If It Makes You Happy

Last week I talked about taking some time to list the things that make you happy.  I said that list would help you refine and define your priorities. And hinted about how we’re building up to the big idea that every penny we have or spend is based on our choices.  And I’m a big believer in the idea that our choices should mostly be for things that make us happy. You can’t do that if you don’t know what makes you happy. That’s pretty straight forward stuff right?

So like magic you’ve had a week to think about the things that make you happy.  Now I’m going to help you classify those happy things to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

When I made my list I was super surprised that most of the things on my list were effectively free.  For instance I love taking baths – now I could start to calculate the cost of the water and the water heater and prove it isn’t exactly free, but I’m not that kind of person.  The bath is effectively free.  Now if you don’t have a bath tub, and would have to move or buy a bath tub and renovate a bathroom to take one – then taking a bath is pretty distinctly not free.

Look down your list and highlight the free things.  If you have lots of free things that make you happy on your list, and you aren’t doing them with reasonable regularity you might want to think about why.  Hint – the answer is in your choices about time and not your choices about money.

Next on your list you’ll probably find some things that I place in the “can be free” section.  An example from my list was reading.  Hello library.  If my reading isn’t free, that’s my choice because it totally could be free.  Another example would be listening to music.  I already own a ton of music that I can enjoy and there are plenty of ways to listen to free music.  If you don’t like ads and choose to pay to purchase more music or subscribe to ad free music services, that’s your choice.  These happy items CAN be free, so put a star next to them.

Next category is things that are sort of free because you are already paying for them whether you take time to enjoy them or not.  Example: snuggling with my cats.  I committed to a lifetime of food and litter and vet care the day we made the decisions to bring them home.   So if I’m not taking the time to snuggle and play with them (which makes me a whole lot happier than cleaning the litter box) that is a very poor choice on my part.   If I love roller blading, and own everything I need, but just don’t go – yep, that’s not about the money, that’s back to my choices with time.  Put a dash next to these guys.

You might have spotted the running trend about choices already.  The making a happy list wasn’t an idea I ran across in all my financial research.  It’s an idea I ran across in researching happiness.  But when I made my list I was surprised that most were choices on how I spent time, not how I spent money.  Since I work with people who often feel extremely unhappy and blame their finances, this was big for me (and thus them, and now you).

But for the moment – back to the list.  Give it a look over, but specifically look for items that are really truly about the money.  On my list that was super clearly travel.  I mean I love walking, but walking is only going to get me so far (and not to say, Antarctica).  Traveling is actually way more than something that makes me happy, it is something I am pretty passionate about and think about almost all the time.  So bam – that’s important and I needed to keep that in the forefront of my mind when I started my budgeting.

Let me side step for a second here.  Because you might have noticed I keep talking about little things.  Coffee, cat snuggles, reading, and baths are not exactly earth shattering in their importance and you’ve probably already rolled your eyes a few times and thought things like “I need help getting my mortgage paid this month and my credit card debt keeps me up at night and you’re talking about going to the library.” 

Yep.  And we’re going to get to all of that big stuff.  But a small leak took down the Titanic.  In my world of finance, if you feel like you are sinking (or just heading towards the iceberg), the reality is you can fix the small stuff really easily, the big stuff is a lot harder.  Here’s the super obvious analogy – if the titanic had just turned a little bit, a little bit earlier, they wouldn’t have hit the iceberg at all.  A ship just can’t make a 90 degree turn.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t change direction.

So we’re going to turn a little bit at a time.  We’re going to plug the small holes first.  I’m going to take you on a trip of incremental improvements that will last your entire life.  This is not the 30 day cabbage soup diet because you have to fit into the bridesmaid dress (or in our case pay the next bill).  This is a long haul to financial happiness.

Now let’s look back at the happy list at those items that are only maybe about the money (the ones with a star next to them).  I talked a little about music earlier.  If you are truly crazy passionate about music, than spending money on a streaming service might be the thing you would do above just about anything else.

Last week I mentioned coffee shop coffee.  If you would rather do nothing more than have that daily coffee at your favorite coffee shop , then own that about yourself, and plan for it above other things.   For me it’s yoga class.  Yes, I can do yoga for free at home.  But I am not particularly good at nor do not love doing yoga by myself at home.  What makes me happy is the teacher and the class and the room that is not my house with all it’s distractions.   So that’s a thing that is a money priority for me.

Now we get to find out if where you spend money ties with what makes you happy.  If that sounds a little familiar, it might be because we’re coming back around to my first big idea.

This week I want you to pay attention to the money you spend.  You don’t have to change anything, but every time you take out cash or plastic, spend at least two seconds and think about if the things you are buying are making you happy, if they are actively contributing to one of the things on your happy list.

Ponder things not just at the register or online checkout, but as you put them in the cart.  I get it – buying cat litter doesn’t fill me with joy and isn’t nearly as thrilling as a new pair of shoes.  But it contributes to the cat snuggles that are on my happy list.  And since I love cereal, even a mostly uninspiring carton of milk does come with a little happiness (though cereal didn’t make it on my happy list).

Don’t forget to look over your credit card statements for anything auto charging and think about those the same way.  The idea is to see if how you are about to spend a buck, five bucks, twenty bucks, or a hundred bucks on something that is in line with things that make you happy.

If you want to do something extra this week, I challenge you to do as many of the things on your happy list as you can without spending money.   That includes the highlighted items of course, but also the sort of free ones (that you pay for anyway) and your bonus challenge is the ones marked with stars that can be free.

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