced out, smaller, cheap-and-cheerful purchases. Novelty jostles that adaptive response. The regular drip of small, special things that make you happy, like a box of stationary here, a new scarf there… spaced through the year, will add up in happiness points more than one big thing like a fancy new car.

Whether you plan to die broke—perfectly timing your last breath with a $0.01 bank balance—or you’re one of the 59% of people out there who plan to give your little pile of cash away when you die—the ways you spend your hard-earned money until you get to the grave just might make you happier.

I’m off to buy a card and half-sized gift for The Husband’s half-birthday. And I will resist the urge to buy new bunny slippers for myself.

*We’ll talk in another post about how much money you need to be happy. It might be less bacon than you think.

**Please tell me you feel inspired to start celebrating half-birthdays. Guys… life is too short to not have two birthday cakes a year.

Jodi Wellman

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