Can I Spend Money to Make Myself Happier?

by mzumtaylor on January 23, 2012

in Saving,Thoughts and Observations

For Christmas I got a page-a-day The Happiness Project calendar. It sits by my desk at work, and inspires me to be, well, happier each day.

On Tuesday, the calendar prompted me to ask myself “these money and happiness questions:”

  • How could I spend money to make myself feel more secure?
  • How could I spend money to strengthen my relationships with other people?
  • How could I spend money to make myself healthier?
  • How could I spend money to make myself feel more capable at work?
  • How could I spend money to help other people feel safer and healthier, with more opportunity?

Spending Money? Eek!

Spending money is not my favorite thing. It makes me a little bit anxious, even when I know that I’ve saved for whatever I’m spending on. This is probably not entirely healthy, but it’s not so bad that I can’t buy things we need (like food), so I deal with it.

When I look at this list of ways I should spend money to make myself happy, it seems almost wrong that spending money would make me happier. But, I read The Happiness Project book and the author, Gretchen Rubin, had a similar debate with her in the chapter where she discusses money and happiness.

It can’t hurt to ask the questions, even if I only ever consider them hypothetically.

Asking the Questions

1. How could I spend money to make myself feel more secure?

The biggest thing that makes me feel secure is money in my savings accounts and a robust emergency fund.

One could argue that saving is a type of spending, and therefore by saving money each money I’m “spending money to make myself feel more secure.” But that’s a pretty loose interpretation of saving, and it’s not really a challenge for me to save money each month, so I should consider other ways I might spend to make myself feel more secure.

If having money in savings makes me feel secure, one of the best ways to increase my security would be to increase the amount of money we have in savings. The only way to do that, short of cutting more out of our budget, is to earn more.

Earning more could mean getting a raise, which is controllable by me (to a certain extent), but isn’t something I can (or should) pay to accomplish. Earning more could also mean going back to school to get a degree toward a career with a high starting salary.

Considering that I just my first tuition payment to the Community College of Denver, which is the first step on my path to becoming a CPA (starting salary $38,000 – $45,000), it turns out I’m already doing this. Neat.

2. How could I spend money to strengthen my relationships with other people?

This question is a little harder. Usually, when I think about strengthening my relationships with other people, I think about inviting them to dinner and watching a movie or playing a board game. “Evenings in” with my husband and/or friends don’t usually cost that much.

I suppose spending money to strengthen a relationship could relate to the cost of a plane ticket out to Michigan to visit Ben’s family, or the cost of gas to drive to Steamboat to visit my mom or down to the South Denver to visit my grandma. It could also mean buying the fixings to make dinner for my other grandma at her house every couple of weeks, since she can’t easily make it up the three flights of stairs to our condo.

3. How could I spend money to make myself healthier?

This one I’m already doing. I realized about a year ago that without scheduling time for it, I was never going to work out. And the easiest way to schedule time was to join a class, and my favorite type of exercise class to take part in is Pilates.

So, when my internship turned into a full-time gig, I decided to join a Pilates studio, taking a beginner mat class once a week. It’s $13.50 a class and worth every penny for the increased energy, vitality, and fitness it gives me. My Saturday morning classes have quickly become one of my favorite parts of the week. When I have enough money, I’d like to take Pilates mat classes twice a week.

4. How could I spend money to make myself feel more capable at work?

This is a trickier question to answer, because I’m not exactly what I could spend on that would make me feel more capable.

I guess looking the part could go a ways toward making me feel more capable. This is the first office job I’ve held for longer than 6 months, which means the clothes and shoes that I wear to work every day wear out a lot more quickly than I’m used to. There’s also only so much “business casual” wear I have in my closet, which means I spend a lot of time each morning frustrated by trying to tease a nice, professional look out of the same ten garments.

When I first started at this job, I “splurged” (read: spent a reasonable amount of money on something I needed) on three white button-down blouses that I wear almost every day now.

Most recently, I spent money on three pairs of Merino wool tights so that I could wear my large collection of skirts (mostly homemade) in the winter as well as in the summer. From the moment I put those tights on, they became my new favorite thing to wear. They are so warm and wonderful, which is fabulous for my daily walks to and from the Park-n-ride.

If buying professional clothes counts as something that will make me feel more capable, then I’d say I’m already familiar with this method of “spending for happiness” too.

5. How could I spend money to help other people feel safer and healthier, with more opportunity?

This is another tough one. The first thing that comes to mind is donating to a charity devoted to helping people be safer and healthier, or to one that helps people help themselves (organizations like Kiva.org and Heifer International.

I spent money on both of those organizations at Christmas because I gave them as presents to my mom and mother-in-law. I don’t know if that makes me happier, except that giving other people gifts always makes me happy. I’m not sure where I stand on being able to spend money this one to make others happy. I’ll have to give it some more thought.

The Verdict

It turns out that, theoretically (and in some cases, actually), I can see spending money for things that make me happier. It’s still a somewhat foreign concept to me, but I’m hoping that as Ben and I both continue to do well in our careers, we’ll be able to spend a little bit more on happiness than we have before, without straining our budget (or my frugal sensibilities).

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

shanendoah@The Dog Ate My Wallet January 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I think spending money on your own happiness is one of the best things to spend money on. In fact, most of what I spend money on can be related to my happiness- my dogs, owning a home, owning a car I love, blogging, eating food I like. In fact, if I can’t trace the money to my/our happiness in some way, that’s when I need to be figuring out why in the world I’m spending it.

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mzumtaylor January 26, 2012 at 10:43 am

That is an excellent way to think about spending!

Now that you put it that way, I’m going to ask myself that question every time I spend. If I’m going to be spending, I might as well be spending on something that makes me happy.

Thanks!

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