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How Money Can Buy Happiness—Wait, What?

Money apparently couldn’t buy love for The Beatles, but they were also under the impression that there are eight days in a week, so can we really trust them? And I’m not sure if we can blame it on the Beatles because it would be shallow and disgusting to believe that money could buy us happiness. Except…

For starters, happiness means something different to everyone. Happiness could be getting out of debt, buying a home, or it could be owning an island—but think of all of the sand and upkeep! (Clearly, I’m not an island guy.) In reality, once we have decided what makes us happy, money actually can buy us happiness…or at least make us happier.

It’s Just Money

Mark Cuban, billionaire, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and runner-up in a heated competition to out-awkward Steve Ballmer, was asked what advice he would give to the new billionaires who won the Powerball jackpot last year:

“If you weren’t happy yesterday you won’t be happy tomorrow. It’s money. It’s not happiness.”

“If you were happy yesterday, you are going to be a lot happier tomorrow. It’s money. Life gets easier when you don’t have to worry about the bills.”

Money itself is just money. But if you can align your money toward your priorities, and have a life full of the things that matter most to you, well, that is a happy life.

Then How Can Money Make You Happy?

I don’t think my wife and I are unique in that we really like going out to eat. For months (if not years) we would struggle in finding the right amount of money to allocate to our Eating Out category, only to completely blow up whatever that amount was in the last week of the month.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that, “going out to eat makes us happy.” It sounds ridiculous. We are happy when we can afford to go to a building crowded with other humans and pay people we don’t know to cook our food and bring that food to us, while our daughters whine, complain, in exchange for money that we have worked for. So we moved money from a few other categories to fund our Eating Out category at a higher amount each month.

Now, we’re still reasonable about it. We only go out once a week. But we don’t feel guilty, we don’t get flustered and it makes us happy.

No Guilt + No Stress + Freedom = Happiness

It’s just math here. Even though happiness is mostly subjective, when it comes to money, happiness usually involves some combination of spending without guilt, #nostress, and freedom.

If you’re feeling down and you opt for retail therapy that you really cannot afford, any temporary happiness boost is quickly replaced by guilt and regret.

If you’re ignoring your debt, the weight of impending doom will get heavier and heavier, until happiness is but a distant memory. And in a lot of cases, a lack of a certain level of financial freedom can be constricting to your happiness.

Budgeting = No Guilt + No Stress + Freedom

Hi, math here, again. Sorry. By the transitive property, budgeting is happiness. When you put money in a category that you really want, or you really need, when you spend that money, you do it guilt-free.

When you can budget money for unforeseen circumstances (I’m looking at you, taxes from 1099 work that I waaaaay underestimated this year), you’ll find that you don’t stress as much. To take that even a step further; if that unforeseen circumstance is that you want to start your own business or you’re looking for a career change, budgeting towards a “Career Change” or a similar priority truly can afford you more freedom than a kilted blue-faced Mel Gibson on a horse.

So, maybe the Beatles were wrong in not caring too much for money. After all, they seemed to change their tune about it eventually. And it’s probably true that money can’t buy love, or even happiness if you’re an unhappy person. But, when you budget toward the things that make you happy, the math checks out.

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How Money Can Buy Happiness—Wait, What?