How To Spend Your Money When Shopping For Happiness?

“Money can’t always buy happiness.”

As soon as you say that, some people will readily brand you an idiot and tell you, “You just don’t know where to shop!”

They are the ones who always equate money with happiness, and would most likely tell without batting an eyelid, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than be happy on a bicycle.”

What occupies their mind are mostly things that other people buy or do with money. Their worries and regrets revolve around things they miss in their life because of a lack of money. Many such people dream of marrying into riches.

There even exists a bestselling genre of “billionaire romance” novels. These books satisfy their fantasies of shopping for expensive things and being seen at fancy places without having to worry about how much they spend or are left with after the purchases.

The ‘Money To Survive’ Argument

When talking about money and happiness, what most people reduce the argument to is: you can’t put food on the table, pay your rent, or afford healthcare, without money.

Those are the most basic survival uses of money. That’s not what we’re talking about today.

We’re discussing people who have money to support all their basic needs, then some more, but nevertheless feel incomplete and restless without having or doing things that richer people have and do.

Money is essential for surviving, but insufficient for thriving. Click To Tweet

Let’s explore how people who live well over the poverty line can best use their money to shop for well-being.

Shopping For Happiness

How To Shop When Shopping For Happiness?

We commonly believe that acquiring material belongings is a good method to bring more happiness into our life. (Kasser, Cohn, Kanner, & Ryan, 2007).

However, buying stuff is not the right recipe to spice up our well-being. When it comes to happiness, how you spend your money is at least as important as how much money you make.

So, how you should spend your money more wisely to make yourself happy.

Here are some helpful ideas from science about how to approach your shopping habits for getting maximum happiness from your expenditure:

1. Buy Now, But Consume Later.

When you buy yourself an experience that happens in the future, you add to your happiness in three ways.

  • First, when you’re going over the pictures and videos to plan out the perfect experience before you decide to buy it.
  • Second, when you anticipate the enjoyment you will derive from the adventure, and spends days planning things.
  • The third time you feel joy is when you go to enjoy the experience, because it feels like you’re getting all of it for free.
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Paying for an experience, and going to the experience later, takes away the pain of paying for instant pleasure.

When you use the ticket to an adventure that you bought a long time ago, you enjoy the experience more since your mind forgets the pain of paying for it.

Assume you want to book a trip to Amsterdam. When you buy it, paying for it hangs painfully in your mind.

But after some time, you start to forget the pain, as you expect it to be the most spectacular vacation of your life. It is this anticipation that is intrinsically joyful.

The joy we get from anticipating the future is known in French as se réjouir. Click To Tweet

Finally, when you visit Amsterdam, you have the impression that you are on an all-expenses-paid vacation.

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2. Buy More Experiences (Than Things).

It’s easy to spend money on things, like clothes and shoes and gadgets, and get ourselves a happiness boost. We know it well enough that these up-spikes of joy that come with a new buy do not last.

Moreover, buying things decreases our happiness. Materialistic pursuits are linked to poorer levels of life satisfaction (Richins & Dawson, 1992), psychological need satisfaction (Kashdan & Breen, 2007), happiness (Belk, 1985), and depression and anxiety (Kasser & Ryan, 1993).

Philosophers have long argued that we should spend money with the primary intention of acquiring life experiences rather than possessions. Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, said:

Again, let us possess nothing that can be snatched from us to the great profit of a plotting foe. Let there be as little booty as possible on your person.

So, what does science say on how to spend money to gain maximum happiness?

Research suggests that buying life experiences is a more cost-effective path to happiness. Several studies have found that life experiences, rather than material possessions, contribute more to happiness (Caprariello and Reis, 2013, Carter and Gilovich, 2010, Carter and Gilovich, 2012).

In a recent survey of loan applicants, more than 80% of those under 30 reported getting more satisfaction when they purchased experiences. They said spending money on trips, concerts, or special dinners made them happier than spending on material goods, like electronics or clothes (Dunn and Courtney, 2020).

3. Buy Yourself Free Time.

We assume that rich people spend their time in happier ways, like living in costly apartments close to their office. But data shows wealthy people are busy doing things they don’t like. They spend more of their time on less enjoyable activities, like commuting and shopping (Kahneman and Krueger, 2006).

Research also indicates that higher incomes and an increased sense of time scarcity are related. So, in truth, as you get wealthier, you start to feel more pressed for time.

However, the good thing is, you can add to your happiness by buying yourself free time to do things you enjoy.

Recent research suggests that spending discretionary income to buy more free time may enhance happiness. The study authors found that spending money on time-saving services, such as outsourcing cooking, shopping, and house cleaning, is related to better levels of life satisfaction (Whillans, Dunn, Smeets, Bekkers, 2017).

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Spending money on time-saving services may feel extravagant in the current post-pandemic era, yet buying time appears to increase happiness levels.

4. Spend Some Money On Others.

A string of studies reveals that spending some of your money on someone else is more likely to make you happy than spending it on yourself. Spending on others allows us to bask in the “warm glow” of giving.

However, the act of giving does not necessarily make everyone happy. It is crucial that the giver feels they have taken their decision freely — that it is something they chose to do rather than being forced to do.

The happier people have a consistent pattern of spending their income. After paying for the essentials, they set aside away 25% for saving or investing. Then they spend roughly 12% of their earnings on pro-social activities, like donating to charities or religious institutions, or buying gifts for others.

Giving generously, even if it is only a few bucks, can improve your mood, according to research.

5. Go Shopping Without A List.

A shopping list is an ideal way to avoid impulse buying. It saves time, money and lets you get the most out of your shopping trip.

But what happens when you walk into a supermarket with a shopping list in your pocket? It becomes a chase to check off the items on your list. Buying from a shopping list is a mechanical and stressful experience. Moreover, it might add more worry if you realize your list is missing key items.


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So, don’t bother making a list. An impulsive shopping trip comes with the delight of curiosity and exploration built-in.

When you go shopping without a predetermined plan, or without any plans to write down your purchases once you get back home, it becomes an emotional experience. This spontaneous shopping will give you a lot of enjoyment.

4. Pay For Shopping With Only Cash.

Nowadays, most people even use their phones as their wallets, with apps to make it that much easier. But is it really the better way to pay?

When you pay using a digital mode, the process is almost painless. Using cash or bills is more difficult emotionally, but it saves you the later agony of having to settle your dues and debts.

The psychology of money says that when you pay with a credit card or a mobile wallet, you tend to spend more since you don’t feel the pain of seeing the money leave your pocket. These “invisible” modes of payment lead you to often buy things you don’t need, which you later regret when you get home.

Remember, going cashless while shopping can deliver unbounded joy at the time of purchase, but it may cause pain later.

So, take cash (or a card with a limited amount) with you when you go shopping.

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4. Never Get A Debt You Can’t Pay.

There is a dark side to money: your debit and credit card debts can quickly become crippling to your finances and interfere with your ability to pay bills on time. As a result, you are potentially opening up to pay off the high interest on your accrued debt.

We know how financial institutions deal with debtors. You risk drawing intense suffering into your life if you do not pay off your debts to them.

As a result, never go into unmanageable debt. You may feel a surge of delight in the short term, but the long-term worry of repaying it will eventually make you worse off.

To keep your peace of mind, one of the first things you should do is pay off your debts.

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Shopping For Happiness

More Shopping For More Happiness?

Of course, more money increases our happiness, as studies keep finding. Income does have a positive correlation with happiness (Diener and Biswas-Diener 2002). Even in 2020, people said their happiness increased with higher salaries.

However, there is a catch. Although money can help afford admission into better schools, more rewarding careers, and safer residential localities, it does not provide as much happiness as people believe.

According to surveys conducted in 19 countries, the poor are just 20% less likely than the rich to be content with their life (Diener and Biswas-Diener 2002).

It interprets as money can give you the power to control your life in terms of acquiring more expensive comforts and allowing pleasant activities – only up to a point. Once you reach that point, money stops giving you more happiness.

The money that makes a person most happy is the money that keeps them out of poverty.

Unlimited money is not the recipe for never-ending bliss. Click To Tweet

Final Words

Do the wealthy feel happier than everyone else at all times? No!

More money increases our desire to buy more than what we could live without. It leads to overconsumption through unwarranted purchases. Of course, more buying creates business, but it may also be a curse for our planet Earth.

We must be mindful of how fast we consume resources and produce waste in comparison to how quickly nature can absorb our waste and generate resources.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness, warns us:

“…having money raises our aspirations about the happiness that we expect in our daily lives, and these raised aspirations can be toxic. Unfortunately, raised aspirations don’t only lead us to take things for granted and impair our savoring abilities. They steer us to consume too much, tax the planet’s resources, overspend, and under-save, go into debt, gamble, live beyond our means, and purchase mortgages that we can’t afford.”

• • •

Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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