6 Ways Money CAN Buy Happiness

I believe it’s true that money cannot buy happiness. Think about all the miserable people you’ve read about—celebrities, professional athletes, perhaps friends or family who just happen to also be the rich. If money could buy happiness, wouldn’t they be the happiest people on earth?

While money can’t buy happiness, it can buy and do things for us that can make us happy.

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Recently, I read a fascinating book, The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does, by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

This book is a heavy-duty read, as one might expect from a psychology book. I found it to be thought-provoking. The author offers specific ways we can use our money to further our personal enjoyment and happiness.

Spend money on small pleasures. Small things like a good cup of coffee, a new DVD or a picnic can result in small boosts of happiness that accumulate to produce a large impact of longer-lasting happiness.

Spend money on fundamental feelings. When you spend your money on satisfying pursuits rather that stuff to impress others, the result is happiness without the addiction-like desire for more and more.

Spend money on others, not yourself. When we invest in others rather than ourselves, the result is a lasting sense of happiness.

Spend money to open up more free time. Spending money for a housecleaner, for example, frees up your time to do things you truly love.

Spend now but wait to enjoy it. There is something to be said for anticipation and delayed gratification. Together they can create happiness.

Spend money on experiences rather than possessions. The experiences don’t have to be a Caribbean cruise or European vacation. Family Game night can bring the kind of happiness that does not quickly fade the way a new pair of shoes might.

While this book offers an exhaustive study on what makes us happy (the author weaves extensive scientific research—more than 700 journal articles), it’s an easy read. And I came away from it with two things: 1) A clear-eyed vision together with practical tools and steps for how to build the healthiest, most satisfying life, and 2) A clear affirmation that despite everything, happiness really is a matter of choice.

The Most Critical Six Months in a College Grad’s Life

Graduating from college is one of life’s most thrilling events. Finishing my degree, walking the aisle and receiving a fancy document in a leather-bound case remains one of the high points of my life.

A diverse group of young adult graduates

Leaving college life behind, I was ready to live life to the fullest, whatever that meant. I was so over living under campus rules, grueling classwork, never-ending papers, mid-terms and finals. I was ready begin life in the real world.

Unfortunately, I still had a lot to learn about managing finances. I knew nothing and worse, wasn’t aware that I knew nothing. What was there to know, anyway?

Sadly, I am not alone. Today’s graduates are smart but generally financially ignorant. For college graduates gearing up to enter the real world, I offer the following for starting off on the right financial foot.

The decisions and choices you make in the first six months after graduation have the power to set the course of your life, for good or bad.

Of course, you’ve been a poor starving student long enough. You deserve a new car. And certainly you need a better apartment. And some decent clothes. Oh, and who could possibly deny you a European vacation to celebrate this amazing achievement? Followed by a couple of weeks’ vacation to rest and relax. You’ve been through so much.

You reason: Things are looking good in the employment department, you’re only young once, it makes sense to do this now before you’re tied down with a job, a home and kids. I could go on, but I’ll stop. And you should too. Stop thinking like that!

Taking on a car loan, the obligation of a lease on an apartment or condo, climbing credit-card balances—all of that may seem innocuous, given the great job you plan to land somewhere, somehow. And that will backfire on you. Instead of launching you into the real world, it will send you into a downward spiral that collides with unpaid student debt, negatively impacting your life for many years to come.

STOP, DROP AND ROLL. You learned it in elementary school for fire drills. Now apply it to your financial life. If anyone offers you a contract to sign—for a car, an apartment, a credit card or other legal obligation—Stop! Drop the pen and then roll out of there fast.

KEEP DRIVING YOUR CLUNKER. Yes, it’s embarrassing. That car you had to drive while in college is a pile of junk. It’s just not you! And those are exactly the kind of thoughts you need to get rid of. First, you are not what you drive. Your car is simply a means to get from here to there. Keep it. Love it. Be grateful.

MOVE HOME.  Whatever it takes, do not create any new debt during these critical six months, and possibly much longer. If that means moving back with home for a while, do it.

TAKE A JOB, ANY JOB.  You need cash flow, so take the first job you can get. Then keep looking. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “stepping-stone?” There is nothing wrong with this. Keep your eye on the goal and get to work reaching it. Stop whining and feeling sorry for yourself.

MAKE PAYMENTS. You need to immediately begin paying back your student loans, whether a little or a lot. Do not luxuriate in the six-month grace period. That is not some kind of gift. Interest is accruing every day (unless you have subsidized loans, which almost no one has these days). That means every day your debt is growing because the interest you owe—but are not paying—is being added to your principal balance. Next month you will pay interest on that interest, too. Ever heard the word “compounding”? Bingo. My best advice is to create a payment plan to do it in five years or less. Then just do it. Get it done!

AUTO SAVE. Even though in debt, you need to save money. You cannot continue to live on credit. I am a big fan of any kind of auto pay or auto save. When you set this up, you eliminate the need to make a decision every payday. “Should I save money this week or go to a movie?” “Should I save this week or get those really cute shoes that are finally on sale?!” If you have to make that same decision over and over, pretty soon you won’t. You’ll get lazy, you’ll stop saving and just keep spending.

But if you are auto-saving even $25 a week, you’ve eliminated that irritating decision. You’re on autopilot and that’s a nice way to roll.

Soon, you won’t miss the money. It will be out of sight, out of mind. I cannot stress just how important this is. If you master this concept and turn it into a lifelong habit, you will be thousands of miles (and dollars) ahead of your peers.

Finally, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on a job well done. You made it—not to the finish line but to the starting gate!

Salad in a Jar—Good for Health and Wealth

If you’ve been hanging with me for any length of time, you know I’m pretty wild about making Gifts in a Jar, which is now a downloadable ebooklet. I’m talking about glass canning jars with screw top lids. Seriously, you can stuff just about anything in one of these amazing containers and come up with a unique, lovely gift.

Over the years we’ve made Cookies in a Jar, Light in a Jar, Garden in a Jar, even a Journal in a Jar (instructions for all in the ebooklet). I have no idea why I’ve never embraced what is quite possibly the most practical use of a jar—Salad in a Jar.

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I didn’t think of this, but I’m pretty much in love with the person who did. Simply brilliant and so practical.

Basically, you assemble the ingredients for a fresh, healthy salad by layering them in a wide-mouth glass canning jar. If you do it right, you can make up a bunch of jar salads on Sunday, put them in the refrigerator and having your lunches made up for the entire week. Prepared well, a jar salad kept in the refrigerator will be as fresh up to a week later as it was the day you assemble it. And no vacuum-sealing necessary.

How to Keep a Keurig Coffee Maker Making Coffee (Even if You Think It’s Broken)

If you own a Keurig coffee maker and if it started out brewing a full cup of coffee then turned to a half cup and is now on its way to the landfill—you are not alone. There are many disgruntled Keurig owners out there. That makes me wonder how many people have actually tossed a perfectly good Keurig coffee maker into the trash, when 30 minutes of their time, a slosh of white vinegar and a paperclip could have put that thing back into tip top shape.

photo credit: IFixIt.com

photo credit: IFixIt.com

Hopefully, if you have a Keurig that’s giving you fits because the thing just will not work [read: turn on, pump water, make a full cup], you haven’t given it the ol’ heave-ho. I’m pretty sure it will be worth your time to get it back up and working.

Before I go on, let’s cover some disclosures: I do not own a Keurig. I roast my own coffee (the freshest, best coffee in the world) and brew it in this Bonavita coffee maker. I find the Keurig machines to be on the pricey side and so are the disposable K-cups required to make the thing work.

With that out of the way, let’s get down to Keurig business.

Store Fresh Produce in Glass Jars and Other Cheapskate Solutions

Dear Mary: I enjoy your column every day and love the tips and tricks to save and spend less. I read the question about finding “rust” on lettuce only days after purchase and I have found a great solution. I’ve started using glass jars—Mason jars, old tomato sauce jars, any jar with a tight fitting lid will do. I clean and store my lettuce, cut bell peppers, cucumbers, just about anything that I’d normally put in Tupperware or plastic bag. The filled jars keep the contents fresh and yummy for days, even as long as two weeks. It’s amazing, I couldn’t believe the difference. Thanks for doing what you do. Stacie

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Dear Stacie: Thanks for the reminder! Canning jars are useful for so many things. Filled with fresh salad greens and vegetables, I think they look pretty, too.

Dear Mary: This year, I am growing my garden in 5-gallon buckets. My problem is all the weeds that grow everywhere in the yard. I’ve put landscape fabric in the bed where my buckets are located, but the weeds still persist. What can I use in the realm of homemade weed/grass killer that’s effective? I don’t want to go the commercial route (Round-Up), for fear that might also kill my wanted garden plants. Thanks ever so much for your advice. Sherri

10 Lashes With a Tire Pressure Gauge

Recently, I wrote about simple things you can do to slash the high cost of gas. One of those tips was to make sure your car’s tires are always properly inflated because underinflated tires cause the engine to work harder than necessary, which wastes fuel, while overinflation causes tires to wear prematurely. 

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I went on to tell you how to discover the psi (pounds per square inch) inflation recommended for your tires. And with that I kinda’ started a firestorm! My email box fairly sizzled with responses from readers who were not happy—some demanding an immediate retraction, others insisting I was putting the lives of my readers in serious danger.

The problem? I told you to discover the proper psi by looking for that information on the tires themselves.

“You’re wrong!” informed a few readers, many of them citing their qualifications as authorities on tires and proper inflation.

I learned quickly that the psi number on the tire indicates that tire’s maximum safe psi, as determined by the manufacturer. But the recommended psi, which is typically a bit lower, is found printed or stamped on a metal tag affixed to the edge of the driver’s side door jamb on newer cars or inside the glove box on older vehicles.

4 Big Money Mistakes to Avoid

I’m going to guess you’ve made a financial mistake or two in your life. Who hasn’t? For some of us, it was more than an occasional late fee or random urge to overspend that brought us to our financial knees. But I’m not talking about the kind of blunders that got us into trouble—we could list those in our sleep. Instead, I want to focus on the mistakes people make while they’re working their way back to financial health.

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Whether you’re recovering from a season of unemployment or from a financial mess you created on your own, avoid these goofs and you’ll get where you want to go much faster.

1. Not saving. You’ve heard this plenty, and here it comes again: Jump to the front of the line—ahead of your creditors—when you divvy up your paycheck. Get over feeling guilty about keeping money for yourself.

You’ll need enough in your fund to pay all your bills for at least six months. But don’t let that big number discourage you. Start by saving enough to live on for two weeks, then up it to one month, and so on until you reach goal.

Put your savings on autopilot—you won’t miss what you don’t see. Commit to saving 10 percent of every paycheck. If you can’t start there, start with 2 percent. Then in a few weeks, change it to 5 percent, then 7 and so forth until you reach at least 10 percent.

2. Paying for college. If you must make a choice between adequately funding your own retirement and paying for your kids’ college education, put retirement first. The best gift you can give your kids is to make sure you won’t become a financial burden to them in your sunset years.

Kids have far more options for funding their college education than you have for your retirement. They’ve got scholarships, grants, financial aid, student loans, work-study programs and the not-to-be-forgotten method of working their way through college. Once your own future is secure and you’re out of debt, that’s when you’re in a position to help pay for education.

Getting Soaked: Good for Bedspread, Bad for Retirement Account

Dear Mary: I have an heirloom bedspread that is about 60 years old, embroidered with wool yarn by my grandmother. There are some brown spots on it, of unknown origin. Can I hand launder it after spot treating? What would be the best thing to treat the spots? I love your column. I’ve gotten so many good tips from it. Thank you. Marian

photo credit: make-it-do.com

photo credit: make-it-do.com

Dear Marian: Because of this item’s age, it’s difficult to know if it is colorfast. That would be my biggest concern, not the fact that embroidery is done with wool. If the bedspread has bright and or contrasting colors, test an inconspicuous edge or corner of the bedspread in warm or tepid water and mild soap to see if the colors start to bleed or run. If they do, you should take this bedspread to a dry cleaner that specializes in cleaning delicate and vintage textiles.

If not, and provided the bedspread itself is washable (I’m going to assume that it is), treat those stains with Soilove (you can read more about Soilove and where to find it HERE). Spray Soilove on each stain until saturated, then allow the bedspread to sit for awhile— 30 minutes, or so.