11 Ways Spending Money Can Bring You Joy

Happy woman
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This story originally appeared on NewRetirement.

They were wrong. The answer to the question does money buy happens is … yes! In fact, the research is overwhelming. And, there are actually multiple ways to spend to increase happiness. Here are 11 ways to spend money to buy happiness.

1. Buy Time

Woman receiving grocery delivery.
Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock.com

Time is indeed more precious than money.

Research has found that when people spend money on time-saving services like a house cleaner, gardener, or take-out and grocery delivery, they can feel happier than if they are spending on material goods.

How much happier?

“What we found is that people who spent money to buy time reported being almost one full point higher on our 10-point ladder, compared to people who did not use money to buy time,” study author Elizabeth Dunn explains. People from across the income spectrum benefited from “buying time,” she adds.

It makes sense. People who feel time-crunched are stressed,and research suggests that they are less active and less able to be around friends and family — both proven ways to increase happiness.

2. Save Adequately for Your Future

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Saving is a form of spending.

People who have a written retirement or financial independence plan are more likely to adequately save and make better financial decisions. Furthermore, people with a plan are more confident and experience less worry and stress.

Use the NewRetirement Planner to create your roadmap to a more secure, wealthier, and happier future. Find out how much you need for financial independence, if you are saving enough, whether or not you’ll run out of money in the future, and how to get on track plus guidance for better decision-making.

3. Invest in Experiences

People sitting on the beach at sunset
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When it comes to discretionary spending, you have a lot of choices for how to spend your money. There are two broad categories of spending. You can buy things or experiences.

If you want to buy happiness, invest in experiences.

Over the past 15-plus years, an abundance of psychological research has concluded that buying experiences improves our well-being far more than buying stuff. A new car, sweater, or bike simply aren’t going make you feel as good as going on a hike, concert, vacation, or almost any other experience.

In 2003, Thomas Gilovich was the first to put forth this idea. He has added to his research and has shown time after time that experiences are what bring us happiness. And, he has also shown that experiences trump material possessions for pleasantness and excitement as well as happiness.

Part of the reason that experiences are better at returning happiness is that experiences enable you to anticipate an event and, more importantly, leave you with memories to draw on for the rest of your life.

NOTE: Additional research has shown some interesting demographic differences. The happiness advantage of experiential spending is stronger for women than for men. And, other studies suggest that it is more relevant to young people and those who are highly educated.

4. Spend for Connection, Buy Experiences You Can Share with Others

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Throw a party! Meet up for lunch! Travel across the country to reunite with college buddies! Take your kids or grandkids on a cruise. These things cost money (and may have to wait until after the pandemic), but they connect you to other people. And, money spent on strengthening social bonds is money well spent if happiness is your goal.

However, if you can’t make the experience social, additional research suggests that talking about what you did — telling stories, showing pictures, and sharing how it made you feel — can also increase your happiness return on investment.

5. Invest in Experiences That Put You in a State of Flow

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Experiences that put you in a state of flow are some of the surest to deliver an immediate sense of well-being. Flow? What is flow?

Psychology Today defines flow as follows: “Flow is when a person [1] is engaged in a doable task, [2] is able to focus, [3] has a clear goal, [4] receives immediate feedback, [5] moves without worrying, [6] has a sense of control, [7] has suspended the sense of self, and [8] has temporarily lost a sense of time.”

Think about experiences where you are so totally engrossed in a task that you lose the sense of time. Flow activities can be physical, intellectual, work-related, anything.

In addition to improving happiness, flow has been proven to improve well-being, concentration, self-esteem, and performance.

6. Treat Others

Couple eating ice cream
Rawpixel.com / Shutterstock.com

A 2008 study gave participants $20 to spend on themselves and $20 to spend on someone else. Guess which expenditure delivered greater happiness? Yep. Spending on someone else.

Treating others, even with a minor amount of money, can deliver happiness. (Did you hear about the recent “pay it forward” chain that happened at a Minnesota Dairy Queen? A succession of 900 strangers bought the meals for the car behind them! Dairy Queen manager Tina Jensen told the Washington Post, “This was a feel-good moment at a time when we really needed to hear some happy stories.”)

7. Spend Especially on Those You Are Close To

Woman and charity
myboys.me / Shutterstock.com

A 2011 study suggests that — for happiness — it is important that you spend money on people you are close to and care about. Study participants who recalled spending a modest amount of money on someone close to them reported feeling more positive emotion than those who remembered spending on a mere acquaintance.

8. Give, but Strive to See the Impact of Your Charitable Giving

Giving to charity
Dragana Gordic / Shutterstock.com

Charitable giving is a solid recommendation for how to spend money for happiness.

However, research suggests that if you know exactly how your money will be spent and, ideally, can see the spending in action, then you will feel happier than just giving the money to an organization without knowing or seeing the impact.

9. If Buying a Thing, Put It in Context of How You’ll Experience It

Man looking at car
Nestor Rizhniak / Shutterstock.com

Not all material purchases deliver less happiness than experiences.

Studies have shown that if you can think about how you experience things, then you are more likely to experience happiness (or, at least, less regret) from a purchase.

So, if you buy a new car, think about the purchase in terms of the exciting road trips you’ll take, how you can see better out the windows and will better enjoy the view, or how the stereo system will enable you to belt out your favorite tunes on the way to the grocery store.

10. Express Yourself Through Spending

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Whether on possessions or experiences, spending that is a reflection of your personality or identity can make you happy.

A 2016 study found that people with a better match between their personality and the personality of their purchases reported more satisfaction with life. So, if you love travel and identify with an adventuresome lifestyle, then spending money on travel (an experience) or even a travel gadget (possession) will both give you joy. Whereas, if you consider yourself a technology geek, then the new iPhone (a possession) might indeed give you happiness.

Follow-up research focused on the differences between spending by introverts and extroverts. Your personality type will define the type of spending that makes you happy. Introverts found happiness spending $10 in a quiet bookstore, whereas extroverts loved spending on a drink in a crowded bar — but not vice versa.

11. Spend Within Your Lifetime Means

Man with money
photo-nuke / Shutterstock.com

Even if you are spending on experiences or people you love, if you are spending beyond your means, you are bound to be stressed and unhappy.

And, overspending is not just a matter of your monthly finances.

It may be useful for you to think about your finances not as a monthly inflow and outflow, but rather as a big pool that you fill up or drain over your entire life. Think in terms of the lifetime value of your financial decisions rather than simply how it impacts you today.

You see, in life, you have a finite amount of time to create a finite amount of money. That money is used to fund your entire life. Spending more now means that you have less to spend later. Saving more now means spending less in the near term, but more in the future.

Creating and maintaining a detailed retirement plan is a great way to visualize and manage your total pool of resources over your entire lifetime.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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