Using Money to Optimize Happiness… Really?

I am 42 days away from becoming debt-free (pause for celebration 🙂 ), and I recently got to thinking.

What next?

Early on in my debt-free journey, I daydreamed of amping up my retirement contributions and then just blowing whatever was left. I really missed spending! I missed treating friends to meals, buying a few new dresses because I felt like it, and the joy of my monthly Stitch Fix boxes. I missed feeling like a normal consumer!

stitch fix

But something changed in me along this journey. I got used to managing my impulses. My new habit of pausing when I get the urge to spend money on something I didn’t budget for makes me really dig into what is going on. Usually, I discover that I am bored or feeling insecure. 

That’s when I remembered something I heard in a podcast interview with Mr. Money Mustache last year. He talked about a way to identify what makes you happiest, and to let that guide your spending.

Step one is to make a list of ten things that bring you the most happiness in an average week or month. 

Step two is to look at it, soak up the reality check, and let that be your compass for how you spend your money going forward.

After some thought, here is my list:

happiness list (2)

As you may notice, it’s filled with simple things. Most things don’t cost any money at all!

This list has been great for me in a couple unexpected ways.

First, I have it set as the lock screen on my phone so I see it multiple times each day. I refer to it often to see how many ‘happiness items’ I experienced each day. It helps me to know that I’m taking good care of myself and staying true to what I enjoy most.

And secondly, it’s helpful to notice what is not on there. One thing that didn’t make the list is bars and restaurants. I don’t particularly like the loud setting, paying for someone else to serve me, or even driving to get there. I’m just not into it. Recognizing that has helped me to feel more comfortable saying no to social situations that involve a big group at a bar or restaurant.

Also noticeably absent from that list are the Stitch Fix boxes.

I like things that are simple.

Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball approach to paying off debt, simple.

Using my happiness list as a guide for my spending, simple.

I’m more excited about this next chapter now that I have a roadmap. I have never in my life had more than about $1,300 saved, so to almost be at a point of paying myself is absolutely surreal. It’s fun to let myself think about it now and picture how different that will be!

When I talk about this debt-free journey to other people they often celebrate with me, and then make a comment as to how hard it must be. And they’re right. 

If you have had a debt habit for most of your life, it’s work. Hard, consistent work. You feel weird. You wonder if people will make a comment about you just drinking club soda at happy hour, or wearing the same dress you had on the previous weekend. Or you’ll wonder if people will stop inviting you places because you say no to dinner, brunches, concerts, and trips.

You battle with your inner dialogue that says ‘I work hard, I deserve this shirt/vacation/trinket/spa day/new car/bigger house….’

All this inner turmoil has helped me to get very clear on my ‘so that’. 

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I have the freedom to take more risks in my life.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I am not tethered to a paycheck twice a month.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I’m one step closer to retiring early from mandatory work.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can savor the feeling of not owing anyone so much as a shiny nickel!

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can quickly save money for a down payment for a house.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I feel safe and secure in my financial situation.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can breathe easier.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can be incredibly generous whenever I want.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can live my financial life by example and help people to do the same thing.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can feel like I am making progress in my life.

I want to become debt-free SO THAT I can build wealth and know I don’t need to rely on anyone financially ever again.

so that

If you make a happiness list, I’d love to know what’s on it. I’d also love to know your ‘so that’. Knowing mine and adding to the ‘so that’ list has been crucial in keeping momentum over the past 23 months.

42 days until my next chapter!

One Reply to “Using Money to Optimize Happiness… Really?”

  1. This is so inspiring! I just made my happy list (before reading yours because I wanted to make sure I was writing what instinctively came to mind), and it turns out I’m a people person. hahaha

    1. Time with my immediate family in any capacity
    2. Worshiping God
    3. Finishing a good book
    4. Talking to my SO
    5. Travel – next door or across the ocean
    6. Learning and sharing something new
    7. Publishing a fresh blog post
    8. Going for a walk and listening to an audiobook
    9. Coffee dates with friends
    10. Watching productivity YouTube videos in my PJs while nursing a hot cup of coffee

    I was genuinely surprise to realize that only two of the items cost money: travel and coffee dates. The rest are freebies for which I just have to choose to make time. That’s crazy. I have no idea why I fight the impulse to spend when such simplicity is what makes me feel most at ease and joyful.

    I don’t know how I’m only now stumbling upon this exercise, but thank you for bringing it to my attention. I think I’m going to copy you and make this my iPhone wallpaper as well.

    From your list, I can completely identify with the crave for fresh air, mountains, cozy sleeping spaces, and podcasts. If my list is allowed to be 14 items, go ahead and tack those on there. 🙂


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