What is worth spending money on? We discussed this question with Sharon Greenthal, our good friend who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind, and further crowdsourced the question. Money is a private and often touchy subject, yet the respondents were candid and their answers, revealing.
In the weeks between tossing out the turkey carcass and dragging the Christmas tree to the curb, the average American family is expected to spend $740 on gifts in this brief, intense shopping period. As the year winds down we will also give generously, writing checks for $79 billion in charitable donations or a quarter of our annual giving.
How we spend our money speaks to who we are and what we value. For each of us it is a trial and error process. We spend impulsively, and we live to regret the purchase. We save up carefully, and the object of our desire become obsolete or out of fashion. We buy things or experiences, we invest in education, and charity and with each step learn more about our personal relationships to money and more about ourselves.
How we spend our money is a sticky, complicated question that is burdened by the behavior of our family of origin and says something about the example we hope to set for our own children.
We asked around and hoped to find some wisdom about what is worth that extra spending. When do we spend money and feel great about it days, weeks and months later? What gives us lasting joy or just the thrill of the moment, and don’t we want a little of each?
Recent research seems to be conclusive on two matters.
First, when we spend money on others, it makes us happier than when we spend it on ourselves, Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School explains in his wildly popular TED talk. The tax year may be the cause of all that end of year giving, but there is real happiness to be found here.
Second, experiences make us happier than things. Our younger selves may not have understood this simple maxim, but when you query a group of people in midlife, it is clear that this is wisdom gained. There may be some things money can’t buy, but our readers tell us that there are a few things that it can:
1. Travel, travel, travel
Getting on a plane, boat or in a car ranked right up there at the top of our readers lists of the best way to spend money. And the only thing better than traveling, was traveling with family. Travel creates lifelong shared memories and made it to the top of most of our lists. Upgraded travel with better hotels or better seats on a plane were worth it, if the cost was manageable.
University education for our kids was widely thought to be money very well spent. Some mentioned continuing education as well. Along those lines, tutoring and SAT prep classes are also considered a necessary expense.
3. To save time or increase comfort
Many readers mentioned spending money on housekeeping as a necessary luxury. Pedicures and massages made a great many lists as little comforts that go a long way.
4. Hair color
A few of our friends fessed up to hair color. It may be temporary, but we walk out of that salon feeling a whole lot better.
5. Performance tickets
Attending shows, concerts, operas, movies or live music in a bar or on stage made the list.
6. Good shoes
Not Manolos or Louboutins, but a really good quality, beautiful and, above all, comfortable shoe was right up there.
Technology is one of the “things” that makes us happy. Our computers and phones help us work better and faster, but far more than that they connect us to the people we love.
8. A nice meal at a restaurant
Sharing a good dinner with friends and family made many lists. Some considered it worth economizing in other areas in order to be able to afford this nicetie.
9. Professional or high quality photos of kids
Hiring a professional to take a photo of our kids was on many lists. We want better quality images just the ones that come out of our smartphones. We never get a chance to roll back the tape so a couple of times it is worth paying for the perfect family portrait.
Giving to others was high on many, many lists and it would be near the very top of ours, as well. Our readers know intuitively what Norton’s research bears out – making others happy, safe or secure makes us happy as well.
Finally a few of our readers mentioned chocolate. A fine bar of excellent dark chocolate, many believe is worth the extravagance, and who can argue with that.