Be kind. Plan for experiences. And if you are able to, start putting money aside now for things you want to do or have in the future. Just enough to get you going and give you a goal. Social distancing is only temporary and won’t last forever. “It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.’’
About 18 months ago I read a book called ‘Happy Money’ by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, two academics from Harvard and British Columbia. It attempts to answer a simple but fundamental question: can money help us achieve happiness, if we spend it differently? It’s an intelligent, entertaining and useful book. If you’ve got reading time, and are maybe re-evaluating a few things, give it a try. The authors outline a number of core principles of money and bring them to life with data and examples.
One is to buy experiences. Experiences satisfy us because they are more distinct than material objects, meaning we are less likely to compare them to others (and avoid jealousy and bitterness).
Experiences create stories that we will enjoy re-telling over time, as part of our identity. They are more closely linked to our sense of who we are or who we want to be, our experiential CV (‘Tell me something interesting about yourself…). And they bring us together with other people, fostering social connections.
Another suggestion is to ‘make it a treat’. Changing our spending patterns can make us happier for less money; we feel disproportionately grateful for things that catch us by surprise. One rather startling data point supporting this is that bull stud ejaculation times are decreased with a change of location. Variety is the spice of life…
Investing in others, when we can, is good for us. Gift giving to family and friends, or ‘pro-social’ spend like charity donations. The science shows that when we feel the social stigma of stingy behaviour, more cortisol – linked to heart disease – is present in our saliva.
These ideas all felt intuitively right and like I’d experienced them before. But the one that stood out was ‘Pay Now, Consume Later’. Firstly, because I hadn’t experienced it as much as the others in the book. And secondly, because it’s so closely connected to the app I was working on at the time – HyperJar. When you commit money to something now, but don’t ‘cash in’ and spend straight away, it sets off a lot of positive dynamics.
There’s the obvious one that you’re much less likely to use debt to pay for things, with the associated financial and emotional stress. But there are a couple of other, less obvious benefits. The delay between paying for something and getting it lets you draw out the enjoyment, the anticipation. Whether it’s an upcoming holiday (which, at the moment, might be quite a long way off), or a pair of shoes you’re saving for, or just that party with friends you’ll finally get to have. Events and experiences still in the future provoke more emotion than ones in the past. And when you do finally spend your money, cash that’s been allocated to a particular purpose will often feel ‘free’, because you took it off your bottom-line a while ago. It’s why mojitos on an all-inclusive holiday taste better than the one you just paid a tenner for: they’re not ‘free’, but they feel like it.
So, while we’re all worrying about our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues, (and inevitably about finances, too) keep a few of these ideas in mind. They’ll help you get more happiness out of your money. Don’t over-indulge in any one thing. Be kind. Plan for experiences. And if you are able to, start putting money aside now for things you want to do or have in the future. Just enough to get you going and give you a goal. A night out. A trip somewhere. Some lovely food and drink. New make-up. Social distancing is only temporary and won’t last forever. “It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.’’