No matter their savvy or experience level, most investors would probably agree that money is a means to an end. It’s not an end in itself. You could have all the cash and all the stock certificates in the world, but you can’t eat them or burn them for fuel. They make terribly inefficient insulation. They’re less fun than a deck of cards.
But when it comes to deploying our money to optimize pleasure, finding joy can be more of a challenge than you’d think. One reason? Psychologists call it the “hedonic treadmill”: our brains are so good at getting used to things that they will keep chasing new pleasures, new experiences, and the next thing that will bring us a boost.
In terms of our spending, this means that we get used to fancy new gadgets sooner than we think we will. Luxury goods lose their luster as fast as anything from the bargain bin.
The danger is that if we don’t notice that we’ve started running from one thing to the next, the costs mount and the returns on enjoyment diminish.
Consider how we make decisions the larger the ticket price gets: housing and transportation are huge outlays, and they make up sizeable portions of many household budgets.
Is the purpose of buying a new vehicle to replace a family car, to enjoy the everyday pleasure of being able to get reliably from point A to point B? Or is this “for fun,” for the joy of driving and being seen driving a particular make or model? If this is fun money, are you okay with the fun that might be given up, if the money goes toward this one decision?
It’s okay to deploy our discretionary spending however we see fit, but we might do well to remember something powerful: we shouldn’t underestimate how gratifying even the smallest of joys can be. In fact, sort of like the effects of compound interest, routine doses of fun can go much farther than those fewer, farther-between spending sprees.
This is why it’s vexing to hear a little treat like a latte get such a bad rap. As writer Laura Vanderkam explains, such “small, repeated pleasures” have the power to give life a lift, regularly. And better, even a lifetime of $3 lattes will not sink your longer-term goals the way that a $300,000 status symbol—like houses or cars truly beyond our means or needs—could.
So what do the happiest people know about spending? That if you want more of that proverbial bang for your buck, think more about the frequency than the size of life’s pleasures. The big stuff may be overrated, in that humans tend to overestimate the impact that large purchases will have on their happiness.
Tending more often to your joy and enjoyment as you spend? Now that sounds like a nice way to direct your time and money.
Want to talk more about how your money is working for you in your everyday life? Let’s visit, anytime.
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