Can money buy happiness? Last year, universities studied happiness and the media investigated it. Here's how to make their hard work pay off for you this year.
In mid-December, The New York Times wrote more than 2,000 words on A Formula for Happiness. That’s almost twice the number of words in the Declaration of Independence – which contains the famous phrase, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
A few months earlier, TIME Magazine put The Pursuit of Happiness on its cover. “If you’re an American and you’re not having fun,” the story began, “it might be your own fault.”
Pharrell Williams certainly wasn’t to blame. Last year, the Virginia-born rapper released what he calls “the world’s first 24-hour music video.” Called 24 Hours of Happy, the interactive video features men, women, and children (plus cameos from Magic Johnson, Steve Carrell, and Jamie Foxx) dancing to the four-minute song a total of 360 times.
Then there was the World Happiness Report 2013, which consumes 172 pages and doesn’t really draw any conclusions (beyond “Human development is, at heart, a conceptual approach,” whatever that means).
If 2013 was the “Year of Working Hard on Happiness,” maybe we can enjoy the results in 2014. Here’s how the Debt.com staff plans to be happier this year than last. And given the name of our website, we’re focusing on the concept that money can indeed buy happiness…
Michael Koretzky, editor
Personal finance editors are supposed to warn you not to spend money frivolously. But I’m happiest when I’m wasting my money – on little, personal items. Last year, I bought many reasonably priced meals for friends celebrating birthdays, promotions, or nothing at all. (Thankfully, no one with expensive taste wants to hang out with me.)
As I get older, I find I prefer buying experiences rather than things. So in 2014, I resolve to spend more on friends and family than I do on myself.
Money-saving happiness tip: I learned in 2013, purely by accident, what many folks might already know: Even high-end restaurants offer discounts. My wife and I stumbled upon a pricey local place offering $5 “bar bites” – basically, tiny appetizers of their main dishes from 5-7 p.m., only served at the bar (and certain craft beers are half off). Apparently, this has become a trend nationwide, and I highly recommend it.
Brandon Ballenger, associate editor
Last year, I realized one of the things that made me happy about money wasn’t necessarily spending it – which is always fun for everything except bills – but knowing where it was. Using a couple minutes a day to keep better track of my finances gave me a lasting peace of mind. It made me less guilty about some purchases, proud when I resisted the temptation of others, and overall less anxious about money. But I also realized it’s easy to go overboard and create new stress by micromanaging every transaction, so I won’t try to do that this year.
Money-saving happiness tip: I discovered in 2013 how valuable Amazon Prime really is because my wife started an online crafts store – she paints all kinds of stuff, from shoes to hats to tote bags and traditional canvas, and orders it all online. The $79/year service paid for itself just with cardboard: She reuses Amazon’s boxes to mail orders to customers, saving a couple bucks on shipping each time.
While that won’t help the average reader, there are tons of good movies and TV included. For Kindle owners, Prime membership is also a library card, entitling you to free book loans. And since Amazon raised its minimum for free standard shipping last year, Prime’s free two-day shipping is nothing to sneeze at, especially for last-minute gifts. (Plus, on the rare occasion a package shows up late, a polite email to customer service usually nets you a credit.)
Meghan Stewart, assistant editor
It may sound cheesy, but my boyfriend and I have made 2014 “the year of the financial plan” in our house. We had a huge sense of accomplishment in 2013 – we reached our goal to buy a home. Now we want to make sure we’re secure. So we’re shoring up savings, getting our retirement strategy organized (like finding out what the heck happened to the 401(k) I had at my last job), and even trying some investing.
Money-saving happiness tip: Take just one day at the start of the year to review your retirement benefits at work. For instance, are you contributing up to the maximum amount your company will match? That’s free money for you. See how your IRA is doing and where that money is being invested. And start saving. If you need a reason, just watch all the FeedthePig.org commercials running on TV now.
Monica Victor, staff writer
Last year around this time I was a recent college grad frantically sending out resumes to almost every job listing I laid my eyes on. While hoping and praying that at least one would bite, I learned a thing or two – namely, humility and how to save money on clothes. For every event I planned on attending I would pay the mall a visit for a new get-up. But this girl right here had an epiphany and is no longer that girl who wouldn’t wear an outfit twice.
I’m convinced that I will carry my new practice through 2014. In fact, I have added cutting unnecessary spending, especially on clothes, to my list of New Year’s resolutions.
Money-saving happiness tip: Last year I perfected the art of mixing and matching key pieces in my closet to create the illusion of a new outfit. Yes, primarily because I was broke – but I’m eternally grateful for hitting that bump in the road. By adding statement jewelry pieces to my already existing outfits and wearing different shoes, hair-do and make-up, I can create a whole new look without spending a dime just by shopping in my own closet. In 2014, I plan on making fewer trips to the mall, sitting back, and watching my bank account grow. Join me; your bank account will thank you, too.
Jessica Williams, staff writer
Writing about personal finance is one thing. But practicing what you preach is something totally different. We often educate consumers on how to save here and there, but it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I finally put all of my writing into action. I realized how much money I was spending on clothes, electronics, and various activities for my daughter, and decided to put myself on a weekly allowance. Now I am saving more, spending less, and still finding enjoyment in shopping.
With my daughter growing up fast and me being a single mother, I know how important it is to create a savings that can cover most rainy day situations. So in 2014, I plan on saving more by utilizing deals and coupons to spend less.
Money-saving happiness tips: I learned in 2013 to take advantage of the deals and promotions that are offered at your favorite store or on your favorite items – and if I can’t get one, I ask. You may get lucky if you call the company’s corporate office directly as they may send you a voucher or coupon to receive the item you want at a cheaper rate.
Having a child can eliminate your income faster than anything else, but just because I am a single parent doesn’t mean my child should go without the things that two-parent households can give. Instead of buying a high-price item outright, I may purchase it online at HSN.com or QVC.com at a cheaper rate that comes with a payment plan. If you really want something, check around to see who has the lowest price and call around to stores to see if the item will be going on sale any time soon.
Brian Bienkowski, staff writer
While writing about money this last year, I realized how much of it I was wasting at local restaurants. I like good food, and when it’s not prepared to my standards, I’m disappointed – and I’ve been disappointed a lot in 2013. It’s not like I’m a connoisseur, but when I drop $50 on bar food for my wife and myself and it’s mediocre, I get frustrated. It’s like buyer’s remorse. In 2014 I’m sticking to a couple places that I can trust, and I’m cooking more on my own.
Money-saving happiness tip: I have a fairly decent collection of cookbooks that I ignored during much of 2013. Not anymore. I’m going to shop at the local grocery more often and make meals that please me and my family. It’ll definitely save money — especially when restaurants charge an average of $5 to $9 dollars for a glass of wine or a decent beer. And when we want to treat ourselves, we’ll go out maybe once a week – and head to a place I know.
Dylan Bouscher, intern
I know as much about saving money as most other 20-year-old guys, but in 2013, I realized that giving to others may not require spending anything. I started donating clothes I didn’t need to a homeless shelter down the street.
This year, I vow to spend more money on new experiences than old habits, and I’ll give even more to the homeless shelter than I did last year.
Money-saving happiness tip: Unplug your cable box. Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu subscribers are not only enjoying cheaper rates for more variety and more original content than their cable network peers, they’re also free to choose what to watch and when to watch it, instead of waiting for re-runs or relying on DVRs.