How to Start Practicing Joy-Based Spending

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Did that dinner with an old friend last week bring you joy? How about the lunch you had to run out and buy yesterday between projects at work? And the car you bought last year — did it make you as happy as you thought it would?

It seems like “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” author Marie Kondo’s approach to organization is sweeping the nation. Everywhere you look, people are asking themselves, “Does this bring me joy?” At the same time, the idea of joy-based spending is also spreading. The first step is taking a good, hard look at your values and what makes you happy — then you go through a process that helps you spend the money you do have on things that matter to you.

Do the highlighter test.

List your purchases for the past month — both fixed and not. (Your debit and credit card statements can be a huge help here.) Highlight everything that didn’t bring you joy. Yes, the electrical bill will probably end up colored in as expected, but you’ll end up thinking critically about your money and how you spent it. Maybe you felt pressured to go to an expensive dinner with friends, or you bought a new dress that didn’t bring you the joy you thought it would. Maybe the monthly car payment reminds you that you walked away from the lot with more car than intended. The process isn’t meant to make you regret how you’ve spent as much as raise your awareness as you make future purchases. 

Calculate your hourly wage.

Take your after-tax income (how much you actually receive in your paycheck every week), then divide it by 2,000 (the average number of hours worked annually), and you have your net hourly wage. Remember that number, and when you’re about to swipe the card (or hand over cash), ask yourself: “Am I willing to work this many hours for this particular item?” If you’ve got teenagers who babysit or have summer jobs, this is also a great way to teach them about the value of money.

Check in with yourself.

Before you go out (or open up the web browser) to spend, be mindful of how you’re feeling — and if you’re not feeling confident, that might not be the best time to buy. Put on your best outfit, do your makeup, and if you're still not feeling confident, put off the shopping expedition for another day. And once you do buy an item? Check with yourself a week or two later and ask yourself how much joy you’ve actually gotten from it.