Alright readers, are you ready to get a little warm and fuzzy? Because I'm about to lay out a list of things that feel better than spending money – and it's going to get a little sentimental. Why's that? Because when you talk about appreciating the little things in life, you run the risk of sounding a tad cheesy. But these small details can help you add value to your life without costing you a thing. When you're focused on paying off your debt or reaching a financial goal, any method of motivation can mean the difference between frustration and success.
So where to start? With the small stuff, of course!
Thoreau says it better than I could:
"The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."
To gain such wisdom (and avoid spending in the process), here are ten things you can do that feel better than spending your hard-earned cash:
1. Pursue a hobby/ learning a new skill
We're on a go, go, go path of learning from a young age, but after we reach our graduation date the value placed on continued learning is somewhat overshadowed by… life. Career, finances, daily tasks - these things take up a lot of our brain bandwidth. But there's something incredibly powerful in the act of pursuing a hobby or taking the initiative to learn something new. A broader set of exposure gives you greater perspective and it can help you keep your other skills sharp as well. Plus, knowledge is energizing! The more you learn, the more you tend to want to learn!
I recently picked up the hobby of taking photos of flowers and plants in my neighborhood. I'll go for a walk if I'm feeling spendy and return completely satisfied. Plus, I'm learning more about the names and techniques for photography!
2. Check off something from your "forever" to-do list
There's a reason that things on to-do lists remain uncrossed week after week… some things tasks aren't that appealing! Whether they're challenging, emotionally charged, or simply boring these are the to-dos that can add unexpected weight on our mind and drag down motivation. The remedy? Biting the bullet and doing it. Sure, it's not always fun to attack a to-do list but the resulting satisfaction trumps the impending sense of guilt that hangs around from tasks left undone.
3. Share appreciation and gratitude with others
I'm sure you've noticed all the articles on happiness that pop up nowadays. In a chaotic world with more and more separation, we often just want to wake up feeling good in the morning and we want to know how. There are essays and books filled with tips on achieving true happiness and bliss but one tip remains fairly consistent:expressing gratitude makes people feel good.
The practice of appreciation is pretty awesome in that it can be done anywhere, at anytime. You can write a list of specific things within a day that you're grateful for (hello, ice cream sandwich) or reach out and express your gratitude to others.
4. Stretch for 5 minutes (or exercise for more)
Exercise can be one of the most beneficial ways to recharge and regain mental and physical energy and clarity. Go to the gym… who you? Yes you! I promise it will feel good. Actually, scratch that – you don't have to go the gym. You can get your stretch on right at home. Or you can take a walk around your neighborhood. Or turn on your latest favorite song and groove.
Physical activity is an amazing way to distract your mind from spending. Lace up the tennis shoes and get the good endorphins going!
5. Plan an event (or writing out a bucket list)
Even if you don't currently have the means or the money to take a trip to Spain, plan your trip anyway. Same goes for that trip to the Grand Canyon you've always wanted to make. The process of setting a goal and laying out the steps to achieve it is satisfying in its own right. This can be a big event (think along the lines of your grand life adventure) or smaller (maybe a picnic for the weekend).
Another feel good activity is creating a seasonal bucket list. What are the things you want to do, see, or accomplish in Fall/Winter/Spring/Summer? In listing these out, you might also see opportunities to enjoy yourself without spending.
6. Call a friend or family member
Your mom deserves a call and so does your best friend. But busy schedules can have you pushing off the date for days or even weeks. The next time you're thinking about splurging, reach for your phone instead and dial up a number that you've been meaning to call. Even a quick check-in can help you to feel more grounded and connected thus avoiding unnecessary spending.
7. Email an old colleague, network connection, etc.
We spend a lot of time meeting new people but not always a lot of time maintaining these relationships. But there's so much value in keeping up with acquaintances that enter your life. But building authentic and genuine relationships which requires energy and time. Next time you have an impulse to spend when you're trying to save, shoot an email to a professional connection to check-in or just say hey. If you've been struggling with an issue at work or worried about a challenge you can also consider (if appropriate) asking them for their thoughts on the matter and offering to do the same if they have something on their mind. Helping others can have a positive impact on your mindset as well!
8. Get RID of stuff
Instead of buying more stuff, take a few minutes to go through the stuff you already own… and get rid of it! Pare down the things that you no longer need or use. Go through the odd piles that have set up permanent residence in your closet and get rid of them. You can organize a yard sale if you have enough to make it worth your effort, or alternatively take it to a donation center. Seeing how much stuff you've spent money on that you no longer want can be a great reality check.
9. Do something for your community
Sometimes we just need a little distraction from our spending habits. But sometimes we need something more… something like a deeper sense of connection. The community you live in is the perfect place to gain a greater sense of belonging and purpose in your life. Instead of buying things as a way to bring temporary pleasure, consider how you might make a long-lasting impact on the community around you.
10. Go outside
If you're feeling like splurging, just pop outside. Simple as that. It's been proven that natural spaces can improve people's mood and even increase their focus. So just take a stroll when you're reaching for your wallet. Appreciate being outside, breathe in the fresh air, and admire the environment around you.
Mind you, this probably doesn't work as well if the closest outdoor area is a line of department stores but there's a remedy for that, too! Leave your cards and cash behind.
All right, not too cheesy – right? Just a few, accessible ways to feel good without having to swipe your card. And let me tell you, after having performed each and everyone of these tips for the sake of research, they definitely give a boost to mood.
Claire Murdough is a personal finance writer for ReadyForZero, a company focused on helping people pay off debt. She is a Bay Area native with an affinity for travel and food who enjoys writing about how to get out of debt and many other topics. You can keep up with her on Twitter @ReadyForZero.