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Finding your joy on a budget

Satisfaction in life goes beyond the financial.

Money is a complicated subject, wrapped in all sorts of emotions. Experiences with spending and saving tend to start with receiving an allowance, where parents motivate kids to help with household chores in exchange for a bit of spending money. The weekly allowance usually evolves into part-time jobs and then the thrill of that first “real” job that comes with a steady paycheque. 

By this point, life has become a bit more complicated. Moving into adulthood brings added responsibilities and bigger expenses. Covering such obligations as car payments, mortgages, groceries, supporting children and vacations can make the balancing act of monthly budgeting a tricky emotional minefield. 

You might worry about whether your paycheque will stretch far enough, have feelings of immense joy when an unexpected windfall from a tax return or lottery win drops in your lap, or experience moments of envy when you see others enjoying an extravagance that simply feels out of your price range.

For some, shopping and spending goes beyond actual needs. Have you ever impulse-purchased after seeing an ad, bought something just because it was on sale or stood in line for the new release of an electronic gadget? Did you really need those items, or was some other factor at play? 

Cravings and rewards

How the brain works has a lot to do with how we tend to spend money. For example, many people engage in a bit of “retail therapy” to blow off a bad mood. There’s actually scientific evidence that shopping can give you a boost. 

Moreover, a study focused on credit card use found that credit card purchases significantly stimulated the brain’s reward centre, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. This chemical that we naturally produce is connected to motivation, focus and joy. If dopamine is triggered by credit card purchases, then it may be time to take a step back and determine if you are truly buying things for the right reason – because you need them. When shopping habits begin to fuel your sense of well-being, it can become a slippery slope.

As price increases cause many to examine household budgets and spending habits, there’s also an opportunity to consider how you cultivate joy in your life. An all-inclusive trip to Mexico might be on your bucket list, but does it really fit in your current financial plan? A new designer shirt might lift your mood in the short term, but is there a better way to get the same effect without adding to your credit card debt? 

Sometimes the best experiences have little, if any, connection to money. 

Challenge yourself

Before you purchase another object that you don’t really need, pause and do a bit of self-reflection. 

  • When was the last time you learned something new?
  • Are there things that you want to try but keep putting off?

Stepping out of your comfort zone and working towards something meaningful can be a great way to learn, experience new things, meet people and build self-confidence. Are there hobbies you’re curious about, or a skill set you’d like to pick up that might support your career? Or maybe you have fitness goals in mind that require a bit of discipline. 

Whatever the challenge you take on, the feeling of accomplishment can have lasting positive effects that build a deep sense of satisfaction that money can’t buy. 

For more insight on why continuous learning is a smart move, check out this article.

Giving back

As mentioned above, the thrill of making a purchase is connected with the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine. But this same brain chemical is also released when we do something nice for others. Studies have shown that volunteering, donating funds to causes you believe in or simply doing something nice for a friend or neighbour can have a significant impact on your overall health and well-being. Positive effects can include lower blood pressure and stress levels, increased self-esteem and greater feelings of satisfaction and happiness. 

This article takes a closer look at the benefits of giving back.

We all have financial responsibilities that make certain purchases necessary. And while it’s great to reward yourself once in a while with concert tickets, a trip or something new for the wardrobe, try to recognize whether your spending habits are fuelled by an emotional void, and if there’s a better way to experience feelings of joy and satisfaction. 

Your advisor is an important partner in your household budget discussions. Being proactive and setting up a meeting can help to ensure you are spending your hard-earned money in the ways that are the most meaningful for supporting your life goals. 

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