Would it surprise you to hear that my best money habit isn’t about money at all? We’ve all heard the classic budget tips: automatically transfer X amount into savings every month, skip the daily coffee, walk instead of Uber, meal prep, meal prep, meal prep. The problem with these tips is that they take a ton of motivation, and often leave us feeling exhausted and deprived. Yes, you can buckle down, exercise discipline, and end the month with a few more dollars in the bank, but the best way to change your habits is to change your mindset.
This is where gratitude comes in: grateful people are more appreciative of what they have, so they want and spend less. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude can lead to improved self-esteem and a reduction in social comparison, as well as improved physical health, better sleep, and increased empathy. This means that, while others become resentful of peers with better jobs, more money, or greater accomplishments, grateful people understand how to appreciate their own strengths, while celebrating the success and strengths of others.
We all know what it’s like to try to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe your Joneses aren’t the couple next door with a white picket fence. Maybe they’re your coworker with the perfect wardrobe or an old friend from high school. Maybe the Joneses for you are an army of lifestyle bloggers and Instagram influencers. Whoever they are, remember that entire industries are built around trying to sell us those lifestyles and make us believe happiness is only one purchase away.
The good news is that the fastest and easiest route to life satisfaction is free, and you can start right now. Want to spend less while feeling richer? Here are three easy ways to start practicing gratitude and stop wasting money:
1. Love People. Use Things.
The Minimalists always say, “Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.” The opposite is also way more expensive. Whether it’s your mom, dad, best friend, coworker, or local barista, the people around you play a vital role in the quality of your life. Studies have shown that writing and delivering letters of gratitude significantly improves measures of happiness in the writer, with positive effects lasting up to a month. Couples who express gratitude for one another feel more connected and are more comfortable expressing concerns should they arise in the relationship.
Take some time to write a letter to the teacher who mentored you in school, call your grandparents and thank them for the wisdom they’ve imparted on you, remind your best friend of a situation you couldn’t have gotten through without them. Start looking for opportunities to thank the people in your life you will find yourself building fulfilling relationships with open communication. Not a gushy feelings person? That’s okay. It might be awkward and clumsy at first, but the important thing is to remind ourselves that life is about people. It’s about forming connections, sharing experiences, and being there for one another.
How will this save you money? Well, what if instead of shopping when you felt overwhelmed, you had a solid network of friends and family to support you during difficult times? A phone call with a close friend will leave you and your bank account feeling a lot better than those four identical shades of lipstick. Start practicing gratitude, and you might start finding yourself reaching for your phone instead of your wallet.
Does meeting up with friends always involve spending a ton of money? Can’t seem to make plans with anyone that don’t involve drinks, brunch, shopping, or a concert? Get comfortable expressing gratitude, and get comfortable expressing concerns. Be honest when you can’t afford something and suggest cheaper alternatives. Cultivate relationships with people who will be happy to take a walk or have a movie night on your couch, who won’t judge you for lack of funds.
2. Start a daily gratitude journal.
Sometimes it is so easy to focus on the negative, the headaches, the problems, and the traffic. While negativity bias may have been adaptive in the past, it could be robbing you of joy in the present. Make a habit of practicing gratitude every night and start focusing on the positive. Take a few minutes before bed to write down what you are grateful for that day. What was the best moment of your day? What was a simple pleasure you experienced? Did anyone offer you help, advice, or encouragement? Did you witness any random acts of kindness? Did you perform any?
Keeping a gratitude journal is a great exercise because it encourages us to look for opportunities for gratitude, remember the important moments, and log positive experiences. Just like Holly uses her money journal to see where she is getting the best happiness returns on her monetary investments, you can look back at a your gratitude log to see what people, experiences, and moments have made you feel the most grateful. I can say with confidence that the number-one thing I am most grateful for in any given day has never been an object.
3. Remember those less fortunate than yourself.
Nothing fosters gratitude like acknowledging those less fortunate than ourselves. While it’s easy to constantly compare ourselves to those who have more, it isn’t difficult to find those who have much much less. Take some time to research a cause or campaign you believe in. Look for an organization in your area or around the world that strives to help those less fortunate. What impact have they made in the world so far? What needs are they trying to meet? How could you volunteer your time or resources to help? You may suddenly realize you have an abundance of food, water, shelter, money, time, energy, privilege, and a desire to contribute.
Tired after a long day of work and dreading the commute home? Instead of taking that Uber, you might feel grateful for a strong healthy body or an inexpensive public transit system that can get you reliably from point A to point B.
Nothing to wear? Instead of going shopping, organize a clothing swap where you and your friends can recognize your relative abundance of options. Donate whatever is left over, and be grateful for friends with good taste and similar sizes.
Really feel like ordering takeout? Get excited about the access you have to a variety of healthy foods and clean water to cook with. Or give in and order takeout anyway, but feel super grateful that you live in place where the pad Thai and iced coffee come to you.
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