By Taylor Schulte
We’ve all heard some version of the joke that goes, “no, money can’t buy happiness … but it can buy ___, and that’s kind of the same thing.”
It’s amusing, because it hits on an important truth that can help set you up for financial success — if you fully understand it and use it to your advantage.
Money doesn’t automatically equal happiness
People who can’t use money to buy happiness spend it on things, because they think they should. They spend on status symbols to impress other people. But buying things to please or wow other people puts you on the fast track to misery. And spending all your money on stuff can leave you feeling hollow and empty.
There are a few reasons for this:
Because we’re so adaptable, the pleasure we get from buying new stuff quickly fades as we get used to it. We continuously seek newer, bigger, more exciting buys to keep that sense of pleasure and get stuck on a “hedonistic treadmill” as a result.
We get buyer’s remorse and compare our new things to someone else’s — and feel like our stuff somehow comes up short.
Acquiring stuff may be a coping mechanism to help us deal with stress and other factors that lead to overall unhappiness.
From this perspective, the old adage is right. Money can’t buy happiness. That’s a good money lesson to keep in mind. But there’s some nuance here, too. Money isn’t a direct path to happiness. It is a tool. And just like any tool, there’s a right and a wrong way to use it.
Align your spending with your values
The key to using money to “buy” happiness lies in knowing what’s important to you. That doesn’t mean a new smartphone or a fancy watch. We’re talking about your core values — or things like family, community, respect, and wisdom.
When you spend on what you value and cut out what you don’t, you might be surprised how much money that leaves in your monthly cash flow. You can then redirect that money to more of what you value or save more for major financial goals.
Make sure those goals align with your values too. You don’t want to work relentlessly toward something, like buying a house, just because you feel like you should.
How you use money should reflect what’s important to you
Once you define what your values are, take a look at your spending. Does your current budget reflect those values back at you? Or are you using your money to buy stuff that’s not deeply important to you?
If it’s the latter, there’s room for improvement — and for allowing your money to bring more happiness.
Maybe you spend over $1,000 per month on meals out. Which is pretty easy to do: a $10 lunch and a $20 dinner out every single day will get you there.
But what if your values include family, growth, and health? Your spending doesn’t align with these at all right now.
You could make a change by learning a new skill and improving your health by committing to cooking every meal at home for a month. You’d get more time with family, too.
All of these actions do align with your values. They also leave more money in your pocket to spend on more important things than a fast meal.
Once you define your values, you might realize your list is probably centered around people and experiences — and spending to create memories that last with people you love is one of the most powerful ways we can use money to buy happiness.
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— Taylor Schulte, CFP, is the CEO of Define Financial, the founder of StayWealthySanDiego.com and is passionate about helping people make smart decisions with their money. He can be reached at 619-577-4002 or firstname.lastname@example.org.