Happy Money – Make It A Treat

“Abundance…is the enemy of appreciation.”

I am continuing my review of Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton. Let’s take a look at the second major concept from the book – Make It a Treat. (You can click the “Buy Experiences” link below if you missed it.)

  1. Buy Experiences
  2. Make It a Treat
  3. Buy Time
  4. Pay Now, Consume Later
  5. Invest in Others
Katie's Cupcakes

photo by Andrew Caird

Make It a Treat

Living in a wealthy country in an age when goods flow quickly across the world, we have unprecedented and continuous access to nearly anything we want when we want it. Our favorite fruits are available year-round even when the ground is frozen outside. We can get the best chocolate and coffee from around the world at our local stores everyday.

Sounds great, right? Actually, overabundance can desensitize us to life’s pleasures. Just knowing we can have what we want anytime we want it makes us appreciate it less. If you get an extra-hot, double-shot, skinny mocha everyday, it will lose its luster.

Advertisers keen to human behavior know that we appreciate things more when they appear scarce: “Limited time only!”, “Three left at this price!”.  In Michigan where I live, people rejoice each summer when Bell’s Brewery releases its Oberon brew because it is only available part of the year. Our brains like change. We will be better off if we give our brains what they want by making our purchases a treat.

Here are some make-it-a-treat tips you can put into action:
  • Change your routine. If your daily latte has become mundane, limit yourself to one or two per week.
  • Take a break. Don’t binge watch your favorite TV show. Take some time off between episodes. Even commercials can make us appreciate our favorite shows more because it gives us a few moments of anticipation.
  • Buy new experiences to share with your partner. New adventures are great for nurturing long-term relationships.
  • Take time to enjoy and savor food. A large order of fries in Paris is 30% smaller than a large order in the U.S. but French patrons take 50% longer to eat them than their U.S. counterparts.
  • Travel less. If you spend a lot of money on frequent travel, you may not appreciate each trip much.
  • Appreciate what you have. As the authors point out, “Knowing something won’t last forever can make us appreciate it more.”
  • Think about your future self. Before you buy, consider how a purchase will make you feel after the initial exhilaration of the “test drive” wears off. Our purchases give us less joy as time passes.

I was explaining the make-it-a-treat concept to my eight year old daughter and I saw a light bulb go on. She said, “It’s like birthdays. It wouldn’t be special if you had one everyday”. Out of the mouth of babes.