I just watched a video on a YouTube channel called Big Think. It’s called “If money doesn’t buy happiness, you’re spending it wrong”. I thought this was an interesting topic because we call our budgeting system The Happy Giraffe Budget. You can watch the video below.
We decided on using the word “happy” in our budget because there is a sense of empowerment when you control your money and it doesn’t control you anymore. When you control your money, you can choose how it is used. At that point you can choose to use it on things that add happiness to your life.
Changing The Relationship
For many people, their money controls them. This can happen even if they are trying to budget in the traditional way. They start the month with aspirations of being very different people than what they were last month. They won’t eat out as much. They will save more. There are lots of ways we think we will suddenly be better in the future.
In our book we talk about this using a puppet master vs the puppet analogy. At the beginning of the month you are a puppet master. You are wise beyond your years and you can see everything you “should” do in perfect detail. And with that wisdom you create your plan for the month down to the penny in every category you can imagine.
The problem is that for the rest of the month you are expected to be the puppet. A soulless being that follows directions perfectly. In reality, you have emotions, weaknesses, and desires that the puppet master ignored (or hoped would go away). You are still the same person you were last month when you shopped too much, ate out too often, didn’t save, etc.
This cycle means you aren’t in control of your money like you might think you are. You feel like you are in control for the 5 minutes while you are the puppet master at the beginning of the month. But you really weren’t. You were making a plan for a person that doesn’t exist. So you weren’t really in control of anything meaningful or real.
If YOU aren’t in control, then your money is. And the feeling of living that way sucks. No one likes feeling like they are being controlled. No one likes feeling helpless to change the situation. I’ve been there. For years I was there. And it sucks.
Happy was the best word we could think of to describe what it feels like to finally be in control of your money for real. Our system gets rid of the puppet master and the puppet relationship. It creates a completely different way of seeing and using money. So in this sense, money isn’t “buying” happiness. Being in control of it allows us to finally break free of, what is for many people, an abusive relationship. Being free of that helps us feel happy.
Being In Control
Once you control your money, then you can choose to use it on things that really do add happiness to your life. Money can definitely be used to buy and do things that make us happier.
I love many of the comments in the video about how we need to think more about how we use our money. What will bring us more joy is a personal and individual thing.
One of the popular things for financial people to criticize several years ago was the cost of coffee at Starbucks. They would say things like, “You could save $10,000 every year buy just cutting out half of your Starbucks coffee, which, invested for 40 years is over a $1,000,000!” Or they would suggest making your coffee at home instead. Also resulting in amazing amounts of money saved.
That kind of advice always struck me the wrong way. First, because the only goal in life isn’t to amass the most amount of money for retirement. Anyone could gather millions of dollars for retirement if they start as a teenager and save every penny for 40-50 years. But doesn’t it matter if you hated those 40-50 years because you never did anything fun or enjoyable at all? Why sacrifice 50 years of living just so you can have some special amount of money ready for retirement?
Second, the advice feels like a case of choosing what I think is important over what you think is important. Just because I don’t value Starbucks coffee, why do I get to tell someone else that they need to stop? I have plenty of things I like that someone else might call wasteful. If you turn the tables and tell me to stop spending money on Coke Zero, I’m not going to take that well.
I don’t get to tell you what to spend money on, or not spend money on. If it makes me happy to have a million dollars in the bank for retirement, then I can work toward that, but you don’t have to. If I think Starbucks is too expensive, then I won’t spend my money on it, but you can buy coffee there every day if you want to.
One of the things we like about our budgeting system is that it allows for differences and even changes in what brings you happiness, from person to person, and even for the same person from week to week. It’s ok that we find happiness in different ways. It’s ok that we change individually as well.
Wrapping it up
I love that some of the suggestions in the video center around experiences as more important than buying more stuff. I’ve found that to be somewhat true in my life and with my family. But we have also found a lot of happiness in some of the stuff we buy. I think we have found the most happiness in being allowed to try out what we think will work in the moment, and not worry too much about it if that purchase or choice doesn’t end up working out. Our budget is constantly looking forward a week at a time. So any mistake I make this week can be changed for next week. I don’t need to beat myself up about it.
So, yes, there are some things we buy that add happiness to our life. But there is a different, lasting happiness, that comes from being in control of our money. That leads to a type of happiness that comes when we are allowed to explore for ourselves, try things out, and not feel guilty as we learn and relearn.
I think The Happy Giraffe Budget lives up to its name. If you want to try it out it is free to use. We have a 3 step course with short videos to help you get started. The budget spreadsheet you’ll need is available for free as well. Or you can get into all the details by reading our book which is available on Amazon. (It’s even free too if you have kindle unlimited.)