The Joy-Driven Guide to Spending


Recently I was looking at my credit card statements and realized that I have spent over $400 on Chipotle alone this year.

I also spent $170 yesterday on a yearly gym membership.

As someone who is obsessed with personal finance, am I out of my mind? How can I justify so much unnecessary spending? Surely I could find a cheaper alternative to the gym and stop visiting Chipotle so frequently. These would be easy savings.

But upon closer examination of my credit card statements, I noticed a few other things:

I have spent less than $100 at all other restaurants this year.

I have spent less than $50 on new clothing.

I have spent less than $80 on new shoes.

I have spent $0 on new technology.

I have spent $0 on cable TV.

There are some categories of spending where I am absolutely crushing it, but there are others where it appears I have no control.

My explanation for my spending habits is simple:

As much as possible, I let joy drive my spending.

Chipotle brings me a ridiculous amount of joy. So I’m OK with buying it often.

Working out at a gym surrounded by other people also working out brings me joy. It gives me something to look forward to at the end of the workday. 

Conversely, I don’t care about new clothing at all. Shopping drains my energy. So I spend close to nothing on clothing.

I rarely watch cable TV so I just don’t pay for it at all.

There aren’t many restaurants I like so I spend very little on dining out.

Using Spending to Optimize Joy

In the personal finance community it’s heresy to suggest spending money can ever be a good thing. We’re supposed to save, save, save.

But I think it’s possible to become so obsessed with saving that we forget about the end goal of happiness. The whole point of saving a ton of money is to have the freedom and flexibility to live however we want without becoming stressed about our finances.

The trick to optimizing joy while keeping spending low is to spend very little on things you don’t care about so you don’t have to feel guilty about spending on things that bring you joy.

Identify Your Joy Categories

I think for most people there are a handful of spending categories that bring a ton of joy and a huge mass of categories that bring virtually no joy. These categories vary from person to person.

 I love Chipotle and weight rooms. I couldn’t care less about shopping and cable TV.

What do you love? What brings you joy? Allow yourself to spend on these things without feeling guilty. 

What isn’t important to you? What spending doesn’t bring joy? Minimize these expenses.

For example, maybe you love rock-climbing but you’re an introvert and you don’t like going to bars. If you’re spending your weekends at bars and you have no money left over to spend on rock-climbing gear, your spending isn’t optimized for bringing you joy. Instead, spend less on bars and more on rock-climbing. 

Or if you love taking weekend trips with your family but you have no money to do so because you’re spending all your money paying for a new car you don’t need, your spending isn’t optimized for joy. You’re better off finding a cheaper alternative for transportation to free up enough money to take more trips.

This advice sounds so simple and obvious, but so many people habitually spend money on things that don’t add joy to their life and have no money left over to spend on activities that actually do bring joy.

Your Turn

I encourage you to take a look at your own monthly credit card statements. What things are you currently spending money on? Are those things bringing you joy? 

I think you’ll find that there are a few things you spend on that bring a disproportionate amount of joy and value to your life, but also many things that aren’t doing much for your overall happiness. Prioritize the few things that bring joy and minimize the many things that add no joy. 

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11 Replies to “The Joy-Driven Guide to Spending”

  1. Hahaha, I gotta say, you’ve got a Chipotle addiction, friend. 🙂

    But I agree so much with this. This is the approach we’ve taken to our own spending. We decide what’s worth the expense and what’s not worth it. We avoid paying for expensive cars, a phone plan, and a cable bill so we can eat at nicer restaurants (less frequently of course), eat good food at home, and pay off debt. It’s all about your goals and what you want your money to do for you.

    1. I have to admit I do have a slight addiction…and I love how you guys have cut out on the entertainment / flashy cars because you place more priority on food. That’s awesome to hear, it sounds like you’ve done a great job of identifying what type of spending makes you happiest 🙂

  2. I’m a single woman living in Jamaica (yes the tiny island). I spend minimal money on food, clothing, etc. I even live with my father to save (working on my house down payment). What i do spend money on is entertainment. There are a lot of attractions here and I’m weak to them. I even spent last weekend at Turtle River Park / Dunns River Falls. It was awesome.

    1. Spending on experiences is almost always worth it. It’s great to hear that you’re saving so much on food, clothing, and housing so you have the money available to spend on those experiences and entertainment that bring you joy – that’s what it’s all about 🙂

  3. I agree that it’s folly to wait until retirement to start having fun in life; I think balance is key. For me, travel and new experiences bring me joy, while, like you, I hate clothes shopping.

    In any case, I don’t believe in extreme frugality to the point of making yourself miserable.

    1. Agreed. After all, the end goal is to spend your time here on earth in a meaningful way that makes you fulfilled and happy. The best way to do this isn’t necessarily to live in extreme frugality all the way until retirement. Often a blend of work and leisure can be the perfect recipe for a good life.

  4. Fully agreed. We need to spend money on experiences that we enjoy. Otherwise, the journey to FIRE is dull and not worth living.
    We have that with our holiday budget: way bigger than other FIRE people I know. We like it, we keep it as long as we have the budget room for it

  5. I am grateful that you spend so much at Chiopte…I am still hanging on to that sinking stock and every person who buys gives me hope it may one day go up! 😉 Confession: I never ate at chipotle until after I bought the stock. ? All I see when we go there is a bunch of ingredients I can make at home and create my own bowls/burritos for way less (I don’t eat meat so that helps), but my boyfriend loves it as much as you seem to so we do go on occasion. Eh, to each their own! In terms of food, I spend on sushi. I could make it at home but I really love the designs and beauty each chef adds to their dishes. Of course, the other major expense is travel and that one can get costly if you aren’t careful. Regardless of what/where you choose to spend your money Inagree with you that it is important to save but also spend. Keep the joy in your life while still striving for FI. No sense to have a journey full of boredom.

    1. I’m sure Chipotle’s stock has been an adventure to hold onto. There’s not many stocks that are as volatile as Chipotle!

      I understand the appeal of sushi too – I actually think that’s a dish that’s hard to make at home just as good as chef’s at sushi restaurants. And you nailed it – the journey to F.I. should still be enjoyable. Some things are simply worth spending on 🙂

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