Money = happiness, yo.

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Could money be the key to happiness? It may not lead to true fulfillment, but it does provide you with a way to meet your basic needs and lay a foundation for future happiness.

If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the bottom two pieces of the pyramid generally include items that require at least some financial resources.

So, can you spend money, be happy, and move forward with your life? Here’s how to make it work.



  • Spend money, be happy? Maybe it’s more about staving off complete misery.
  • What you need to think about when it comes to subsistence.
  • Once you reach a certain point, more money doesn’t add to your happiness.
  • You are more likely to spend money, be happy when you spend on other people.
  • Figure out what you value and what makes you happy and focus spending on those things.
  • Money can also be used as a resource to help you pay for what you need and some of what you want.
  • Be careful of using money as a status symbol. You are far more likely to be miserable when it’s a means of keeping score.

Here are some cool money quotes:

“Happiness resides not in possessions, and not in gold, happiness dwells in the soul” – Democritis, the ancient philosopher

“It’s a kind of spiritual snobbery that makes people think they can be happy without money.” — Albert Camus, early 20th Century philosopher

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.” — Benjamin Franklin

This week’s DO NOWs focus on helping you take a closer look at your relationship to money. We talk about writing down your feelings about money, reviewing your spending to see if it follows your values, and identifying spending that doesn’t make you happy or provide things you need.

This week’s listener question looks at how whether or not earning more money will really make you happy. The spend money, be happy situation is further explored in our answers.

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$75,000 a year might be the perfect salary.

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A promotion. More money. All your problems are over, right? Actually … No. Depending on how you treat money, your next promotion could actually make you poor.

It’s tough for many of us to accept, but for most of us, our financial security is not contingent on how much money we earn.

It’s not about how much money comes in but how much money goes out. For most of us, our lifestyle increases with increases in our income – and even increases in our available credit.

When you tie those increases in income to increases in spending, pretty soon you have this problem: Could a promotion make you poor?

Learn from others’ wins and losses.

How many celebrities and athletes who earn millions of dollars a year have we heard have gotten into financial trouble?

From MC Hammer to Johnny Depp to Lenny Dykstra to Marion Jones, the world is full of millionaire income earners with no money in their bank accounts. A couple of years ago, it was reported that about 80% of retired NFL players go broke.

On the other end of the spectrum, Oseola McCarty, a former washerwoman from Hattiesburg, Mississippi bequeathed her $150,000 fortune to the University of Southern Mississippi. At the time, she was its most famous benefactor. That $150,000 in 1999 would equal $220,957 today.

To be sure, $150,000 or even $220,957 isn’t millions of dollars. But considering McCarty’s low-wage paying job and the fact that 47% of Americans today can’t come up with $400 cash, that’s a solid amount of savings.

Likewise, consider Ronald Read, a former gas station employee and janitor. When Read died at 92 in 2014, he was worth an estimated $8 million. Read was an avid and consistent investor and lived frugally, way more frugally than I ever would. But he’s another example that it’s not about how much money you earn. It’s what you do with the money you make.

With your next raise or promotion, will you do better than McCarty or Read?

Know if you’re on a cycle of rinse, recycle, repeat.

Most of us go about making a living instead of making a life.

We go to school to get the best job we can to make the most money we can and then, for any number of reasons, spend all the money we can and then spend more money than we have. Despite each promotion and each raise, we eventually find ourselves living beyond our means.

Today we finance our phones, our music, our education, our homes, our vacations, our everything. The problem is that a growing number or economists are becoming convinced that prosperity is contingent on our property rights.

Property rights usually relate to law. However, it’s logical to conclude that if we give up our property rights by financing from the cradle to the grave everything we would otherwise own, our affluence will suffer the same negative consequence as if we had no legal rights to ownership.

If everything from music to television to mortgages to education is on a small, affordable monthly payment, when do we stop making payments and start amassing wealth? What do we pass to our heirs for our family’s long-term financial security?

Jim Rohn said, “Once in a while, somebody says to me, ‘Boy, if I had a million dollars, I’d never work another day in my life.’” He goes on to say, “That’s probably why the good lord sees to it they don’t get their millions.”

With your next raise or promotion, how long will it be until you’re back in the same financial position?

Know why you should do well.

I read and listen to a bunch of personal finance information, and it astounds me how I keep returning to the same conclusion. Financial success, even life, personal, career – any success – is contingent on your purpose or your ‘why.’

As I’ve shared here, my husband and I amassed $51,000 worth of credit card debt – despite knowing better and notwithstanding the fact that we could do better.

At the time (and like many people today), we were unsatisfied with many aspects of our lives. It’s important to acknowledge that our economy is designed to keep us feeling unsatisfied.

Television, the internet, Facebook, movies, magazines and everything else tells us that we need more of this, that, and the other thing to feel happy, feel good, be liked, or be like someone else. When everyone in the neighborhood is drinking this Kool-Aid, it’s hard not to take a sip.

For this reason, the best thing we did to turn our financial situation around was to decide what we most want and not what we think we should want or what others want for us.

When we realized our most important goals, everything came into perspective, and we could manage our financial lives accordingly. It’s because we know our purpose that we’ve turned our $51,000 deficit into a $700,000 surplus and now work for ourselves.

Learn how you can do better, even without a raise or promotion.

How do you figure out your most important goals? For us, we did a lot of personal reflection and had lengthy discussions about what we most want in life. Everything we said was put on the witness stand and cross-examined until our purpose came down to three things. For you, it may be more or less, but if it’s too much, it’s too broad.

Next, we assessed what it was that was blocking us from our primary goals. Everything from not paying attention to our cash flow to being insecure came up.

Finally, we decided what it was we were willing to do to overcome those blockers. This step helped us determine how committed we were to change our situation and lay the foundation for a strategy.

Just as climbing the corporate ladder won’t solve all your problems, your next promotion or raise won’t make you rich. In fact, your next promotion might make you poor. What happens when you get a raise or promotion and you spend right up to it? What happens when you have a vision of the things you “should” have with your fancy new job title?

It’s easy to get caught up and overspend because we have the idea that’s what you do when you get a promotion. But that thinking just puts you back where you were – or even makes things worse financially.

When we realize that it’s not external factors or our circumstances that dictate our success, but our choices and behaviors, that can be better than any promotion.

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Is your unconscious mind dragging your finances down? Outsmart your brain when it comes to money.

Once in a while, we present LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

Show Notes

This week, we don’t have a video, but we do have a great discussion with guest Emily Guy Birken. We talk about behavioral economics and the ways we get hung up with our money.

What’s keeping you down? What’s contributing to your poor financial habits? We get into the nitty-gritty of what happens when our minds get in the way. And we talk about how to overcome financial fears and stresses and make better money choices.

Emily Guy Birken is the author of End Financial Stress Now, a book about improving your financial outlook, no matter your situation.

Hosted byHarlan L. Landes and Miranda Marquit
Edited and mixed bySteve Stewart

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Small-town life may seem boring, but the reality is that you might be able to live larger. Lower living costs = more money to spend on life.

Like Dorothy and that rainbow, younger people often chase their dreams in the big cities. There’s much to see, do, and gain in major cities, but there can be downsides. Can a smaller city lead to a larger life?

Can a smaller city lead to a larger life?

Ditching small-town life.

That was the case for me. Having spent the first half of my childhood near a big city and the latter half in a small town in a land far, far away, I couldn’t wait to get far, far away myself!

As a young gay man, I thought I’d wind up in San Francisco –  with the Rice-A-Roni and all. But a friend of mine and I moved to Denver, Colorado in the late 90s instead. It wasn’t Philadelphia, PA, but it wasn’t Lebanon, PA, either. I was supposed to live here for two years, soak up the snowboarding, and then move onto “bigger and better” things.

But, I met a boy, and that’s a whole other story.

With about 549,000 people in Denver proper in 1999, Denver was big enough, but not too big. There was lots to do. Nightlife and dining scenes and all the great outdoors. It wasn’t yet expensive. Our first apartment cost less than $800 a month for about 1,000 square feet.

Denver has seen a population boom in the last decade, with a relatively consistent growth rate over 2%. That same 1,0000 square foot apartment now goes for about $1,800 a month. We’re no New York City, but the consequences of growth are evident.

A big city can mean empty pockets.

It is desirable to live in a city with half-a-dozen things to do all seven nights of the week with millions of people looking for the same; you may be surprised at how expensive it can be living in such cities. Here are the costs of living in premier locations, based on PayScale data:

  • New York – cost of living is 118% above average; housing is 341% above average
  • Los Angeles – cost of living is 32% above average; housing is 102% above average
  • San Francisco – cost of living is 63% above average; housing is 198% above average
  • Chicago – cost of living is 17% above average; housing is 38% above average
  • Seattle – cost of living is 24% above average; housing is 57% above average

All of those cities have a lot to offer, but at what cost?

More jobs are going to smaller cities.

With the combination with the dotcom bust, the 2008 housing crisis, and ever-increasing taxes in the above cities, more businesses are transferring some or all of their operations out of the bigger cities. This migration is called ex-urbanization.

Housing tends to be more affordable in second- and third-tier cities, like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Charlotte. Such cities offer a diverse pool of talent that isn’t isolated to bigger cities.

In many cases, the quality of life outside of work is appealing to many industries’ best and brightest. Denver and Salt Lake City offer skiing and snowboarding to give you your weekend adrenaline rush. Portland has amazing microbreweries to wind down your work week. Charlotte has a unique and vibrant foodie scene for those of us that love to love food. Richmond is a perfect place for runners and kayakers.

Businesses know that happy employees make for happy businesses. If employees have a high quality of life outside of work (and not just the Colorado kind), they’ll give their all at work.

Smaller cities allow for geographic arbitrage.

With the growing gig economy and online entrepreneurs, more people can now live and work from anywhere. One can charge big city prices and live on a little city budget. A virtual assistant who resides in Kansas City can charge a client who lives in Chicago Chicago-based fees. Or, they can offer competitive fees that a virtual assistant who resides in Chicago can’t.

Geographic arbitrage isn’t just a benefit for virtual assistants, virtually any online freelancing or IT job, and many contractors and consultants, can thrive off of charging big city prices with little city expenses.

If climbing the corporate ladder is more your style, get a job in a big city and then transfer within that company to a smaller city. Most companies will keep you at the same salary even though your cost of living will likely drop. I’ve seen many Denver friends leave for a few years and return, taking advantage of just this strategy.

Smaller cities can mean bigger pockets.

By and large, smaller cities come with lower living expenses. This is a big deal for things like saving money for retirement, owning your own home, and putting children through college. These financial goals are all easier to achieve with a lifetime of lower costs.

A personal, favorite perk of living in a smaller city, especially one centrally located in the country, is that we can quickly hop on a plane and get to any coast within less than five hours and many within three hours. So while I never moved to San Francisco, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been there because it’s cheap and easy to head that way.

Before you hop a jet plane over the rainbow to some major city far, far away, open your mind to second or third-tier cities elsewhere in the country. The costs may be more agreeable and open you up to a lifetime of bigger living. With transportation getting better and the internet making the world smaller, your opportunities may be greater.

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Don’t ever accept the first offer. Instead, negotiate a better deal — no matter what it is.

Once in a while, we present LIVE! Subscribe on YouTube to hear about future events, and share your questions about or suggestions for our next discussions!

Show Notes

Joining Miranda and Harlan for LIVE! is Rebecca Neale, Personal Finance Lawyer. An expert in negotiation, Rebecca is our guest today to discuss tips and tricks that are going to help you in all aspects of your life. (Plus, get a bonus from Rebecca by heading to

We talk about how to negotiate everything from a better price at the store to your next car. We also look at some of the ways you can sabotage yourself when you negotiate, as well as the biases against you as you head into your next negotiation.

Rebecca Neale is a lawyer who has been negotiating settlement agreements in court cases for a decade. Her superpower is her poker face. She owns her own law firm and focuses on divorce, custody, estate planning, and consumer rights — where she works one-on-one with clients, to help them navigate some of the most difficult chapters of their lives. Rebecca practices law in Massachusetts and assists people nationwide with non-legal advice on negotiation. For more information on her law firm, visit

Watch the video, recorded live, above, or listen to just the audio using the player below. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast!

Hosted byHarlan L. Landes and Miranda Marquit
Edited and mixed bySteve Stewart

Like what you’ve heard?

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For a limited time you’ll receive our new book, The Best Bank Accounts for Adults, when you sign up!

You think you need the same bling as your neighbor. But what if instead of keeping up with the Joneses, you’re actually keeping up with the Joneses’ debt?

I used to spend a lot of mental energy comparing my life to other people’s lives.

My home was never good enough. My clothes never had enough labels. And no matter how hard I tried, I could never live up to the people that I was comparing myself to.

Are you jealous of the Joneses?

I discovered the hard way that always trying to keep up with other people set me up to lose.

I didn’t have as much money as the people I was comparing myself to. I wanted their stuff, though. So I tried.

I didn’t have enough resources. Each time I tried to keep up with these people, I lost financially.


Because I had to use debt (credit) in order to pay for the stuff that the Joneses had, but I didn’t.

That sucked.

The long-term pain of those financial decisions that I made just wasn’t worth it. It has taken years to pay off the debt that I got into trying to keep up with people who could care less about how I lived my life. The certainly didn’t care about my financial well-being.

I had to hit financial rock bottom in order to change my perception of what was important for me financially.

I was broke, my mom had lost her job, and I was working at Starbucks trying to keep it all together. I was getting constant calls from creditors wanting their money and I wasn’t able to live up to my obligations making $9 at Starbucks.

At that point, I really hated the Joneses and I hated all of the bad financial decisions that I made trying to live a financial lie. Every day those financial lies bit me in the ass. Painful.

In retrospect, I wish that I’d just been honest about the fact that I was jealous of the Joneses.

No one cares about your finances as much as you do.

The Joneses don’t care about your finances.

Seriously, they really don’t. Especially if they’ve never met you.

Let’s be real. The Joneses (and everyone else) focus on their own personal finances. It is baffling to me how many people go into debt to purchase a lifestyle that they can’t afford to impress people that don’t know them.

So, I spend a lot of time being baffled by my own bad financial decisions trying to look cool for people who didn’t know me and weren’t invested in me having a strong and healthy financial life.

Think about every time you rushed to buy a new outfit for that trip that you’re going on two months from now. The people in that town have never met you, but you’ve made a decision to buy new clothes for people who have no clue what you were wearing before they met you. I used to do this. I would go on a trip (that I charged), then get new clothes (that I charged) and then go on a trip and meet great new people. Dumb.

The people in that town have never met you, but you’ve made a decision to buy new clothes for people who have no clue what you were wearing before they met you. I used to do this. I would go on a trip (that I charged), then get new clothes (that I charged), and meet great new people. Dumb.

These great new people don’t care that you bought a new outfit to impress them. They’d like you no matter what you wear.

It really pains me to think about this every time I send a payment to a creditor. What if I had saved that money and just paid cash for the same experiences, clothing, and trips? I feel like I made a deal with the Credit Devil. And the Credit Devil was laughing at me each time I made a bad financial decision based on envy.

What if I had used that money to pay off (or, at least make a dent) in my student loans? I realized that focusing on other people and what they had resulted in giving up my financial power to other people.

Are the Joneses really that rich?

Here is the final, and hopefully, most compelling reason you don’t need to keep up with the Joneses (or Kardashians): you have no idea what their financial reality really is.  

It is very easy to look wealthy without actually having cash money.

It’s also very easy to have money and lose it all.

Let’s work through a list of people who earned a ton of cash, people we all envied, but were actually broke or ended up broke.

  • MC Hammer: He tried to lift up an entire community by basically hiring an entire community. His heart was definitely in the right place. But he ended up going bankrupt even though he made millions of dollars.
  • Famous athletes: As reported by Sports Illustrated, almost 80% of professional athletes go broke once they retire. These are guys who typically earn millions during a short, sexy career running with or kicking ata ball. For those of us who cheer them on, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that they could ever go broke. But, the numbers don’t lie. A majority of them do.
  • 50 Cent: This one falls under karma. He wrote a whole song called “Window Shopper” that basically shamed someone for window shopping.

Check out some of the lyrics:

“Man you’s a window shopper

Mad at me, I think I know why

Man you’s a window shopper

In the jewelry store lookin’ at shit you can’t buy

Man you’s a window shopper

In the dealership tryna get a test drive

Man you’s a window shopper Mad as fuck when you see me ride by.”


Of course, he had his own financial troubles.

Here’s some real talk. No one will care about your money as much as you do.

No need to keep up with the Joneses when you know your financial stuff.

It is now easier than ever to get what you want for a lot less through comparison shopping, savings apps, and old-fashioned financial discipline.

Spend time learning how to manage your cash and grow your income.

And, always remember: unless you can get up close and personal with someone’s financials you never know what’s behind their financial curtain.

Don’t make financial decisions that will hurt you in the long run, trying to live someone else’s reality. Live your own reality-for less. Challenge yourself and see what you can make happen.

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There’s a lot of suspect information floating around about money. Avoid these myths and show your money who’s boss.

Since I write about personal finance, I’m used to advising my friends about their own finances. It seems that every time I bring up the subject, I find myself correcting people.

With most of the information available readily on the internet, how is it possible that there’s so much misinformation?

But even I sometimes find out that something I believe is wrong. Personal finance is a complex topic, full of changing rules and expert advice. Read below to see if you believe any of these common money myths.

All adults need life insurance.

When I got married, I called my insurance agent a few days later to ask about life insurance. I felt so grown up, thinking about my future and impending death.

But my agent told me I didn’t need a life insurance policy. I didn’t have a mortgage or a child with my husband, so there was little reason to pay for a policy. If he died, I could still support myself.

I was relieved to know that I didn’t have to buy an extra form of insurance. I’m a fairly cautious person, but I like being able to avoid spending money if I don’t have to.

Of course, there are other factors at play, such as how much cheaper life insurance costs while you’re younger. You can also consider funeral costs for your parents if you pass. While you might not need life insurance right now, keep it on the back burner. It’s something you might consider before you hit 30 and rates go up.

Investing is risky.

Recent surveys indicate that millennials are afraid of investing, either because they don’t understand the markets or they’re shell-shocked from growing up during two recessions.

But Dani Pascarella, CFP and founder of wealth coaching firm Invibed, said that people who don’t invest are guaranteed to lose money.

“The current rate of inflation in the U.S. is around 2.2%, but most savings accounts pay less than 1% in interest,” she said. “That means if you don’t invest your savings, you are actually losing your purchasing power.”

That’s not to say that any form of investing is better than a high-yield savings account. People lose money every day in the stock market. But finding an investment that will not only beat inflation, but also provide a healthy return, is possible. You can research investing on your own, use a robo-advisor, or hire a financial planner.

And you might be surprised that you can start investing with very little. Companies like Acorns allow you to start with pocket change.

I need to keep a small balance on my credit card.

One of the most persistent credit myths is that you need to have a small balance on your credit card for the card issuer to report on your credit report. Some people mistakenly believe that if they pay off their balance every month, the issuer won’t report any activity on your account, which won’t help your credit report.

Not true. The only way a credit card company will report zero activity on an account is if you pay off the balance before the statement is posted. Once the statement is posted, you can pay off the entire balance with no fear of what it’ll do to your credit report.

This myth is dangerous because it entices people to keep a balance on a credit card that likely has a high interest rate. There’s no reason to pay interest fees every month, especially not for the false reason of boosting your credit score.

All debt is bad.

Most financial experts agree that you should avoid debt whenever possible. But not all debt is bad, and if you’re careful, you can use debt to create more revenue.

“The rich actually use it as a tool for building wealth,” Pascarella said.

For example, rental properties are a popular form of investing. Borrowers take on mortgages on properties that they believe will provide a solid stream of income. Not only do these rent payments pay for any expenses, they also provide a tidy profit.

Many business owners also got started by borrowing money, from a bank, family members or other companies. Without that initial loan, they wouldn’t be able to build their empire.

Renting is throwing your money away.

This is a myth I’ve heard a lot, mostly from people who buy a house way too quickly. They believe that a home is an investment and always better than renting.

But owning a home is expensive. Closing costs, private mortgage insurance, property taxes, homeowners insurance and maintenance fees can quickly drain your bank account. In general, if you plan to own a home for five years or less, you’ll likely lose money on the deal. That’s partly because when you first take out a loan, your initial payments mostly go toward interest. Only later do the payments skew more toward the principal.

That means if you sell a home three years after you bought it, you’ll have little equity to gain from it. Plus, the market isn’t likely to change that much in a short period of time, so you’re not able to get a huge rate of return.

Unless you plan to settle down in an area for more than five years and are prepared for the responsibilities of a house, stick with renting.

You don’t have to fall victim to these money myths. Instead, think about what matters most to you. Create a financial life around what you hope to see in your own future, and look for solid information that will help you on your path.

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