fun money: can money buy happiness

Like most people, I have a complicated relationship with money. 

I know I want it. I like using it to buy stuff. I need to work to get it. It’s not always available in the quantities I want.

My most common feelings about spending money have been anxiety, fear, and regret. And I can honestly say that I’ve rarely had fun with it. And since I set out to inject as much fun into every aspect of my life, the topic of ‘fun money’ had to make an appearance at some point.

This year, I wanted to find out (at least for myself), can money buy happiness? What is ‘fun money’? Could I actually have fun spending it? And is it possible to have just as much fun saving it?

Can Money Buy Happiness? 9 Fun Money Tips

Can money buy happiness? Maybe. But I’ve found you need to use it wisely if you want to squeeze the most joy out of it. 

Here are five fun money tips I’ve discovered to help you enjoy your purchases, keep enjoying them long after that initial dopamine hit, and have more fun saving money, too. 

1. Be Intentional: Splurge Vs Save

Money can indeed buy happiness — but not if you’re throwing cash at all the wrong stuff. In the words of Anna Chlumsky’s character in the TV series Inventing Anna, “VIP isn’t always better.” 

Some of the best restaurants are food trucks, you can glean just as much joy in the cheap seats as the box seats, and if you don’t agree with me that cheap champagne has just as many bubbles as the good stuff, you can fight me on it.

Don’t spend just for spending’s sake. Try to figure out why you want the things you do. And for the love of Yves Saint Laurent, don’t let those splurges go to waste. 

What is important to you?

One of my splurges is flying first class or business class.

I don’t do it every time I fly, but I do like to upgrade whenever I’m on a longer flight (more than three hours). 

Flying first class is splurge-worthy to me because I absolutely hate flying. And as someone that used to travel full-time, I’ve done my share of it. When I’m in first class, I actually enjoy the flight. 

And total disclosure, I very rarely pay full-price for first-class, anyway. 

I do travel hacking (taking advantage of credit card welcome bonuses) to get “free” first-class and business-class flights. Sometimes I pay for an upgrade after I’ve purchased an economy flight, but I very rarely pay more than $100 for the upgrade. 

Can money buy happiness? When it comes to first-class travel, I would say absolutely, yes. 

Don’t know what’s important to you? Try a financial fast or spending fast to find out!

How will this make me feel?

This is another way of asking yourself why a splurge is important to you. 

It’s so easy to just want to buy splurge-worthy stuff because we see other people enjoying it (and because of the all-knowing, all-seeing power of marketing). But not all splurges are made equally.

Some “splurges” can indeed bring us happiness and some can even backfire on us, leaving us languishing even more than before. 

Buying a yacht might seem like a fun idea at the time (side note, no I haven’t bought one or rented one or even been on a private one before, so I’m not speaking from experience). But the reality might not be as good as the fantasy sounds.

Why do you want the yacht? How will it make you feel? 

Maybe you have the means and want to treat your friends (who might not be able to afford such a luxury). Maybe your family loves water sports and buying a yacht would be a great investment because it means spending more time together. Maybe you just freakin’ love boats and being on the water every summer. 

But you might also end up spending your entire splurge budget (or more if you’re financing it) only to find that it costs too much to operate regularly, people only want to hang out with you because of your boat, your family isn’t as appreciative as you thought, or you don’t have enough time to enjoy it.

Maybe what you really wanted was more time with your friends and family — which you could have in other ways.

I’ve tried to create a “first-class” flying experience in coach. Trust me. It can’t be done. You can’t bring your own cutlery on the plane, flight attendants need to cater to other passengers, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, those seats just don’t lie flat. 

The amount of money I’m spending on a first or business class upgrade is worth the splurge, and I can’t get what I want (a comfortable long-haul flight) without it.

Is there a way to get what you want without paying a small fortune? Or is the splurge truly worthy of its pricetag?


2. Savor Your Purchases

Our brains are hardwired to get used to stuff really quickly. 

This is partially a survival technique that allows us to believe that stuff really isn’t as bad as we think it is (and allows us to endure through really hard times). But it can also cause us to get bored of the good stuff, too. 

Remember those shoes you just had to have last year that are now relegated to the back of your closet? Remember that iPad you “needed” for your business that you now use as a Kindle? (I’m speaking from experience on this one.)

When we get something we’re excited about, we get a dopamine hit. But those hits don’t last very long. And if we don’t have a good “why” when we want something, that purchase won’t be such a good investment. 

This is where savoring comes in.

Savoring is a tool that positive psychologists use to boost happiness. The good news is that it’s free, we can do it whenever we want, and it’s super effective. Savoring is the act of, “being mindfully engaged and aware of your feelings.”

How many times have you torn into a bag of peanut butter M&Ms (or your favorite candy), only to polish it off in just a few seconds flat? 

How did that experience compare to the experience of savoring each M&M, noticing the creamy texture of the peanut butter and how it complemented the crunch of the chocolatey shell? How the salty and sweet offset each other?

I’m not saying wolfing down a bag of candy doesn’t have its benefits, too. It probably got the job done. But savoring can help us extract even more joy out of our lives — both during big events and mundane experiences. 

Here are a few tips to help you really milk the most joy out of your purchases by savoring.

3. Ask Yourself Why 

Sometimes what we think we want isn’t actually what we desire. 

The idea of a yacht could be more exciting than the experience of the yacht. Buying name-brand clothing is often more about wanting the approval or respect of others than what we want (which isn’t ‘bad’ either; being conscious of this desire is just insight into our wants and needs).

Maybe you spend more on certain brands because they are made in the U.S. or treat factory workers ethically. 

I find that when I spend a little more on ‘staples’ such as jeans, underwear, and sweaters, these items I’ll wear year after year just last longer. Plus, they hold their resale value, meaning I can turn around and sell them when I want something new.

Sometimes you might just fall in love with a pair of $300 sneakers or Gucci sunglasses. If you find yourself buying items that you absolutely love, the next few steps will help you savor these purchases more.


4. Look Forward

I rarely buy anything ‘on the spot’. Instead, making purchases is a full-on process I’ve developed to squeeze the maximum amount of happiness from it. 

When I find something I like, I save a photo of the item (usually online) to a ‘to-buy’ folder on my laptop. Or, add them to a vision board app.

Then I budget for that item and plan to buy it when my budget has a little extra wiggle room. 

But before I make the purchase, I’ll spend some time checking out my ‘to-buy’ vision board. I savor the items and really think about what it will be like to buy them and use them. Sure, I often make an unexpected purchase in a store if I think the item will sell out or is on sale — but I won’t consider ‘mine’ just yet. 

The tags stay on and it gets shelved for the time being and I’ll often spend time with them as I would the items on my ‘to-buy’ vision board. 

5. Make the Purchase

If this all sounds a little exhausting to you, you’re not alone. It kind of is. But that’s the point.

After all of that, there’s a good chance the items in question weren’t something I’d love (or need to spend money on). There’s a good chance I’m already sick and tired of them and ready to move on to the next thing. I’ve squeezed all the possible joy from them. More often than not, I loved the ‘idea’ of them and not the items themselves.

But if the day comes to make my purchase and I still want it, I go ahead and do it! And when those buttery leather shoes arrive in the mail, they smell a little richer than if I hadn’t spent all that time fantasizing about them beforehand.


6. Keep Savoring

You might not need to savor your purchases right away. 

If you’re truly in love with a purchase, you probably get a little dopamine hit from it whenever you take it out of its box, wear it, or see it on the shelf. But those little hits won’t last forever. 

To keep enjoying your purchases, you’ll need to keep savoring them. 

This can be done in a few ways:

  • Consciously take time to appreciate items
  • Remember what life was like before the purchase
  • Pack the item away for a set time

Use the process of savoring to remembering what you loved about your purchases in the first place. 

One way to do this is by remembering what life was like before the purchase. Has the item improved your life? Has that new blender cut your morning routine time in half? Do those new leggings make your workouts easier because you don’t constantly need to readjust them? 

If you’re really not getting the same joy from the item, pack it away for a while. Seasonally, I ‘go shopping’ in my closet and find items I totally forgot I owned — and experience a renewed sense of joy in them!

Still not getting a happiness boost from your belongings? It might be time to sell them and make a new purchase.

7. Have Fun Saving

I used to hate saving. Granted, that was before I really had enough income to save. 

Saving is hard impossible when all of your income is eaten up by rent and groceries every month. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, every purchase that isn’t a necessity item feels like a splurge. And many necessity items do feel like splurges, too.

Also, it’s 100% easier to want to spend money when you’re broke and miserable.

Now that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck, I can actually earmark some of my income each month to deposit into my savings account. I have six months’ worth of living expenses saved up, and I can’t tell you how good that feels.

When you have the means to make deposits into a savings account (regardless of how much), saving money is waaaaay more fun. Now, it saving feels like a game. 

But before I could easily do that, I would stash money into savings accounts whenever I could. Sometimes that would look like throwing loose change into a jar. I would make $1 transfers from my checking to savings account — small enough amounts that I might not notice were ‘missing’ that I could squirrel away. 

And when I felt like I’d never have a grown-up savings account or have a safety net, I would look at the balance and remember that every small amount counts. 

8. Share the Love

A few weeks ago, I took a mahjong lesson, where one of the players (seemingly) joked that she didn’t work because she was independently wealthy. 

I assumed she was joking, so I just chuckled. When the player next to her said, “Really?” She responded, “Well, yeah. Just recently.” 

My first — genuine — thought was, Good for you! I was super happy for this woman that I had just met. There was no jealousy whatsoever (okay, maybe a little bit!). But I felt truly happy for her. 

So often, we are afraid to share our financial good fortune with others because we don’t want to ‘flaunt’ it or seem petty. And why shouldn’t we share our good news? We should absolutely share our good financial fortune with friends and family to share in our joy (without being unkind about it). 

Doing so will give us an extra dopamine hit. And if our loved ones are happy for us, they’ll get one too.

9. Spend Money on Others

If this is all feeling a little pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get-er done, it’s because it is. 

Coming from a middle-class white community like I did, there’s a good chance I won’t ever know true poverty, first-hand. 

Even though I lived paycheck to paycheck for a solid 15 years of my life (and for a few years not far from the poverty line), I still had privileges that many do not. 

Anyone who is in a position to help someone should. And offering others help without expecting any thanks in return is something I myself need to practice more. 

We need to spend money on others — not just because we owe each other basic dignity — but because it makes us feel good, too. Studies show that giving someone else $5 will may you happier than if you spend that $5 on yourself. 

Can money buy happiness? Not necessarily. But when used wisely, it can boost it. And let’s be honest: when it comes to fun money, the stuff and experiences you buy can be a whole heck of a lot of fun. 


Hey, hey! Just a few things before you leave… this post contains affiliate links, so if you buy something after clicking on a one, I might (fingers crossed!) just get a little commission. Good news: I only recommend products that I love! Which means you can feel good about all of my recs.

Also, you should know that I’m not a doctor. More importantly, I’ve never played one on TV. Always consult your doctor before taking any advice from me (or anyone else on the internets for that matter).