What You Spend Your Money on Matters: What Will Make You Happy?

by Miranda Marquit

When it comes to money, it’s not so much how much you have that matters as what you do with it. Of course, we’re all different, so you have to figure out what works for you. But research does provide some hints about what is likely to make you happy when it comes to the way you spend your money.

As recent infographic from Happify illustrates some of the ways that spending on the “right” things can make you happy.

What Things Make You Happy?

spend your money

Many people find spending money on experiences more rewarding than spending money on things.

One of the most interesting items from the infographic is that it doesn’t appear that homeowners are any happier than renters. I can relate to this. While there are some emotional advantages that come with being a homeowner, such as security for my son, and the knowledge that I can do what I want with my house, the reality is that I am often annoyed by the realities of homeownership. This includes paying interest and property taxes, as well as the fact that I’ve had my home long enough that I need to start thinking about repairs and upgrades.

The research presented in the infographic indicates that buying TVs doesn’t make Americans any happier, either. However, money spent on leisure activities and car payments can increase satisfaction with life. Spending money on leisure activities and cars increases optimism and reduces feelings of loneliness — probably because they allow you to connect with others.

Indeed, according to the research, we are more likely to be happy with our spending when it’s on experiences that offer one or more of the characteristics:

  1. Bring us closer to others, increasing a feeling of interconnectedness.
  2. Create a situation that results in a memorable story.
  3. Allows us to feel as though we are who we want to be.
  4. Have a uniqueness to them.

Part of the reason that buying a TV probably doesn’t make a lot of Americans (especially those over the age of 50) happy is due to the fact what you get out of the TV doesn’t provide those fulfilling feelings.

Spending Money On Others

In recent years, studies have taken a look at the way that we spend money, and what makes us happy. A number of studies have looked at how spending money on others can actually promote your happiness. A social experiment in which students were given money and told to either spend it on themselves or spend it on others found that those that spent the money on others were happier at the end of the day. Spending money on others can help you feel good, whether you’re buying a gift for your mom or handing a couple bucks over to a homeless person.

In some cases, it doesn’t even matter what you’re spending the money on; just the act of spending on someone else can help you feel good. However, you can increase the effects by doing something that you know will make a difference. This is one of the reasons that I like to give to the local food bank. I know the money stays in the community and I can see it making a difference.

Many of us do like to feel as though we’re helping others. Being able to spend money to help other people can help us feel happier about our lives, and feel better about our finances. What if the reason that you’re unhappy about money isn’t due to the fact that you don’t have enough of it, but due to the fact that you are spending it the wrong way?

More Money Doesn’t Mean More Happiness

Many of us have seen the research that indicates that you don’t experience more day-to-day happiness when you hit the $75,000 mark. This means that getting more money won’t help you feel happier — especially if all you do with that money is spend on things that probably won’t increase your level of contentment to begin with.

While more money might help you feel more secure, and it might ease some of your problems, you might be better off evaluating what you do with your money and then making sure that you spend on things that will truly increase your happiness.

Photo credit: Pierrick Vabre

Published or updated June 23, 2014.
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mario Adventuresinfrugal

I wonder to what extent the ubiquity of Facebook and Instagram play into the spend-on-experiences-not-things shift we’ve seen recently. That is, how much was their rise helped by the fact that now, experiences can be shown off as status symbols just as easily as cars and homes?


2 Cash Cow Couple

The connections between money and happiness are fascinating. Yesterday I was reading about the social experiment where they gave people money and told them to spend it on themselves or on others. Giving money is the clear happiness winner!


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