When we met with our clients this spring, we asked them:
Tell us about something you spent money on in the last year that made you happy. What did you get out of that purchase?
A simple enough question, right? But we quickly realized that reviewing the answers to this particular question was consistently one the most meaningful parts of our meetings.
Yes, we addressed our clients’ savings rates, their short- and medium- and long-term goals, their incomes, their liabilities—all the typical and necessary topics financial planners need to discuss with their clients about cash flow.
But asking “what kind of spending brings you joy?” was an equally important question—one that’s all too easily overlooked in cash flow conversations. Because the answer dictates whether or not you feel like you’re living (to paraphrase Ramit Sethi) your richest possible life.
THIS KIND OF SPENDING COULD BRING JOY TO YOUR LIFE
One of the most rewarding things about being a financial planner is that, through the sheer quantity of conversations we have about money, we end up collecting volumes of qualitative information about our clients’ financial lives: their worries and struggles, their goals and priorities, and—in the case of this particular question about spending—their sources of joy.
When you collect as much data as we do—because what is all this information, if not data?—over the course of many discussions, you have the unique opportunity to watch interesting patterns emerge.
Below, we’ve shared some of the patterns that emerged from our conversations this spring about happiness-eliciting purchases. These patterns may not be groundbreaking or surprising, but they are quite valuable.
When enough people tell you, effusively, over and over, that the same types of spending decisions felt great to them—and were memorable up to a year later!—well, that’s information you might want to apply in your own life.
We all make purchases on a near-daily basis. So why not make more of those purchases worth savoring and remembering?
INVEST IN YOUR IMMEDIATE SURROUNDINGS.
Those clients who made changes to their housing were over the moon about the upgrades—whether they were renters or buying their first home. Their home costs remained a reasonable percentage of their incomes, so they felt free to simply revel in their new digs.
We enjoyed the all-caps, exclamation-point-infused responses from folks who rented bigger places with gorgeous natural light and in-unit laundry, who paid off their mortgages, who bought brightly-colored appliances or a flock of houseplants, who renovated a corner of their space.
Those who did tended to report quality of life improvements, a sense of peace and groundedness, and an appreciation that their homebase was now a more authentic reflection of themselves, and of their own taste and preferences.
INVEST IN OUTDOOR ACCESS AND MOVEMENT.
Three of our clients reported their new bikes as their best purchase of the past year. The most interesting part? The same item meant totally different things to all three of them.
For one, an electric bike proved to be the perfect solution for mobility challenges. For another, a road bike allowed for super fast (and therefore super fun!) rides. For yet another, a mountain bike unlocked access to local trail rides with their kiddos.
We’re an outdoorsy bunch here at Flow, so perhaps we attract similarly outdoorsy clients. Still, we were pleasantly surprised to see how many folks reported that the purchase of a single accessory, whether small or large, unlocked so much access to movement and fresh-air fun. Mentions of tennis rackets, ski boots, surfboards, running watches, lifting-gym memberships, and camper vans abounded.
Buying access to the outdoors was another consistent winner. For one client, that meant a short-term car share membership to enable access to local trailheads. For another, a longer-range electric vehicle meant they could plan a new set of road trip experiences.
INVEST IN HEALING WORK.
We don’t have to tell you that the past couple of years have been, almost universally, rough. And beyond the broader stressors of isolation, pandemic parenting, and work-related burnout, our clients experienced no shortage of stressors separate from COVID-19, such as the loss of pets as well as human family members.
So it’s no surprise that those clients who invested in any form of rest, rejuvenation, and healing reported it as money well spent—from a spa day pass and the adoption fee for a sweet new dog, to bigger and longer-term investments in therapy, coaching, and sabbatical funding that enabled them to take much-needed time away from work.
Those who spent money on professional support for their mental and physical health reported gratitude for the peace and energy their dollars bought them, and told us that it contributed to actually feeling excited about getting back to work and day-to-day life.
INVEST IN UPGRADES.
When you own something, and already know that you use it consistently, upgrading that item can be an easy spending win. There’s no guessing as to whether or not you’ll find it valuable, and you’ll probably enjoy the newer and slightly spiffier version even more.
Our clients reported dishing out a few extra dollars for the nicer version of their current skin or hair care products, coffee equipment, headphones, clothing, wine, fluffy spa towels—even a fancy toaster!—made them smile with each use.
Bigger investments, like faster computers, comfier furniture, and the extra-nice Airbnb choice consistently ended up on our clients’ “best purchase” lists, too. One client hired an organization specialist to whip their disorganized pantry into gorgeous shape (which we oohed and aahed over via Zoom), thereby making each interaction with that space way more functional and enjoyable.
INVEST IN SOLUTIONS.
For some of our clients, this meant making a small but strategic purchase that unlocked a much bigger feeling of relief, like the clients who suffered from low-level but persistent anxiety about their active pup disturbing the neighbors…until they bought a padded runner for their hallway.
And for others, it meant paying to remove a consistent source of stress: hiring a tree removal company, a beloved nanny, a roofer—or securing a dedicated parking spot in their bustling metropolis.
For the busy clients who didn’t have time to research and plan a vacation themselves, hiring a travel agent ensured they could successfully take time away from work to recharge.
INVEST IN CONNECTION.
When our clients dished out money to facilitate connections with their loved ones, it stood out to them as their best use of financial resources from the past year—whether that meant buying wine and cheese to bring friends together at home, or snagging an international plane ticket to see a family member for the first time since the pandemic.
Even those clients who connected over sadder circumstances, like the loss of a loved one, found it deeply meaningful to travel for memorial services, or assist their family with expenses.
We had clients who focused on quality time with their significant others, one-on-one time with one of their children, big family road trips, and solo Amtrak adventures to visit far-flung friends. Other clients spent their money closer to home, building out a space to host and entertain friends for years to come.
No matter how large or small the expense, whether it involved round-the-world travel or literally occurred in their backyards, investing in connection tended to pay off.
INVEST IN YOUR EDUCATION.
Our team was surprised and delighted by the sheer number of clients who raved about pottery and ceramics classes last year!
What came as no surprise, however: learning something new, especially when it involves creating tangible things by hand, was reported as a worthwhile investment of time and money across the board.
Folks also adored learning to sail, make chocolate, and shoot film on vintage cameras (a hobby after my own heart!); they upleveled their jiu jitsu skills; and they committed to world-expanding graduate school programs.
INVEST IN CELEBRATIONS.
Like many of our hard-working, goal-oriented readers, we’re probably not alone here: it can be hard to remember to pause and actually celebrate your hard-won accomplishments! But for our clients who did, they found those celebrations to be especially memorable.
Some celebrated milestones like birthdays and job offers with a fun new gadget. New parents left their adorable babies at home and celebrated their relationships on date nights. Another client turned a few hours of solo downtime in a new city into cause for celebration by going out for Dungeness crabs (cheers to that!).
INVEST IN IN-PERSON EXPERIENCES.
After a few years where opportunities for in-person fun were limited, our clients found special joy in making the most of live experiences: going to the theater, the NBA playoffs, the ballet, a local concert, or Comic-Con (bonus point for inviting friends and family, and turning it into an opportunity for connection!).
One client got off the Headspace app and attended an in-person meditation trip instead. Another bought a full summertime of family fun with amusement park and pool memberships. Across the board, our clients found the camaraderie involved to be both fun and meaningful.
As heartbreaking crises unfolded around the world last year, clients always reported gratitude when they gave back—whether they gave to someone connected to them (like the extended family of a Ukrainian friend), or to a general fund that helped them feel like participants in a solution.
Other clients donated to community-funded projects, like a local playground, that their neighbors’ kids would benefit from just as much as their own.
UNCERTAIN TIMES MAKE MINDFUL SPENDING MORE IMPORTANT, NOT LESS.
We’re living in a moment of escalating financial pressures: rising gas prices, inflating grocery bills, and lots of economic uncertainty. But these sources of financial stress don’t make the conversation about joyful spending less important—in fact, they might even make it more so.
In a time when our collective resources feel more constrained or uncertain than before, we’d better make sure the spending we are doing is truly contributing to our happiness.
With that, we’ll leave you with a few questions to reflect on. Having read about the types of spending that brought our clients the most joy this past year:
- What are the biggest lessons you’re taking away?
- How can you apply those lessons to your own spending decisions, whether those purchases are small or large?
Reach out with any spending wins or epiphanies of your own—we’d love to hear ‘em!
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Flow Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.