Happy Money

This book was a delightful read that I breezed through over a three day road trip. Books about money can often be dry, but the authors kept me entertained the entire time with the injections of their personal stories. What I liked about this book is that they’re not telling millennial to give up their avocado toast, but instead show how changing how we spend money can make us happier. Below is the edited version of my notes from the book with what I learned from each chapter. This book was well worth a read!

Chapter 1: Buy experiences

Buying an experience, like a concert or a vacation, contributes to happiness much more so than purchasing stuff, like a car. Bad experiences (like say, imminent death from a ballistic missile) are often to most memorable. So embrace the suck to live a happy life. 

How can I use these concepts in my life?

I should focus on spending money on experiences like camping/trips with my friends and family, or attending events or concerts. Strolling through the aisles of Target does not an experience make, although reviewing my credit card purchases might qualify as that bad experience. I tend to purchase things in the moment that I think will make life easier or better or just shop out of boredom, which leads me to having a lot of unnecessary junk. Which makes me unhappy. An experience will never collect dust in our attic or get thrown out in the trash during a fit of frustration.

Chapter 2: Make it a treat

Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. The first bite of a candy bar will often taste good, but each subsequent bite does not deliver the same amount of pleasure. I can attest to this in my own life. While we were on vacation, I had creme brûlée, my favorite dessert, for the first time in years. The first bite was heavenly, and each bite after that was still delicious but ultimately ended in a tummy ache. I tried eating more creme brûlée later in the trip, but it wasn’t as good and I ended up feeling disappointed. I know, poor me. The same story goes with eating out. It was such a treat to get to eat out in a restaurant or get takeout pizza as a kiddo, but now we eat out frequently. It’s not exciting and I often wind up disappointed with my food.

A few other highlights from this chapter:

  • Enjoy things seasonally.

  • Give yourself a limited time window. Scarcity makes things more enjoyable.

  • Taking breaks while doing something pleasurable, like commercials while watching TV, makes things more enjoyable.

  • How you see yourself changes how you experience things. If you see yourself as a world traveler, a local trip may be less enjoyable.

  • Put your best face forward for your spouse. Get dressed up for dates.

How can I use these concepts in my life?

I need to cut out a lot of the junk food and treats that I find myself eating on an almost daily basis.

Full disclosure: we have several different types of candy bars in our pantry at this very moment.

Too much is not a good thing. I need to cut down on my sugar and treats consumption so that when I have it, I will really and truly enjoy it. I would also like to start buying higher quality treats since they will be consumed less often.

Last summer for the first time in years, I had a real, honest to goodness strawberry. I have been drooling all winter thinking about farmers market strawberries and the thought of buying them at the grocery store now makes my stomach turn. I would like to explore other ways to bring seasonality into the things I do and consume.

I would like to start having real, actual, honest to goodness dates with my spouse every so often at a nice-ish restaurant so I’ll be motivated to look nice-ish every once in a while.

Chapter 3: Buy time

People feel busier now than at any other time in history, but we actually have more free time. Modern technology and distractions make life feel frantic. Daily hassles affect happiness, and products designed to only save time, like fast food, but not increase happiness increase our impatience making us feel that we have less time. Commutes make people feel miserable, so it’s better to spend more to live closer to work. Many people spend two months (!) of each year watching television. Anything more than 30 minutes per day of TV actually decreases happiness. 

We so often focus on the excitement and thrill of a purchase, but don’t think about how it will affect our daily life. So that party platter that you spent a ton of money on for your Christmas dinner will sit gathering dust and mocking your decision making much of the year, and will not actually make you happy. Before you make a purchase, think about how that item will affect you on a Tuesday.

So what actually makes people happier? Staying focused in the moment. Volunteering makes people feel like they have more time and thus increases happiness. Playing with children produces more happiness than almost every other daily activity. Transforming decisions about money into time makes people people make healthier decisions, and focusing on how a purchase will affect your time will lead to greater happiness. 

How can I use these concepts in my life?

I have significantly more free time than the average person, but I often find myself stressed and overwhelmed despite this. I spend an inordinate amount of time on attention sucks like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, which is not a good use of my precious life and leads to me to feel bad about myself. I deleted the Instagram app from my phone, which has helped me to cut back on my scrolling time significantly. When I went on a Facebook sabbatical for a month, I read and actually was able to focus for the first time in a long time. It might be time to borrow a concept from chapter 2 and make Facebook time a once-a-week treat vs. an every-few-hours scroll fest.

I definitely related to the daily hassles = unhappiness bit. I really enjoy having clean floors, but with two hairy dogs and a dirt tracking husband this is a daily struggle for me. Yet, I can’t bring myself to buy an expensive Roomba, even though I know it will give me free time and help me feel happier. I think it’s time to start tracking robot vacuum sales so that I can have my very own DJ Roomba.

Lastly, I waste a lot of my life watching TV. It’s on in the background while I clean or cook dinner. It’s how my husband and I spend downtime together. While I don’t see myself cutting television out completely, perhaps I can find ways to decrease the amount of time spent parked in front of the boob tube. My goal is to stop automatically turning on a show for background noise and instead turn on music. I would also like to limit myself to two or three personal shows at a time so that I’m only watching TV by myself for a few hours each week.

Chapter 4: Buy now, consume later

People enjoy the anticipation of something more so than the event itself. Surprisingly, people are happier before a trip than after. Consuming now and paying later causes people to spend more, while paying now and enjoying later increases happiness. Thinking about positive future events makes people happier, so it is wise to delay a purchase that will allow you time to research to amp up your excitement, when the event will be over quickly, or when thinking about the experience makes you drool. 

How you pay for things also affects how you spend. Technology, like saved credit cards and Apple Pay, takes away the pain of spending money. Debit card users have considerably less consumer debt than those using credit cards, and paying in cash makes people make healthier choices when grocery shopping. 

How can I use these concepts in my life?

I can attest that paying now and enjoying later does increase happiness. When we booked our Hawaii trip, we purchased our flights nearly a year ahead of time and had money in a savings account to cover our hotel. So I felt virtually no stress about these expenses because in my mind they were already taken care of and the money was already spent. What did stress me out, however, was meals, food and drinks, and other things purchased in the moment. We don’t often go on vacations beyond camping trips (as in this was our first one in four years together), but the next time that we do I would seriously consider going to an all inclusive resort or pre-paying food by purchasing gift certificates. In my everyday life, I can’t help but wonder if it would be happiness inducing to purchase gift cards for those real, actual dates that I want to start going on with my husband.

I have never set up Apple Pay, but I do have credit cards saved on my computer and Amazon. I need to finish deleting these so that I feel the pain of typing in the numbers each time I make a purchase. 

One of my goals from last month was to book reservations for our camping trips for the rest of the year. I am going to print out photos to display in our house of those destinations so it will serve as a visual reminder of the fun we have coming our way. I hope that this will create anticipation and excitement. 

Chapter 5: Invest in others

It's no surprise that giving to others brings happiness, but I was surprised to find out that spending on others through gifts or charity has as great an effect as an income increase would. The most important aspect of giving is that it should be a choice. Also, by this time in the book I was a little less into note taking. Can you tell?

How can I use these concepts in my life?

I would like to donate money regularly and invest more in my community. While this is well and good, I can't help but wonder if the slow, deliberate effort of writing out a check, sticking it in an envelope, stamping and addressing it, and mailing it off would bring greater pleasure than typing in a credit card and giving permission for monthly auto drafting.