Spending for happy: What purchases give you most joy?

Guest post by Kathryn Welch

Spending money on board games? Spending money on haircuts? What kind of things make you feeling awesome to give away your cash. By: Philip TaylorCC BY 2.0
When I saw the Offbeat Bride post “What do you wish you’d spent more money on?” I had initially assumed it was an Offbeat Home post! I got super-excited about the possibilities. I’m usually so focussed on spending less money in general, that it’s actually really liberating to think about spending more money in some areas, and to make cutbacks in others without affecting my overall happiness.

I’ve recently come to notice that some of the things I buy bring me a massively disproportionate amount of happiness (let’s call it a happy-for-money rating), whilst other — more expensive — purchases just leave me feeling meh. I had the (admittedly, blindingly obvious) realisation that thinking consciously about which purchases made me happiest means that I can choose to focus more of my spending in those areas, and cut back on those areas that weren’t pulling their weight, happiness-wise. Obviously everyone’s priorities will be different, but I bet there’s areas where loads of us are spending money without actually seeing the happiness-benefit.

For example…

New pajamas: Worn every night (and most days, to be honest), and make me feel great every time I put them on, even though I got them for peanuts on sale. Very high happy-for-money rating.

The veg box that gets delivered to my office every fortnight: Actually not that expensive at all, but I get a massive hit from seeing what’s in there and figuring out what I’m going to do with it all (and also from not having to go to the supermarket, which I hate).

Plants for the garden: Digging up potatoes feels like panning for gold.

On the other side of the fence… Haircuts: I seem to have gotten sucked into a cycle of spending £50 a pop on a haircut (yes, I know), when in actual fact I hate getting my hair cut — awful awkward conversation, staring in a mirror examining my flaws, leaving feeling self-conscious and over-styled. TERRIBLE happy-for-money rating.

I could easily go to the local cheapy hairdresser, and save myself £40 for spending on vegetables and nightwear. No net change in spending, massive increase in happy.

So, my question is, what purchases do other Homies consider to have the highest happy-for-money rating? What can we spend proportionately MORE on, to make sure our money’s working for us, and where can we cut back without noticing even a dint on our happy-ometer?

Comments on Spending for happy: What purchases give you most joy?

  1. For me what I spend money on that makes me happy – comfy clothes (I live in yoga pants and sweats), good food, music, books and nail polish. I have waaaay too much nail polish but I just can’t help myself. Things that make me unhappy to spend my money on (and I only spend the money when I can’t avoid it) meals at chain restaurants, buying shoes, buying work clothes, and hair cuts. ..I have given myself some bad hair cuts just to avoid the hairdresser and shelling out money.

  2. photobooks are up there. I make one at the end of the year with the highlights of everything that we’ve done. They cost about $30 but give me continued happiness as I display them throughout the year and when people want to look at them.

    I also like to spend money on experiences for the photo books. It may be a dinner out, a concert, or a trip.

    I do like to buy nice furniture. Having a high quality, comfortable sofa is essential. Same with my mattress. The enjoyment that I get out of our extremely comfortable mattress is priceless.

  3. I didn’t technically buy it (my husband bought it in his bachelor days, right before we met), but I love our high-end memory foam, hella-expensive bed. We sleep better, and that makes us happier. In the long run, completely worth it.

  4. UGH hair salons… I’ve been cutting my own hair since high school and I pride myself on the amount of savings I have accrued. Speaking of hair, I bought a quality electric razor for shaving, about $50. I rarely buy blades anymore. That’s saved me a bunch in the long run.
    I’ll dish out the extra cash for shoes. I rotate 3 to 4 pairs and I will keep them for years. Also, good quality booze. It’s worth it if you don’t want to waste a whole weekend in bed with a terrible hang-over.

    • Do you mean for shaving your legs? Does the electric razor get them as smooth as a regular razor? I’d love to save this money, but I love the feeling of freshly shaved legs (says the woman who buys those ridiculous 4 blade razors).

      • I love those 4 blade razors. I’m an extra fuzzy girl and I only shave my legs maybe once a month, or for special occasions. When I do shave, I love to buy those expensive razors and know that I’m not going to have to shave my legs 3 more times with half a bag of cheap bic razors and end up with a new collection of tiny cuts.
        Also, they keep their sharpness super well so I usually clean, disinfect, and use them several times each.

  5. Food from the farmers’ market! Both for the food (delicious) and for the experience (fun). Also, yarn and related supplies. That feeling of starting a new knitting project… and then that feeling of finishing it! I always buy nice natural fiber yarns and wood or bamboo needles even though I’m on the broke side, because having great tools make the experience so much more enjoyable. Actually, I’m kind of the same with any hobby I take up; for me, high-quality tools are really worth it.

  6. Things I will spend my money on:

    Makeup/skincare: I’m over my highschool and college days of having to buy cheap drugstore makeup. I now shop exclusively at independent beauty boutiques, Sephora, Kiehl’s, LUSH and Holt Renfrew for all my makeup/skincare needs. High quality stuff really makes me feel great…and my face is thanking me for it too.

    Bath treats: I love popping into a LUSH at the start of a new season and picking up some new bath bombs or bubble bars. I don’t do it very often, but it’s so fun and it’s something to look forward to for my next bath.

    Coffeeshop: My city has a nationally top-ranked bakery/patisserie…and we hardly ever get over to it (hours don’t always work for us, crazy busy, etc). But when we do go, it’s so fun! I love looking at all the desserts and treats. I usually end up dropping a good $30-$40 just on croissants, macarons, tarts and drinks…but it’s so worth it!

    Spa: I recently just found my perfect spa. It took me about 4 years to find it. But every treatment I get there is always perfect, the ladies are amazing and remember me, and it’s so well run. I don’t go all the time (totally don’t have the money to do pedis every few weeks), but when I do go it makes me feel amazing. And I find I’m budgeting my money differently just so I CAN go and treat myself.

  7. High happy-for-money value: Fitness. I spend more than many people spend on rent on my personal trainer, Crossfit membership, physiotherapy/massage therapy, workout clothes, running shoes, yoga classes etc but physical exercise is unequivocally the best thing I have ever done for my sanity, my heart, my self confidence and my emotional wellbeing. I’ve struggled with a lot of things in my life, mostly rooted in mental/emotional issues , and I can’t be literal enough when I say I don’t think I would be alive and happy today without fitness.

    Actually teared up a bit there, yeesh!

    Low happy-for-money: bills!!! I have kind of mentally opted out from dealing with finance stuff which I know is a bad idea but I hate it. I probably spend too much on cellphone/internet/electric etc because of that. Also I was a dumbass when I was young and am now working to rebuild my credit and paying back a lot of debt, which just reminds me what a dumbass I was every time.

  8. My husband and I are both introverts who hate down time, so we have lots of “projects.” Purchases made to go towards those projects are often worth it.

    High value happiness purchases for me include a painting class through the local art museum, painting supplies, and gardening supplies. Since exercise is vital to my physical and emotional well being, any purchases to support that are also high on the happiness index, although in a different way. (Exercise is my therapy, haha.)

  9. Sewing/crafting supplies top my list. Once I purchase them I get enjoyment from the from the beginning to the end of the project and then from seeing whatever I created being worn/used by someone!

    • Crafting supplies absolutely top my list. I love yarn, I love looking at the yarn I have and dreaming about what I can make. Guys, it’s pretty AND soft; if I don’t watch out I can zone out petting my stash, imagining an army of amigurumi.

      On the low end…I hate clothes shopping. It’s hard to justify the money for new stuff (and if I do buy new it’s super functional, practical things), and I can get really bummed out at thrift stores.

  10. graph paper! and nice thin pens to go with it.

    also, good 2-player board games (the best are 2+ so you can play them with more folks too, but 90% of our board gaming is just me and my honey).

    interestingly, eating out is on the top of both my worth it and not worth it lists. eating out about once a week makes me feel *so fancy* – especially if it’s breakfast. eating out more than about twice a week makes me feel *awful* (lazy, grumpy, tired of crummy food and money-panicked).

  11. I think the biggest one for me are my movie dates with my husband. Every Sunday, we go into the city and watch an old movie at a movie palace from the 1920s. It’s our time to be together and enjoy a classic and we both love it like crazy. It’s kind of expensive between parking and tickets and treats, but it wouldn’t be the same without popcorn and drinks, so I happily shell out the $40 every week.

    For me personally, it’s baking supplies. Stocking up means tons of yummy fresh baked goods, and I love going to the specialty shops for high end spices and extracts. I spend close to $20 on a bottle of vanilla or maple extract, but it means better cookies and pancake syrup.

    My low money to happy stuff are actually home improvement items. New shelves are awesome at first, when I notice the improvement to the house, but their sparkly-factor wears off when I become accustomed to them.

  12. Love this post!

    Big happiness : money ratio
    – little gifts for my friend’s daughters
    – fabric and ribbons/trim (even if I never do anything with it!)
    – music (I just forget this and don’t buy it very often — need to make a more concerted effort, no pun intended!)
    – flowers / plants for the garden, especially pansies — they give an especially big happiness bang for your buck!
    – the occasional random table cloth or runner
    – expensive greeting cards

    Low happiness : money ratio
    – lunch (we keep resolving to make it & not buy it because it’s more of a chore to figure out where to eat every day)
    – crappy furniture (for example, the cheap closet we got that fell apart and, after repair, is ugly every day)

  13. I was thinking about this just the other day. I used to love paying my bills, but when I was working full time, my husband handled the bill paying which meant I saw my bank account decrease without seeing bill balances decrease. So I like spending money on things that can provide me a sense of accomplishment – home improvement supplies, picking out a bluray or a game for family night. The other day, we got bagels at a shop – a very rare occurance – and it was the first time our daughter sat politely without a high chair and ultimately was a part of a perfect day.

  14. I feel like this sort of goes without saying, but anything I buy of quality that I got for a deal. I LOVE LOVE LOVE finding great deals, online or off. Woot and Groupon are great for this, but also estate sales and things. I bought 34 books (plus other odds and ends) last weekend for about $50. I am a bit of a book hoarder, but I know I’ll read all of them eventually.

  15. There are so many things that make me happy that I can buy – sewing supplies, thrift store finds, photography supplies, my monthly massage. Then there are the things that when I buy them I cringe (my vitamins/suppliments) because of the cost, but in the long run they make me happy because they keep me out of pain. It isn’t an instant gratification like “things”, but more of a long term gratification and money that goes towards keeping me in my happy place. 🙂

  16. OK, so this is the fifth time this month that I’ve spent 20 minutes typing out a comment only to have it disappear into the ether, which makes me sad. Am I the only one having this problem?

    Ditto food. I buy the best we can afford, and we subscribe to a service that delivers yummy meat, dairy and stuff from local farms. And anything that I spend money on that makes us more self sufficient and free of chemical nastiness (stuff to can, make soap, ingredients for natural cleaning supplies) makes me happy. Also, the yard where I’m planning to grow most of our food and raise chickens, anything that I buy for out there is money well spent.

    New shoes. I buy new sneakers every two years, and I always buy the same brand. Usually by the time mine are worn out they’ve come out with several new colors, so I spend some time deciding what color I want and then order them. I’ve got a cool green pair in the mail now, and I’m like a little kid checking my tracking info every half hour to see what state my shoes are in.

    Pencils and notebooks make me happy. My computer was worth every penny we spent on it. And magazines, I love them, even the way they smell.

    I cut corners on other things. I buy towels from estate sales, always white ones so I can use oxygen bleach on them; I never pay more than a dollar apiece, and use them for cleaning and wiping up spills too so I no longer buy paper towels. Our clothes come from thrift stores, because we destroy them anyway. Our furniture is used, because we have cats and they destroy it, so that way I don’t feel guilty spending money on something that is going to end up shredded. And any time I can replace a cheapish new thing with a built to last old thing, I’m a happy camper.

    • We realized there was an issue this morning with our spam filters being a little hyperactive. I saved a bunch of posts (including this one!) from Offbeat Home’s comment spam folder, and tweaked some things so that there will hopefully be fewer false positives when it comes comments being filtered out as spam.

  17. Food, for sure. Local, organic, fresh food cost more, but makes me feel so much better, both physically and actually, in pretty much every other way imaginable.

    Also, books, classes, workshops and traveling to workshops. I love learning so much and nothing inspires me more than learning about something new and fascinating.

    Crazy expensive, smart LED hoops. I’m a hoopdancer and smart hoops are expensive, but the hearing the awe inspired by them makes the $400-$500 a pop totally worth it. They are so mesmerizingly beautiful. Healing with light and color!

  18. 1. Fluevogs. I buy at least 2 pairs a year and never, ever regret the decision. They’re high-quality, gorgeous shoes with personality that dress up my mostly Old Navy wardrobe into something that passes for adult clothes.

    2. Food. Ingredients or going out, good food is always a quality investment. Speaking of, resto week is coming up and I need to book some tables.

    3. Travel. It can be done on a budget, but even then it can get expensive. Another expense I never regret, though.

    • I’m so glad you said Fluevogs! I was going to have to comment just to mention them! They’re way more than I ever spend on any other kind of shoes, and I usually sit on the fence for months before I’ll actually pull the trigger, but holy crap I love those shoes! They are so incredibly well-made and comfortable! And they look so amazing you can’t help but smile at your feet.

      My other big ones are kitchen-related things (both food/ingredients and kitchen tools fall into this category), books (usually of the e-book variety these days), and computer parts/electronics/gadgets. I so enjoy buying a new part for my gaming rig, then getting to spend an evening installing the hardware and rewiring my case. I know it sounds silly, but I really love wiring computers. I take pride in a clean, pretty wiring job!

  19. A proper bed, musical instruments, and top-of-the-line health insurance! And expensive chocolate. Since we buy the really good stuff, it means we’re limited to one tiny piece each after dinner. It’s tastier than the cheap crap, and since we can’t afford to gorge on it, it’s healthier too!

  20. Not enough happy for money: Almost everything! I’m a cheapskate. 🙂

    Bonus happy for money: groceries on sale (especially for stocking up), cute stationery, manicures and massages, adoption fund savings. And last night my wife spent the $1.99 (which I was reluctant to) and we watched the Call The Midwife Christmas Special on Amazon — it made me ridiculously happy. (I watched series 1 on Netflix and series 2 on PBS free of charge, but couldn’t find a free version of the special anywhere.)

  21. I definitely get a little “high” when I buy anything pertaining to organization! It’s so dorky, but I absolutely adore being nicely organized. (Being “clean” is a different story though…)

    I love buying mason jars at yard sales to store nick-knacks in. I love buying screw-top containers for pasta and rice. I recently got an “Italian-style” lidded jar from TJ Maxx to store coffee in. I got giddy when I installed a behind-the-door baskets for the cabinet under our kitchen sink. Our admin accidentally purchased one too many desk organizers, and I immediately said I’d take it. I was noticeably excited when my Amazon purchase of a 2″-wide rolling shelf to store our overflow of bathroom stuff on, and seeing how it perfectly fit in the tiny space between our sink and the wall in our teenie tiny bathroom.

    A close second are mugs. I love coffee and started enjoying certain teas in the past few years. I have lots of mugs… so many, in fact, that if I buy a new one, my fiance makes me donate one of the existing ones to Goodwill. If he didn’t, my collection of mugs would easily overflow into a second cabinet!

  22. Concert tickets. It is by far my favorite thing to do. I’m pregnant and due in March and one of my first thoughts was that we wouldn’t be able to go to see Flogging Molly in March like usual.

    Jeans and shoes. I love having a new pair of jeans that I feel good in. I also love sneakers, especially PF Flyers. It’s also fun to rock a coo pair of heels.

    Pez dispensers. I’m in the hundreds now but each new one still excites me.

  23. Clothing that I truly like, fits well, and is flattering. These are rare for me, and often out of my budget, but like you said, happiness per dollar ratio is HIGH on these. I once bought a new dress for $70, and was so bummed about how much I spent, but I have worn that dress maybe 20 times already this summer, and LOVE LOVE LOVE it still. Also food, I’m such a foodie.

    Least happy? Probably underwear, hair-care products and baby clothes. Ugh.

  24. Shoes are my biggest happy-for-money purchase. Whether it’s a pair of payless shoes that look surprisingly trendy, quirky high quality sneakers, or gorgeous dress shoes found on sale, I love buying shoes. A lot of the joy for me is in the hunt, and my favorite purchases are often those found at huge discounts in the back of the store.

    The only let-down comes if I end up buying shoes that aren’t as comfortable as I thought they’d be or that I end up not wearing much. That usually doesn’t happen, though. And I just get so much joy out of well-purchased shoes!

    Like the original poster, I don’t like spending money on haircuts, and the same goes for any type of spa service. I always feel awkward and uncomfortable, and I tend to enjoy lower-end establishments more because the employees often make less conversation! I appreciate a good haircut, but the stress of the experience isn’t worth the money to me.

    I also don’t like buying bras. Bras always seem to be so much more expensive than I want them to be – whether it’s one or two high quality bras for lots of money or more mid-range pieces for less money – it’s still money that isn’t giving me much happiness in being spent. Wearing a nice bra doesn’t really influence how I feel about myself – I’d much rather spend the money on the clothing that’s on the outside! Though I’d be uncomfortable without anything, alas.

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