Happy Money is a book that explores finances differently. While a lot of finance books might talk about investing, earning money, or achieving FIRE, Happy Money explores the topic of spending money, specifically on how everyone can spend money to maximize their happiness.

It’s a topic not typically covered by finance books, and a book I got a lot out of. There are five main principles for spending money to maximize your happiness:

Spend on experiences

You likely have heard of this first principle. Money spent buying a trip or going to an escape room makes you happier than buying a car or a new computer. While you may be initially very excited about the new car or computer, your excitement dies down. The same thing happens with trips or experiences, EXCEPT the experience also gives you a story you can share with others, thus causing you to re-live the experience over and over.

In fact, the authors of Happy Money (both researchers) talk about what kind of experiences to spend on. To maximize your happiness, you will want to spend on experiences that:

  • Connect with others (experiences with friends, family, or your partner are better than experiences by yourself)
  • Link to your unique self (if you are passionate about Disney, going to Disney world is much better than going to Universal Studios)
  • Is unique and cannot compare to other things (going to an escape room while in another country may be a good experience; going to an escape room while on the moon would be crazy)
  • Gives you a great story to tell (because then you can ‘re-live’ the experience with friends, coworkers and family)

Make it a treat

This principle can be otherwise stated as “make it special”. When I was young, my Mom would take my brother and me to the hockey card shop and purchase new hockey cards. We would only go every couple of months. This made each hockey card pack we got a special treat. Now that I’m older, I can purchase hockey cards any time I want. The special treat feeling I got when I was young is no longer there.

What are some things in your life that you take for granted? The coffee from Starbucks or Tim Hortons? The special meals your spouse cooks for you every day?

Making things a treat is also a good way to cut back on expenses. Instead of buying a coffee every day from Tim Hortons, make coffee at home, and only buy a coffee when you go with a friend or coworker. You save money and you can enjoy the coffee from Tim Hortons that much more because you’re not having it every day.

Pay now, consume later

If you’ve ever gone on a trip, you have likely experienced the ‘pain’ of seeing the bill after. During the trip, you are willing to purchase goods and experiences, reasoning that this is a rare opportunity to do something and that you might not have the chance again. “Hey, I’m in Japan and I might not have the chance to eat at the McDonald’s in Japan ever again!”

But when you get home and look at your credit card bill, you wonder why you purchased three Happy Meals in Japan.

Conversely, if you’ve ever paid for dinner in advance (for example, a silent auction or as part of a special meal), when you are eating the meal, it feels like your meal is free. And you’re not hit with the bill after (or at least not right away).

As much as you can, find ways so that you can pay now, and then consume the product or service later. Disconnect and separate the two to maximize your happiness.

Buy time

Buying time back won’t feel like you are spending money wisely, but it can be one of the best investments you can make. When you buy time back (for example, getting someone to cook or clean, or hiring an assistant to help with admin work), it frees up time for either higher leverage activities (things only you can do) or to spend time with loved ones or hobbies.

How can you buy time back?

  • Delegate activities or work to assistants or others
  • Look at the different chores and activities you do – which ones do you dislike the most? Can you hire someone to help you do it?
  • Sometimes, buying time is buying convenience. Is it cheaper to buy whole vegetables to cut yourself? Yes. Will you save time by buying pre-cut vegetables? Yes, and while it’s more expensive, you will save time (and be more likely to eat the vegetables because of the convenience).

Invest in others

Investing in others can be something as simple as charity, but it can also be about purchasing gifts or services for others to help them along (such as buying a book for a friend) or even investing your time mentoring someone new in their career.

Aside from the tax breaks, there’s something incredibly rewarding and satisfying about giving back to those less fortunate than you. Since no one gets to where they get to without some sort of help, you pay it forward by helping others new. I have significant experience in my career, so whenever students or others in my network ask for my help, I’m happy to give it because when I was in their position, I asked for help from others in my network. That is, I wouldn’t have got to where I am if others weren’t kind and generous with their time and expertise.

The five principles again for maximizing your happiness while spending money:

  • Spend on experiences that are unique, connect you with others, and give you a great story to tell
  • Examine the things in your life you always or regularly do and make it special or rare
  • Find ways to pay for things ahead of time and consume later
  • Buy things that will give you time back
  • Invest in others by sharing your time, money or expertise