Mamas, if you hire a cleaning service to tackle the toddler fingerprints on your windows, or shop at the neighborhood grocery store even when the deals are better across town, don’t feel guilty. A new study by the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School shows money buys happiness if it’s used to give you more time. And that, in turn could be better for the whole family.
The findings, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found “buying time” makes people happier than buying material things.
In other words: Hiring help around the house is going to make you happier than anything you can buy at the mall.
“People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School, said in a press release. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”
For the survey, more than 6,000 people in the United States, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands were asked if they spend money to buy themselves free time, and, if so, how much per month. The researchers also asked them about life satisfaction and stress.
Those who spent money on time-saving purchases reported greater levels of life satisfaction.
More good news: The researchers found that even those on tight budgets can benefit from time-related purchases. In the press release, Elizabeth Dunn, a UBC psychology professor and the study’s senior author, said, “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.”
In addition to the survey, the researchers also tested the theory by giving 60 people an assignment: Spend $40 on a time-saving purchase one weekend (like paying someone to mow their lawn or grabbing a cab instead of taking the bus). The next weekend, spend $40 on a material object (such as a bottle of wine or new clothes). The time-saving purchases made people happier, and the team behind the study hopes more people take advantage of what the participants learned.
“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,” Dunn explained.
That may be especially true for many of us moms. (It’s hard to pay someone to do something you theoretically could do—if only you had 30 hours in a day.) But, the researchers assure that people can feel an uptick in happiness by spending less than $100 per month.
If you still aren’t sold, there may be another route to happiness: Spending money on things that save you money in the long run is linked to increased levels of happiness. In her book, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, Dunn described how a couple with two toddlers and bunch of pets upgraded their vacuum to save time cleaning floors—and immediately felt more satisfaction.
For parents, here are a few ideas we love: Consider upgrading a complicated old coffee maker to a push-button model, which could buy you a few minutes in the morning. And a Swiffer-style system may be more expensive than an a basic old-school mop, but you’ll get the floors done quicker, too. Or maybe that instant baby bottle warmer is worth a few extra bucks.
So, if you’re on the fence about hiring a housekeeper or investing in a tool to help you track down those car keys (for the tenth time today), we say to go on ahead: It turns out that money can buy happiness—and a few extra minutes of sleep, which is basically the same thing.