H is for Happy Money

UnknownI think that Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, is the first (and perhaps only) non-fiction book to make the list.  I say “perhaps only” because I don’t have all my posts written yet, and there are one or two that are in competition for a letter slot.

The Haunting of Hill House lost to Happy Money in this case.  Sorry, Shirley Jackson.

Anyway, back to the point.

I’m a bit… frugal.  I buy a lot of my clothing at Goodwill, and feel that secondhand stuff is almost always as good (or better than) new.  Maybe that’s a legacy from my grandparents, who sold antiques and reproductions at flea markets.  (And my uncle, who currently runs Holly Hill Antiques… hey, it’s another H!)

Pretty much the only things I spend money on are books and notebooks.  I really love notebooks.  And pens.  Oh, and I love my laptop, but that’s not really something I regularly spend money on.  Seeing a theme yet?

Anyway, in Happy Money, the authors call on research that disputes the age-old claim that money can’t buy happiness.  Actually, it can.  But not if you buy stuff with your money.  Cars, houses, furniture, etc. won’t buy happiness.

In order to purchase happiness, one must buy experiences.  Those experiences depend on what each individual likes.  For me, I love any experience that involves going somewhere and seeing something new.  Bonus points if it’s something natural.

Because I’m frugal, I used to feel at least somewhat guilty about spending money on vacations or for consumable experiences, like concerts.  But after reading this book, I realized that the happiness I got from these experiences was an investment in my future.

If an experience has the ability to absorb all my attention, to transport me, to enrapture me, then it’s a good value.  I recently saw David Gilmour in concert.  It was relatively expensive, traveling to Los Angeles to see him at the Hollywood Bowl.  (He wasn’t playing locally.)

It was a show unlike any I’ve seen before, and live music is always better than pre-recorded music.  The Hollywood Bowl is an outdoor venue, and the music filled the air.  People sang along with songs, the drunk guys behind us bumped into us every 37 seconds and spilled beer on my backpack, and the electricity made my heart race.

I’ll never forget it.

There are a lot of things that are needs, and a lot of things that are wants.  In my opinion, experiences fall somewhere in between those two things.  Because experiencing things, both positive and negative, are what living is all about.

Maybe that’s why I love to read so much.  Each book is a little vacation, a new experience, a different way of seeing the world.  And that, my friends, is priceless.

“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”
-Dale Carnegie

V is for Value

"The best things in life aren't things."   --  Art Buchwald

“The best things in life aren’t things.”
— Art Buchwald

I’ve always been cheap.  I don’t know where I got it from; my parents are generous, and they’re both spenders.  Growing up, I always wanted to save my money.  I never wanted much other than books and paper to write on, so it was easy for me to keep my money.

As I got older and started working, I bought things for myself occasionally: CDs and video games.  My mom always bought me clothes because, left to my own devices, I’ll wear things until they fall apart.

I stayed cheap, and I didn’t see anything wrong with it.

My attitude started to change after I heard this quote:

“Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

-Warren Buffett

Something bothered me about that quote the first time I heard it, and it stuck in my head for a long time.  I eventually started to realize that I had an attitude that was “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

I noticed that the tank tops I bought from Wal-Mart for $3 would shrink and become misshapen after one wash, but the tank tops I bought from Old Navy for $9 would last me for years, pretty much until I got stains on them that I couldn’t get out.  I noticed that cheap kitchen tools would stain or break, but the higher quality ones would look good and function well for a lot longer.

I realized that it was silly to keep buying low quality stuff over and over, to need to replace it constantly when it would wear out.  Not only is that not good practice from a financial standpoint, but it’s bad from an environmental standpoint too.

These days, when I buy something, I ask myself:

1.  Do I need this?  If I haven’t been missing having whatever it is, it’s not a need; it’s a want.

2.  Will this bring me joy? Sometimes I don’t need things, but they make me happy enough to justify buying it.  For example, I don’t need a new CD, but I do love hearing Taylor Swift tell me to “Shake it off” or the haunting energy of Imagine Dragons.

3.  Will it last?  I try not to buy things that are going to break or have a minimally useful life.

In the end, it’s not about stuff anyway.  The things that are really valuable aren’t things and don’t have a price tag attached.  My favorite souvenirs from travel are pictures, and music and video games are best shared with friends.

I’m still cheap.  But at least these days, I’m smarter about it.  That’s a valuable lesson.