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"What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do." - Bob Dylan

Know What Makes You Happy to Improve Your Finances

By , January 6th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

I am a firm believer, from my own experience, that after committing to spend less than you earn, the most important thing that you can do for your finances is to truly understand what is important to you and what makes you happy. I know that at first glance this doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with finances, but I found that before I figured out what was important to me and what made me happy, I spent a lot of money on things trying to achieve these goals without knowing what they really were. Instead, I assumed that what would make me happy were the things that seemed to make other people happy (there is a reason that commercials have a lot of happy people in them).

Everyone is different and what makes one person happy won’t necessarily make another person happy. I found it difficult to accept what made me happy at first (even though it should have been obvious to me long before I did actually accept and act upon it) because it wasn’t what society was telling me was supposed to be making me happy. My financial situation began to really improve when I accepted that experiences (particularly travel) made me far happier than things did.

Once I had this fact clearly in my head, the way I approached finances completely changed. There were a lot of things that I had in my life that I didn’t want to give up because I thought that they were things that would make me happy (that societal force again) which were in reality were an image rather than what I truly wanted. When I needed to stay within a budget, this often meant that I felt I had to give up one thing over another when both seemed equally as important to me. Once I clearly knew what made me happy, the focus went from “what do I have to give up” to “what do I have to do to ensure what makes me happy happen.”

I still have to make financial sacrifices to achieve many of the goals I want, but I am more than happy to make them because the reason I am making them is to do something that I am sure will make me happier in the long run. To meet the goal of traveling 2 weeks every month in 2011, I have decided to give up many things that I believe most people view as “essential” these days. Not having them certainly makes things less convenient at times and forces me to be creative at other times, but it also means that I can do the things which I enjoy doing the most. I consider that a pretty good trade-off.

Friends and family see that I travel a lot and are often jealous that I am able to do as much as I do. What they don’t see or consider are the financial decisions I make to enable me to do so. That is what I will be writing about this year — those decisions and the consequences that result from them. I already know that some of you are going to think I am a bit crazy (don’t worry, I already have plenty of people that think of me that way), some of the decisions I make will definitely not be the ones you would have made (and that is OK because we are different and I assume what makes us happy is different) and I will make a number of mistakes along the way (I always do). What I hope is that from my financial decision making process you are able to develop your own that works for you and your financial situation.

Do you know what is important to you and what makes you happy? I mean, do you really know? It is a difficult question that can create a lot of anxiety. I know because it sure did when I was coming to terms with what made me happy. If you do, I’d love to hear what it is in the comments and how/when you found what it was. If you still aren’t sure, I truly hope that this series will help you to think a lot more about what does and what you need to do to make it happen.

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  • 20 and Engaged says:

    Hmm what makes me happy? Experiences…rich experiences. I love learning. I think if I can learn something new everyday for the rest of my life, I’d be satisfied.

  • Ash @ 30 Day Sites says:

    This is a fantastic post! Definitely got me thinking. I know traveling and being with my favorite people and doing things with them is what makes me happy. And having the freedom over my time and work to do these things. Freedom and experiences, pretty things are great but I’d rather make them with friends and family to save money and have a great time. Thank you so much for making me think about this! Great way to start off 2011.

  • MonkeyMama says:

    Yes, I can 100% say we know what makes us happy and we make those priorities in our life. & I find this is a very important element in personal finance. Great post! It seems simple at face value, but putting your time and resources to things you enjoy helps you to better manage finite resources.

    I find that people who don’t understand us will often say, “Well, you can stay home with your kids, but you can’t eat out a lot, go on vacation freely, put more money away for retirement and you can’t have all the latest and greatest gadgets.” Yes, they are observant and these are all true statements. But the thing is I don’t give a flip about ANY of that because I have plenty of time to focus on that which is most important to me – family. I also love my job and could not imagine living life doing work that I didn’t love. (Of course, many others are just jealous of what we have and blind to what we don’t have – of course).

    I think my spouse and I felt a little more uncertain in our choices when were were younger (being different from everyone else raises constant questions from others), but my spouse had a huge medical scare last year and we did a lot of soul searching and life evaluation during that time. I think we both now find it easier than ever to tune out the noise – we know we live life the fullest we can for ourselves and it doesn’t matter if others agree or have different values.

    Our values focus around enjoying the activities that we do (work, etc.), spending time with our loved ones, and spending lots of time with our kids. Making our home a haven is another one. Obviously, our values change with time. Before kids, life was very different, and as they age, we will have to fill in that void with something else. I’d say knowing what makes us happy takes constant re-evaluation through the years.

  • Ralph says:

    If It Makes You Happy… – I love that song.

    Yes, I think I know what makes me happy, and a lot of it is learning, and most of all connecting things I have learned. Also I love NOT spending money, so a lot of my quandary and reason to be here is that you have to spend a lot of money when you have a family, so that is my conflict. I know a lot of my problems with money were an inability or unwillingness to keep the expense lid on. No one wants to be the bad guy, especially on a consistent decades long basis. But at least it is good that I enjoy frugality. Without that going for me I’d be completely broke.


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