First of all, happy holidays to you all! I hope you and yours are all safe and healthy. That is what’s important, especially this time of (this) year. Besides being a very joyous time to spend with loved ones, the holidays can often be a bit stressful as we know. For a lot of reasons. But personal finance is often one of these reasons. It’s also perhaps the time of year when the relationship between money and happiness is most scrutinized and in our faces.
So, can money buy happiness?
I say yes!
Hear me out.
The holidays are an expensive time. Consumerism is at an all time high and it can be tough to resist. Trust me, I know this first hand! For many years, this time of year was stressful for me financially.
However, like many things, this has changed this year as I have dedicated myself to personal finance and financial well-being.
So, this is not a post about how to be frugal during the holidays. That’s not the point.
This is also not a post about just going out and buying anything because Drake and Weezy tell us we only live once.
The point of this post is to reflect on how personal finance can bring us, and has brought me, joy during the holidays and beyond! In this way, the money has brought me happiness.
Far and away, the aspect of personal finance and money that has brought me the most happiness is…
Having a plan
I noticed this almost instantaneously. Before learning about personal finance, I was so stressed about my situation. I knew I had a huge amount of debt, was doing a poor job of saving, and didn’t know a thing about investing. And I had no plan to improve any of these things. I was about to graduate training and have a huge jump in income. Instead of enjoying this, I was stressed about mismanaging this money.
Then I developed a financial plan with my wife.
At the time, we didn’t make a cent more money. I was still a fellow. She was a PhD candidate. So, our actual finances changed very little to not at all.
But having a plan brought us something priceless…
If you have a goal and you have a plan to reach it, then all you have to do is to follow the plan. If you are following the plan, then you can relax knowing that you will reach your goal.
Having a plan brought us peace…and happiness. The holidays have made me even more appreciative of this change in my life.
(If you need a jump start of creating your plan, here is our written financial plan to use as a guide.)
Spending money (with a goal of happiness)
It is so nice to be able to spend money the right way.
So what is the right way?
If you ask me, spending money with intention is the right way.
If something brings you an amount of joy that is equal to or greater than its price and still allows you to stay on the path to your financial goals, buy it.
It really is that simple.
Case and point, I’m not a car guy. Buying an expensive car or worse, leasing one would not give me joy. So, I bought one for $2000. I love driving it because it is comfortable, reliable, and was the right price for me.
On the other hand, my wife and I are homebodies. A comfortable house with some luxuries was important to us. So we bought such a house. It still fit within our criteria, allows us to reach out financial goals, and gives us a greater joy than its monetary value. Even if we didn’t find such a house to buy, we likely would have rented one with such amenities.
Before recognizing this simple concept of intentional spending, I spent money in a completely disorganized and thoughtless fashion. And it was super stressful.
Spend with intention and that money will bring you joy.
(A budget can really help with this. Here’s my budgeting template if you are looking to start one.)
This is contrary to the popular saying that money doesn’t buy happiness…no doubt uttered by those spending with no intention.
The small things
Some of the things on this list I can wholly attribute to my personal financial philosophy and strategies.
Other things are more largely attributable simply to the fact that I became an attending physician with a big increase in salary.
As a trainee in NYC with two kids and 2/3 of our income going to housing and childcare, we often walked through the grocery store with a very limited amount to spend. It was stressful and not fun.
I’ll never take for granted the joy I feel now walking through Wegman’s grocery store knowing that I can buy whatever groceries my family needs/wants. It is more than many people in this world have, something that drives our charitable donations.
To anyone still in training and experiencing pinches like this, it gets better!
And when you reach the point where it is better, pay it forward to others.
Passing it on
I didn’t really anticipate this part being an outcome of my taking control of my finances.
Unexpectedly, I found that I really enjoyed personal finance. But, even more, I realized that I was passionate about spreading what I had learned and helping others.
This led me to start the blog with a goal of writing for 6 months, even if no one was reading.
And here we are…it’s surreal to think about.
This is my favorite aspect. I get a ton of fulfillment out of helping others in a similar situation to mine. I felt totally lost with finances and it was affecting my well-being. Finding my way out helped me so much and it brings me so much joy to think I even helped one other person like me!
(Interested in learning more about how you can make a 180 turn around like me, here is a link to my course.)
This is one aspect of passing it on.
Another obvious aspect is via charity. This is something that my wife and I are passionate about. Still, most of our donations are donations of time. But more and more, we are able to donate our money which brings us joy.
Tying in to the last section, getting to meet all the new people I have been able to “meet” has been an incredible source of joy. I look forward to actually meeting many of you in person someday as the vaccines are now rolling out and there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Even more close to my “bubble,” it’s been really cool to get to know family members and friends in a different and often closer way as we talk about goals, mindset, and yes, even money.
I would never have built these relationships without a focus on finance and money.
But in the end, money alone cannot buy us happiness
Because money and finance and financial well-being are not necessary and sufficient for happiness.
Too many people believe that money in fact is the main determinant of happiness. That if they just made more money or could buy this one thing, they would be happier. This is placing an external locus of control over you and your life.
Without moving that locus of control back within yourself, money won’t bring you any more joy and happiness.
So, I’m saying that money is not sufficient for happiness.
But, money is necessary for happiness
Despite that fact that money is not sufficient for happiness, we can all dispense with the notion that money is not important.
If that was the case, we wouldn’t work.
We need money to feed, clothe, and house ourselves at a very basic level. And we also need money to fulfill ourselves beyond our basic needs. Again, this only happens when you spend intentionally. But to spend intentionally, you do need some cheddar to actually spend!
Try a money abundance mindset this holiday season
Money is around.
It’s not zero sum.
For you to gain money, you’re not taking it from someone else.
Is the grocery store robbing you when you spend a *fair* price for strawberries? No! It’s win-win. They get money and you get strawberries for your kids to blow through if they are anything like mine.
Optimize your practice. Explore a new niche. Bring value in a new way. Start a side gig.
But, just remember, money is important, but it’s how you use it that brings happiness or not.
Wishing you all happiness this season!
What do you think? Can money buy happiness? How is your money mindset affecting your happiness? What can you do to make it even better? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
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