In the first chapter of All the Money in the World, I note that most personal finance books tell readers to keep track of all the money going in and out. The usual point of this is to make sure that the “money coming in” category is bigger than the “money going out” category. Which is, of course, a good thing to know.
But let’s say it is. A more interesting question, looking at both the money coming in category and money going out category, is how all these entries make you feel. On the income side, this tilts at a broad study of whether you like your work, and whether you feel fairly compensated or not (something I then cover in the next few chapters). On the expense side of the ledger, this turns up a sad truth:
Many of us spend very little on things that actually make us happy. We don’t budget much for joy.
It’s understandable. The mortgage is what it is. Health insurance premiums are non-negotiable. You need a car to get around. The car has to be insured and fed an appropriate amount of gas. The lights have to stay on. When it comes to food, we tend to buy various staples at the grocery store and, let’s face it, sandwich bread and raisins are no one’s idea of a good time. Even money spent eating out is often spent at, say, an office cafeteria, not deployed in some more enjoyable environment. Clothes are fun when you buy them, but then often cease to be so. Even children’s lessons, which could be fun, are often done out of a sense of duty. The children have to study piano and take soccer to be appropriately well-rounded individuals… right?
Well, maybe. We save for the occasional vacation, plus a few weekend ventures, and that’s the extent of the joy budget. And that’s why personal finance is so incredibly dreary.
But one way to use money to buy happiness is to, over time, increase the amount of money in one’s joy budget. Look at the money going out, and figure out what has the highest utility function for you and the people you care about. What do you really enjoy doing? What do you enjoy buying? I’ve been thinking about this myself. I really love flowers, and yet I have such a hard time spending money on them. It seems like a waste. On the other hand, I have multiple pairs of pants that I never wear — why didn’t I realize those were a waste? That represents a lot of bouquets of flowers! Clothes are a necessity, and flowers are not. But I don’t think I am going to be in danger of going naked any time soon. Another conundrum: a travel journalist who was writing a story on authors’ homes that had been turned into museums asked me which was my favorite. I stopped short because it turns out I have never been to an author’s house that’s been turned into a museum. Why not? There are all kinds of authors who have been shaped by where they live, and whose books have in turn shaped me. Why not spend some time and money visiting these places? I’d love to see the landscape of the Anne of Green Gables books, or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I’ve been to the Monterey area in California, but could have given the visit more of a Steinbeck cast. As a writer of self-help literature, I owe a great debt to Benjamin Franklin. I live near Philadelphia. But have I been visiting any of his old haunts? Not really.
All of these would be worthy entries in my joy budget. What would you include in yours?
(photo taken by me. I’m drinking my coffee out of a cup that says “joy” these days.)