Money is a powerful tool, and learning how to use it is an essential life skill, which is why frugality is such a valuable quality. Yet, it is easy to get caught up in the noble quest of being thrifty and lose sight of what is essential in life. Let us take a step back and look, in no particular order, at things to value more than money. And because this is a money blog — and we couldn’t resist ourselves — we will also look at how these lofty goals not only make us happier but also improve our long-term financial health.
1. Your Health
Treat your body with the respect it deserves. The ancient philosopher Virgil had it right when he said: “The greatest wealth is health.” Avoid bad habits and invest in preventive care such as regular checkups and a balanced diet.
The financial benefits alone make it worth your time. The net worth of non-smokers is, on average, 50% higher than that of light smokers and around double that of heavy smokers. The cost of bad health on society as a whole is enormous. Obesity and overweight are risk factors for a wide range of chronic diseases that together accounted for more than $1.5 trillion in healthcare1.
2. Your Friends
Spending time with friends is key to our emotional wellbeing. Unfortunately, in our consumer-oriented society, friends are often treated as commodities and discarded when no longer useful.
Ask yourself, who are your real friends. Take a few minutes today to catch up with them. Besides being one of the joys of life, real friendships are an excellent form of mutual insurance. In times of crisis, whether emotional, spiritual, or financial, real friendships are invaluable2.
Appreciate the miracle of life. It’s easy to focus on the drudgery and challenges of life and forget the gift of life. The odds against us existing were astronomically large. We are all lucky to be alive.
On a more practical level, gratitude breeds contentment: a sure way to avoid compulsive spending3.
4. Your Reputation
As the wise man said, “a good name is more desirable than great riches.” It takes a lifetime to build a good name for yourself, but just moments to lose it.
As people pursue life’s “big goals”: power, money, fame, and possessions, it is easy to forget the value of reputation, which is why people fall into the trap of moral expediency and trade their good name and moral values in exchange for short term benefits.
This is short-sighted and financially dangerous. Financial markets of all sizes are based on trust. How much people will trust you will depend on your reputation. Think credit scores and brand recognition. According to one study, corporate reputation accounts for one-third of stock market valuations4. It is much easier to make more money or replace material things than to rebuild a tainted reputation.
5. Your Family
Your spouse, parents, and children come first, period. If you have the blessing of a loving relationship with your family, protect it. The joy and satisfaction of loving and being loved by your family are not only priceless: it’s fragile.
People with strong family ties not only live longer and adapt better to health setbacks, but they also enjoy significant financial benefits. Married people combine expenses, share employers’ interests, and double their household’s earning potential5.
6. Your Education
Although we typically view education as an age-based activity — something the young do to become adults and start a career — it is so much more. Unlike money, education is a goal in itself, not only a tool. As well as being fun and keeping life exciting, lifelong learning reduces cognitive decline due to old age. It also helps older adults cope with depression; and improves our sense of self-worth.
The financial benefits of formal education are well known. For instance, a recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that the average American who has graduated from a two- or four-year college program makes 77 percent more than a counterpart with a high school education7.
7. Giving To Others
If you think money can’t buy happiness, try giving it away. Money makes people happier, up to a point. It provides us with a sense of security and allows us to have more control over how we use our time. Yet, once we have enough to cover our needs and basic wants, money doesn’t give us much of a happiness boost, except when we give it away.
In his book, “Happy Money, the Science of Smarter Spending,” Harvard Professor Michael Norton provides hard data to prove this. His book describes several experiments where Canadian college students, low-income Ugandans and Belgian pharmaceutical salespeople are given cash to either spend on themselves or give away to others. In every case, those told to give it to others were happier than those who kept it for themselves. The same principle applies to other valuable assets, such as our time and energy.
8. Life Experiences
Invest in life experiences over stuff. Adventures don’t have to be expensive or even cost you money to be memorable. Taking a staycation, learning a new language, running a marathon, or going with your partner for dancing lessons, may seem frivolous when compared to the more practical and urgent things competing for your time. Yet, the rush of experiencing something amazing and new is what life is all about.
9. Your Faith
Your spiritual beliefs, whatever they may be, are a big part of what makes you an individual. Spend time searching the answers to life’s big questions.
Although there are few subjects as controversial as people’s spiritual beliefs, the benefits they bring are not. There is overwhelming evidence8,9 that people who regularly engage in search of spiritual growth and follow their faith’s guidelines — particularly those that promote healthy lifestyles — live longer, less stressful, and happier lives.
10. Your Community
Be part of something greater than yourself. Invest in the future of your community.
Social connection is one of the best paths to happiness. According to a recent study, if you want to be happier, you should focus on your social relationships10. Having close ties to the community we live in by investing our resources gives us a sense of purpose. Donate your most precious asset: your time and mentor young ones in your community.
Even if you don’t have children, your success and happiness are directly linked to the community you live in. The economy, crime, even Social Security and Medicare benefits are issues we all care about that depend on what kind of adults our children become.
- America’s Obesity Crisis: The Health and Economic Costs of Excess Weight – Milken Institute
- Why friendships are vital to your wellbeing – Open University
- More than just gratitude, A confirmatory factor analysis of the unique aspects of appreciation – Rutgers State University
- What price reputation? Corporate Reputation Value Drivers: A Global Report by AMO
- Waite L. J., & Gallager, M (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York: Doubleday.
- Happy money: the science of smarter spending – Simon & Schuster
- The Condition of Education – NCES
- Spirituality and stress relief: Make the connection – Mayo Clinic
- Does Spirituality Make You Happy? – Time
- Successfully Striving for Happiness: Socially Engaged Pursuits Predict Increases in Life Satisfaction – University of Leipzig
Andrew is the managing editor for SuperMoney and a certified personal finance counselor. He loves to geek out on financial data and translate it into actionable insights everyone can understand. His work is often cited by major publications and institutions, such as Forbes, U.S. News, Fox Business, SFGate, Realtor, Deloitte, and Business Insider.