Updated on 12.31.06

How To Feel Happier About Not Spending Money

Trent Hamm

There is a connection between our emotions and our money, a link that is preyed upon countless times each day by advertisers promising to trade us happiness for our hard-earned cash. Most of us have money, and all of us seek happiness; pushing the link between the two is a sure-fire way for a marketer to come up with earnings.

The real trick to spending less is to figure out how to feel happier about not spending money. We see people in advertisements looking beautiful, young, sexy, and happy while using various products – and we want to feel that way too. Effective ads are so good that they often leave us feeling inadequate if we don’t spend the money and buy the product. This is a big trap that many of us fall into – we begin to feel sad if we don’t spend money.

Here are several techniques to use to bring about positive feelings about being frugal.

Remind yourself of your goals as often as possible. For me, I’m saving money so my wife and I can retire early and travel. We went on a wonderful honeymoon to England when we were first married and I long for us to be retired so we can do more international traveling. I realize that every time I don’t spend money and instead save it, we’re a step closer to this dream. So, I’ve posted pictures of the dream everywhere: pictures of places that I want to travel to, along with pictures of our honeymoon to London. I used a few inexpensive techniques to make these pictures into home decor, so that they remind me in multiple ways of positive feelings related to my commitment to saving.

Keep visual reminders of your progress, not of how far you have to go. I check the balances of my savings and investment accounts daily – and I enjoy watching their balances go up. Every once in a while, I’ll print off the balance of my savings in huge, bold numbers and post it somewhere where I can see it regularly. I also like to print signs that say “In the last month, I saved $780 by not spending money.” It’s a visual reminder of what I’m doing that’s positive – and a constant reminder that I don’t need to spend money to feel happy.

Ask yourself why. I do this in two ways. First, I ask myself why I want to buy something. It is almost shocking how often I can’t come up with a real reason – the truth is that I’m being compulsed to buy the item due to an advertisement. Second, whenever I see an ad, I ask myself why it’s put together that way. When I make myself consider why an ad that could be attractive to me actually is attractive to me, the power of it just seems to disappear. I often find myself laughing at (and on some level admiring the skill behind) advertisements that used to sway me to buy.

Keep up my personal appearance without spending money. For me (and for most people, I believe), there is a strong connection between positive feelings and personal appearance. Whenever I start feeling like I need to buy something, I go take a shower. Seriously. I shave, put on some clean clothes, brush my teeth, put on deodorant and a bit of cologne, and suddenly the whole world feels better to me – a more manageable place where I’m in control.

Turn to what you already have. When I have a desire to buy a new book, I go look at my bookshelves at the books I already have and pick up one of those. When I want to buy a CD, I shuffle through my music collection, find an old favorite CD or one that I’ve not listened to much, and listen to that instead. When I want to buy a new geek toy, I go play with some features on my laptop that I haven’t explored yet. This scratches that itch and gives me a happy feeling as I’m discovering (or rediscovering) something great.

Get some exercise. Endorphins are an incredibly strong uplifter. Find a method of exercise that is appropriate for your level of fitness and for your interests. For me, it happens to be Dance Dance Revolution on nonstop exercise mode (meaning the game plays in such a way as to maximize your workout). If I feel the urge to go shopping, I start dancing instead and I suddenly get a big mood boost.

Do fun things that are free (or close to it). For me, I’m lucky: I have a nonstop source of fun in the form of my one year old son. I also derive a lot of joy from the act of writing. Find those things that make you feel good that don’t cost anything and spend your spare time focusing on those things. Not only will you be happy simply enjoying what you like, but you’ll feel good later realizing that you didn’t spend any money.

These are the most effective tactics in my repertoire in terms of deriving ways to find happiness from not spending money.

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  1. NCN says:

    Good, good post! I like the “brush my teeth” thing…
    Happy New Year,

  2. Missy says:

    I am one who needs visual reminders of my successes especially when it comes to money. I will check my accounts online and that helps a tad bit, but I also have a notebook with all of my accounts and will update the totals regularly.
    Being able to see the GRAND TOTAL of my savings, Roth, 401k and so on give me such a thrill and a feeling of accomplishment.

    I also like to keep cash in the house. This is a great visual and tactile way for me to enjoy my money. Everyone has their quirks!

  3. Jay Wilson says:

    I used to have the collector’s syndrome – all of my past hobbies seemed to revolve around stock piling as much of PRODUCT X as I could afford. Thankfully, I’m past that phase now and have found alternate hobbies that are less costly.

  4. Rob in Madrid says:

    that was the pitfall my wife and I feel into, seeing how far we had to go rather than how far we’ve come.

    My wife is still adjusting the idea that I don’t focus on what debts we’ll pay when but on how much I DIDN’T spend this week. If we keep spending less than we bring in the debts will take care of themselves in good time.

  5. Margie says:

    What a great blog! Just discovered you 1/27/2008, and love your advice about personal appearance. I think it’s very true. I went through a phase where I was buying clothes and hair accessories a lot, also body care products, however, it steadied itself out, and now I spend a lot lot less. I wasn’t even trying to spend less, it just happened – ran out of things that needed buying in the self-care department. Probably because I felt better taken care of or something. What a weird thing. I don’t even feel the need to replace a broken piece of electronics now. I think, hey, I’ll just use the VHS player, and borrow from the library. It’s not a self-denial feeling, just a contentment. Good job describing the emotional side of spending.

  6. PC Speed Up says:

    Gotta have money to spend money. If I have the money and can afford to spend it, I am a very happy camper!

  7. Carrick says:

    I know this is a really old post, but I decided to read through your archives. :) I love all the positive ideas you list here. I’m usually prone to pessimistic thinking, so it’ll be fun to try these out. Thanks!

  8. rodgerlvu says:

    thanks. I like the “brush my teeth” thing…
    Happy New Year

  9. maria says:

    This is great! It beats the pants off the endless list of coupon websites. Not to dis coupons but…it can be awfully hard to save money when all you think about is the BEST POSSIBLE way to spend it. I’ve been reading a little bit about behavioral economics recently (i.e. the study of how people REALLY make financial decisions as opposed to how the SHOULD make financial decisions). This post does an excellent job of looking at how we can use that info to our advantage.

  10. pascale says:

    i love to spendand icant stop

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