Does Your Spending Bring You Joy?
by Kate Ashford
Think about the last thing you bought, or the last several things. Did they add happiness or a meaningful experience to your life? Some experts think they should.
"Most people get money in their lives when they work," says Manisha Thakor, Director of Wealth Strategies for Women at Buckingham & the BAM Alliance and author of Get Financially Naked. "When you spend money, what you're spending is your life's energy. I often observe people spending money in ways that bring absolutely no joy."
When you spend money, what you're spending is your life's energy.
What Is "Joy-Based" Spending?
The idea behind joy-based spending, Thakor says, is to squeeze the maximum amount of joy from your money. That means being mindful about what you want, what's meaningful to you, and whether the things you're spending on are enhancing your life. Many people haven't viewed their spending as a potential key to happiness, and when they're introduced to this concept, it's a welcome revelation.
"There seems to be, societally, a very deep hunger for bringing more joy back into daily living," Thakor says. "And I think that goes hand–in–hand with the recognition that time has become our single most precious resource, and that the time/money equation is much more tightly linked than any of us have given proper honor to in the past."
There seems to be, societally, a very deep hunger for bringing more joy back into daily living.
This approach to spending essentially flips budgeting on its head, giving people the freedom to explore what makes them authentically happy in life. Rather than linking money with guilt and judgment, you're linking money with happiness. "You get to go on a treasure hunt of figuring out where you might be leaking money, so that you can take that money and put it toward the things that are enhancing the joy in your life," Thakor says.
Where Do You Start?
Joy–based spending requires deep self–reflection and awareness. You must think about what matters the most to you and what is key to your happiness as an individual. For Nick Messina, 30, joy–based spending meant taking a leave from his corporate job to travel the world and spend money on experiences instead of things. "I find myself less stressed, more satisfied and with a whole lot less clutter, compared to when I spent the majority of my money on physical amenities," says Messina, who was most recently in China.
In a society in which people are constantly on a quest for more — more money, more possessions, a bigger house — joy–based spending means changing your focus. It means taking a break from a busy life to figure out who you are and what would satisfy your soul. "What would happen if we changed our quest for more to a quest for awe in daily living?" Thakor says.
You don't necessarily have to travel around the world to find your key to happiness. For Roberta Perry, 54, joy comes from the drum lessons she's been taking for the last 13 years. "I literally started playing because I always liked banging on tables," says Perry, who lives in Bethpage, NY. "It has changed my life, and is the thing I turn to when I am feeling low or stressed."
Spending Focus: Houses, Cars, Education And Everyday Expenses
Joy-based spending can be applied to both big-picture and small-picture thinking:
House: On a larger scale, is your grand lifestyle — and grander home — making you happy? For Thakor, it wasn't. "I once lived in a house that had more bathrooms than people, and rooms that literally weren't used for months on end," she says. "Then you'd pay a cleaning person to come and clean this space that you weren't even really using. Was that bringing me joy?"
Car: People sometimes feel pressured to drive an expensive vehicle, and there's stress that comes with keeping up with the payments and maintenance. Are you getting adequate joy out of what you're driving? Nearly 40% of households with a luxury vehicle no longer owned one four years later, according to a Federal Reserve analysis. In another survey, nearly one in three luxury car owners felt negatively about purchasing another luxury car in the future, mainly due to current and future affordability.
Education: Another area of spending–joy mismatch is education. In a time when the average college graduate is leaving school with more than $37,000 in student loans, according to Student Loan Hero, Thakor wonders whether people are taking the time to really consider whether their college choices are the ones that will bring them the most happiness. "We have not helped people think through clearly enough what is a reasonable amount to spend relative to the career path being followed and what the commensurate debt would mean for this person's life," Thakor says. In one survey from American Student Assistance, 30% of those with student loans said their debt was the deciding factor or had a considerable impact on their choice of career, and 29% said they've delayed marrying because of it.
Everyday spending: Think of all the little things people spend money on: utility bills, takeout, those drinks with friends on Friday night. It might be hard to imagine that paying your cable bill could bring you joy, but if you've put conscious thought into what you really use and need — and trimmed your bill accordingly — that monthly expense can bring you a sense of satisfaction. And that dinner with friends can feed your soul, so long as you're spending quality time with people who are important to you. If you leave those encounters frustrated by a noisy restaurant, a too–high group tab and that hour you were stuck talking to someone you find draining, you may want to rethink how that purchase makes you feel.
Nearly 40% of households with a luxury vehicle no longer owned one 4 years later.
The average college graduate is leaving school with more than $37K in student loans.
Bringing Mindfulness To Spending
"When I first started talking about this concept, it was at a very micro level, and it was truly about helping people get rid of the gym membership they didn't really use," Thakor says. "Then it moved up to slightly bigger levels, to 'Wow, this is a great tool to see if you bought more house than you can afford.'" Now, she says, the discussion has expanded to broader issues: How much do you really need? How much is enough?
In a way, joy–based spending is about mindful finance. You must be deliberate about what you're choosing to spend your money on and what you're getting from the equation. One way to do this is to break your income down into what you're making per hour. You can use this information to decide whether new purchases are worth it — because they represent a defined amount of your working time.
For Jeremy Bray, 29, this technique helps him avoid spending money unwisely. "Whether it's a new computer or concert tickets, I always ask myself how many hours it will take to make the money to purchase it, and is what I want worth that amount of work?" says Bray, who lives in Pueblo, CO. "Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't."
Why aren't we thinking about the time–money relationship in a more mindful way?
At its core, joy–based spending is an acknowledgement that the one resource for every single person on the planet that is limited is time. "Because most of us are earning money through exchanging our time for work, why not apply some level of rigor or thought to that as we would to planning a vacation?" Thakor says. "Why aren't we thinking about the time-money relationship in a more mindful way?"
Thinking about how money and happiness are intertwined in your daily life? Read Use Your Money to Improve Your Life