The Joy of Spending

It has never been easier to part with our hard earned dollars.  We no longer need to take a $100.00 bill out of our wallet, or even write a check to make a purchase.   We simply swipe a card, push a button, or scan our phones.  Have we lost the true joy of spending?  Has our financial integrity vanished in the abyss of materialistic impropriety?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that lights up and bursts forth like fireworks, sending sprays of energy throughout the parts of our brain that turn motivations into decisions and decisions into actions.  It is the pleasure drug that floods our brains with a lovely feeling when we THINK about getting something we want. Researchers have made three profound discoveries about dopamine.  It has implications in our financial lives.   First, actually getting what you want does NOT produce dopamine.  After we make a purchase, we may feel let down or the pleasant feeling is fleeting.  Secondly, the dopamine system is more interested in novel stimuli than something familiar. The marketing people know this inside and out.  We are bombarded constantly and told we NEED the latest, greatest, fastest, fanciest!  Lastly, if the reward you expected fails to materialize, dopamine dries up, and you may experience symptoms of withdrawal.  The sobering revelation in this is that we can easily become consumption junkies.  We become “addicted” to the chemicals being released when we expose ourselves to the daily onslaught of purchasing and spending prospects and unless deliberately reigned in we can succumb to self-gratification and financial mayhem.

This sounds so harsh!  But look at our country and the problems we are facing in the government and in our homes.  Can we reconnect with the true joy of spending, and keep our brain chemistry in line for safe decision making?    We can by taking thoughtful, strategic steps.

First, question what your definition of happiness entails.  Dr. Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute speaks to this in his work on “Happiness”.  We are remiss to think that more is better and that the attainment of sensory desires produces meaning and happiness in our lives.  It is possible to have a thriving, growing economy that is based on fulfilling our “needs” and prioritizing our “wants”, instead of the greed and fear that has given us an ongoing economic roller-coaster ride over the past decade.

Secondly, clarify your vision of what we want to create for yourself, your children, our world.  What is foundationally important in your life?  Do you desire freedom, security, health, deeper relationships, community? What does your checkbook say about what you value?

Finally, create a spending plan.  Do you ski?  The Ski Company creates boundaries to make our skiing experience as enjoyable as possible and to keep us safe.  You can experience the adrenaline rush of Walsh’s or a cruiser down Ruthie’s, knowing that you are maximizing your experience safely.  If you choose to ski outside of the boundaries, well – you’ve heard the tragic stories.  The same happens in creating a spending plan.  You are creating the safe financial boundaries within which you can have a joyful experience.

You will find pleasure in your spending choices when you understand that money is a means, not an end in itself.  You will delight when your spending choices reflect what is important to you, not just filling a perceived void, or temporary itch.  You will find joy by embracing contentment and in spending within your boundaries (no matter how big your terrain may be!)

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