Okay, bear with me here. It’s true, money provides a whole lot of problems, and that’s well known in psychology studies. There’s even a term for the phenomenon of “money misery,” describing the feeling of never being satisfied; in our society, we never feel like we have enough — enough clothes, enough Instagram followers, enough money. Once we reach a goal, we immediately make a new one. And all of that can be attributed to this chase for more money.
So, to clarify, happiness is not dependent on money. Potential to be happy does not increase with your salary. Haven’t you heard Notorious B.I.G? Mo’ money, mo’ problems! But what if we rewired our idea of the happiness and money relationship to think that more money does not equal more happiness, but instead, the money you already have can be rearranged and budgeted to help you be happy? No matter your income, money can be used to give you a healthier, easier lifestyle, depending on what is best for you. And that’s bound to make you happy. Here’s how to use your money to buy happiness (kind of):
Rethink your spending habits.
I’m guessing you already have a budget (and if you don’t, that’s a different story!). No matter the size of your salary, you know the cost for rent, utilities, groceries, benefits, bills, etc. You have your payment plans for student loans or debts, and you budget. So I’m guessing you also have a spending budget that you allow yourself.
In order to use money to buy happiness, you must first know what you spend this money on. Do you order Postmates for dinner a few nights a week? Do you buy a matcha latte every morning, or craft beer when you’re out on weekends? Do you Uberpool to work when you don’t feel like taking the bus? Do you buy a new sweater, or spend $300 on Nordstrom’s Anniversary sale?
The only relevance of knowing what you’re spending your money on (however much or little that is) is not to judge your spending habits, but rather to think about if these things are really making you happy. Are they bringing you peace, content, ease, and lasting joy? If they are, good for you! But if not, maybe reconsider your spending to get rid of all the things that don’t make you happy, to provide for the things that will.
Reevaluate the items that bring you happiness
We’ve all had the experience of coming upon a new purse or dress and feeling like we just need to have it. After however much or little deliberation (no judgment), we buy it, and then are on a shopping high for about a day or two when we get to wear our brand new item. However, we also all know the moment when the shopping high comes down and the newness becomes normalized. This item is no longer exciting or making you happy, and you even start seeing it as just another thing in your closet, as you pine after Madewell’s new collection or the dress you saw in Nordstrom’s store window.
This is what they mean when they say money can’t buy happiness. Possessions are fleeting, and we have trouble appreciating what we have.
But that’s not always the case. Make a list of the things you really truly love — the hobbies that bring you enjoyment time and time again, the things you love to learn about. Think about what passions and interests are not fleeting, when it’s not the newness that you’re attracted to. Instead of buying for newness, buy based off this list. If you love art, walking by a painting you really love hanging up in your dining room really can make you happy every single day.
If you love music, a vintage record player or a signed poster of your music idol will likely bring you joy time and time again. Instead of buying new clothes here and there or dozens of drugstore beauty products you don’t end up using, save up to invest in the pieces that will make you happy to own, no matter how old they get.
Spend money eliminating the things you hate doing most.
Of course, we all hate chores and the things we need to do. That’s just called #adulting. But sometimes, we have that one chore that we just really hate. For example, laundry is a weekly occurrence, right? (Or, if you’re like me in college, you can spread it out a few extra weeks longer than you should.) Imagine how much time in your life is spent doing laundry if you despise laundry. What if you took a little extra money out of your spending account to pay for someone to do your laundry every other week? Or if you really dread grocery shopping, splurge, just a little, for a service like Instacart that will do the shopping for you, or Blue Apron that sends the ingredients to your door.
Don’t feel bad spending your money on things that you could do yourself because it not only would eliminate those chores from your regular to-do list, but will give you more free time. And then spend this time wisely — don’t use the extra few hours sitting around and watching TV. Learn something new, catch up on work, spend time with your kids or the friends that make you happy.
Sometimes it can be hard to spend money on these bigger budget items. Buying a $15 lunch a few days a week seems much less daunting or scary than a $1000 trip. But guess what — buying $15 lunch just 3 days a week adds up to over $2000 a year. So if you’d rather a trip than your takeout habit, budget accordingly, and then actually plan the trip, no matter how scary a big sum of money at once may seem.
Spending your money on traveling or classes in something you’ve been wanting to learn, like a cooking class or learning a musical instrument, has clinically been proven to increase feelings of contentment with your life.
Bonus happiness: spend your money on experiences with someone you care about. Getting to experience something like a trip, a concert, or a class with a loved one is shown to not only increase emotional connection, but might also become memories and photographs that mean a lot to you. This also goes for gifting too — if your sister’s birthday is coming up, don’t just buy her a pair of shoes you know she’ll like or a nice candle. Buy tickets for the two of you to a festival she’d love or a concert with her favorite artist.
Not only will you have a lot of fun together, but the experience will mean more to her, long after the candle would’ve gotten lost on her shelf or the shoes would’ve worn out.
Budget for indulgences that really matter to you
Indulgences may not be something you do on a regular basis. But think about the times you actually feel content or at peace when you’ve splurged in your life. Was it after a really good massage? During an impeccably good meal? When you took a great yoga class that had fancy towels and essential oils? These things may seem frivolous and unrealistic, but if you know it’s financially smart to invest in stocks, it’s also emotionally smart to invest in your self care. Give yourself the indulgences that will actually increase the quality of your life and wellbeing, because these are the things worth saving money for.
Think about how you can readjust the way you spend money in your life now to allow for these occasional indulgences. If a facial puts you in a state of bliss for days, try to see where you can find the money for it, at least once every few months. This might be as simple as using a Keurig instead of your $3.50 Starbucks every morning, packing lunch instead of buying it, or pulling from your clothing budget.
In the moment, a latte in the morning might seem more financially stable and necessary than a facial, but if that indulgence makes you feel at peace (and your skin glowy), it’s worth reevaluating what’s worth the money.
Actually spend the money when you can!
Sure, you need to save up and be financially smart about the future, but life is meant to be enjoyed. Don’t feel guilty if you do spend a bigger sum of money on a vacation or a yoga studio membership. If you know you can afford it, think of it as investing in your happiness, like you would invest at the bank. If all we’re doing is working and not really living, what kind of life is that? Be smart, budget, and most importantly, live the life that makes you happy.