It’s OK to buy coffee: How convenience purchases can bring you joy
If they save you time or give you positive experiences, small luxuries just might be worth the investment.
In the world of financial management, spending money only on the things you need and saving the rest is the best path to a financially confident life. But spending money on yourself may not actually be a bad thing—especially when it helps to save you time. In fact, it could boost your well-being, too.
We’ll break down the research to explain why convenience purchases can make you happier and more satisfied with life.
Buy your time
Wouldn’t you love to have more time for enjoyable activities, like seeing friends or focusing on your hobbies, rather than doing chores?
Participants in one study were given $40 one weekend to spend on a time-saving service, such as lawn care, grocery delivery, or house cleaning.1 The next weekend, they were given the same amount to spend on a physical item, such as a shirt or a pair of shoes.
Participants across income levels reported more positive emotion—that is, being in a better mood and feeling less stressed—when they spent money on things that saved them time rather than on material items.
The research suggests that purchases that relieve us of tasks we don’t want to do could impact our happiness, allowing us to focus more on the things we want or need to do.
It’s common for people to see spending money on themselves as selfish, but it can be beneficial to look at it another way: as an investment in yourself, your time, and your mental well-being.
Spend on experiences
There’s a cliche that millennials are broke because they spend all their money on expensive lattes or avocado toast. Some personal finance influencers have denounced buying premium coffees and said that every dollar spent on a takeout cup o’ joe should be saved or invested instead.2
Often, financial advice can feel very black and white. Investing and saving? Good. Spending on “purposeless” purchases? Bad. But unlike fancy financial models and projections, humans aren’t always rational.3 We don’t always choose what is in our long-term best interest. Sometimes, we spend money on things that make us feel good (which has its own set of mental health benefits).
The 2017 study mentioned above found that material purchases don’t necessarily bring us happiness.1 We get used to physical items like new TVs or jewelry. Experiences, on the other hand, help us to live in the moment and build relationships with others—two reliable ways to boost our happiness.4
But spending on experiences doesn’t mean emptying your savings or leaning on credit cards to cover a luxury trip to Bali. In fact, you can turn purchasing a latte into an experience: maybe you bought it to catch up with an old friend, to savor the flavor and warmth it gives you on a cold day, or as a reward for a job well done at work.
Laura Vanderkam, the author of several time-management and productivity books, said in an interview with The Atlantic, “Little luxuries actually have a real effect on people’s happiness … In many cases, you’re probably better off getting a cheap dining room table and using that extra money to get coffee or go out to lunch with friends.”2
As long as you’re smart about your money—working to build your credit and paying off debts, investing for retirement, and saving for emergencies—you can treat yourself to purchases that make you happy. In the same way a cheat meal won’t ruin your diet, an occasional small, “impractical” purchase that brings you joy shouldn’t derail your financial goals.
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