Recently we purchased a king size bed. For reasons that are lost to me now, I resisted the upgrade. It probably had to do with costing too much money or “why should we replace a perfectly good queen size mattress”, etc. Obviously I was wrong. This thing is a game changer.
More importantly, it reminded me how effective it can be using dollars to subtract the negatives in your life rather than spending dollars to add positive things. In fact, I’d say that’s the single greatest use of money and a guaranteed happiness return: use money to remove something you don’t like. Instantly, things get better and your happiness increases.
Let me explain.
I don’t own a yacht. Never once in my life have I walked through a day complaining because of a lack of a yacht. The same could be true for countless other things. Would it be cool to fly a drone around and make incredible videos from a camera hovering high above the buildings? Absolutely, but again – I didn’t skip to work today thinking my life lacked purpose and meaning because I didn’t have a drone.
Yet, I make this mistake all the time. I think that some new addition to my life will bring additional happiness. In a few rare occasions this is true. I own a few things that give me great pleasure. Most of the time the happiness associated with these purchases fade over time. It’s the inevitable hedonic adaptation at play. What is new and shiny today soon becomes old and familiar. If you get on the hedonic treadmill, there are no amount of things that can bring you happiness because you always want more.
I doubt this is a huge insight to many of you. We all have experiences of buying things, being happy for a bit, and then quickly returning to our initial level of happiness. If you’re reading this blog, at the very least you’re questioning your spending anyway and wondering if there’s a better use for your money.
But I’m not sure as many people think about using money to subtract things from your life. This is particularly awesome when you remove items, tasks or chores that cause negative feelings. For example, I hate cleaning bathrooms. Of course I could do it myself and save even more money, but no amount of saving money is going to make me enjoy the process. The solution is obviously to hire someone to clean the house. For a relatively small amount of money, we completely remove a chore that brings us no pleasure and we’ve never once argued about who should clean the bathroom.
Getting back to the mattress purchase, somehow I failed to realize (for years probably) that there were some negative things about the queen mattress. I did wake up pretty often thinking I could have slept better. After all, the mattress was over 10 years old and had probably served its useful life. I’m not sure this happened every day but now that it no longer happens at all, it’s pretty clear that the cost of the mattress hardly compares to the fact that I no longer think about the mattress (except for writing this post of course).
The whole experience got me thinking about other ways to use money to remove negatives. Of course you have to be careful here, as removing a negative isn’t the same as paying extra for convenience.
The basic test is this: it’s convenient that at the push of a button I can order any type of food at any time of day and have it delivered to me. But if I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t walk around thinking that my life sucked.
Getting a new mattress isn’t convenient. It’s simply paying extra money for something of quality that replaces a previous negative experience.
I’m pretty convinced that the most efficient use of a dollar is to spend it removing something negative from your life, rather than trying to add something positive. Eventually you’ll run out of negative things to remove. At that point, you’ve reached near optimal spending as dollars spent chasing additional happiness will only get you so far before you quickly adapt and need new stuff to replace the old stuff.
Joshua Holt is a former private equity M&A lawyer and the creator of Biglaw Investor. Josh couldn’t find a place where lawyers were talking about money, so he created it himself. He convinces the student loan refinancing companies to give you cashback bonuses for refinancing your student loans and looks forward to you discovering how easy it is to track your net worth with a free tool like Empower.