HAPPINESS RESEARCH fascinates me—and I’m not alone. Many of the insights uncovered by economists and psychologists have caught on with the general public, influencing countless life decisions.
Do you favor experiences over possessions? Do you strive to keep your commute short? Do you pause occasionally to ponder the good things in your life? Whether you realize it or not, you’ve likely been influenced by happiness research.
But it turns out that there are two popular insights that we need to unlearn—because they haven’t held up to close scrutiny:
Have you heard that happiness caps out at an income of $75,000 a year?
THRIFTY. FRUGAL. CHEAP. Pick the adjective you favor, and you could apply it to me.
I’ve spent almost my entire adult life being financially careful. I haven’t carried a credit card balance or overdrawn my checking account since my early 20s. I was an early convert to low-cost index funds. When I worked at The Wall Street Journal and at Citigroup, I brought my breakfast and a thermos of coffee to the office every day,
IF YOU SAW $20 on the sidewalk, you’d pick it up, right? Unfortunately, when we buy stocks and stock funds, there are no guarantees we’ll emerge a winner. But elsewhere in our financial life, $20 bills abound—and it often takes little effort and scant risk to grab this free money.
Looking for some easy financial wins? Here are 15 of them:
If you’re eligible for a Roth IRA and you have the spare cash to fund the account,
I TURN AGE 58 today—and, a few days ago, HumbleDollar turned four. The good news: Only one of us is slowing down.
In 2020, HumbleDollar garnered 3.6 million pageviews, up from 2.6 million in 2019, 1.7 million in 2018 and 900,000 in 2017, which was our first year. Here’s a closer look at those numbers and what’s been happening here at HumbleDollar:
Earlier this week, I posted a list of the 20 most widely read articles from the past four years.
OVER THE PAST FOUR years, readers have a cast an eye on almost 8.8 million of HumbleDollar’s pages. But which have they looked at most often? Below are the 20 most widely read articles since HumbleDollar’s launch at year-end 2016:
Terms of the Trade (2019) by Jim Wasserman
Nobody Told Me (2020) by Jonathan Clements
Farewell Money (2019) by Richard Quinn
He Gets, She Gets (2020) by James McGlynn
Don’t Delay (2020) by Dennis Friedman
The Taxman Cometh (2020) by James McGlynn
Still Learning (2019) by Richard Quinn
Don’t Get an F (2019) by James McGlynn
My Four Goals (2020) by Jonathan Clements
27 Things to Do Now (2020) by Jonathan Clements
Farewell Yield (2020) by Jonathan Clements
Ten Commandments (2018) by Richard Quinn
Enough Already (2017) by Jonathan Clements
Flunking the Test (2020) by Richard Connor
The Tipping Point (2018) by Jonathan Clements
12 Investment Sins (2020) by John Lim
This Too Shall Pass (2020) by Richard Connor
Unanswered (2018) by Jonathan Clements
45 Steps to Success (2019) by Jonathan Clements
The $121,500 Room (2018) by Joel M.
YES, MONEY BUYS STUFF—and we all need some stuff. But that’s probably its most prosaic use. Want to make the most of the dollars that pass through your hands? Here are a dozen other things that money can buy:
The warm glow that comes from helping those who are less financially fortunate.
The extra time you purchase by hiring someone to do chores you dislike.
The fun of daydreaming about all the experiences and possessions you might buy.
OUR MOST PRECIOUS resource is time. I’m determined to waste as little as possible.
Unless we’re at death’s door, none of us knows how much time we have, but we all know it’s limited. Yes, money is also limited—but, if we squander money, there’s always a chance we can make it back. Time lost, by contrast, is gone forever.
My preoccupation with time and its dwindling supply has grown as I’ve grown older. I may be patient with my investments,
IF MONEY ISSUES had the urgency of a broken air-conditioning system on a 100-degree day, we’d all be in great financial shape.
But all too often, financial troubles are years in the making. We bumble along, vaguely aware that things aren’t quite right. Sure enough, one day, the red lights are flashing and the alarm bells are ringing. But by then, it’s usually way too late to fix the problem—because the fix required taking action years earlier.
THE MARKETS AREN’T predictable—but the talking heads sure are. Like a dog with a favorite fire hydrant, financial commentators return to the same themes again and again.
The silver lining: There’s no need to waste hundreds of hours in 2021 reading the business section and watching financial news channels, because we already know what the pundits will be saying next year—and probably the year after that and the year after that. Look for these seven stories in 2021:
HOW DO WE GET from here to retirement? Amid the financial markets’ daily turmoil, it might seem like one big crapshoot.
But in truth, navigating this journey is pretty straightforward, because there are just five key variables—our time horizon, current nest egg, savings rate, target nest egg and investment return. With a few tweaks to these “dials,” we may discover it’s far easier to reach our retirement goal. Which dials are most effective? Much depends on how close we are to retirement age.
MONEY IS IMPORTANT. But how do we ensure it has the right importance in our life—and no more? Here are 11 signs we’ve got it about right:
We aren’t jealous of others or lust after the things they have.
We borrow when we must—but we never borrow so much that we stress ourselves out today or put our future self at risk.
We consciously spend a little less today so we enjoy the long-run happiness that comes with money in the bank and the knowledge that we can cope with financial adversity.
KEEP AN EYE ON the neighbors. They could be the reason you’re poor and unhappy.
We all like to think we’re independent thinkers who weigh the evidence and reach our own conclusions—and yet there’s ample evidence that our views are heavily influenced by those around us, whether we’re choosing presidential candidates, bottled water or mayonnaise. This extends to financial matters, sometimes with grim consequences.
Stocking up. Studies have found that those who live near one another tend to invest in a similar fashion.
THROUGHOUT THE DAY, we make countless snap judgments, often without realizing it. Think about navigating the grocery store. This involves a blizzard of decisions—which brand, what size, whether it’s good value, will it stay fresh—and yet we do so almost effortlessly.
Most of the time, this is a good thing. If we carefully pondered the assumptions behind every judgment we make, life would become painfully unproductive. Still, it’s helpful occasionally to question whether we’re misjudging the world,
WHY DO WE MAKE spending decisions that we later regret? Yes, we tend to live for today and give scant thought to tomorrow. But it’s more complicated than that—which brings me to four insights from psychology.
I find the insights below fascinating, in part because they describe how I behave with uncanny accuracy. Many readers, I suspect, will also catch a glimpse of their own behavior:
Moral licensing. If we do something good—exercise,
IT’S HALLOWEEN, but not much frightens me—at least financially. My portfolio is broadly diversified, I have the insurance I need, and I have enough set aside for retirement. The highly improbable could happen, but I’m not going to lose sleep over that.
Still, even for those of us in decent financial shape, I see two key reasons for concern. We have no control over either—which is why they might seem scary—but we can take steps to limit the potential fallout.