Money Can Buy Happiness

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I must disagree with the age old saying that money can’t buy happiness because, in my experience, money can buy happiness. It can also buy a whole lot of misery, and everything in between.  Depending on what you do with your money, you can be a slave to debt, or free to live the life of your dreams. But I will add one extra word to that famous phrase: saving. Saving money can buy you happiness.

Frugality is Paleo

How many people in your life can you think of that are slaves to debt? I know plenty. Some are rich, some are poor, but they all have one thing in common: they spend more than they earn. And holy crap does it cause a lot of stress and misery. Now, it’s one thing if you’re a single parent working 2 jobs and barely making enough to feed and shelter your family. But it’s a whole other thing if you’re spending half of your income on restaurants, Starbucks drinks, and new clothes. According to studies, there is actually a threshold for when earning more money stops increasing your happiness.  Essentially, not having enough money to cover basic needs can cause a LOT of unhappiness. But once you are making enough for that, the happiness stops from simply earning more. But there is a way to transform those earning that go above and beyond covering your basic needs into happiness: you need to save it. There are plenty of people making not huge salaries that simply aren’t saving enough. Many people think, oh well, even if I’m really frugal, I’d only have like $100 a month to save. Doesn’t seem worth it. Dude, that $100 a month grows incredibly quickly. Whether you’re paying extra off your debts, loading up your 401k, or putting it in the stock market (because saving accounts are stupid with their .5% interest rates), that savings is power! It’s freedom! It’s F U money! And it matters a lot more than you think. Going into unnecessary debt and living month to month is a constant stress. It forces you to constantly worry, work a job you hate and have an absolute crisis when you lose your job or your car breaks down. That kind of stress is TERRIBLE for your health and will shorten your life. Becoming a saver instead of a spender will transform your health and happiness. And since I’m pretty sure our ancient ancestors weren’t saddled with car loans they can’t afford, frugality is totally Paleo.

It’s All My Fault, You Guys

There was a time when advertising was just a way to let people know what a product did. “Our tobacco is toasted!” Then came the revolutionary days where advertisers started using emotional appeals to sell products which caused consumerism and materialism to EXPLODE. As an advertising writer, it’s my job to convince people that buying whatever product I’m working on will make their lives better. But let me let you in on a little secret: it’s all BS. The vast majority of the crapola being sold will not suddenly make you cooler, smarter, more relaxed, sexier, or more productive. It will not help you form deeper bonds with your friends, it will not make you James Bond, it will not help you lose weight in 30 days! As an ad writer, I’ve helped convince people to part with their money for products that very likely did not bring them great happiness. In most cases, it probably only increased their misery. That’s why I write this blog to help people get healthier. I seriously need to make up some karma.

Hedonistic Adaption: Know What it Means 

Buying stuff you don’t need is a lot like eating food that’s not good for you. For the first few moments, it’s amazing. Just like eating unhealthy food, you get all these hormonal rushes from buying stuff. And like unhealthy food, it wears off, and you’re stuck with dealing with the consequences and worse off than you were before. There’s a very fancy sounding concept you need to understand called “Hedonistic Adaptation.” Throw it around at parties to make yourself sound smart. But also remember it, especially when you’re deciding whether to buy anything. Basically, the idea if that when you buy some fancy new thing, you become ‘adapted’ to it. In other words, you get used to it, and it stops bringing you happiness. It just becomes normal. For example, you trade in your 2012 Lexus for a 2017 Lexus. This new Lexus has a better speaker system, seat warmers, and that new car smell. You noticeably feel fancy driving around in it. For like… a week. Then suddenly you stop noticing the new features. It just becomes your car. And unlike that new car smell, that new 35k loan you’re saddled with isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This concept is downright dangerous, because the richer and spendier you get, the more likely you are to get used to fancy things, and get really annoyed and unhappy when you aren’t constantly surrounded by luxury and ease. So next time you take an Uber to the airport and your buns aren’t noticeably toasty from your fancy seat warmer, you’re annoyed. Think about that – before you bought your 2017 Lexus you had an extra $35,000 to your net worth. Now you have a large monthly car payment and are constantly annoyed during times you were never annoyed before. You literally paid $35,000 to be annoyed more. Does that sound like happiness to you????? Yet all these ads we see everywhere are constantly telling is the opposite. It’s propaganda and it works. And you need to be smart enough to see past it.

We’re a Bunch of Hoarders and It’s Making Us Miserable. 

There’s a reason books like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up blew everyone’s mind. We all have too much stuff. And it makes us miserable. The magic of Walmart and Amazon.com allows us to buy practically anything we can think of for rock bottom prices. And it allows us to fill our homes, cars, purses, and brains with loads and loads of stuff. Stuff we never use but feel guilty getting rid of. Stuff that makes everything look messy and gross. Stuff that is a giant pain to keep organization and store. Stuff that causes stress when it’s time to move. Stuff that we emptied our bank accounts for that only causes us MORE stress in the long run! Just like how that fancy new Lexus actually creates more unhappiness in your life, having loads of extra stuff in your life also creates unhappiness. Purging the stuff out of your life can absolutely make you happier, but never buying it in the first place can bring even more happiness, because it means more savings, which means more freedom and less stress.

So When Should you Spend your Money 

Of course, there are exceptions to when you should forgo frugality, like when it comes to your health. I think it’s frugal to buy higher quality foods like wild seafood, pastured beef, grass fed butter and organic veggies. Because even if your steak costs four times a much as a bowl of pasta, it’s a lot cheaper than being put on some expensive prescription medicine for the last 20 years of your life. Spending more on a mattress made without thyroid damaging flame retardants is a smart investment too. These purchases aren’t about trying to seem cool or having the latest gadget, they are purchases that will directly improve your health and happiness in the long term.

Life Bettering Purchases 

There are also purchases that literally make your life better for that vary depending on your situation. I recently purchased an Aerogarden. It’s not exactly cheap. Having a normal little herb garden of 6 plants is cheaper. However, I have a black thumb. I tend to murder plants. Plus keeping them outside means bugs, and heat and cold and all sorts of difficulties. When I buy herbs from the supermarket, it’s always a race to try to use them up before they go bad. The Aerogarden grows the herbs really fast, it completely regulates the light for me, tells me when to water and add nutrients, and it’s indoors so no bugs. It’s basically impossible to screw it up. And now I always have fresh organic herbs.  I now find myself adding herbs to practically every dish. And fresh herbs are chock full of antioxidants and nutrients, especially compared to their dried counterparts. Now I’m not telling anyone to go into debt to buy a hydroponic herb garden. But if you’re deciding between a new pair of shoes and a purchase like this that really adds to your health and makes life easier, I think the choice is clear.

Another example is the Roomba my sister just purchased. She has a very messy toddler and a very hairy cat. Whenever she tried to vacuum, her son would unplug it over and over again and drive her nuts. Having a dirty, hairy floor was a constant source of stress for her. I finally convinced her to try the Roomba and she is much much happier and less stressed. It may sound silly but not constantly stressing out over the dirty floor is a huge relief for her.

Each of those purchases was in the hundreds of dollars. In both situations, my sister and I spent several months decided whether it was worth it, and we are regularly saving and investing well. These purchases have had notable, regular improvements in our lives, but they are only worth it if you’re in a strong financial situation to begin with. Nobody is going to die without a fancy herb garden or robot vacuum.

How to Determine Whether you Should Buy Something

  1. Assess your financial situation – Is your net worth in the negatives? Do you have unsecured debt from credit cards or huge student loans and house payments you can barely afford? If that’s the case, you should be budgeting and planning your arse off to squeeze every extra dollar into paying off debt and building an emergency savings fund. Try using mint.com, personalcapital.com, and software like youneedabudget.com. Read blogs like mrmoneymustache.com to inspire you to spend less and save more. Being in this financial situation is stressful and poor for your health! You shouldn’t be buying anything you don’t absolutely need! Now, if you’re in the positives and have a decent cushion, you should still be building your savings every month. But you can start making decisions on what to buy that will genuinely enhance your long-term health and happiness. (Hint: fancy clothes, expensive restaurants, and luxury cars do not).
  2. Make Yourself Wait – Don’t buy something on your first impulse, no matter how neato you think it sounds. You can add it to your shopping cart, or your Pinterest so you can go back to it later. Many websites and stores will make you think you need to act now! Because they’ve got low stock! Sale ends tomorrow! Most of the time this is hogwash. There will be more sales and more in stock later. Make yourself wait like a week. See how much you’re thinking about the item. Read reviews, do research, talk about it with your spouse or friends. Is this an impulse want or a long-term life enhancing purchase? Also, make sure you shop around for better prices. Use Google shopping and Wiki Buy (a Chrome extension that automatically enters coupon codes) to look for deals and coupons. Remember to compare tax and shipping too.
  3. Out with the Old, in the New – Make a rule that if you want to buy something new, you have to make space for it by getting rid of something old. And if you can’t find anything to get rid of, you probably have too much stuff! Read books like  Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and the organization articles on ApartmentTherapy.com to help you decide how to purge and organize the stuff you already have.

Don’t Let Luxury Ruin Your Happiness

Like I mentioned when explaining Hedonistic Adaptation, the more luxury and ease we surround ourselves with, the more spoiled and easily upset we become. I’ve use tips from the stoic philosophy to help me not become spoiled and easily annoyed that I learned from this book about stoicism. One of the tips is to force yourself to “go without” for a while to appreciate your everyday luxuries. Turn off the AC in your car on a hot day, sleep on the couch instead of your bed, go camping and remember how awesome your shower is! There are lots of ways to remind us how many little luxurious there are in our modern lives, but we can’t appreciate them when they just become normal and unnoticed. Being able to appreciate the things you’ve already got, and stop pinning away for stuff you don’t yet have and can’t afford will absolutely increase your happiness and your health. It’s time to tell propaganda writers like me to suck it! You don’t need any more extraneous crap in your life. From now on your a savvy shopper, and saver!