I read Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project a few weeks ago, and in it she broached the potentially sensitive topic, “Can money buy happiness?” Her reflection on this age-old question resonated with me quite a bit. So much so, that I decided to talk about it with you today.
So what’s your gut reaction: Can money buy happiness?
At the very heart of the question, I’d argue the answer is no. But it’s a very complicated no. Because as Rubin suggests, money can buy things that contribute to one’s happiness.
You see, you might spend money to improve a skill, pursue a passion, go on vacation with your family, or free up potentially productive time. So depending on your values and how you spend your money, perhaps – just maybe – money can play a role in one’s happiness.
Today I’d like to dig into this slightly uncomfortable question. Because upon my own reflection these past few weeks, it’s helped me think closely about what brings me happiness. I also polled a few close friends about their thoughts on money and happiness, and I’m excited to share my findings with you.
So let’s do this. Can money buy happiness? Let’s find out.
Can money buy happiness?
Save time on tasks
I’m going to start with an exploration of perhaps the most controversial topic, and this is the idea of paid help. It’s hiring someone to “lighten the load,” and help out with tasks that either take too much time, cause unnecessary anxiety, or create tension in the home.
I’m not sure why I find this topic uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a home where my parents did not hire outside help. Maybe it’s because there’s this unrealistic myth that the modern woman can (and should) “do it all.” And working full time, cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, volunteering, and taking care of one’s family simply comes with the territory. (There’s a great article about “The Myth Of Doing It All” over at The Happiest Home, if you’re interested. It’s a great read.)
Despite my discomfort, however, it’s an important thing to discuss. What are the services for which people hire? How might hiring help boost one’s happiness? What are the pros and cons? It it worth the price? Let’s dig in.
Keeping up with housework is probably one of the most nagging tasks around the home. I know for many women – myself included – if we can’t maintain a clean house, it seems like we’re unable to keep up period. It feels like we’re “failing” or “letting our family down,” because we can’t “do it all.”
(Yes, that last sentence has a ridiculous amount of scare quotes, but that’s intentional. Because these beliefs, as widely held as they are, aren’t true. Nevertheless, they continue to nag so many of us.)
Of course the size of your home, your family, your lifestyle, your number of pets, and your own standards of clean, all contribute to the workload. But whether we’re talking about daily and weekly cleanings, or a deep monthly scrub down, this chore takes a considerable amount of time.
What’s more, it is valuable time that you could spend doing anything else. Whether it’s spending time with your kids, dedicating more time to your side hustle, writing a blog post, walking your dog, or actually allowing time for self care, those extra 2-3 hours each week really add up.
Now, I’m not kidding myself here. I know that hiring help can be expensive, especially depending on where you live. It might cost $100+ for the cleaner to come to your house every two weeks, while it costs $2-3 dollars in supplies to do it yourself. So as you contemplate whether hiring help is right for you, consider these three important questions. And remember, there are no right or wrong answers here:
- Is my time or my money more valuable to me in this situation?
- Would doing this work myself bring happiness and a feeling of accomplishment, or would I feel happier to hand off the task and have the extra time for myself?
- Are there places where I can cut my spending to save for this expense? (Skip your $5 Starbucks habit, and you’re already saving over $1800/year!)
These are important questions to consider. And in fact, they are the exact questions I asked myself as I contemplated hiring cleaners. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m a perfectionist who really struggles with work-life balance. Because of this, keeping the house clean was a source of incredible anxiety for me.
If I took time to scrub down the house, I stressed about not getting my work done. But if I ignored the mess and did my work, that too created feelings of frustration and “failure,” because I wasn’t taking care of the home. Even worse, it created tension around the house, because I felt like I had to do everything. And that is never a fun feeling.
So I did some research, and I found a wonderful, affordable cleaner. She and her partner come to our house twice a month, and I cannot tell you what a relief it has been. I have more time to work on my side projects, blog, spend time with Ryan, or anything else I feel like doing. What’s more, the constant pressure of “doing it all” is gone. And to me, that’s worth every penny.
There are other services aside from general household cleaning, of course. Laundry, for instance, is a chore that takes a considerable amount of time between washing, drying, ironing, folding, etc. Now admittedly, I don’t mind doing laundry. But when I asked my friend, “can money buy happiness,” she immediately brought up the hassle of doing laundry, and offered a very interesting perspective on the topic.
You see, she lives in the heart of the city in a cute studio apartment. Despite her great location, however, her building does not have laundry machines available. So once a week, she would stock up on quarters and schlep her bag of clothes to the nearest laundromat.
While siting around waiting for a load of laundry one day, she decided to research laundry services that might do this work for her. To her delight, she found that the cost of having her clothes professionally cleaned vs. doing it with quarters at the laundromat cost $3.25 more. Literally, $3.25! I don’t know about you, but I’d be willing to spend an extra $3.25 to save several hours each week.
Now, her incredible deal might be location specific. Because she lives in the city where there’s a lack of in-home laundry, there’s a lot of competition between professional laundry services and laundromats; this helps keeps prices low. Nevertheless, if laundry is the bane of your existence, and if having that weekly chore taken off your plate would bring you happiness, why not outsource your laundry to a third-party and rediscover that lost time? It’s certainly something to consider.
As I mentioned, I polled a few friends about money and happiness, and perhaps the most surprising response to my question was window cleaning. I must admit that widow cleaning is not something I’ve ever really thought about. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit that for the three years we’ve lived in our house, I’ve never even cleaned the outside of my windows. I simply have no desire to remove the screens, balance precariously on a ladder, and start scrubbing.
My friend, however, really values clean widows. And rather than spending time scaling ladders, she simply hires cleaners about 3 times a year – spring, summer, and fall – to give her windows a good scrub.
So if clean windows are important to you, you can read more here. Again, it’s all about recognizing what is important to you, and then finding ways to support that.
Mowing the lawn is one of those chores you either love or hate. A lot of people love the fresh air, the exercise, and the meditative repetition that comes with mowing the lawn. Others, on the other hand, shudder at the mere thought of pushing around a lawn mower. I tend to lean toward the former, while my husband leans toward the latter. Fortunately, this makes for a good balance.
While I don’t mind the weekly upkeep, however, I dread the big fall cleanup at the end of the season. It’s freezing cold, it’s a ton of work, and I’m usually swamped with my job during that time in the semester. Admittedly, I usually just suck it up for a few weekends each year and get the job done. But last year we hired a company to help out. I cut back on the grocery budget for a few weeks to made it work, but the alleviated stress and additional time that came with the extra help was well worth the money.
So again, think about your personal time vs. money balance. Often money is more valuable than time, and it’s worth doing the tasks yourself. But in particularly busy periods of your life, time becomes incredibly valuable. This is when it’s worth considering how you might lighten the load to reduce your stress.
I love spending time in the kitchen. In fact, for years it was my way of handling stress. When I was overwhelmed and things felt out of control, I would turn to cooking. There was something soothing about following a recipe step by step, and knowing the end result would be a delicious meal in about 60 minutes. It was instant gratification. In fact, I even had a food blog for six years called Paula’s Plate.
Over the past 6 months, however, I lost that passion. Cooking became another chore. It was one more thing on my todo list, and one more decision to make each day. The question, “What’s for dinner?” became a source of anxiety. And because of this, “meals” in our house turned into quick, frozen, “convenience” foods that – quite frankly – weren’t healthy OR tasty. Blech.
As I mentioned last week, however, my 2018 resolution is rediscovering a healthy work-life balance. And this balance includes rediscovering my joy of cooking once again. As I embark on this journey, I’ve researched different ways to make this task easier and more convenient.
There are many meal kit services available, which you can find out about here. I know several people who love this option, because it alleviates grocery shopping, meal planning, and even meal prep. Plus, it ensures you’re eating healthy meals each week. So if you love cooking meals, but don’t enjoy the planning or prep, this option might be perfect for you.
I also did research on the cook once, eat-all-week method. The idea behind this approach, is that you spend one day – often Sunday – doing the major meal prep for the week. Then throughout the week, you simply throw together various ingredients that you’ve already prepared to create a tasty meal. Let me tell you; I got pretty excited about this option, and I dove in head first.
While I’m not paying for someone’s services, I did turn to Cassy Joy over at Fed+Fit for some help. This January she’s offering a Cook Once, Eat All Week Series, which is fantastic and free! She did all the hard legwork of strategically planning out delicious prep-ahead recipes to last throughout the week; the result is tasty and efficient meals that are ready in minutes. How awesome is that?
I started week one of the series this past Sunday, and I love it. It is great to get back in the kitchen. I spent a few hours doing meal prep on Sunday, and all week I’ve had dinner on the table in about 5-10 minutes. Amazing.
Invest in you
Take a class
As I continued polling friends and asking the question, “can money buy happiness?”, I discovered several other ways that money helps cultivate joy.
For instance, I have a friend who loves keeping busy. Each night after work she has an activity to do, from practicing yoga to taking night classes to attending circus school. For her, happiness comes from expanding her horizons, trying new things, and spending time with friends. So to fill that happiness cup, she invests in classes, which she finds incredibly valuable.
Another friend, who is an incredibly busy working-mom of two children, finds joy in those coveted moments of quiet time. For all of you mothers out there, you know these scarce minutes are like pure gold.
Knowing that alone-time is an important component to her happiness, my friend found a few ways to cut down on her weekly budget so she can schedule a massage once a month. By simply making her coffee at home each morning, and using the library to borrow books and movies, she can now get a massage without breaking the bank. This quiet “me-time” not only helps her unwind, but also gives her something to look forward to each month, both of which greatly enhance her feeling of happiness.
Indulge a passion
Do you crochet? Have you always wanted to learn a second language? Do you want to improve your guitar skills? Take some time to think about a passion that makes you feel whole, or a dream that you want to fulfill. Since these are the things that bring happiness, perhaps it’s worth finding the proper materials, software, or instructor to help you fully enjoy the experience.
I recently discovered that I was missing a creative outlet in my life. Ever since I was young I’ve loved making things. And over the past 10 years, my creative well has been bone dry. Since starting I’m Busy Being Awesome in July, however, and rediscovering my passion to create, my creative well overflows with joy. So although I put money toward running my website and buying the supplies for my Etsy products, for me, each penny is well spent. I may not have extra money to purchase a cute purse, or a new pair of shoes, but I’ve realized that those things don’t make me happy anyway. So I don’t miss it.
And this brings me to my last point. It seems the real answer to the question “Can money buy happiness?” is this: It can help.
But in order for it to help, you first need to discover your values and what’s most important to you. Once you recognize what you need to be happy, then you can figure out how to budget your income to help you fulfill these important needs in your life.
Because guess what. Your happiness is SO. IMPORTANT. And if you can enhance your joy by fulfilling a passion, taking a class, practicing self care, or saving time on daily chores, it’s worth it. Because you’re worth it.
Are you looking for more ways to boost your happiness? Then download this FREE worksheet to reflect on your values, (re)discover what brings you joy, and learn how to incorporate these sources of happiness in your life today!
So tell me, what’s your opinion after reading this piece? Can money buy happiness? Have you ever hired outside help or paid for a class to fulfill a passion? Did doing so contribute to your happiness? Let me know below!