Money Can Buy Happiness If You Buy Free Time

Recent research has found that buying time gives us a better sense of well-being than buying yet more material stuff. Spending money can make us happier, when we’re spending it on making more free time for ourselves – by employing a cleaner or paying the kid to mow the lawn, for instance.Over 6,000 people across the US, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands took part in the study. The researchers found the direct correlation between buying time and life satisfaction. Study participants were asked whether they spent money to buy themselves free time, and if so how much they spent each month. They were also quizzed on how satisfied they were with their lives and how pressed for time they felt.Across the board, those who spent money to free up time reported greater life satisfaction overall, the researchers report, leading to less time pressure and a better mood.

“Our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money. The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” says one of the team, Elizabeth Dunn from the University of British Columbia in Canada. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum,” says lead researcher Ashley Whillans from Harvard Business School. 

This new research also discovered that very few of us make time-saving purchases in our day-to-day lives. Within the sample, 818 millionaires were asked about their spending habits, and almost half of them weren’t spending any money on outsourcing time-consuming tasks.The researchers also conducted a field test, asking 60 adults from Vancouver to spend $40 on a time-saving exercise one weekend, and $40 on a material purchase on another weekend. A different set of 98 working adults were asked how they would spend an unexpected windfall of $40, and only 2 percent of the purchases were time-saving ones.

Sure enough, people were happier when spending the cash on something that freed up time rather than something material – so maybe you’re better spending the money you’ve saved up for a lawnmower on a gardener instead.

That won’t be surprising if you’ve read up on this before, as previous studies have found more time is likelier to make us happier than more money. Maybe it’s a sign of a global society that’s getting wealthier and busier at the same time.

“Although buying time can serve as a buffer against the time pressures of daily life, few people are doing it even when they can afford it,” says Ashley Whillans. 

One reason could be that paying for a cleaner or to get the shopping delivered makes us feel like we don’t have control over our own time, suggest the researchers.