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Swarming Pigeons, Dog Poop, Happiness, and $60,000


Can Money Buy Happiness?Swarming Pigeons

We had a rare mild sunny day here in Portland last week so we took advantage of it by going out to run around some nearby parks. First we went to feed the pigeons with a couple pieces of stale bread. The pigeons have been listless lately because it has been so cold, but today they didn’t disappoint. They were really hungry and there were more than 50 of them aggressively swarming us (plus about 8 seagulls.) Baby RB40 had a ton of fun feeding the pigeons and chasing them around. I pointed out the bird poop on the ground and told him not to touch them (cue ominous music…)

Dog Poop

He harassed the birds for a while until I dragged him to another park. This park has a bunch of grassy hills and he loves to run up and down the slopes. He was doing fine until he fell down on his butt and his right hand landed on a piece of dog poop!!! His latest favorite word is yucky and he has been pointing out yucky stuff all day long. And as you can imagine, this damp pile was quite yucky. Anyway, he got a bit distressed and wanted to wipe his hands on my jeans. OK, normally I let him wipe his wet or dirty hands on my jeans, but dog poop? I told him, don’t touch anything and let’s go home. He got even more distressed and kept repeating “yucky yucky” so I had to let him wipe his hand on my jeans…

After he wiped his hand, I told him not to touch anything and started heading home. About 10 steps into it, he suddenly wanted to hold hands. Yes, the poopy right hand. Really? The guy was refusing to hold my hand just a few minutes ago. Fine, I figured his poopy right hand will be safer in my hand. He had been touching his face because he had a runny nose and I really don’t want him to do that with a “yucky” hand. Anyway, we rushed home, washed both our hands REALLY well, and threw our jeans into the hamper for momma. We called at work to let her know what happened and she had a good laugh out of it.


So what’s the point of this story? If I was still working for a corporation, I wouldn’t have had this dog poop story to tell. I never had this much fun at work and I hadn’t felt happiness in the office for many years. The office was pure drudgery for me and the only reason I stuck around was for the paychecks.

The next day, I caught a clip on NPR – Can Money Make You Happy? It was short, but interesting. For us regular people, we know money is related to happiness. We need enough money to pay for necessities and that will prevent us from being poor and unhappy. Once we reach a balance and start spending on luxuries, then each dollar spent brings only a little more happiness. It’s an intricate relationship and it can be difficult to figure out how to exchange money for happiness. I don’t want to write too much about the detail of Happiness Economics because I’m not an expert so you can read more at Wiki if you’re interested.

At the end of the program, one speaker asserted – “if money isn’t making you happy, you’re not spending it right.” That got me thinking about how I spend money because as you know, I am a pretty cheap guy. I have been pretty tight lately because my current income is just a small fraction of my old salary. However, I am much happier every single day. What’s going on here?


In my case, we have to think a bit differently. I gave up about $60,000 per year in take home pay when I became a stay at home dad/blogger. Giving up money is the same as spending money in my book so you can say I am spending $60,000 per year to spend more time with my kid. That seems like a lot of money, but I think it is well worth it. I am doing much better than when I was stressed out all the time. Baby RB40 is happy and healthy. He can read numbers from 1 to 10 and most of the alphabet. Mom is also happy and she mostly likes her job. Interestingly enough, she is also less stressed than when I was working.

can money buy happiness?

Can money buy happiness?

If I stayed with the job I hated and had an extra $60,000 cash to spend every year, what would I do with that money? Can that much money buy the same amount of happiness? First of all, we can take $15,000 off the top for daycare so I’d have $45,000 left to spend.

In real life, I probably would just save and invest that money, but this is a thought exercise so let’s see what I can buy with $3,750/month.

  • $400/month – Lease BMW 328i convertible
  • $100/month – Smart phone
  • $750/month – I would need a massage every other day to get the kinks out of my knotted shoulders and back.
  • $100/month – Yoga every few days to calm down
  • $400/month – Maid service, twice a week. (1750, still 2000 left…)
  • $400/month – Regular baby sitter
  • $600/month – 5 dinner delivery service/week
  • $1,000/month – 2 very nice dinners out per week.
can money buy happiness?

The hole of discontent

Wow, $3,750/month went by quicker than I thought. At the beginning of the list, I was having a little trouble spending much money. However, once I started buying services, the money went pretty quickly and I didn’t even get to traveling yet. Oh well.

The real problem is that I started in a hole of discontentment. Since I hated my job, I need to spend a bunch of money just to get back to parity. I don’t think it would even be that effective really. If I was happy at work (or at least NOT unhappy), then I could focus on spending that money more wisely.

Spending the right way

Experts on happiness recommend spending money on experiences and on others rather than things if you want to be more content with what you have.  We love traveling and that’s what I should spend money on. As for giving, I’d probably concentrate on the local food bank. Nearly a half-a-million Oregonians were food insecure in the latest survey by USDA. That’s just not right.

Happiness can be elusive so if you have it, don’t let it go. If you are unhappy, figure out how to change the situation. The corporate job was draining so much out of me that I had to make a major change by giving up my engineering career. I could have tried changing jobs, but as long as I was doing contemplating the move, why not try something drastic? If you have money and are unhappy, you’re not doing it right. Figure out what really makes you happy and focus on that.  I did, and I am much happier.  Poopy hand and all.

Do you think money can buy happiness? What would you spend if you have $3,750/month of extra income?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 67 comments… add one }
  • Financial Samurai February 11, 2013, 12:36 am


    That’s a lot of massages man! I think you’d be good for a nice $60 massage once a week instead, saving you tons of money in the process.

    When you say $60,000 in take home pay, are you talking about after taxes that you actually get to keep? I thought senior engineers make more, or is the scale different in Portland?

    I’d spend $3,750 a month on family and travel. Maybe one massage a month.


    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 2:57 am

      That’s after taxes and all deductions. Once a week is nice, but it wouldn’t be enough. 🙂

      • Financial Samurai February 11, 2013, 8:31 am

        Phew! Good to hear.

        If anybody has ANY type of chronic pain, not just back pain, please read Dr. Sarno’s Healing Back Pain. I had numbness and lower back pain from 1999-2002, and once I read it, I have not experienced any back pain since. Swear to goodness.

        $12.99 on Amazon 🙂

  • My Financial Independence Journey February 11, 2013, 2:40 am

    If I had $3,750 extra per month, I’d travel a lot and buy some new electronics. Maybe upgrade my car to one that was made in the last decade. I would absolutely get the maid service.

    Based on my own personality, being a stay at home parent would drive me crazy. I’m better off as a provider than a caretaker.

    If I could retire, I would like to find a way to take very extended vacations all over the US and the world.

  • First Gen American February 11, 2013, 3:06 am

    Yes, I am much happier with more money and less time because I enjoy my job. It allows me choices I wouldn’t otherwise have, like buying another house so my mom can live with us down the road. I also like not having that feeling of dread when something needs fixing/replacing.

    I think it’s pretty natural to be conservative with spending when you come from a poor upbringing. I know it affects every penny I spend.

  • Nick February 11, 2013, 4:07 am

    I’m wondering why you’ve included daycare AND baby sitter costs. Are you saying you would need to use a babysitter that much more because you would be so stressed out?

    If I had an additional $3,750 a month, I would buy more electronics and travel more.

    • jim February 11, 2013, 11:44 am

      I’m assuming the day care covers 9-5 while he’s at work and the babysitter is for the other times when they’re going out to dinner.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank February 11, 2013, 4:27 am

    I think money can only get you so far. There can come a point where money will make you miserable even though you have more than many other people. It is all about knowing what you want out of life. If you don’t know that then money probably isn’t going to help you a great deal.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:25 pm

      I haven’t reached that point yet. 🙂

  • Mike February 11, 2013, 4:43 am

    I can see how that might be tempting for some individuals. I was never a fan of some of those things-I don’t really care for something like a BMW or having a maid. But at least you seem happier since you made your career leap.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:25 pm

      It’s tempting, but I’m way too cheap to spend money like that. Life is much better now that I’m not stuck in a cubicle anymore.

  • nicoleandmaggie February 11, 2013, 6:26 am

    That’s easy, I can answer that one now. It goes into retirement savings, 529 plans, and mortgage pre-payment. Any more after maxing that out and it would fill up our taxable funds. We already hit the sweet spot for spending.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:23 pm

      No extra spending on fun stuff? 🙂

      • nicoleandmaggie February 12, 2013, 6:45 am

        We already spend all we need to on fun stuff. If we wanted to spend more on fun stuff we’d save less. Don’t feel sorry for us though– we spend a LOT. But my take-home pay by itself is equal to our “enough”. If we ate out more, we’d get even more tired of the local restaurants. If we traveled more we’d be exhausted and wouldn’t have the time to work. If we bought more stuff we’d have more stuff. If we bought fancier phones we’d waste more time. We could buy services, but that just causes the stress of finding someone who won’t kill your blueberry bushes with the lawnmower or strip all your paint from scrubbing too much. Good help is a PITA to find.

        Now, if it were a LOT more money, say tens or hundreds of thousands/month, then there would be a paradigm shift and things would change, but $3750… that just goes into savings buckets.

  • JT February 11, 2013, 6:36 am

    Right now, an extra $3750 per month would go toward debt and once that was done would go into investments.

    We always kept a supply of wet wipes handy in each vehicle when the kids were little for any “yucky” emergencies. Never had to worry about my jeans.

    • Amanda L Grossman February 12, 2013, 6:50 am

      Hahaha–that’s a good tip:)

    • retirebyforty February 13, 2013, 10:57 pm

      I usually take a bag with diaper and wipes if we’re going further than a few blocks. I guess we’ve been lucky too long. 🙂

  • JC @ Passive-Income-Pursuit February 11, 2013, 7:16 am

    I recently had a post about how my time of being unemployed was actually the happiest I’d been. I want to get back to that level of freedom. My wife and I have been talking about starting a family and the dog poop story is something I don’t want to miss. I don’t really want to have to hold the poopy hand, but I’d gladly do it to spend more time with my child(ren).

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:27 pm

      I never imagined dog poop can cause so much distress. 🙂 Good luck!

  • SavvyFinancialLatina February 11, 2013, 7:17 am

    Extra income would probably go into savings in some shape or form.

  • The College Investor February 11, 2013, 7:26 am

    I understand your position on massages. I used to experience excruciating back pains way back when I was working very hard. I could not even enjoy the money I was earning because the pain has taken all the joy out of spending it. a friend suggested I go to a spa for a massage and it really helped, though now that I’m doing something I love, I only need to get a massage once a week. 😉

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:00 pm

      I haven’t had a massage in a while and really need to get one soon. 🙂

  • Dan February 11, 2013, 7:48 am

    I completely understand you hated your job. When I first moved to Nashville, TN in 2007, I took a job that I ended up hating and worked it for 3 1/2 years because I thought if I quit any earlier, my resume would look bad. However, I have worked my current job for over 2 years, and I like it a lot. I am rarely stressed out, and I get paid better than my old job and typically only work 40 hours per week. My wife stays at home with our two kids.

    Given this work situation, at age 36, I am still very interested in early retirement and my wife and I have been saving a lot for many years in retirement accounts. If you had not hated your job, would you still have stayed? I ask, because even though I want to retire early, if I have a lot of vacation here someday and don’t hate it, why not stick around a little while longer, say until 55, to accumulate some additional funds? Right now, I forecast a Rule 72T early retirement age of 52, without ever contributing another dime to a retirement account, so I hope to push this even sooner, but we shall see.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:03 pm

      If I enjoyed my job, I wouldn’t have left. I started out liking the job, but over time it turned to indifference and then hate. If you like your job, you should definitely stick around a while longer. You never know though, things can change pretty quickly.
      Good luck!

      • free at last February 18, 2013, 8:32 am

        My experience was just the opposite. I started out hating my job but stuck with it, and began very early retirement prep from the get go as a consequence (in my generation the Ter Horsts were the role model for this). Over time my job got better and once I reached financial independence it actually became fun. Maybe FI reduced my stress level to improve my attitude?

        But like you I pulled out early, a decade later than you, and at the top of my game. Tough decision but a recent cancer scare made me realize how work is depleting my good years, and the time limit isn’t fixed by having more money. Walking away from a secure high paying job seems crazy, but I found the die is cast from low spending habits I built up over all my years of early retirement prep, so I decided the money part is enough. Time of course will never be.

        • retirebyforty February 19, 2013, 1:02 am

          Thanks for sharing your story. Enjoy your retirement, you deserve it!
          Life is short and we need to enjoy it while we can.

  • Michelle February 11, 2013, 8:09 am

    Right now all of our extra income is getting thrown towards our debt. After that, we plan on saving like crazy!

  • Debt and the Girl February 11, 2013, 8:27 am

    If you are happy with your choices, then thats all that matters. I bet your kid is loving all the time that you are giving him.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:04 pm

      Thanks! I think any kid could benefit from a stay at home parent. It’s too bad we can’t do it more in the US.

  • Elizabeth @ Broke Professionals February 11, 2013, 8:31 am

    Right before I left my job, I was employing a full-time nanny, a house cleaner, and I was eating out with my family 5-6 nights a week… and I still wasn’t happy. I’d much prefer to be doing all those tasks myself at home than at a job that leaves me unfulfilled!

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:06 pm

      I’m with you. We did most everything ourselves and we were stretched thin when we both worked. I prefer to do things myself too.

  • Annie February 11, 2013, 8:44 am

    I gave up my $120k+ salary four years ago to stay home with my child because we had gotten so tired of paying $1600+ monthly for daycare cost.
    I hated my job, my career choice and I had known years ago that I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life. You know the feeling that you were terrified to go to work every morning? Before I left my job, I had saved enough money to pay off our home and for at least 3 years of living expenses. At first, I had been insecured about not having my income but as time went by, we realized that it isn’t that scary at all. With me being home, we eliminated the cost for daycare and my commuting. I don’t have to spend money to relieve my work stress and we eat a lot cheaper and healthier foods because I cook from scratch daily. We were paying crazy amount of taxes when I was working and I was not interested in saving for retirement because I was so focused in getting our home paid off instead. We paid off our mortgage in 2009 and then from there on, we started to max out our retirement each year, my husband’s 401k and our IRAs. We have been able to do this because we’ve made our expenses very low especially without a mortgage, lower income taxes, and cooking healthy meals at home. We do not live in a McMansion, just a simple comfy 2 bedroom home. I would rather live a simplistic life with less consumerism than making tons of money from a job that comes with high stress.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:08 pm

      You sounded exactly like me before I quit my job. 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your great story. Living a simple, but enjoyable lifestyle is much better than being stressed out all the time.

      • Justin February 12, 2013, 7:57 am

        Agreed. Great blog post and response.

        • Frank April 12, 2013, 11:59 am

          Inspiring stuff,

          Last year I took a job that pays right about 120k.. But I have an 80 mile one way commute (in a car I rebuilt myself for a total outlay of $1500 and it does 34mpg).. I stay away from home 2 nights a week.

          Needless to say that I really beiginning to resent this lifestyle.. About 6 years ago we paid off the house and started saving hard. We now have just over $1m and yearly RE taxes of $1700 and currently $15000 a year in rent. Wife gets pretty good insurance and makes about $30k.

          I am thinking I’d like to retire and I’m 51 years old..

          We have no kids nor any other debt.

          What do you guys think.. can we pull the trigger for one or both of us and never work again?

          • retirebyforty April 12, 2013, 11:00 pm

            80 miles! That’s a long trip.
            I think it depends on your expenses. If your expense is low enough, one of you can probably retire early.
            Health insurance will be expensive though so maybe one of you can work to keep insurance?
            You can still work part time even after you retire as well. Something enjoyable and closer to your home would be great, wouldn’t it?

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor February 11, 2013, 9:25 am

    Brilliant post, and thanks for the photo! (even if it is old)

  • Dianne @ Skinny Seahorse February 11, 2013, 10:13 am

    Can money buy happiness? I am at the beginning of taking a year off work – partly to answer that question. But I already know the answer. I knew it at Day 1. 🙂

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:10 pm

      That’s awesome! Enjoy your year off.

  • jim February 11, 2013, 11:22 am

    “if money isn’t making you happy, you’re not spending it right.”

    I like that quote.

  • Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter February 11, 2013, 11:26 am

    I agree with the experts apparently (for once) – money can totally buy happiness up to a certain point and if used correctly. For us, the happy amount is enough to cover our bills, savings, and taxes. Anything over that is usually used to pay off mortgage debt and invested for retirement. So $3750 extra would be divided up for us – like $375 extra for fun and vacation savings, $1687.50 for mortgage payoff, and $1687.50 for retirement investing (Roth IRA’s and then SEP accounts)…

    Anyway, thanks for the dog poop laughs. Glad you are enjoying your new day job! 😉

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:12 pm

      You’re welcome! I didn’t think dog poop would be funny, but it turned out alright. 🙂

  • Do or Debt February 11, 2013, 12:11 pm

    Sounds like you have made a nice decision. If I had that much extra money it would all go to debt until it was paid off. Then I’d travel a lot 🙂

    Money can’t buy happiness, but it helps. If you are secure and have what you need, that is the most important thing. Some people think money can buy happiness and are frustrated when they accumulate all of this “stuff” and yet still don’t feel content.

    Happiness is a process and it’s important to find out what or who makes you happy.

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:13 pm

      It’s not easy to figure out what make you happy. As we get older, things that made us happy in the past may not anymore.

  • krantcents February 11, 2013, 1:20 pm

    This one of those age old questions! It cannot buy happiness, but lack of money can make you very unhappy. Money only buys possessions or comfort once you get past the necessities of life.

  • [email protected] Guy,Skinny Wallet February 11, 2013, 4:05 pm

    Thank you for the laugh. I totally pictured the whole yucky situation as I laughed out loud. Money can bring temporary happiness, but there are somethings that simply can’t have a price put on them!

    • retirebyforty February 11, 2013, 11:14 pm

      Thanks! I’m glad we lighten up your day.

  • Little House February 12, 2013, 6:42 am

    What ever happened to wet wipes? I think they have travel sized ones that will fit in your back pocket for future outings. 🙂
    As for money making you happy or unhappy, it definitely can cause unhappiness if there isn’t enough. But, it can make your life comfortable and you can find other ways to be happy. I really think it boils down to if you’re truly a happy person on the inside. Even when I was a broke college student, I was happy. I never really wanted a bunch of consumer crap, I preferred experiences instead. I’m still that way and still happy.

    • retirebyforty February 13, 2013, 10:58 pm

      😀 Yeah, I usually don’t bring wipes when we’re just going to be a couple of blocks away. I’ll bring it next time. I think I’m a happy person inside. The extended stint in the hole of discontent nearly changed my though.

  • Matt February 12, 2013, 7:57 am

    Do you think that Baby RB40 makes a big difference in regard to the lifestyle choices you are making?

    Seems to me that we race through the corporate world because we are placed on the path from an early age, but once some things occur and we start seeing life differently, like a first child or some other life altering event the focus comes not on earning the extra $3,750 per month but making sure we squeeze every last drop of value out of whatever we have and focus on making sure happiness comes before money.

    Money still matters a lot, because of a sense of duty to be accountable for it, but not at the expense of family.

  • Evan February 12, 2013, 8:42 am

    Reading the intro I immediately got jealous. Those random days I do get to spend at home I have so much fun with my boy (I think our kids are around the same age). I am not sure I would want to do it full time but I could easily go to 4 days a week.

    From your calcs I think you are forgetting to deduct all those expenses which come with the territory of working you gave up (just from reading your net worth post – gas for one).

    • retirebyforty February 13, 2013, 11:01 pm

      You’re right. I forgot about all the work expenses. Clothing and transportation already add up to a good amount. Daycare was by far the biggest cost though.

  • Greg February 12, 2013, 12:27 pm

    When I was growing up, we did some of the typical traveling – Grand Canyon, etc…
    But by far the most memorable were probably the trips not for travel’s sake.
    We were a snow skiing family, so once a year would take a week trip somewhere – Canada one year, Wyoming another, Colorado, Idaho, Mammoth, etc…
    Usually went with a second family.
    Went to Eugene one year to visit relatives, and did some crabbing, clam digging and jigging – actually caught a few seaguls also.
    Got a tent trailer and visited places like the Pink Sand Dunes.
    Went out on a couple types of boats at times. If I had the extra money, I’d probably buy a small sailboat and learn to sail – it’s a bit of physical work, but it just completely clears the mind of all stress for a short time.
    Probably not something you want to do with Baby RB40 just yet, or maybe never :-), but I went skydiving a dozen years ago – man, that put my mind in the clouds and stress free for at least 2-3 weeks.

    An aquarium is also something I’d get going again. Kept salt water tanks for about 16 years, and it’s a bit of work to learn, but can be very calming and relaxing, assuming they don’t keep going belly up.

    With Baby RB40, this may be more than you want to deal with, but if I didn’t have a pooch, I’d get one. It can actually help keep Baby RB40 distracted while you do your blogging. And if you want some adult-time, a trip to the dog park for an hour can help with that, and get you and BRB40 out of the house for a bit, also.
    Should also help BRB40 deal with more yucky poop times, he’ll get used to them eventually 🙂


    • retirebyforty February 13, 2013, 11:05 pm

      Skydiving and bungy jumping are great ways to clear up some stress. I would love an aquarium too, but it just seems like a lot of work. We don’t have a dog right now. Maybe it would be a good idea to get one. Thanks for the tip!

  • Integrator February 12, 2013, 7:44 pm

    I think I’d invest the extra $3,750 for 11 months of the year and travel o’s seas for a month with it at the end of the year. $40k buys you a lot of passive dividend income!.
    Money can’t buy happiness, but extra time certainly can in my view.
    You surely made the right decision!

    • retirebyforty February 13, 2013, 11:07 pm

      That’s a great idea. You just need to do that for a few years and you’ll have a nice passive income stream.

  • Brick By Brick Investing | Marvin February 13, 2013, 6:29 pm

    I would invest the extra money or pay down the principal of my mortgage. I don’t believe money can buy happiness however it’s hard to be happy when you’re broke and can’t afford a decent place to live.

  • Squirrelers February 14, 2013, 8:29 pm

    Money is simply necessary for some of the true needs we have in life. Without it, life can be tough! However, after a certain point, I don’t think money is completely necessary for happiness. Much of happiness can be a state of mind and even a choice, by being thankful for the good in our lives.

    I think I would invest all of that extra money, if I was truly able to live without it but still chose to work. I’m not in a position to quit working, for quite a while, but it’s fun thinking about it 🙂

    • retirebyforty February 15, 2013, 3:38 pm

      That’s word of wisdom right there. It’s too bad that most folks take a long time to realize it (or never.)

  • Michelle February 16, 2013, 8:42 am

    YUCKY! I started laughing pretty hard when your son wanted to hold your hand. Of course he did! I really enjoyed this post because it touches on what are you willing to do to be happy and what are you unconsciously doing to be happy in a bad situation. I appreciated seeing how much it would cost you to stay “mentally even”-massages, etc. If you were working a job you hated. Thanks for the post.

    • retirebyforty February 17, 2013, 9:01 am

      Hahaha. I’m glad you could have a laugh. Kid’s logic is so funny. 🙂

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