Most personal finance advice hinges on the idea of delayed gratification.
Don’t buy that latte. Save the money instead.
Keep working at that job. You’ll be able to retire and enjoy yourself later.
Cut a few more expenses. Spend a few more nights in. Save a little bit more.
It might be hard now but you’ll appreciate it later.
It’s well-intentioned advice, and in fact I’ve given versions of it plenty of times myself.
But when you hear it enough times, it can start to feel like your life is supposed to be one big grind until some abstract future point in time when you’ll finally be allowed to enjoy yourself.
That doesn’t sound right. Does it?
The flip side
One normal reaction to that advice is to rebel against it.
Screw delayed gratification! I’m alive now and I’m going to enjoy myself! The future will take care of itself. #YOLO
It’s understandable, but of course that doesn’t work either. You might enjoy yourself today, but if you never save any money you’ll be in a tough spot later on.
It’s no longer delayed gratification. It’s more like delayed hardship.
A lifetime of happiness
“How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live. What foolish forgetfulness of mortality to postpone wholesome plans to the fiftieth and sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained!”
Instead of falling victim to either extreme, I would encourage you to work on creating financial habits that allow for a lifetime of happiness.
Your money SHOULD allow you to be happy today. You should be able to do work that’s fulfilling and enjoyable. You should have the freedom to be a stay-at-home parent, coach your kid’s soccer team, travel, or anything else that brings you joy.
You shouldn’t always be working for some future date when you’ll finally get to relax. That’s not a life worth living.
At the same time, planning for your future is just as important for happiness as enjoying the present.
Having money set aside allows you to handle unexpected expenses with ease, take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, and support yourself when you either no longer want to work or are no longer able to.
In other words, good financial planning is about facilitating happiness at all stages of life.
Creating your happiness
Finding this kind of balance isn’t always easy. Most of us don’t have an unlimited amount of money, which can make it difficult to spend on things that make us happy today while also saving for the future.
The good news is that it doesn’t actually require a whole lot of money. It might simply require a different outlook.
So, how can you use your money to create a lifetime of happiness for yourself? Here are a few steps to get you started:
- Get clear about what’s important to you and what isn’t.
- Build a system that allows you to take control of your money.
- Step-by-step start directing your money towards the things you care about and away from the things you don’t care about.
- Check back in on a regular basis. Re-evaluate your priorities. Re-direct your money as needed.
As with all things, it will take some trial and error. Both to find the things that truly make you happy and to use your money to get more of those things in your life.
But if you stick with it, you CAN create a financial plan that allows you to enjoy today while also building towards a bright future.
What does a lifetime of happiness look like to you? What are you doing to make it happen?