How to find some joy without spending more money

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Sandra Fry: Don’t wait until the new year to hit the reset button on your spending habits

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Have you ever been excited about buying something, only to realize later that having the item isn’t nearly as pleasing as you thought it would be? Whether it’s a new pair of shoes, the latest electronic device or a new car, our “stuff” rarely provides us ongoing joy. Once the credit-card bills arrive or the payments kick in, our spending often turns to regret or resentment.

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Finding joy outside of spending money is an essential part of your long-term financial well-being. Spending less than you earn allows you to save towards meaningful goals and eliminate your reliance on credit. Your credit cards then become a convenient way to pay, rather than an obligation sucking the life out of your paycheques. Don’t wait until the new year to hit the reset button on your spending habits. Here are some tips to help you find joy outside of spending.

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Start by thinking about your paycheque in terms of time rather than money. Then calculate how much time something costs, rather than how much money. This helps you determine the true value of an item, because time spent at work is time spent away from family, friends and everything you value in life.

To see this in action, let’s say you want to buy a new smart TV with a price tag of $800, which with tax brings the total to $896 (in provinces that charge seven per cent sales tax and five per cent GST, plus the environmental fee). Next, calculate how many hours you need to work to have $900 of after-tax income. For example, if you earn $28 an hour and work 40 hours a week, your weekly before-tax income is $1,120. After taxes and required deductions, depending on in which province you live in, your net income would be about $850.

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This calculation shows that someone in this position would need to work at least an entire week to pay cash for a new TV. Whether that’s worth it or not is entirely up to each individual. But when you start measuring the cost of your stuff in terms of time rather than dollars, it shines a laser focus on what you value most. As it turns out, it’s often the simple things that end up mattering the most.

Time with family and friends is a great way to find joy without spending money. Play games, cook dinner together, help with homework or household tasks, or walk the dog. If you do spend money, spend it on experiences that create lasting memories — say, a show or ski pass during the holidays. Finding joy is about being deliberate with your choices and choosing to be grateful for where your feet are.

Be where your feet are is a proverb that reminds us to live in the moment. It helps us be intentional about our spending and reduce distractions such as the pressure to chalk up debt on credit cards to keep up with a lifestyle we can’t truly afford.

Another part of living a meaningful life without a focus on spending money is to explore nature and enjoy outdoor experiences. Hiking, walking, kayaking, taking a bike ride, fishing, skipping stones or playing at a neighbourhood park can improve your mood, help reduce your stress and boost your overall well-being.

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Volunteering your time and talents is another way to feel purposeful without spending money. Choose a cause near to your heart and give back to your community. Consider volunteering at your local high school’s breakfast club, an inner-city support program with a community music or arts program, a seniors’ centre or with a crime prevention society. You’ll find like-minded people, gain a sense of purpose and develop new skills. In addition, many hands make for lighter work, so pitch in and have fun while making a positive impact.

Many people push off the decision to be more mindful with their spending until the new year. But suddenly flipping a switch from spending more to spending less is a hard adjustment to make, especially with the ingrained need for physical possessions that comes during this time of year.

Ease into your newfound lifestyle by appreciating everyday experiences. Send a text to someone you care about, enjoy holiday lights, invite friends for a potluck, create new traditions and encourage others to embrace a similar lifestyle by gifting experiences rather than things.

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How often do you look back at photos and remember the amazing experience you had buying a new pair of shoes? Probably never. But your memories about a camping trip or weekend away with friends likely put a smile on your face every time you think about them.

Experiences shape us in ways dust collectors can’t. Be intentional with your spending choices and focus on separating what makes you happy and gives you joy from how you spend your money. Your credit cards and future self will thank you.

Sandra Fry is a Winnipeg-based credit counsellor at Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization that has helped Canadians manage debt for more than 27 years.

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