Make Many Small Purchases Instead of a Big One

Six ways to get maximum happiness out of money.

Almost 100 years ago, the English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that in two generations, technologies would "skyrocket" so much that a person would work only 3 hours a day. Keynes also believed that people would be happier and earn more in the future.

However, this prediction did not come true as technology did not give us more free time. Modern scientists have even proven that the more money people earn, the less time they have to spend it.

The good news is that other researchers worked out six ways to spend money to get the most happiness out of this process.

#1. Buy Experience Instead of Things

With money, you can buy something that seems like a dream, i.e., a big house, a new car, or a gadget. The trouble is that people get addicted to material values very quickly. That’s why only the first scratch on a new phone seems the worst. We don’t perceive its subsequent falls with such fear.

Five reasons why it is better to "buy" emotions and impressions than things:

  • Happiness lasts longer. Your pleasure from the new activity, as a rule, not only lasts longer, but you also better remember it. It could be skydiving or attending photography workshops. It can be anything that makes your brain create new neural connections.
  • People remember emotions much better. In one study, 4 out of 5 respondents admitted that they “go through” impressions more often than the material objects they own. This happens because people tend to perceive experiences as part of their self-identity, unlike things.
  • Opportunity to "travel back" to the past and experience emotions once more. Even if we cannot share our experience with someone at first, there is always an opportunity to tell about our feelings afterwards. This is another advantage of impressions over material objects.
  • Less sense of guilt about spending money. Three different studies have found that buying emotions and experiences makes people feel less guilty than buying some material objects.
  • There is no fear of "condemnation". Spending money on non-material objects causes less concern regarding how other people will evaluate this purchase.

#2. Buy Happiness for Others, not for Yourself

Spending money on yourself does not bring lasting joy. This does not even depend on the amount paid. A Science Magazine study shows no correlation between happiness and the amount spent on yourself. At the same time, those who spend more money to please another person feel happier.

Canadian psychologist Elizabeth Dunn conducted an experiment: she gave participants $5 to $20 and told them to spend it on themselves or others that day. Then the organisers called the subjects after 5:00 p.m. to find out how they were feeling. Contrary to expectations, participants said: they became happier after spending that money on others and not on themselves.

Another experiment's organisers suggested that a large company's employees spend money intended for a corporate party on donations and gifts. Participants admitted that their level of happiness from donating money to charity was higher than from a regular office party.

#3. Buy Many Little Pleasures Instead of a Big One

Being happy more often and a little at a time is better than one immense happiness.

study conducted by US scientists proves that the level of happiness depends on how often we experience joy, not on how intense it is.

If your life lacks positive emotions, investing your money in several little pleasures is better than in one tremendous one.

Strange as it might seem, the experience at the maximum of emotions can "destroy" the ability to enjoy the little things. For example, a weekend outing into the woods will be less impressive if you've just returned from Everest.

This does not mean you shouldn’t invest money in large-scale pleasures such as the long-awaited parachute jump. Though, it would not be right to leave all the impressions, both big and small, for one weekend.

#4. Imagine You Got What You Wanted. What Next?

Suppose you made the same major purchase, i.e., a country house. The long-anticipated time has come. However, it also brought all the unforeseen problems caused by the desire. 

As a rule, important, but poisonous for happiness details get lost in dreams. For example, this might be the need to mow the lawn or clean the yard from snow in winter. However, only some people think about these issues before facing them.

Studies show that what seems to be "irrelevant" little things while planning the purchase of a dream can ruin all the happiness from it.

If you expect the purchase to bring you joy for a long time, first try to "fit" it into your typical day. For example, start waking up half an hour earlier. This might allow you to set aside some time to clean the yard of snow and be able to leave for work. Perhaps, the dream will fade away at this stage as there will be no place for it.

#5. Study Someone Else’s Experience

The best way to predict how much you'll enjoy an experience is to learn how much others enjoyed it.

Thus, 59% of UK citizens sold their home cycle track because they did not need it. Another 13% didn’t use it for over a year. According to approximate estimates, UK residents have £1.5 billion worth of fitness equipment at home, gathering dust.

This does not mean you should do as others or avoid new things because of someone else's negative experience. Though, it's worth finding out what people that look like you enjoy. Study the reviews or gather the opinions of people who already have the thing you need.

#6. Buy Your Free Time

When people spend money to save time, they feel happier than if they bought material things. This happens when we order food delivery, for example.

The scientists asked the research participants to rate their happiness on a 10-point scale. Respondents who spent money to "buy" their own free time generally felt a point happier than those who did not.

Those who constantly suffer from lack of time are more stressed, have less rest, and don't communicate enough with family. After all, enjoyable leisure time also increases the level of happiness.