Saturday, February 18, 2012

Am I Buying Happiness? The Results of a Self-Scored Test

I know it’s not in good taste to discuss money, so I won’t start throwing numbers around.  But the truth is that this year, I am making less money than I was when I started my current job.  There are two reasons for this: one is that I haven’t received a raise in this position, which I can accept without too much complaint.  The other is that I am now paying more for my health insurance, which frankly, I find incredibly annoying because I live a very healthy lifestyle and I think I ought to be rewarded for it by paying less for my health insurance.  Instead, I’m paying more because of institutional changes to the health insurance plans, which means that my take-home pay is less than it was last year.  Bummer.

Anyway, on a deeper level, I find the relationship between money and happiness fascinating.  It’s hard to analyze, too, at least it is for me in my life.  Am I happier now, with my bigger paycheck, than I was in graduate school?  I don’t know—there are so many things that changed when I made the transition from PhD candidate to PhD.  A new job, a new home, a new city, a new state—all on top of the fact that I’m older, wiser, and more self-accepting than I was in my twenties.  So am I happier?  I don’t know.  I think I’m happy enough—and that works for me.

I came across a post over at The Happiness Project, Eight tips for how money CAN buy you happiness, and I immediately loved it.  While reading the tips, I thought about whether I implement that advice in my own life, and I was pleased to see how well my own money practices line up with Gretchen’s observations.  In the interest of sharing, I thought I’d post my own responses to her tips. 

“Spend money to…”

1)  Strengthen bonds with family and friends.  Yes, I absolutely do this!  Plane tickets to Michigan, lunch and coffee dates with friends, the occasional romantic getaway with my favorite gentleman—these items are substantial parts of my budget.  I also on occasion talk too much on the phone and have to pay for the extra minutes, but it seems like a minor cost to nurture important relationships.

2)  End marital conflict.  Hmm.  Since I’m not married, I have to be fair and say that I do not do this.

3)  Upgrade your exercise. Yes, I did this last month!  I bought new running shoes and registered for my half-marathon in March.  I also spend about $150 a year to maintain my bike, which I think is money well spent.

4)  Think about fun.  Oh, boy, do I.  My cookbook collection is a good example of me spending money on stuff I don’t need.  But I get so much pleasure and inspiration from those shelves of books.  I think it’s good to spend some money on stuff we want but don’t need.

5)  Serenity and security.  This phrase is referring to paying debt and building savings.  I’ve been fortunate enough not to accumulate any debt, thanks to my parents (for college), science graduate school (which paid for itself), and some frugal living.  Over the last year, I’ve been taking charge of my long-term financial future, opening a retirement account and moving my money into different investments.  Now, I really hate money chores and investment banking puts me to sleep, but I do feel relieved to have taken care of my long-term interests.

6)  Pay more for healthy food.  Oh, yes.  I love a kitchen stocked with gorgeous fresh fruits and vegetables.

7)  Spend the money on someone else.  Yes, absolutely.  Giving presents is a pleasure, and I’ve tiptoed into the realm of giving money to worthy causes.

8)  Think about YOUR priorities.  I try to follow this advice generally, especially when I start feeling lost or when my life is spinning out of my control.  For example, in December when my computer required that I reinstall the operating system, I didn’t hesitate to buy an external hard drive so that I could keep all my old files.  I could have let go of podcasts and my photos, or the offline files for my blog posts, but I didn’t want to sacrifice my files just to save some money.  So I asked a tech-savvy colleague for a brand recommendation and bought myself a new hard drive.  (I bought one from Western Digital and love it—so sleek, yet so much memory!)  I knew that it was a priority to get my computer working again, so I prioritized the time and money necessary to get the job done.  Sometimes you really can throw money at a problem to solve it—or at least to buy yourself the tools to fix it.

On the whole, I feel really encouraged by this thought exercise!  While I’m disappointed that my take-home paycheck appears to be shrinking, at least I am spending that money in ways that matter to me.  And that, I think, is more important than the size of your paycheck any day.


Theresa said...

I bought "The Happiness Project" book was I was in Chicago in November. I really like what Gretchen has to say...there are many forehead-smacking-D'oh moments in her writing :-)

Shannon said...

oh man, i hate money. but i like those 8 things, they're how i tend to spend what i do have... your paycheck may be getting a bit smaller, but you are rich in so many other ways ;)

Raquelita said...

I really do like all of these things and love how you have applied them to your own situation. I wish that I had more money to put into savings, but I'm glad that I don't have debt other than student loans.

Rosiecat said...

Theresa, very cool! And it's so true that there are a lot of obvious things that contribute to our happiness, like being healthy. I almost always feel happier after a run or a bike ride.

I've been thinking about that a lot, Shannon--that a truly rich life is not your net worth. Money can make things easier, but it's really a tool, not an end.

Thanks, Raquelita! I also wish I had more money to put into savings--that's the part of my budget that's taking the hit from the health insurance hike. Oh well. I do take some comfort in knowing that I'm now making my savings work for me, but realistically, I'm just not willing to make any sacrifices right now in order to save more money.