Posted by Tim Stobbs on May 15, 2013
A few weeks ago wrote a post about the idea that spending your money and/or your time on others should make you more happy. Also if you spend either resource on others it causes you to feel a sense of abundance, so you feel better about your time even if you actually have less of it.
So to field test the idea I decided to spend $100 of my spending cash over the last month on other people and to spend five hours a week on others. So how did it go?
The cash was fairly easy to track since I really only spent it on two things. The first was I took a friend out for lunch. Yet I realized I was getting something as well out of that deal. So I tried to think of something where I won’t get something for my self at the same time. Then I had an idea. My son’s class is raising money for a local spray park as a project. They collected the recycling from the lunch rooms and used that money as donations. So I decided to help motivate the kids. I sent a note to school saying I would match everything they raised for a two week period. That ended up being $85, so that blew the rest of my budget.
For time I mainly spent my time on my kids. So when Daddy was asked to play soccer, I said yes (even if I had other things to do). I played Wii games with them, went to the park, we went to a family dance at the school, played Lego and generally just spent more time with them. This isn’t to say I never spent time with them at the start of this, but I tried to do more of it regardless of what I wanted to do (the chores waited, or that book I wanted to read waited). I also attended a parent-teacher school meeting (now called a School Community Council, SCC, which functions similar to the old PTA).
Ok, but did it actually make me happier? Well let’s put the disclaimer out there that there are MANY factors that got into a person’s mood in a day so while I tried to control the obvious ones I can’t control external factors. Overall my answer would be a solid: yes it does make you more happy. I would say my baseline happiness was a 3.5/5 when I started this and now it would be 4.2/5 or a 20% increase.
I have to admit, while I know I had less spending money (actually 50% less) for the last month I didn’t feel any worse about it. I still get a little surge of joy when remember the note I got back from my son’s teacher saying how excited the kids were about me matching their donations for those two weeks. Apparently my son was a little hero for his class because of it (which is really ironic, since that some what obvious outcome didn’t occur to me at the time).
The other odd outcome I found when doing this exercise was I actually got more items done off my procrastination list in the last month even when I had less time available. I suspect that is because I felt better, so it was easier to get started on some of those items. Also I recalled people tend to over estimate the amount of time it takes to do tasks you are avoiding, so what I thought would take four hours was done in two hours. So even with less time per week, I got more done too. Odd, I know.
Ok, so now with that done, will I keep it up? Yes I think I will try to give a bit more money away on things I care about that are local. I suspect if I had donated money to an international charity that I would not have the same degree of happiness. I won’t see the same impact or result of the gift. I won’t chain myself to a specific amount each month, but rather just do it when the mood strikes me.
As for time, I actually accepted the co-chair position on the SCC at my son’s school. So I will be putting in time there for the next year helping out to organize activities for the kids and their parents. Beyond that I will keep spending a bit more time with my kids, but I won’t track it.
So how do you give away your time or money?
Posted by Dave on May 14, 2013
This is a guest post by Dave, who is also looking to retire no later than 45, but unlike Tim has no kids and doesn’t want any. Dave is from Ontario and is working towards his CGA certification.
As I come up on my mid-30’s, I seem to be attending fewer and fewer weddings every summer. With fewer weddings to attend, I seem to enjoy the festivities much more. I tend to split my time at these events catching up with friends and family members that I don’t see enough because of a lack of weekends to see everyone. Besides catching up with people, I do dance – well, more jump around for a few hours until I’m exhausted, since I have no idea what I’m doing.
For most weddings, there are three major things that we have to budget for when we get an invitation:
Clothes - I don’t really buy new clothes for a wedding, but my wife uses a wedding invitation in the mail to buy a new “fun” dress. The good thing about most of the dresses she finds is that they are generally (but not always) cheaper than a guy’s tie, which is how the dress is a “justifiable” purchase, since you can’t wear the same dress twice (apparently).
Presents - We used to try to give really cool presents that we put a lot of thought into, and still do. Last summer, we gave a particularly injury-prone friend a super heavy duty first-aid kit, which we thought would be useful and potentially lifesaving, given his injury history. Mostly though, we give cash – it’s less thoughtful, but more useful, and we feel better “paying” for our own dinner.
Travel - Last summer, we had a wedding in Nova Scotia, and decided to drive out, taking a tour up through the Eastern seaboard and the Maritime provinces – taking 4 days to get out there from Ontario and (not well planned) a long 2 days to get back. We know we’re going to be spending money on hotels, gas, meals, maybe some booze (realistically, probably too much booze), and other stuff that we wouldn’t have to buy if we just stayed at home.
We look at going to weddings (now) as a fun weekend activity. It’s nice that people send out invitations months in advance to allow us to budget our summer activities. I don’t really like the idea of huge, expensive weddings (because I can see a number of better things to do with the money that gets spent), but I do have fun at them.
Do you budget for weddings? Do you have a busy summer season ahead of you? Do you ever turn down invitations?
Posted by Robert on May 13, 2013
Last week, I wondered if money can buy happiness. It seems that people with more money are generally happier, especially if they spend it on others. It’s hard to say that the money causes the happiness, but it’s helpful to know what we can do to be happier. What if we want kids (ours or the ones we’re going to be working with when they graduate) to get good grades? Would it make sense to pay kids to work harder and be more likely to succeed in school?
My initial reaction is to be skeptical. Part of the reason is that I inherently dislike any form of incentive that I see as manipulative. As an example, in looking at happiness, we saw that it wasn’t just spending, but meaningful spending that made people happy. Learning, too, should be meaningful, and if we’re asking kids to do work that is pointless or repetitive, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if they don’t value the assigned busywork. The other part of the reason derives from an anecdote that I read in Freakonomics by Steven Levitt. He tells the story of a daycare that begins charging parents for arriving late, only to find that parents begin to arrive late more often, in proportion to their ability to afford the new fee. What they lost was the moral and social expectation that parents arrive on time. If we pay students for good grades, will they devalue learning and fail in proportion to not needing the money?
Michael Sandel, author of What Money Can’t Buy, explains that in America, the thinking that properly applied cash incentives can cure an ailing school system is gaining popularity. He relates a study that found that cash incentives could improve attendance, but not performance on standardized tests. Paying seven year olds $2 per book to read more, in Dallas, did improve reading comprehension. He doesn’t say, though, whether any of those kids grew up hating reading, thinking it was something you would only do if someone paid you enough. Even offering teachers incentives for raising their students’ test score had little effect.
Dan Pink may hold the clue. In his book, Drive, he explains that there are two different types of work that people do: physical tasks or thinking tasks. Physical tasks that can be done quicker or more accurately seem to respond well to rewards and punishments (incentives). Thinking tasks, on the other hand, don’t respond to incentives. In fact, performance might even suffer due to added pressures.
Have you experienced incentives at work? Were they effective? Should kids in school be bribed to perform?