Spending Less & Living More: How to Budget for Happiness

There are three things most people hate: finding a job, adult responsibilities, and budgeting. Budgeting seems to be the last thing that anyone wants to do, but it’s one of the most important skills to have. A complete, thoughtful budget can be the difference between sitting at home with no money or taking that trip you want to go on.

Don’t worry, though, this isn’t a how-to on creating a budget or a guide about money (though those are helpful). And, despite the fact money and happiness do seem to fit hand-in-hand for most people, budgeting for happiness doesn’t have to mean touching a penny you earn.

Whether you’re budgeting out money for DIY brunch with friends, or budgeting out 30 minutes of your week to read that book you’ve had set aside, here’s how you can start budgeting for your own happiness. 

Decide what makes you happy and what you want to put time and/or money into. 

We all have things that we need to dedicate money to. These things include bills, food and other necessities. In our monthly (or weekly, depending on your pay schedule) budgets, those are the items that are not negotiable — you really can’t go without dinner all week. But life doesn’t have to exist just around those things. Whether you’re working a full-time, salaried job with benefits or working part-time at a quick service restaurant, you have the ability to budget for your happiness.

What does it mean to budget for your happiness? For some people, that means setting aside money to travel or to save up for the newest tech item they want. For others, budgeting for happiness means taking those 30 minutes you would spend aimlessly scrolling through Instagram and putting them towards something else.

If you’re stuck on figuring out what makes you happy, try making a list of what makes you smile. Does being outside bring your joy? What about spending time with friends? Do you love volunteering and helping other people? Is there a passion project you’ve always wanted to start but haven’t found a reason not to? Maybe now’s the time to plan for it. 

“Invest in things that make you feel the most you, and actively remove the things that don’t,” says Samhita Sen, a junior at UC Berkeley. “Budget your money, time and effort for the things that feel good and away from the things that don’t.” 

Original Illustration in Canva for Her Campus Media

However you choose to budget your time and money right now can be flexible, because needs and wants are always changing. You can always alter your happiness budget if you find that it's no longer working for you. “I think budgeting for happiness means deciding what is most important to you at that stage in your life, and how you can change your spending habits to work towards your goal,” says Rae Oliver, Editor-in-Chief of Truly Experiences. “[W]hether that be a fancy sports car or a three-month yoga retreat in India.” 

What makes you happy doesn’t have to be a fancy car or yoga retreat, though. For some, happiness doesn’t come from a material item or fancy trip. It comes simply from helping others. “Living your life while making others happy is the best way to live rather than just wasting your money and resources on material things,” says Lewis Keegan, Owner and Operator of Skill Scouter. “[A]t the end of the day, we will not be remembered by the clothes we wore or the perfume we used—we will be remembered by how we made people feel.” 

Regardless of what it is that makes you feel happiness and joy, those are what you need to be focusing on. Those are the things that make life worth living!

Take your list of what makes you happy and start planning.

Once you’ve made a list of things that bring you the most happiness, it’s time to do some thinking. What in your monthly budget can be altered? Where can you spend less money so that you can save up for something else? Do you even have the money to make this happen? How much time will you need for this?

If you’re anything like me, traveling is number one on the list of things that bring joy. Whether it’s a road trip or an international trip, I’m always happy to find a new adventure. However, that’s going to cost money no matter where I’m going. 

For David Foley, Founder of Unify Cosmos, having to save up is OK. “I’ve always been a big believer of delayed gratification,” he says. “In my world, making sacrifices for something bigger down the road is always worth it.” He continues to say that he considers himself a “minimalist” and is willing to sacrifice spending for material items in order to create more experiences and memories. 

You don’t have to sacrifice the small things if you don’t want to, though. If traveling isn't your thing, that’s totally fine! There’s no one-size-fits-all to budgeting for your happiness. That cup of coffee is just as valuable as a trip to the beach for some people. And, at least in the moment, it’s cheaper, too. Samantha Moss, Editor and Content Ambassador at Romantific, suggests setting aside unallocated money that you can spend on whatever you want. Instead of delayed gratification, her method is all about that instant gratification. “This means that budgeting for happiness is neither saving more elsewhere and spending more, nor is it spending less to live more,” Moss says. “It is a matter of having the freedom to spend what you need in order to make you happy.” 

I’m not completely on one side or the other, and you don’t have to be either; I’ve definitely spent my fair share of money on Starbucks coffee to give me a boost to get through the day. There’s something very satisfying about being able to say, “I want a coffee,” and then going to get that coffee.

At the end of the day, life is hard. Everyone’s working jobs that they may or may not enjoy, and each of us needs to have happiness budgeted into our lives.

I know that it may seem impossible, especially if you’re in a customer service job that requires you to have open availability with no schedule guarantees or consistencies, but even 15 minutes of mindless doodling or working on your passion project is worth it if it means bringing a little more joy into your life.

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