All the Money in the World: What the happiest people know about wealth

All The Money paperback Laura VanderkamThis was an expensive Memorial Day weekend, given that we stayed in town. But all in all, I think it was money well spent.

The biggest expenditure was a Friday night trip to REI. We’d been thinking about buying bikes for a while. We’ve rented bikes and a Burley (2-kid buggy) numerous times near the Lehigh Gorge State Park and at the Valley Forge National Park a few miles from our house. I also love biking. I went on a trip to Israel in college, and biked along the Egyptian border at night through the desert and felt so ecstatic about the sand and wind and moon — the starkness only heightened by the electric fence — that I honestly wondered how life could ever deliver a bigger high.

So there’s that.

And REI was having a sale!

Thus we went. I picked out one of REI’s private label bikes and took it for a test spin around the parking lot. As I zoomed past the dumpsters and the overgrown vines behind the pizza joint — past an evangelical church renting space in the strip mall — that exhilarating sense of freedom was back. This was my bike.

An hour or so later (my husband had to find one and test ride his too) it was.

There’s a saying that money can’t buy happiness, but money bought me that bike. And while stuff tends to make us less happy than experiences, some stuff enables experiences. Bikes have, in years past, zoomed me along the Egyptian border, carried me around the Loire Valley in France (I still have the scar from biking after a two-glasses-of-wine lunch), and zipped my husband and me through little villages in Vietnam where all the children rode bikes too, home from school, laughing and zipping past these two silly looking Americans with their silly looking helmets. This Memorial Day weekend, our bikes carried us (and some of the kids in the Burley; another under his own horsepower) around Valley Forge twice. Sitting in my garage, my bike now enables me to take a 10 minute break to do a quick 1.5 mile loop around a quiet street near my house.

The paperback of my personal finance book, All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Wealth, is out today (Amazon here; B&N here). A year after the original book came out, the most common question I probably get on the topic is what I, personally, am doing differently about money as a result of my research. The basic answer is that I am more mindful of using the money I have to build a more joyful life for myself and the people I care about. I am a naturally frugal — maybe stingy — person, and it has been a long process to learn to stick a bag of brightly colored mini-peppers in my shopping cart, because the 3-year-old along for the ride thinks they look fun. They’re not on sale! I don’t have a coupon! The bigger peppers (at least the green ones) are cheaper on a per ounce basis!  True, but my little boy loved those red, orange, and yellow peppers and devoured them raw. I tip better. I spend more on get-togethers with friends (including the opportunity cost of time in making such get-togethers happen). Last year we took more vacations, and I gave more to a few charities I support than the year before. 

All this has to be paid for, of course, and I’ve been doing what I can on that front. But what I’ve realized that the happiest people know about wealth is that money is there to be used. We need to be responsible, and save for the future, have the proper insurance, and all that. But then what?

Money comes in and out of our lives a lot. The cost of our bikes — while not nothing — could have been eaten up by other cost-of-living expenses. Once you find yourself past a certain threshold — say, people who might have the disposable income to buy books — many things start becoming choices, just as it is with time. I look forward to many hours on my bike, a choice I’m happy to have made. What are you happiest to do with your money?

In other news: I have a column in today’s (Tuesday’s) USA Today called Can wealth really buy happiness?

We will return to the #SuccessAtWork challenge tomorrow.

My first book with Portfolio, 168 Hours, turned 3 years old on Monday, May 27. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe it’s only been three years…



5 Responses to All the Money in the World: What the happiest people know about wealth


  1. Cloud says:

    My husband bought a new bike this weekend, too! And it will bring him a lot of joy. I’m too nervous of a bike rider to get that joy from bike riding. I enjoy rollerblading more, and thanks to my kids, I’ve discovered that scooters are a blast. I’ve asked for my own for my birthday. I guess I’ll find out soon if I get one…
    I, on the other hand, went and bought all new towels and a new bath mat for our main bathroom. These will also give me a lot a joy- the old towels were stinky and the old bath mat was stained.
    Money buys me happiness all the time- sometimes by spending it and sometimes by saving it so that I feel free to take risks at work.

    • Laura says:

      @Cloud – that last sentence opens up a whole new topic: money doesn’t just buy happiness, it buys freedom too! It’s good to have options, in all spheres of life.

  2. Louisa says:

    My husband and I have an axiom that money spent on health and wellness is always a good investment. I just had my bike tuned up and it rides a dream! Over the years we’ve invested in bikes, inline skates, backpacking equipment, yoga classes, T’ai Chi, and more.
    In other areas, I’m not opposed to buying objects, but we live in a small space and I don’t want a lot of clutter, so I prefer to buy things like audio courses or admissions to conferences, things that stimulate my learning.

    • Laura says:

      @Louisa- that sounds like a good philosophy. Good health and low stress levels seem priceless, but money can help achieve both.

  3. hush says:

    I have a really great relationship with money. It seems to come naturally to me. Gretchen Rubin talks about “spending out” and I have no trouble doing that.

    Like you, all things being equal, I prefer to spend money on experiences rather than stuff. We always eat well and stay in nice hotels when we travel, and in fact we spend a fair amount on ethnic foods in local restaurants – on things we could not prepare as deliciously and easily in our home (sushi, pad see ew, pho).