I recently read Happy Go Money: Spend Smart, Save Right and Enjoy Life by Melissa Leong. It’s a unique personal finance book that offers practical tips about money interspersed with life advice about happiness. Here are the five key things I learned from Happy Go Money.
1. Money and Happiness Are Related … Kind Of
Happy Go Money begins: “Dumplings. Spinach cake. The psych ward.”
Author Melissa Leong describes these as three key times in her life that emphasize that there’s a relationship between money and happiness. However, it’s not as simple as “money buys happiness.”
“Dumpling” was when she was practically broke and went on a three month sabbatical to Taiwan where she mostly ate super cheap dumplings and it was one of the happiest times of her life. She turned her focus away from money to take a break and find her center.
“Spinach cake” was when she decided to quit a very lucrative and successful job in order to stay home and cook weird things for her young child. She had positioned herself financially to be able to do so. Plus she was willing to make financial sacrifices for that happiness.
“The psych ward” reflects a time when her husband needed time off to heal and she wanted to focus on their family’s happiness. They were able to do that because they’d prepared financially for such emergencies. Without access to funds, they wouldn’t have been as easily able to deal with issues of health and happiness.
It’s important for each of us to figure out what the relationship is between money and happiness in our own lives.
2. Life Satisfaction vs. Day to Day Mood
In Happy Go Money, Leong explains that neuroeconomists recognize two types of happiness. The first is how satisfied you feel with your life overall when things are basically going well. The second is daily happiness, meaning how you feel right now in this moment. People generally need a certain amount of money to feel comfortable, secure, and happy … the amount tends to be less when we look at daily happiness than when we look at life satisfaction.
However, at some point, money doesn’t make us any happier in either category. In fact, too much money can actually lead to decreased happiness in both categories. Trying to chase higher incomes leads to more stress and less happiness on the daily level. We can get caught up in keeping up with the Jones’s which affects our life satisfaction. It’s really all about balance – finding a way to make however much money we need to be basically happy then not worrying about money so much.
3. Don’t Buy Because You’re Bored
Oftentimes we get inspired to buy something because we are bored. We are bored in the moment so we impulse buy. Or we are bored with our lives so we keep trying to change our physical surroundings. However, instead, we have to address the root of the boredom. We have to find ways to have a life that isn’t boring. When we love our lives, we don’t have to spend money changing or avoiding them.
4. Three Things Worth Spending On
According to Happy Go Money, three things worth spending money on are experiences, time savers, and anticipation.
It’s better to spend money going and doing something that you love, something that will connect you to people and things you enjoy, than spending it on things. Experiences actually grow in value over time because they build your friendships, knowledge base, and more. You have memories and growth that you paid for instead of paying for an item.
If something is going to save you time, it might be worth spending the money. For example, I hate cleaning my house, I’m terrible at it, and it takes me hours to do a shoddy job. I would rather pay a housecleaner and save my time.
As for anticipation, this is really about celebrating things. For example, if you go out to an expensive dinner every night, then eventually that’s just the norm. And you spend a lot of money. But if you only go to one once a month, it becomes a special thing. You anticipate it. You savor it. It’s worth more, yet you spend less.
5. Language Matters
Happy Go Money has a great section that’s about having a positive attitude about your own money choices. It’s also about how language matters in this regard. For example, you’re trying to save up for a family vacation when some acquaintances ask you to a pricey event. Instead of saying, “I can’t, I’m broke” or “I can’t afford that,” you can say, “I’m saving all of my money right now for vacation.” It’s a small change but it makes a big difference in your perspective over time. You have the power to control how you feel about your money.