Can't Buy Happiness?

Money, personality, and well-being

The Barriers to Financial Happiness

Most people know they should manage their money; however, they don't. Why?

Over the last few years I have met and chatted with a number of financial advisers, marketing executives, and social media entrepreneurs. I find that we often discuss one topic: how can people save and spend their money in ways that improve their lives? 

However, in my own research, I find that when I tell people spending money on life experiences will make them happier than buying material items, rarely do people seem surprised. It has caused me to think that maybe there is a better question we could ask: what are the barriers to making sound financial decisions? People know they should save for a rainy day, invest when they are young, resist retail therapy, and yes, buy life experiences instead of material items. Maybe people’s poor financial decisions are not a lack of knowledge; maybe they know how to spend their money to be happy, but something prevents them from doing so.  

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To help me think through the barriers to financial happiness, I asked a few experts on the topic to independently answer five questions. Each day, for the next five days, I will provide their answers so we can begin to understand the barriers to financial happiness.

What are the barriers to financial happiness?
The first question we discuss concerns how people manage their money. Before you hear their answers you may want to find out how well you are managing your money by taking our short financial management quiz. To learn about your spending habits, first Login or Register with BeyondThePurchase.Org and take our money management survey.   

Question #1: Most people know they should manage their money; however, a lot of people avoid doing so. Why do you think this is?

Peter Bielagus: Let’s face it; in the short term managing your money is boring. Buying stocks, gold, silver, bonds, and bank CDs are not very exciting compared to the thrill of new clothes, shoes, and restaurants. However, managing your money creates freedom. What’s more, I believe saving for a purchase is very exciting.  

Gary Foreman: There are two reasons. First, we are often driven by whatever is in front of us. Today's bill or today's desire seems more important than saving for college or retirement. Our financial eyesight is a lot like our physical eyesight. Things that are closer appear bigger. In our 20's retirement seems like a lifetime away. The other reason is that many people have a mental block, or an emotional surrender, when it comes to personal finance. Even highly educated people believe that they can't control their financial lives. So they simply avoid the subject, just doing the minimum.

Sarah Hardwick: With American Express platinum cards and no interest mortgages the norm these days, it's easy to live beyond your means. It's challenging for us to face the reality of saving for the future and actually taking steps to budget and cut back on expenses. It's easier to indulge now and figure out how to afford it later.

So, Peter proposes that managing money seems boring (but could be exciting); Gary and Sarah suggest that our immediate concerns or pleasures encourage us to discount the future. Gary also notes that a lot of people feel they just can’t control their finances.

What do you think? If you don’t manage your money like you should, why not?

Peter Bielagus is a speaker and financial educator. Gary Foreman is the editor of the Dollar Stretcher. Sarah Hardwick is the Founder & CEO Zenzi Communications.

Ryan T. Howell, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University.

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