The Route from Wealth to Well-Being

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We write a lot about saving money on this blog. We believe thrift is a virtue and love sharing strategies to help people save and invest. That’s why we recommend that you automate your savings, apply the Wait a Week principle, use a Gone Fishing Portfolio or fiduciary so you stick to your investment plan, and be proud of your frugality.

Each day you fail to save is another day where you tighten the ball and chain around your ankle and promise to defer your financial freedom. Hard work and diligence today is the best gift you can give to your future self.

The strategy my husband and I used was to fix our budget at 65% of my first income. Then, even after I received raises and my husband graduated and began working, we still lived off that starting calculation with only minimal increases.

However, now that we have a one-year-old daughter, I see the wisdom in David Marotta’s “Family Financial Lifecycle.” He writes that although before children income often abundantly covers expenses, expenses multiply once you have children. I feel this and am thankful for our pre-child diligence in saving.

What is interesting for my family is that our expenses are growing in unexpected places. I expected an increased water bill because of laundry and baths, increased food because of the additional calories required, and even additional housing expenses because of the need for more rooms. However, in my house, I am unintentionally increasing the gifts budget.

As both a 30-hour-a-week employee and a full-time stay at home mom, I have every minute of the day booked with either quiet work time, lively toddler time, or dreaded household chores. As an extrovert who craves focused attention and conversation, I find myself, like most new moms, longing for more connection. What surprised me is that this desire has popped up suddenly in my financial decisions: I started buying people more and more expensive gifts.

I’ve always been a gift giver. Even in my frugality, gift giving is one of my main demonstrations of love and my favorite budget to spend. However, I wasn’t expecting to see the gifts budget swell with the arrival of a baby. I suppose diligent frugality is hard when you are so tired.

Although gift giving does make me happy and is aligned with my values, increasing expenditures in my favorite budget over the long haul is likely not the most cost effective way to improve my happiness.

We don’t write a lot about how to spend money, and, truth be told, I’m not very good at spending. I am somewhere between a miser and a nester, normally suffering without for longer than I should. However, David Marotta’s article, “Five Principles Of Spending” has provided helpful reminders for me upon reread. Here’s a relevant section:

I’ve often described the idea that if you were in charge of a group of people ship-wrecked on an island and you only had one doctor, you would “buy” his time by having other people cook for him, keep his house in order to free him from any duties other than doctoring where he is the most valuable. Many wealthy people are wealthy because their time is extremely valuable. If they are smart, they do not cook for themselves, or mow their own lawns or perhaps even drive themselves to work. They buy time by paying others to do those things for them, and as a consequence use their time in a more valuable way.

The same principles applies for anything that only you can do. You are the only person who can be a mom or dad to your children. Buying time to make those relationships happen is a great life-planning investment.

There is so much wisdom in this.

An international study published this year agrees saying that “the time famine of modern life can be reduced by using money to buy time.” In other words, people would be happier if they spent their money to outsource tasks to others. They call this the “route from wealth to well-being: spending money to buy free time.”

Ashley Whillans, the lead author of the study, was quoted in the New York Times article saying,“People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction.” The New York Times also reports, “Researchers did not see the same effect when people used money for material goods.”

Buying time is hard for frugal people. On the one hand, it is an unnecessary expense to pay for house cleaning, lawn mowing, tax preparation, and other services when you really are capable enough to do it yourself. On the other hand, you are the only you there is. There is someone out there who gets great joy in life from mowing lawns. If that person is not you, consider paying this joyful lawn mower to do your lawn so you can have the time to do what you love. In doing so, you are supporting both of your life goals.

To quote the study again, the “route from wealth to well-being: spending money to buy free time.”

Photo from Unsplash

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Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.