“Treat yourself” is a mantra that many people are all too comfortable putting into daily practice. Others are so fiscally responsible that they won’t spend money on anything remotely indulgent. The good news is there’s a happy medium. You definitely can (and should!) spend money on yourself.
Read on for five ways money can buy happiness that are not only satisfying and fun but can also help promote your personal — and financial — well-being.
OUTSOURCE DREADED TASKS
Do you find yourself skipping the gym for a weeknight grocery run or grumbling all weekend because you have to clean the house? You can salvage your precious “me time” by paying someone else to handle these household chores for you.
According to Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, spending money to buy time back has reliable and positive effects on our happiness. One study she conducted in the course of her research found that those who parted with cash to give themselves more free time — whether by ordering food, taking a cab or hiring household help — felt more satisfied than those who spent the money on something tangible.
INDULGE IN LITTLE LUXURIES
Maybe your morning latte fuels a pleasant commute, a weekly massage helps loosen you up or a plate of avocado toast brightens up your weekend brunch. Despite recent reports to the contrary, making a daily stop at your local coffeeshop is not standing between you and financial freedom.
While the underlying wisdom is sound — keeping track of mindless purchases can certainly help you identify areas where you can trim your budget — the advice isn’t one-size-fits-all. For example, if you’re solely seeking caffeine, perhaps a cup from home will adequately perk you up. But if that perfectly blended mocha served with a smile from your friendly neighborhood barista truly starts your day right, then you may consider that a few bucks well spent.
A little pampering could keep you from blowing your budget on something larger.
A little pampering could also keep you from blowing your budget on something larger — similar to how eating a daily square of dark chocolate can prevent you from a late-night ice-cream eating binge. There’s even a name for this concept of modest outlays: the lipstick effect. Former Estee Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder is credited with coining the term based on his observation that during economic downturns, consumers will often scratch their buying itch with small splurges, such as an expensive lipstick, in lieu of big-ticket purchases.
To truly appreciate these little luxuries, make them a treat, rather than a habit, say professors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the book, “Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending.” In other words, celebrating Fridays by lunching with your besties may be a smarter indulgence than grabbing takeout every other day of the week.
SPRING FOR EXPERIENCES
If you received concert tickets or a gift certificate for a cooking class this holiday season, you’re in good company; increasingly, gift givers are leaning into experiences rather than another sweater or book. In fact, a 2019 retail study found that half of respondents said they prefer an experience as a gift — a huge increase from the fewer than 20% who said so in 2018.
Spending money on a fancy handbag or a big-screen TV may bring you some short-term happiness but the joy of an exhilarating experience will likely prolong your pleasure. You’ll love the experience itself, plus revel in the anticipation prior and the fun of reliving it afterward.
So the next time you’re debating spending money on a beach vacation with your family or a refresh to your summer wardrobe, you might want to opt for the trip. Odds are that once you’re there, you’ll forget you’re wearing last year’s sandals and sundress but you will remember laughing with your loved ones long after you’ve vacuumed the sand out of your car.
ENJOY AN ACTUAL DATE
You may love your home but sometimes you and your partner need a night out — or maybe even a day date if your schedules permit. Put on real clothes and leave the kids with a babysitter — planning to spend time together and enjoying a little adult conversation can do wonders for your relationship.
And don’t hesitate to do something silly — studies affirm that couples who create shared humorous experiences have the most staying power. You can also think of this expenditure as an investment in your family’s well-being. After all, happy parents make for happy children.
SPEND ON SOMEONE ELSE
“It’s better to give than to receive,” says the old adage, and guess what? It’s probably true. Michael I. Norton, a professor of business administration in the marketing unit at the Harvard Business School, has done numerous studies, as well as a TED Talk, that support this theory.
So why not surprise a coworker with a latte, buy candy from that kid who comes knocking on your door or donate to a cause you believe in? Consider it a win-win: a happiness high for you and for someone else, all in one.