Want to Be Happier? Spend Your Money on Memories

The saying goes “Money can’t buy happiness,” but it does—when you have the right focus. By spending our money on memories—those experiences we can recall and savor throughout our life—we are creating a foundation for long-term happiness. This is a happiness that can bring us closer to our loved ones and sustain us through the hardest of times.

The Diminishing Returns of Stuff

No doubt, we feel excited when we buy something. A new car. The latest iPhone. We are thrilled with our new acquisition, and it’s easy to think we are going to feel that satisfaction forever. But think back to your last purchase—the one that got you really excited. Are you still feeling that same level of excitement?

Probably not.

Products, items, things—they give us short-term happiness, but that happiness will inevitably decline—unless the purchase serves a larger purpose.

A purpose like memories.

Why Spend Money on Memories?

Experiences add meaning to our lives years after the experiences are over. Think of a family vacation your parents took you on when you were a kid. You probably can still vividly recall the magic of a waterfall or the wonder of a fireworks display.

Or think of the times you took your children to Disneyland or Disney World, the baseball and softball games they played, their excitement at Christmas, with its lights and gifts and Santa.

Experiences, not things, are the real “stuff” of life. The experiences you share with family and friends can add meaning to your life both now and in the future. The memories you make with your spouse, children, and other loved ones can bring you closer together. And when life gets challenging, as it does, your memories can help keep you in a happy place until life gets good again.

Your Memory-Making Bucket List

A memory-making bucket list is a great way to decide on the experiences that you most want to enjoy. It is also a great exercise to do as a family. Have each family member give one or two top experiences that they want, whether it is a trip to the zoo or dining out at a restaurant that they’ve been wanting to try “forever.”

Some of the ideas may not necessarily include the entire family, but that’s OK. The act of making memories happen is still a family exercise—and a memory maker in itself!

Some of the experiences will be inexpensive or free. Others, you may need to budget for. Still others may not be practical. If you have to nix an experience, be sure to get that family member’s next-best wish on the list. Then start making those future memories happen.

This family exercise can help instill important lessons in your children. You are showing them the value of prioritizing wants and values so that you can put your money toward those experiences you cherish most. You are teaching the value of budgeting. And you are teaching that “stuff” matters less than the experiences that the “stuff” helps create.

Some Ideas

Whether you are creating your memory-making bucket list for yourself or with your family, here are some ideas to get you started. Some won’t cost you a cent; others will require planning and saving. Whatever you choose, here’s to creating some beautiful memories!

  • Enjoy nature: Go for a walk with your dog, vacation in one of our national parks, hike a nature preserve, take your kids on a GPS scavenger hunt.

  • Travel: Take a road trip to another state, visit an off-the-beaten-path attraction, travel abroad, take a cruise to Alaska.

  • Get cultured: Teach your kids the wonderful spectacle of opera, visit art museums with paintings that you’ve always wanted to see, enjoy outdoor concerts with your spouse, buy season tickets to the theater.

  • Learn: Sign up for a pottery class with a friend, learn a new language, study up on practically anything you want through a course offered online.

  • Give: Buy your kids front-row seats to their favorite basketball team, take your dad out for an afternoon of golf, buy your mom some flowers.