Whether we write them out each new year and carefully track their progress, or just hold them as vague dreams for the future, we all have financial goals. Ultimately, what is it that everyone wants? To live a good life, possibly a better one than our parents’, and probably a better, more secure one than we are living right now. We want to be happy.
In the midst of paying off debt and saving for the future, what helps us feel like we are making progress towards being happier each day? Upgrades! Even tiny, incremental upgrades can inspire an empowering sense of accomplishment.
We’ve all heard the cautionary tale of the man who scrimped, saved, and sacrificed all his life only to drop dead on the day he retired. All that work and self-denial — for what? He didn’t get to enjoy his life in the present!
I often read advice that says when you get a raise or receive a bonus, don’t change your spending, just put it all towards savings — eventually you will get the reward. But if we feel like all of our hard work disappears into saving for “someday,” it doesn’t feel like we are making progress today. Taking small steps to improve the quality of your life gives you a present reminder that you are getting closer to achieving your financial goals, even if you aren’t all the way there yet. Each improvement is an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the present, rather than constantly worrying about the future and resenting the sacrifices you make now.
Sure, at least part of a raise or bonus should go towards paying down debt and saving for the future, but if we don’t enjoy at least some of the rewards here and now, when are we ever going to feel happier about our lives?
Think about the bigger picture. What are your top three priorities in life? How aligned are these priorities with the way you currently spend your money and time? If you listed family, health, and building your business, are those the three things that you spend the most money and time on? If not, how can you realign? Making incremental upgrades in those directions can help you get back on track with what is most important to you.
To do this, I like to keep a list of things that I intend to upgrade, and do so bit by bit when I can manage it. For instance, since we bought our home in 2011, I have been slowly upgrading the major appliances, one at a time. It would have been nice to replace them all at once, but that would have been a pretty big chunk of change on top of the down payment and all the fees we just paid to buy the house. So I set up a “Big Ticket Item” savings account and contributed at least $50 to it each month. I picked out the appliances that I wanted to get, priced them all, and — except for the washer/dryer; I bought those together — we have been replacing about one appliance per year.
Try making an “Upgrades” Pinterest board to find the best deal on the things you want, pin them there, then wait until you have saved up enough in your Big Ticket Item account to buy the next one. By the time you have the money to do it, you can reassess if that is really what you want. Maybe this season’s hot handbag no longer looks quite as good as adding a “swim with the dolphins” experience to your vacation in a couple of months, or vice versa.
You can also try out these little upgrades to make you feel great:
- Get rid of the granny panties and buy some nice lingerie so you are wearing the good stuff every day. Of course most people won’t see it, but you know it’s there.
- Upgrade your wallet — you see and use it every day, and it will give you a positive association with your money. Take good care of your money and it will take good care of you!
- Upgrade your credit card to a rewards card that offers points you will use, like travel rewards points.
- Hair or makeup upgrades. Looking great makes you feel great!
- Sick of shaving? Save up for a laser hair removal upgrade.
- Is there anything broken or damaged around the house? Fix it up, replace it, or just get rid of it.
I recently read about the concept of the “hedonic treadmill,” which states that as we upgrade our lives this new level become the new normal, and we return to our previous level of happiness. In some ways this can be a bad thing, as in the more we have, the more we want, without getting significantly more happiness out of it.
I don’t necessarily see it that way. Getting used to upgrades that occur slowly over time have led to higher standards of living, increased expectations, ambition, and technological breakthroughs that improve life for everyone. When I was a kid, GPS and touch screen technology were the stuff of sci-fi, but it’s the new normal for my kids and I’m fine with that. Why should they experience the frustration of getting lost and not being able to refold giant maps if they don’t have to? By upgrading slowly but surely, you will continue to get little boosts of joy out of the process of gradually improving your life.
If you invest your time and money in the things you are passionate about and that mean the most to you, over time this habit of purpose-driven spending will be reinforced. Incremental upgrades, though seemingly small, can have a big, positive impact on your happiness.
Jennifer Turrell is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.