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. Cookbooks!

    But I’m very picky about them. I don’t want a “thirty minutes to dinner” or “quick and easy” type cookbook. And not something that’s just a list of recipes. I want something where the author talks about the philosophy of how they came to cook this way. It makes it easier to adapt recipes and it really makes me love cooking even more. (Although there is a fine line between philosophy, passion, and love and shameless ego stroking)

    Some of the cookbooks released by Top Chef folks are fantastic about this. (Not the Top Chef cookbooks, ones written by the contestants).

    BIG happiness to money ratio because I get the pleasure of reading the books, planning the meals, shopping for food, the IMMENSE pleasure of cooking the meal, and then deconstructing the results to improve it.

    Least happy? Bra shopping. I hate everything about bras. I hate the lacy stuff (but THANK CROM I’ve finally found pretty bras in my size. I actually cried tears of joy the first time I found a pretty bra in a H cup). I hate trying them on. I hate wearing them (but I hate not wearing them even more). I hate that they are so expensive. I hate that they give out. I hate putting them on. I hate taking them off.

    • Can you give me some good cookbook titles? I like knowing why people do what they do too. You’re right; it makes it so much easier to adapt or create recipes!

    • I would put bra shopping on my MOST like to spend money on. It’s one of the few things I never cheap out on. I am also a very busty lady – have you tried Nordstroms? The bras there are amazing, the staff is so helpful, and they actually have a huge assortment in “holy crap those are some big boobs” size. And there’s a decent price range. I can never find anything in my size below about $60, but I rotate through about 4 $60 bras (not counting sports bras) and they last about 2 years (and then they become weekend bras, not for under work clothes). Anyway, bra shopping at Nordstrom changed my life – putting a bra that fit under my clothes made me feel a zillion times better about my figure.

      • Nordstrom’s relieves a *lot* of the hate of the purchasing process. Being able to actually try the bras on and having knowledgeable ladies who can measure transformed the process from “tears every time” to “bra shopping – again?”

        Mine only last about 6-8 months before they start having structural issues. I’m looking forward to the day Boeing starts designing lingerie

        • It depends on your band size, but I’m in love with Lane Bryant purely because of bras. They don’t have many styles in the larger cup sizes, but they do have some. I luck out that even though their clothes are genrally too large, they do carry my bra size. I stock up once a year during one of their semi-annual buy 2 get 2 (which usually corresponds with a $25 off $75 printable coupon), and walk out with 4 bras and 5 pairs of undies for around $60-70. I also hate bras, and cannot find my size in hardly any other store, but my happiness is greatly enhanced by having bras that fit and getting a major deal at the same time.

  2. Most happy: Good toilet paper! After living in college dorms I swore I would never go back to the thin rough stuff again.
    Good shoes and repair I used to buy cheapo shoes and my feet felt it. After moving to NYC I was going through shoes like crazy until I started spending a little more (over $80) and paying the $10-20 to get them resoled usually once a year.

    Least: Rent, I love living in NYC but the rent is too damn high for the shoebox I live in. Followed by bars I go to be social but the markup on alcohol is ridiculous. Same with lower priced restaurants, I hate going out to eat for cheap, unhealthy food I could make at home but again, I go to be social.

  3. Non-boring things! So pretty / fancy / funky / fun clothing & shoes (not practical undies, socks, PJs, yoga pants, etc.) — these make me smile when I put them on & even when I take them out of the drawer or closet. Good-quality makeup too, esp. lipstick in rich, dark colors.

    Also, anything related to travel, from a plane ticket to a travel pillow — makes me ridiculously happy. Worth every last penny!

    Spending on everyday stuff like food, home, healthcare, etc., just makes me sad. Way too much of my money goes there & not to the fun stuff.

    • Rather like how some of the best food for you is often the food you dislike the most (green peppers and spinach? BLECH! At least for me), isn’t it funny how the things you most need to spend money on just to attain a basic standard of living are the things that give you the least joy? I mean who enjoys paying their health insurance premium?

      I sure didn’t. I’ve been happy as ever now that I have national health insurance in Taiwan.

      • I’ve got to agree with the green peppers. I have a friend that’s constantly trying to convince me to like them, even though I’ve tried them several ways. he seems to think all my taste buds and sense of smell needs is a convincing argument to like something!

  4. My favorites: Parties! I love bringing everyone together and making a memorable event.

    In selfish news, my other favorite thing to spend money on is plane tickets. When I know I am going somewhere and have something to look forward to, it makes everything seem so much more exciting.

    I hate spending money on car stuff. I know it is necessary, but just loathe to do it.

  5. Aside from the necessities (mortgage, bills, food etc), what I probably spend the most money on are my two dogs and my horse. The dogs go through at least one bag of good quality dog food a month ($70), the horse runs at ~$300/month for boarding, farrier and feed. This year alone, the vet bills between the three ran in the $6000 range so far.
    Yet it’s still the best “return of investment” for me. I just have my heart invested in them, and I get a big kick out of seeing them happy, healthy and well taken care of.

    Least happiness-for-money for me would be beauty products. I can’t believe how expensive they are, and honestly, to me they don’t really make most people look any better. Needless to say I only wear makeup under absolutely exceptional circumstances.
    I also really don’t enjoy spending money on my car – I can’t avoid the necessary maintenance and repair, cause I need it to get around, but I’m always shocked how expensive it is. For me, the car is a means to get from A to B safely and reliably, but I take no special pride in it.

  6. We’re pretty dirt poor, but after getting fancy sheets as a wedding present we went ahead and upgraded the rest of the bedding and even bought a headboard and bed-frame with storage. It looks grown up, it’s solid, functional (woohoo storage!), and it put a little luxury in our budget-driven life. I tell you, it was the best thing I’ve ever spent money on.
    We use our bed for a huge part of the day. A better bed means better sleep, its my favorite room now, and it’s a great backdrop for the sexy times. Every time I slip into those high thread count sheets and wrap up in that fluffy down duvet it fills me with immeasurable satisfaction and joy ^_^

  7. I subscribed to the Julep nail polish box that gets mailed to your door, and for $20 it brings me an irrational amount of happiness. I enjoy the “things in the mail” part best I think! And then taking my time to paint my nails, which to me is a luxury because it then precludes cleaning, laundry and especially dish washing from happening in my night. And as an attempting to reform nail biter it is nice to see those pretty colours!

    Also headbands. I love them so much and can get 5-10 for 10$ at the accessory store and waiting to buy them until they have one that is so ridiculous it calls my name is such a happy day.

  8. I have just recently realized that while I thrift all my clothes and some furniture, spending money on nice, good quality bed sheets is totally worth it to me. It feels like a total luxury, but I use them every night- totally works for the “dollar (or less!) for every use” theory of spending.

  9. High Happy for Money
    – Pets. I have elderly pets and they cost a fortune, but I have had to admit that I would spend whatever I could to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible.
    – Roller Derby Equipment/Stuff. I love skating and it makes me happy to invest in equipment that makes me safe while I do it. Bonus if its glittery or shiny.
    – Plants for my husband. He loves plants and it feels great to find some plant he has been coveting and buy it for him.

    Low Happy for Money –
    – Anything technological that I don’t need for work/school.
    – Parking.

  10. Cupcakes, desserts and candy. I want to try all of them. IN THE WORLD. Nothing makes me happier than trying a new flavor of anything sweet, and it’s never more than a couple bucks. Also I’ve been ordering fun Japanese candies you make yourself, so I get the joy of anticipation for it coming in, the fun of making it and the pleasure of eating it.

  11. High: travel. Probably the highest. I spend the bulk of my disposable income on travel (we went to Sri Lanka last year and we’re going to Myanmar next year, yo, and the defining moments of my life have been trips to India, Turkey and Taiwan: I ended up staying in Taiwan, where I live now) and I regret not a cent of it.

    Low: clothing. I feel like nothing ever looks good on me EVER. But…I have to wear clothing and clothing wears out and falls apart, so I have to buy it. I just try to do so as little as possible. Of course I’m elated when I find that rare item that looks good, and then I wear it to death so it falls apart faster, and then I can’t find the same thing or something like it (rarely is there more than one of anything that looks good on me available in the store so I can’t always buy copies).

    Sad face 🙁

  12. 1. Books. Yes, I’m a librarian, and I always try new authors/series from the library first. But I’ve also always been into rereading, and I have my list of authors whose books I know I will want to read multiple times, at which point it’s worth investing in a personal copy that I can read whenever I want.
    2. Dark chocolate, preferably Theo’s which I discovered on a trip to Seattle last winter, but anything above 70% will do in a pinch since there’s only one local place that sells it on an end of town I only get to around once a month.
    3. Coffee shop coffee. I treat myself once a week.
    4. Good tea, usually either black or white but sometimes a rooibos is acceptable.

  13. Anyone else for cut flowers? We almost never had flowers in the house growing up – they weren’t sensible, they just died, etc. etc. But I started buying tulips and daffodils and other ‘cheap’ flowers – often just one or two at a time and keeping them in bud vases – while I was in Montreal for uni. It was so lovely to have them there, and I’ve kept doing it. It’s usually $5-$10 and they’ll last a week, and I get such a buzz from them.

    Also – I back up the disproportionate happiness to be had from buying a nice new pen and a blank notebook to write on. LOVE!

    And – new toothbrushes. I often wait too long to buy a new toothbrush, but it feels so nice, and it’s good for you!, to be brushing with a toothbrush that isn’t months old.

  14. For me it pretty much comes down to things I’ve put lots of research and thought into, usually because it’s something big that I’ve saved up for so it will last a long time. Upstream I mentioned my home-built computer and a really good pair of boots. I also love my guitar (solid wood, got it used–it’s 16 years old and it looks barely played!) and the lessons I pay for each month, since I’ve wanted to learn guitar for a loooong while.

    Other than that? Nth-ing the good food and beverages. Wine, good beer, nice tea, dark chocolate, seasonal fruit, and cheese. Nom.

    And hobbies. I love to run and go to concerts, and rarely regret dropping money on races and bands I really want to see (and Outsidelands music festival every year). Running shoes and workout clothes. Yarn for knitting during my downtime.

    Kinda have to agree with new socks, especially since I realized I don’t have to stick to boring black ones and now buy things like rainbow knee-highs. At work they’ll be covered by my boots and skinny jeans if I want, so why not have fun? I get a lot of bang for buck out of fun accessories like scarves and necklaces too.

    Things I don’t like to spend money on? Bras and underwear, though I think it’s because I need to find the right places. Books no longer give me the same high since I’ve moved one too many times and had to purge a ton of them. I often regret buying magazines, though one or two of them are alright and sometimes make me feel better about myself instead of worse. Makeup doesn’t do much for me. And generally, giving money to companies I feel icky about, so I’m working on not doing that even if it’s more expensive elsewhere (just have to buy less, the horror!).

  15. Candles and nail polish are relatively inexpensive, but are things I really love. I also love getting beauty treatments like manicures, getting my hair done etc.

  16. Definitely gonna second, third, four-hundredth the travel idea. Whether it’s going on a big ~£1000 holiday or just a night in a hotel in the city, I LOVE being away from home (as bad as that sounds). I’ve moved back in with my parents to complete a masters’ degree so any quality time I can spend with my boyfriend is treasured. Luckily, we’ve found a hotel in our city which is utterly glorious, offers half price parking and free wine and cheese, and is only £40 a night. How they do it, I do not know.

    Food’s another big one. It’s great getting paid and splurging on some delicious cut of meat or a lovely piece of cheese from the market.

    I have hilariously deformed feet and leg joints so a well fitting, supportive and comfortable pair of shoes is always nice, especially if they’re not hideous to look at too!

    The thing I spend most on that doesn’t give me enough happy is clothes. Occasionally I have splashed out on expensive stuff which I love wearing, but I feel like it’s too expensive for every day so it stays in the wardrobe waiting for the right occasion. The rest of the time I buy cheap-ish clothes which get worn once or twice and thrown in the back of a drawer, or they fall apart or go wonky in the wash.

  17. I have to admit I’m a bit of an online shopping addict. I can’t remember the last time I went shopping for myself in an actual shopping mall. It’s been years. I get a thrill out of finding good deals online. I’ve become extremely good at picking clothing that will fit me (ie I know my size). On occasion I order things that might be a bit big, but I’ve also become close with my seamstress! Knowing that I found something at a steal, I have no problem paying a seamstress to have it altered to fit me perfectly. I love finding unique items that aren’t on every rack at the mall.

    Concerts are another one for me. Not the big shows at stadiums, but shows at local venues that feature indie artists. I love it. I’ve discovered many of my favorite artists this way. I’m supporting local business AND the bands AND I always have a fun time. Best money I spend.

  18. A new planner for the beginning of the school year! The one I use is ridic expensive, but I’ve tried others, and this is the one that matches to both my school’s schedule (rotating blocks, why are you?) and the way my brain works (I don’t need space to write things for the weekend; I *do* need space to write down what I’m doing after school). Plus, once I get the planner, I get to spend some quality time making sure I’ve got all of my important dates (trainings, days off, etc.) copied in…gets me going for the school year!

    …really, school supplies generally have a pretty high bang-for-buck ratio, especially when you get a teacher discount. Notebooks! Organize-y things! NEW PENS AND PENCILS ZOMG.

    Other high-satisfaction purchases: anything of which my fiancée has said, “hon, do you think maybe you should replace that? …ever?” I am super change-resistant, so it takes me a while to get used to the idea, but in the end I am happier with shoes that cover my toes / a coat that has a lining / jeans without paint stains.

  19. High: good quality food, seeds and plants for my garden (I don’t spend much on this, but the happiness return is high), posters and artwork for my apartment, an audiobook subscription at audible

    Low: clothes. For some reason I feel guilty for buying clothes.

  20. Quality soap! Like nice rosemary and goatsmilk soap from the Farmer’s Market. Every morning has a steamy fragrant beginning in the shower. Really sets the day and gives a BIG bang for the buck.

  21. I pay two women a very fair wage to clean my house twice a month. Before they come, I purge and de-clutter as best as possible so they don’t have to bulldoze their way through our crap. After they leave, I lay on the clean floor and make “clean floor angels” (just me rolling around on my living room floor making the motions one would use to make a snow angel) because I’m so happy with my clean, de-cluttered space. The peace of mind that this gives me, as I tell my husband “makes my brain quiet.” We seldom bicker, but when we do, it’s about chores. Since we started having the cleaning ladies come, we fight less. Peace of mind, a clean home and a happier marriage for $250 a month? ABSOLUTELY.

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