Going “Beyond the Purchase”

For many of us, money is just a means to an end.  We work to meet the physical needs of existence – shelter, food, clothing, etc.  We also work in order to achieve our hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Unfortunately, some of us tend to lose sight of why we trade our time for income. Why? Because we miscalculate the “end” we’re trying to achieve. But what if you could understand why you spend the way you do, and how you could improve your overall happiness by making purchases that have a greater impact on your emotional well-being? What if you could redefine your relationship with money, leading to a more fulfilling lifestyle that strengthens the purchasing power of your dollar?  You can, when you go beyond the purchase, which is exactly what San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Psychology, Ryan Howell, Ravi Iyer and their associates have done.

Beyondthepurchase.org is a research project examining the connections between people’s spending habits, happiness, and values. The premise of the website is to examine a deceptively simple question, “What do you really know about your own spending habits?” Many of us assume a defensive posture when validating our expenses – it’s natural.  After all, we’re a materialistic nation, so much so that a ‘disease’ was coined to explain our seemingly insatiable appetites.  The term is “Affluenza,” and it describes a systemic sickness in which sufferers are overburdened by stress, work, waste and indebtedness caused by pursuit of the American Dream.  Fortunately, there is a cure.  Knowledge.

Beyondthepurchase.org provides this knowledge by showing users how adjustments in spending can provide long-lasting, positive effects on their well being.  Through a series of assessments, visitors can become acquainted with their individual spending habits and learn ways to maximize the benefits of that process. How can a website unravel our thought processes and deliver personalized advice? Through a tremendous amount of research.  Over the years, there have been volumes of research around the subject of money and happiness.  For instance, there is a growing consensus that purchasing ‘life experiences’ makes people happier than purchasing ‘materialistic possessions.’  According to a recent study, people who spent money on food, travel and other experiences tend to be more extroverted and adventurous than those who spent their money on material goods. The rationale is that spending to acquire experiences achieves two important goals.  First, these experiences are social in nature, satisfying our emotional need for human interaction.   Second, unlike mass-produced material goods, every experience is unique in nature, creating a memorable moment.

Other studies have found that materialistic purchases actually made participants less happy.  People with materialistic spending habits exhibit a variety of negative emotions, like attachment anxiety and personal distress. In these instances, the purchases were often a reaction to offset negative emotions; however, they actually had an opposite effect. For instance, you may purchase a new television set that is perfectly suited to your needs. Several days later, you visit a friend who also purchased a new television, but it has a few more bells and whistles than yours.  Even though your TV will satisfy your needs, you may become anxious because someone has “one-upped” your purchase.  Even though you experienced happiness at first, that feeling has been replaced with envy, a notoriously debilitating emotion. Okay, you may say it’s impossible to escape a material mindset in today’s America, and it’s true that few of us are entirely immune from such tendencies; however, being aware of how this impacts your happiness can help change your outlook.

Beyondthepurchase.org can help you understand why you’re motivated to make certain purchases more than others, and help you find a more productive approach to financial fulfillment.  Examining your emotional triggers can fundamentally change your relationship with money, leading to a more well-rounded approach to money management and a higher level of happiness.  I encourage you to visit Beyondthepurchase.org and participate in many of the fantastic surveys offered by Professor Ryan Howell and his team.  The site is educational, easy to use, and most important – it’s free. Until next time, I’m Thomas Fox for Cambridge Credit Counseling. 

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