Joy Based Ledger – Documenting How Much Joy You Feel Each Time You Spend Money


Do you track your spending? Do you write down how much money you spend each day? Do you make note of how much that latte cost or how much you paid for your new shirt? Now what if you also paid attention to the level of joy you felt each time you pulled out your wallet?

Do you drink coffee every morning? Many financial advisers will tell you that cup of coffee is a complete waste of money, but what if you view the purchase differently? Perhaps that morning coffee fills your soul in an unexpected way. Maybe that first sip coincides with the first quiet moment in your morning after your kids have been dropped off to school but before you reach your office. Maybe you silently meditate while you enjoy that hot beverage, breathing in the warm aromas and clearing your mind before you start working. Maybe that cup of coffee makes you feel immensely happy.  If that’s the case then perhaps that morning cup is not such a waste after all.

What if we began to document our spending in terms of happiness? What if you kept a ledger with dollar amounts on one side and varying levels of joy on the other? Would this cause us to spend money differently? Would we begin to focus our spending on the items that bring us the greatest amount of joy? It’s an interesting question.

I came across a very small blurb on Oprah’s website that mentions the need for a joy based ledger. Here is the excerpt from that article:

We have tried ad nauseam…for the past decade to get people to readjust spending by focusing on the raw numbers,” says Manisha Thakor, founder and CEO of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a boutique financial-advisory firm serving women and families. She says simply looking at a budget in theory should fix the problem, but it hasn’t.

Her solution: “Challenge yourself to be more mindful and conscious of what kind of return on joy you’re getting from every dollar you spend.”

This requires not only writing down how much money they cost you, but how much joy they brought you. Highlight only those items in your notebook (or smartphone), and then take a look at what’s not highlighted. That’s where you start thinking about making conscious, mindful adjustments to your spending, Thakor says. In other words, that’s where you should start cutting back.

I believe the article makes a joy based ledger seem very simple. In essence, spend money and then write down your happiness level. Unfortunately spending is much more complicated than that. Before you can go down this path you have to focus on true joy and for some this may get complicated. You may seem quite excited, even elated about a purchase, but is that true joy? In order to truly define joy I believe each individual may need to wait a certain period of time and then reflect back on it. We all know the initial excitement of a purchase can wear off quickly. Perhaps we would each need to wait a week, a month or even half a year before defining our level of joy. If you still feel good 180 days after making a purchase than you can positively affirm that it made you happy.

Of course, you don’t have to take the joy ledger so literally. You don’t have to write down the level of joy each time you spend money. Instead you could simply ask yourself to think ahead. Imagine six months have passed since the time you pulled out your credit card to pay for this item, event or activity. Do you still feel good about whatever it is you purchased?

This tiny little blurb on Oprah’s website made me step back and reflect on my own recent purchases. I have been feeling very down about required gift exchanges lately. Someone sends me a list of the items they want and I’m supposed to pick something off of the list and buy it for them. The people in question have money in the bank and don’t really need us to buy them anything. Does it make sense for us to buy each other presents when we could just as easily buy the items ourselves. I find absolutely no joy in picking items off of the list, waiting for them to arrive and wrapping them before Christmas. What if we stopped exchanging presents and instead pulled our money to support a family in need. What if we spent a few hundred dollars each Christmas buying toys and clothes for those who could not otherwise afford them? I believe this act of kindness would bring us infinitely more joy.

I think it’s important to note that ‘joy’ is not an all inclusive word. You will not feel joyful spending money to attend a funeral for a family member, but you will probably feel glad that you spent time with other grieving loved ones. Think of joy not as utter happiness, but rather as focusing on the people and places that are important to you. Also, it’s not fun to pay your utility bills. I think it goes without saying that the focus here is on discretionary money. As the original blurb pointed out the goal is to become conscious of your spending and the question is once you focus on the things that matter could you cut out the things that don’t?

What do you think? Would you consider creating a joy based ledger? Do you think reflecting on your happiness would change the way you spent money?

(FYI: That coffee example isn’t the case for me I don’t drink coffee.)

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10 thoughts on “Joy Based Ledger – Documenting How Much Joy You Feel Each Time You Spend Money”

  1. Love this! And that you don’t drink coffee, haha… You’re so good at capturing that feeling though! I don’t do it as much as I used to now that I work from home, but I’m all about spending money on coffee and whatever else brings pure joy. Especially when it’s so damn cheap compared to *other* joys out there! šŸ™‚

  2. This is a great way to evaluate spending. I first heard of this technique in the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin.

    They use the term “fulfillment” rather than joy, but it is the same idea. Evaluate and then do more of the things that bring greater fulfillment and reduce spending on the things that rate lower.

    Your point about the emptiness of gift giving for the sake of meeting social expectations is so important. If you opt out, you don’t look like the team player but perhaps you can ask for the team to consider making charitable donations instead. That’s something most people will get behind and it shifts the “fulfillment” or “joy” factor to the positive.


  3. I do this! Unfortunately, I’ve only been doing it for a few months so I haven’t had time to reflect on whether or not it’s having a good effect or not. I enter purchases one a week on a spreadsheet that includes a “Worth it?” column.

    So far, the vast majority of non-worth-it purchases were food, usually fast food, when I was in a hurry and didn’t have anything at home.

    • A “worth it” column. That’s a great idea. It’s not the same as creating a scale, but it certainly has a similar effect and is much more simple to maintain.

  4. Excellent post. I see this as the key difference between people who are good with money and the spendthrifts. It’s important to reflect on all of your purchases to think about how they make you feel. Do they make you cringe or do they make you smile, even chuckle to yourself as you recall the experience. I find the best value for my spent dollar is travel with loved ones. Recalling the fun I had through pictures and sharing stories beings me joy later….it’s like receiving a happiness dividend!

    • I agree. Travel and family vacations rank highest on my list. Along with any activity that involves the people I love! Thanks for commenting.


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