They say money can’t make you happy. Is that really true? What if being happy is a function of what you do with your money?
At BudgetBakers we often talk about saving money. That makes sense. We make budgeting and expense tracking software, after all. Still, our mission is not “help our customers save money,” it’s to give people the tools to lead a “richer life.”
Leading a richer life isn’t just about money, but it does have a lot to do with money, particularly in our consumerist economy and culture. Spending money is necessary to acquire the things one needs to be minimally happy and content: a roof over your head, clothes on your back, and food in your belly.
So while it’s always tempting to talk about money in terms of how we can always be saving it, or investing it, or otherwise finding ways to not spend it all, we also should remain aware of the reasons why we save money in the first place, and that is to spend it on things that matter.
So, in no particular order, here are 10 things you shouldn’t try to save money on, in order to live a truly richer life.
Despite the lame jokes about millennials and their avocado toast extravagences (here’s an article on that), avocado toast is a healthy snack that is often worth the expense. While there are other cheaper alternatives, the fact is that high quality food is one of the best ways to spend your money when it comes to quality of life.
Having an avocado toast is not just about the taste or the luxury involved, but about practicing some basic “self care,” by treating yourself to things which are not only enjoyable, but also healthful.
In the grand scheme of things, sure that few dollars you could save by skipping a snack once a week could probably go into your retirement fund. But think about it this way: if you spend $5 a week on avocado toast, that’s just $250 a year. Assuming you take a good 15 minutes to enjoy your meal, you’re getting 13 solid hours of relaxing enjoyment for that money. That doesn’t seem like such a bad deal to me.
Nobody wants to think about dying, so you probably don’t want to think about paying for life insurance. That’s also why many companies now bundle life insurance policies with other services people are likely to need while they’re still alive.
For example, starting at the age of 29 when my son was born, my wife and I took out “active life” insurance policies that not only cover each other in the event of untimely death, but also pay us in case of any long or even short term disability. When my son’s leg and arm were broken last year in a sledding accident, the insurance company paid for the whole month so that we could stay home and take care of him. For just about $50 a week, that’s not bad at all.
Having good life insurance also helps you rest easy at night, particularly if you have kids, and a mortgage, car payments, or other debts. Making sure that everyone you love is covered in the unlikely event that something happens to you will give you a sense of security that is absolutely worth the small expense.
With life insurance, the earlier you start, the better. Prices start climbing fast after the age of 30, meaning you pay more for fewer benefits. If you start early in life, your insurance will be very affordable, and the prices will not rise over the lifetime of the agreement (for term-life, anywhere from 20-40 years).
By all means, use the library and buy used books. That goes without saying. What I’m suggesting you also do is let yourself buy books every once in a while, and consider that a necessary expense for life.
Not only is owning books pleasurable and useful when it comes to educating yourself and your kids, it’s also correlated with a longer lifespan. That’s right. The data shows that people who own books have a meaningfully longer life.
Sure that may just be a correlation, but it makes sense. The conditions that come along with owning a decent collection of books is also conducive to a longer life. You need a home to store those books. You need time to read them. You spend time thinking about them and learning from them. All those benefits come from something as simple as being the kind of person who buys books.
So buy a book. You’ll live longer.
My dad used to tell me that you should never try to save money on anything that separates you from the ground.
When you stop to consider what that means, you discover a simple wisdom. Shoes separate you from the ground, and what is the one thing you’re sure to do almost all day, every single day? If you walk around in pain or discomfort from a cheap set of kicks, you’ll be feeling the consequences of that choice literally all the time.
People are funny about their feet. They’ll wash their hands 10 times a day, and moisturize and wear comfy gloves, and they’ll complain the minute their hands start to get a little cold, but they completely ignore their feet. Your feet will be kind to you if you’re kind to them: wash them, rub them, and give them some nice comfy shoes.
Speaking of things that separate you from the ground, the only thing you do as much or more of than being on your feet is lying on your bed. You may be sleeping, but your back and your neck care what you’re sleeping on. A quality mattress can absolutely transform your life. That’s why it’s possible to spend so much on a good one.
I’m not saying you should drop a year’s salary on a memory foam mattress -although there are worse ways to spend your money- but typically the difference between the cheapest mattress, and a relatively high quality one is pretty small.
This is one thing I must admit is up to personal preference. But let me sell you on why I think you shouldn’t scrimp on a gym membership.
Sure, budget gyms are popular, and if they’re super convenient to where you work or live, then by all means, that should be a consideration. That being said, oftentimes it costs just a little bit more to get access to a “Premium” Gym.
What are the advantages? Surprisingly a comfy gym might be able to save you some money. For example, a gym that offers towels as part of the package will save you loads of laundry, washing and drying. That’s not even to mention that every time you take a nice long hot shower at your premium gym, you’re also saving yourself the cost of water and gas or electricity to heat it at home.
Aside from that, premium gyms are usually clean and include fancy features like steam saunas, jacuzzis, and plenty of equipment, so you can save time and be extra relaxed for your money. You’ll also never have to pay for access to a spa if you go to a premium gym.
Speaking of ways to treat yourself, mental health is another area where trying to save may end up costing you more. Many therapists will schedule sessions twice a month, and offer relatively reasonable rates for regular customers.
How can therapy save you money? Well, when we are under stress that we can’t manage, we tend to make poor decisions in regards to our lifestyle, our work, and our relationships. This is what mental health professionals call “cognitive stress.” Basically being stressed can cause you to make bad decisions, such as eating too much, not being productive at work, shopping when you don’t need to, or sleeping too much (or not enough).
Consider mental health counseling an investment in yourself. It can help you perform better at work, get along better with friend and relatives, eat and sleep better, and generally be a happier person. Isn’t that worth something to you? I think so.
Movies, Music, and Bubble Gum
Ok, so it’s not 1950 anymore, as my son constantly reminds me. You kids these days probably don’t buy music, maybe you don’t go to the movies, or even chew bubble gum.
The point is that everyone has entertainments in their lives that aren’t strictly “necessary,” but which make us happy. These things are what life is really all about. Trying to save money on things that you know will make you happy can be a big mistake. Of course you shouldn’t overspend on these kinds of things either, but a happy life loves a happy medium.
Don’t forget to treat yourself. I like to ask myself every month when my paycheck comes, what it is I don’t have that would make my life measurably better. If I can afford it, which I usually can, I’ll buy it. Set of new headphones? A new guitar? A treat from the ice cream shop? Family dinner from our favorite sushi restaurant? These things can make all the difference in life.
After all: the object isn’t to never spend money, it’s to spend money the right way. If money can’t make you happy, of what use is it anyway?