USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Peter Dunn Spe­cial for USA TO­DAY

I’m deep into a fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy project with one of the largest uni­ver­si­ties in the world. Our mis­sion is to teach col­lege stu­dents what they need to know about money. As we re­search how stu­dents are taught about money and what the re­sults of that teach­ings has been, I’ve found one ma­jor con­cept to be ab­sent — the quest for plea­sure.

I spend a tremen­dous amount of time think­ing about why peo­ple in our so­ci­ety are so fi­nan­cially ill-pre­pared for nearly ev­ery mo­ment they en­counter. Debt lev­els are sky-high, con­sumer spend­ing (as op­posed to sav­ing) is through the roof and re­tire­ment ac­count bal­ances in­duce tears (if they weren’t so laugh­able).

One of the pri­mary causes of our eco­nomic strife is our un­healthy ob­ses­sion with plea­sure de­rived from spend­ing. But we don’t call it plea­sure. We call it en­ter­tain­ment, leisure, lux­ury, blow­ing off steam, va­ca­tion or even fun money. Not only do we get a hit from the things and ex­pe­ri­ences we pur­chase, but we feel plea­sure in the pur­chase it­self. The sit­u­a­tion re­ally spins out of con­trol when we no longer feel plea­sure from our nor­mal pur­chase pat­terns, so we crank it up and ex­ac­er­bate the prob­lem by spend­ing even more.

Plea­sure’s con­se­quences don’t dis­crim­i­nate. It can crush your fi­nan­cial life if you make $30,000 per year, just as it can if you make $3 mil­lion per year.

We spend when we shouldn’t be­cause “shouldn’t” seems less grave than “can’t.”

When I was in grade school, there was a very rig­or­ous process of be­ing granted the abil­ity to pur­chase dessert. Upon eat­ing the main course, and three sides, a lunch mon­i­tor would al­low you to pur­chase a cookie for 10 cents. Should I have eaten my en­tire school lunch? Yes. Was I forced to eat my en­tire school lunch prior to be­ing al­lowed to pur­chase a cookie? Yes. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing plea- sure be­fore plea­sure was earned sim­ply wasn’t an op­tion. Boy, have things changed. My 20s and early 30s are a good ex­am­ple of free­dom gone awry. It was a pe­riod in which I ig­nored my fu­ture re­al­ity with a child­ish and my­opic ap­proach to spend­ing. I had no fi­nan­cial past (debt), yet I didn’t com­pletely ac­knowl­edge my fi­nan­cial fu­ture be­cause most of my funds were be­ing con­sumed for my fi­nan­cial present. Like so many other Amer­i­cans, my mis prior itiza ti on of plea­sure had me on a path to fi­nan­cial fail­ure. I don’t know why I woke up or how I woke up, but I’m sure glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love cre­at­ing plea­sure from spend­ing. But I only do it once I’ve taken care of busi­ness. I eat my whole lunch tray be­fore I pur­chase the cookie. There’s ac­tu­ally more plea­sure in mak­ing a pur­chase that won’t neg­a­tively im­pact my de­sired fi­nan­cial out­come.

Run­ners often talk about some­thing called run­ner’s high. It does seem a bit crazy that a per­son can feel ac­tual plea­sure from ex­er­cis­ing vig­or­ously, but ap­par­ently you can. The plea­sure is de­liv­ered via a rush of en­dor­phins and en­do­cannabi­noids in the midst of the work­out. You want plea­sure and you need ex­er­cise. Voila! You get both — when you do it the right way.

The same is true for your fi­nan­cial life. You can achieve plea­sure — deeply sat­is­fy­ing plea­sure — by tak­ing care of busi­ness first.

Pre­vi­ously, if I had $10 to spend, I’d spend $9.50 and hope I could rub the last 50 cents to­gether to put into sav­ings. That rarely, if ever, worked. Now if I have $10, I fund my real goals first, which might take me down to $7, but then I spend that $7 with­out guilt or reser­va­tion. And by the way, I don’t even care that I only got to spend $7 vs. $9.50. I was guess­ing at my $9.50 bud­get any­way.

Spend­ing money is plea­sure­ful. Spend­ing money with­out reser­va­tion be­cause you’ve taken care of busi­ness first is the sweet­est plea­sure.

The next time you are feel­ing tempted to seek plea­sure through spend­ing, fund your goals first and ex­pe­ri­ence a plea­sure you didn’t know ex­isted.

There’s ac­tu­ally more plea­sure in mak­ing a pur­chase that won’t neg­a­tively im­pact my de­sired fi­nan­cial out­come.


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