Why spending money on 'happy' is worth it

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’m not one of those financial bloggers who tells you to give up everything you love in order to pay off debt and build up savings. Yes, it takes some sacrifice to get yourself to a better financial situation. That’s true when you want to make any kind of change or improvement. But I also believe that it’s incredibly important to allow yourself joy and comfort along the way.

Have you ever decided you wanted to get fit and/or lose weight? You’ve probably tried a handful of different diets or exercise routines. You tell yourself you’re not going to eat ANY sugar and you’re going to work out every single day. How long does that usually last for you? In my experience, it doesn’t last very long. I like to use this analogy because I think that physical wellness and financial wellness are very similar. If you restrict yourself from having anything that you enjoy, you’ll give up and go completely in the other direction.

For example, every time I have done a Whole 30, I have completely gorged myself on cheese and chocolate after it’s over. That’s not sustainable! And then it makes me feel like I undid all the healthy progress I made before (because I definitely did). So my new goal is to create a lifestyle that encourages and supports healthy eating, so that I’m taking care of myself overall, while still allowing myself things I love, like chocolate and beer, once in a while.

That’s why I think it’s so important to build the things that make you happy into your budget. There are many benefits, both to you and to your finances:

It improves your quality of life

When you align your money with your deeply-held values, you will feel happier and more fulfilled. Values are beliefs and principles that make what we do in life worthwhile and meaningful to us. Your financial goals will be a lot easier to attain if they line up with what you believe in most. Plus, if you’re doing the things that you love most, your quality of life will improve.

I love to travel, but travel can be expensive. Maybe it’s more responsible to save and invest the money I would use on travel, but I don’t think I would have a very good quality of life if I did that. Yes, I have saved my emergency fund and I prioritize my retirement savings, but I also get so much joy from traveling the world. That is why I save money throughout the year for travel. It is a specific line item in my budget, so that I am able to travel regularly. This is absolutely worthwhile for me, because I don’t want to wait until retirement to see the world.

It makes other sacrifices worth it

Of course, you can’t just continue spending money on the things that make you happy and expect your budget to magically work better. The key to affording the things you love the most is making room for it in your budget. The way you can make room for something is either to bring in more money or reduce or eliminate other spending.

When you’re clear on where you want your money to be going, it gets easier to stop spending in other areas. For example, if you love trying new restaurants with your friends, you’ll have to have a larger dining budget. In order to make room for that, you must choose another area where you will cut back. Perhaps that area is cabs. If it’s obvious that you’re cutting back on that expense to allow for the more important expense, it’ll be more motivating to take the bus.

It makes it easier to stick to a budget

Have you ever tried to implement a budget but gave up when it felt too restrictive? I hear you! Humans aren’t very good at restriction; we need moderation. Building fun or relaxing things into your regular budget will make it feel less like you’re on a budget and more like you’re creating a plan to afford the things you enjoy.

For example, Dan and I are going to visit friends in Virginia Beach in a couple weeks. We’ll want to make sure we can go out to eat and do other activities without being stressed about our budget. This means that we’ll probably avoid going out to eat between now and then. Yes, maybe it’ll be a bummer to forego Thai takeout this weekend, but having dinner with our friends will be more fun and more worth the money. Keeping these priorities top of mind makes it easier to make these decisions in the moment.

It reduces the scarcity mindset

Mindset has a huge impact on everything in our lives. If you believe that you’ll never have different circumstances, you’ll likely never try to change your circumstances. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The scarcity mindset means that you think that you’ll never have enough. Enough money, enough stuff, enough experiences, etc. Does that resonate with you? When it comes to money, this mindset impacts your behavior, and makes it less likely that you’ll be thoughtful and discerning with your spending.

However, if you’re creating space for joy, and prioritizing that spending, it will feel more like you have what you need. What do you need to have in your life in order to feel like you have enough?

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Of course, even if you prioritize spending money on the things that make you happiest, there is going to be a limit to your spending. I want you to spend money on happy, but I don’t want you to spend with abandon. You should still be living within your means and automating your savings. The key is to build your values and happiness-spending into your budget. If there isn’t enough room for them, figure out what you can cut out to make the room.

Maggie Germano is a feminist and financial coach for women. She helps women improve their relationship with money so they can take control of their financial future. She does this through one-on-one financial coaching, workshops, writing, and speaking engagements. She also founded Money Circle, which is a safe space for women to talk about money without feeling judged. It’s a way to create community and openness around personal finance. Passionate about many issues affecting women, Maggie is a member of the Women’s Information Network and was trained as a salary negotiation facilitator by AAUW.