If you are reading this post, you have a computer or iPad or smart phone — or at least access to one of these.
This tells me a few things about you without even knowing you.
First, you are clearly intelligent and curious. And I’m not saying this because you are reading my particular post. But you’ve taken the time to read an informative post on a personal development blog, seeking valuable information. You want to learn, and that’s smart.
But the fact that you are reading this post also tells me that you are in a better financial situation than the majority of people in the world. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.
I know many people reading this are dealing with financial stress and struggles, and I’m not trying to diminish this very real concern. Financial worry can sap the joy from your life.
But there is an interesting and somewhat surprising relationship between salary and day-to-day happiness.
Recent studies have shown that it doesn’t take a lot of money to be happy. The tipping point is somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000. If you make below $50,000 annually, you might feel stressed about your financial situation and making ends meet.
However, if you make over $75,000, the trade-off of working longer hours and having more job-related stress might not be worth the perks. Depending on where you live and the cost of living, there’s a sweet spot of happiness potential somewhere in-between that salary range.
If you have enough to pay the bills, stay out of debt, and enjoy a few perks in life, then you’re doing OK, and you’ll likely be just as happy on a daily basis as someone who is wealthy.
I entered young adulthood in the ’80′s when the accumulation of money and material things was the standard of a successful and (supposedly) happy life. Over the last few years on my blogging journey, I’ve been amazed and delighted to see how many people in the generation behind me are disconnecting with materialism and focusing on experiences and meaningful work as the path to happiness.
This first came to my attention when I got to know Leo Babauta of the blog Zen Habits. In a course I was taking with him, I remember him saying, “Every time you pull out money to buy something, ask yourself if this is something you really need.” Of course, quite often, we spend on things we don’t really need.
I’ve written before about mindful spending and the negative emotions that often motivate mindless spending. Simply becoming aware of how and why you spend the way you do can foster a mind shift in the way you think about money and happiness.
Here’s a little experiment that you might want to try for a week. Let’s call it a Money Mindfulness Intensive.
If you are up for the challenge, this little experiment will do three things for you:
- You’ll save money. Woo hoo!
- You’ll become more aware of your spending habits and what is truly important to you.
- You’ll stretch yourself by doing something challenging and succeeding at it.
Hey, it’s only for a week. You can do this.
Read the instructions below and see if you are up for the challenge.
For the next seven days, you won’t be living the lifestyle you have been living up until this moment. This Money Mindfulness Intensive will be an exercise in financial and emotional dieting. But there will be positive results in the end if you stick it out. Have a journal handy to write down your thoughts about this process as you proceed.
Get a jar for savings. Pull out any one, five, and ten dollar bills you have in your wallet and put them in the jar. You can keep any twenties or higher, but once you break those bills, put the ones, fives and tens in the jar. You can keep getting twenties from a cash machine if necessary. But you can only keep twenties or higher in your wallet.
Go through your pantry and refrigerator to take inventory of what you have in stock right now. Using the food you have in the house, write a menu for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the next seven days.
If you don’t have enough food in the house for seven days, plan menus using very simple, inexpensive, but nutritious ingredients that you can purchase. Go buy those ingredients at the grocery store, purchasing store brand items if possible. This will be your one and only visit to the grocery store this week. Do not purchase any other items except what is on your list.
Now, calculate your average weekly grocery bill. From that number, subtract the cost of the groceries you just bought. Write down the remaining number and shove that piece of paper in the savings jar.
Unless it’s an absolute emergency, do not use a credit card during this week. An emergency is a hospital visit, a flat tire, or a hold-up at gun point. Not too many robbers take credit cards anyway. Make it easy on yourself, and take your credit cards out of your wallet.
No Starbucks, No Fast Food
Sorry. Make coffee at home. Pack your lunch. If you regularly purchase coffee or fast food during the week, calculate about how much you spend on those purchases per week. Write down that number on a piece of paper, and put it in the savings jar.
Dinners Out, Entertainment
For the next seven days, you must not eat dinner out. Every meal must be either eaten or prepared at home. Any entertainment must be free. So no movies, concerts, or other activities that cost money unless you have already paid for them.
Spend some time finding free ways to have fun. Do some research. There are great web sites about cost-free fun. Consider spending time in nature, playing games with your family, reading, exercising, or doing creative projects. Or use the time to clean, reorganize, and pull out useless stuff to sell or give away.
Any time during the week you start to pull out your wallet to buy something, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” You probably don’t, but if it is something you absolutely do need, ask yourself if it can wait until next week. If you don’t buy it or you delay buying it, write down the cost of this thing and put the paper in the savings jar.
What You’ll Be Buying
Not much. You can pay necessary bills. You may need a few groceries. You may need to pay for parking and gas, although you might find alternatives to driving. Cancel any lawn or housekeeping services for the week. Your kids may have events or activities to attend that cost money. If they are optional, bag them. Wherever you cut back, write down the savings and put it in the jar.
Add Up The Savings
At the end of day seven, sit down with your family and open the jar. Add up the money that you saved by creating your own Money Mindfulness Intensive. Write a check for the total amount and put it in your savings account, along with the cash in the jar. Pretty amazing, huh?! (This is a great opportunity to talk with your kids about saving and spending.)
Make It A Habit
Consider participating in a Money Mindfulness Intensive once a month or at least once a quarter. In between, stay mindful about your spending. Keep asking yourself, “Do I really need this?” Keep a running total of your savings from each Intensive, and total it up at the end of a year.
I’d love to hear back from you on other ideas for a Money Mindful Intensive and how this experiment impacted your attitude about money and happiness.