When “Happy” Means “Having Money to Spend”

I’ve been a pretty avid journal keeper since Christmas 1991. If you’re wondering how I can be so accurate with the date, it’s because my first entry in my first journal was on that day because my first journal was a gift from my grandmother.

Anyway, most of the time, these entries are pretty worthwhile descriptions of whatever issues happened to be weighing on my mind at the time of the entry. As I leaf through them, I read about infatuations with various women, big shifts in political and spiritual ideas, and many other things.

Today, I find the entries between 2002 and 2006 to be particularly interesting. That was the period in my life where I was out of college and working at a job that I really enjoyed, but I was also a rampant overspender.

As I read through those entries, I almost always find interesting patterns and entries. Quite often, those entries inspire the articles I write for The Simple Dollar. More than anything, I find myself wanting to write to the person that I was back then and perhaps guide him to a better path, one that wouldn’t find him in despair in 2006 because of his overwhelming financial situation. By doing that, I’m effectively writing to the many people out there who are in that situation.

Anyway, one of the big themes I’ve noticed in those debt-laden entries is a profound joy when payday came around. Almost without exception, the entries where my paycheck came in are extremely happy in tone. Often, I’d spend the entry talking about some of the things I wanted to buy with that money, but the happiness went beyond that. I would often reflect very positively on the relationships in my life on payday entries.

On one of the entries, the truth is spelled out directly. That entry, from October 17, 2005, directly says “Life is good when I have money in my pocket to spend.”

I know I’m not alone in this feeling. One only needs to watch how others act on payday to see how big of an impact it has on society. If you want to ask a friend for a favor, I’ll just about guarantee you that the best time to ask them is on their payday.

Tying positive feelings to having some spending money in your pocket is a very dangerous thing. If the receipt of a paycheck alters your mood, then it’s altering the decisions you’re making about how to spend and utilize your money.

Payday should be a normal day. The pay you receive on those days should simply be used in accordance with your budget.

At the same time, you shouldn’t feel different because you have cash in your pocket. If you’re ever going to get ahead financially, you’re going to have to learn how to keep a healthy grip on your spending when you do have money in your pocket or else you’re never going to be able to hold onto that money. The first step in that process is to control your emotions when it comes to that money in your pocket.

Instead of deriving joy from payday and from having some pennies jingling in your pocket, derive your joy from things besides your money. In fact, you should strive to never find joy in money itself.

Seek out joy instead in the many other pleasures that life affords you. Your family. Your friends. The smell of grass growing shortly after a rainfall. The glow you get after a good batch of exercise. The feeling of accomplishment from having pulled off a major task. The taste of a home-cooked meal. The sense of being lost in the pages of a great book. The kiss of a loved one. A stressless walk in the woods or walk on the beach. I could list these things all day because life is full to the brim with joys that have nothing to do with money.

Money is merely a tool to protect those pleasures. It is nothing more than that. If you derive pleasure from the acquisition of money and particularly the spending of money, then you put all of those other pleasures at risk.

If you find yourself feeling good because you’re about to spend money, spend some time controlling that emotion and getting it in check. Every dime you spend is a dime taken away from something else in your life and that exchange, to me, isn’t one that brings joy. What does bring joy is a sense that I’m securing and preserving all of the other things in my life that do bring me joy.

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