Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Money can buy happiness

… even if you don’t have a lot of it. The key is spending what you do have on the right things.

I don’t have much money and what I do have tends to be spent on necessities rather than treats, but I find that I appreciate treats so much more because they are the exception rather than the rule.

1) The little things
I have been teased about taking pleasure at little things (an ex called it my most annoying trait), but there is so much unhappiness and stress in the world that I think it’s essential to take joy where you can. I have certain regular treats that cost very little but that I look forward to all week. If I’m having a bad day, they give me something to keep me going. Wednesdays are treat night; a takeaway if I’m feeling flush, a bar of chocolate to share if it’s just before payday. On Thursdays, my favourite magazine hits the stands. It’s less than a pound but it cheers me up and I can make it last for days. Monday mornings I treat myself to a can of diet coke once I get to work (I need the caffeine on Monday mornings!). Such a small thing, but it makes my Monday that bit brighter.

If you have a particular day that you dislike, or a task you hate doing, try scheduling yourself a little treat afterwards.

2) Don’t keep up with the Joneses
So much of what we buy isn’t what we need or even what we want. We long for the new IPad, the widescreen HD TV, the newer car, the flashier holidays; often not because we actually want them but because other people have them. Sometimes it’s because we feel we should have them, we deserve them – x has one and we work harder than them / our family needs a treat more than them / we deserve one more than them. Sometimes it’s just for the look of things; we worry people will think we are poor because we drive a knackered car. Even if they do, does it matter?

I have a friend who takes her family on increasingly exotic holidays every year. They save like mad in between before jetting off to new and exciting places and revelling in the jealousy of their family and friends. That’s fine if you can afford it and it’s what you want. My friend’s little secret though, is that she and her family’s favourite holiday was spent in a caravan in Hastings. All she really wants to do is take her family back there, but she’s too worried about her image.

Another friend is planning on spending her savings on a giant TV. She barely watches TV; she’d rather spend the money on a new sewing machine, but her family already tease her for only having a small TV so she’ll spend the money on that because she feels she should.

3) Choose your choice
Buy what you want, not what you think you should buy. Don’t buy a classic novel just because you feel you should improve your reading habits; if buying a trashy chick-lit book will make you happier then do it.

4) Prioritise – and stop feeling guilty
Another friend is worrying because she ‘needs’ to buy her son a DS for Christmas and she can’t really afford it. It is upsetting not to be able to treat your family, but this is a DS we are talking about, not a necessity. Cheap trainers might get your kids teased a little, but if it means being able to afford to eat next week, they’ll learn to live without the latest designer shoes. Learning that money has to be worked for and that they can’t have everything they want is a lesson they will have to learn eventually, unless you want them to end up in crippling debt. Stop beating yourself up because other people’s kids have stuff that yours haven’t; keep them warm, fed and loved, and congratulate yourself on doing the best you can.

5) Give it away
Studies show that people who spend their money on others are happier than those who spend it on themselves. So give a little. No one expects you to bankrupt yourself for others, but give within your means. If you have a little money spare this Christmas, make a charity donation, give a present to someone who won’t otherwise get one, send a shoebox parcel abroad, or just drop a few pennies in a collection box. Give presents to your family and friends, even if they are just small homemade trinkets, and enjoy that little moment of pleasure you get when someone opens a present from you. Smile – you’ve just made someone else life a bit nicer. Doesn’t that feel good?

6) Live it, don’t own it
Try spending what you can on things to do rather than ‘stuff’. £20 can buy a takeaway, or it can buy a day out with the kids. The takeaway can last 30 minutes (although the extra lbs might stick around for a while), but the memories of a trip to the beach or a day at the zoo will last much longer, and experiences can colour your life for years to come. What pleasant memories do you have from childhood? Are they memories of listening to music on the new stereo, or are they memories of days out or time spent with your family; first time on a train perhaps, or first trip to the cinema? The beauty of experiences rather than gifts of course, is that you can plan them according to your budget. If you’re on the breadline, then a walk to the park for a picnic and an ice-cream on the way home costs very little. If you’re more comfortable, then a keeper’s day at the zoo will be remembered for years, or even a holiday for a whole raft of memories.

My daughter’s strongest memory so far isn’t of any of the fancy toys people have bought her; it’s of a two-day cut-price caravan holiday I took with her. She mentions it at least once a week and often asks if we can go again. She doesn’t remember that we lived on toast for those two days or that we couldn’t go into the town because we couldn’t afford the parking; she just remembers jumping into bed with me in the mornings, sitting outside in the sun, having Mummy all to herself and visiting the kid’s club in the evenings.

7) Save sometimes, splurge often
Saving for a large purchase is all very well, but the pleasure you get from any purchase rarely lasts as long as you hope. Let’s go back to that big TV. You save and save and save, buying no treats, living in austerity, until the big day finally arrives – it’s yours! It sits in your lounge, gleaming, and you glow with pleasure. The following day, you enter the room, and there’s that glow again. The following day, a glow – but a little less. And less. And less.

It’s the same with small treats of course, the joy of a chocolate bar lasts just a few minutes. But think of just how many small treats that TV could have brought. You may have struggled for a year to afford that television; you could have had a whole year’s worth of little pleasures instead. So by all means save to buy that big TV if you really want it – but why not save a bit less for 18 months instead of a bit more for 12, and take time to enjoy some smaller treats as well?

8) Simple pleasures
It’s the obvious answer of course but if money isn’t the answer, possibly because no matter how small the amount you just don’t have it, try freebie fun instead. Most museums and art galleries are free, so are the park and the beach. Sign up for freebies with your favourite companies; most makeup and toiletry companies will send samples or enter you into a draw for bigger prizes for something as simple as signing up for their newsletter. One of my biggest pleasures is getting something nice through the post instead of bills! Or settle for putting your feet up in front of the television (you know, that little one we talked about) or browsing the net for something funny or interesting, or just something to kill a few minutes other than doing housework. Reading this blog for instance.

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