Can Buying Things Really Make You A Happier Person?

Have you ever bought something thinking that it would improve your mood? I’m sure you have. In fact, we probably all have! When I was younger, I used to have a crazy spending problem. I would either go out to eat or spend money on clothing after a stressful day at work. I would tell…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: May 25, 2023

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Have you ever bought something thinking that it would improve your mood?

I’m sure you have. In fact, we probably all have!

When I was younger, I used to have a crazy spending problem. I would either go out to eat or spend money on clothing after a stressful day at work.

I would tell myself that I deserved it for having such a bad day. 

But then, the bad days happened over and over again.

Instead of trying to find the root of the problem, I would simply spend money that I absolutely did not have.

While I didn’t go into credit card debt, I was close to it. I spent money on things I definitely didn’t need, and this was causing me to live in a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.

To learn how to stop this problem, I had to address what was really causing my stress. It took time, but once I learned what the issue really was, I was able to focus on things that really made me happy. 

Spending money to make yourself happy is nothing new, and many people call this emotional spending. You may head to the mall and buy a new shirt when you’ve had a bad day at work. I’ve even heard of people who have gone as far as buying a new car to feel better about themselves.

Spending like this might make you feel like your worth is “validated,” it might be done to impress others, make you feel better about your situation, and so on.

I hate to break it to you, though, buying things most likely won’t make you a happier person, especially when it can cause lots of financial stress.

Sure, some things can genuinely make you happy. But, if you can’t afford it or if you are only buying things to impress others, then you have other issues that should be resolved before you try to buy your happiness.

Instead of emotional spending, you should focus on what makes YOU happy.

That can be hard for many people because it’s easy to think that buying things will make you a happier person.

However, while you make get a little “high” from buying something, you may crash later, feeling even worse than you did before.

And, emotional spending can easily get out of control. As your financial situation starts to get worse, you might be even more tempted to buy things to try and feel better. This is how emotional spending can quickly spiral into debt.

Considering the following statistics, I’m going to assume that buying things causes the average person more stress than happiness:

  • 78% of people live paycheck to paycheck (Forbes). 
  • 28% have no savings whatsoever (Bankrate).
  • The average U.S. household with at least one debt owes around $144,100 (Lending Tree).  

The average U.S. household has a lot of financial issues, and more emotional spending can make it even worse.

Usually, you’ll regret what you have purchased or feel other negative feelings, and in today’s post we’ll talk about why this particular type of spending won’t make you happy.

Now, I’m not saying that all spending is bad. Spending is fine, as long as it’s budgeted for, you can afford it, and it actually makes you happy! In this blog post, I’m referring to the opposite type of spending — the type where you’re trying to impress someone, spending money to try and feel happier, to validate your worth, and so on. 


Before you head out to buy something to improve your mood, please think about what is in today’s post.


There will always be something else.

I know many people who are always buying the latest and greatest stuff. Every year they will buy the newest iPhone, they’ll upgrade their laptop, car, and more. Many of these people are in debt and live in a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle.

But, are these people actually happy?

I don’t know, but I don’t see how upgrading your phone every single year could make you a happier person if you can’t afford it.

The thing is, there will always be a new model and style of something. If you want the latest and greatest thing, you may be disappointed because you can never fully get the newest or best things out there — there will always be more.


Emotional spending can lead to debt.

Like I said, emotional spending is when people spend money and buy things because they believe that it will make them happy. 

According to NerdWallet, the average U.S. household (who has debt) has an average credit card debt of $6,829, and I’m sure some of that is due to emotional spending.

Emotional spending occurs for many different reasons. You may have had a bad day at work, a fight with your loved one, or something else. You might even be spending because you are stressed out about the amount of spending you have done, which can quickly spiral out of control and cause you to lose control of your life.

Unfortunately, emotional spending usually just leads to more problems, and most often, never cures anything.

In order to get rid of your emotional spending habits, I recommend that you:

  • Calculate exactly how much debt you have. You’ll most likely be shocked, and hopefully this will persuade you to change your spending habits and the way you deal with stress.
  • Understand why you spend when you’re stressed. Are there specific things that cause you to start spending emotionally? In order to stop stress spending, you need to really think about why you have this problem. Without understanding your problem, you may continue to fall into the same cycle over and over again.
  • Think about your financial goals, so that you can stay motivated.
  • Find different ways to deal with stress, like going for a walk, talking to a therapist, getting more sleep, and so on.
  • Create a budget and stick to it.


What you buy doesn’t define who you are.

The amount of stuff you have most likely won’t make you happier, and your stuff doesn’t define who you are.

You’re more than that pair of pants…

You’re more than your car…

Many people feel like the items they purchase represent them somehow, but you are much more than that. Who you are is defined by your actions, not what you own. 

Being kind to strangers, helping your friends and loved ones, true happiness, etc. — those are the kinds of things that are important.

Buying things to pretend to be someone else will only cause problems. You should only purchase things that you truly need or want.

Who cares about what everyone else has!


Emotional spending can prevent you from reaching your goal.

You may be preventing yourself from reaching a financial goal by purchasing more and more. This can lead to additional stress, sadness, a feeling of defeat, and more.

The next time you are going to purchase something that is just a “want,” you should think about whether or not it will hold you back from your goal.

Think about how amazing it will feel to pay off your debt, be able to go on vacation, and more. Those positive feelings will last much longer than what a new pair of jeans or shoes will do for you.


The more you buy, the more you have to maintain.

With every item you add to your life, you will spend more and more time and money maintaining things. Things may get broken, lost, stolen, dirty, etc. They may need to be repaired or even replaced.

Who wants all of that stress?

The initial cost of purchasing an item may not be the only cost either. You may also need to pay to store the item, organize it, pay interest charges if you bought it with a credit card, and so on.

This can lead to more stress, more time spent on the item, and so on.


What makes one person happy won’t necessarily be the same for you.

I’m sure almost everyone, at one point in their life, has felt the need to keep up with someone else.

It could be jealousy, feeling that you deserve the same things in life, thinking that this is normal, or something else.

You may want the same car, the same house, the same designer clothing, and so on.

The problem with this is that it can make you go broke.

When trying to keep up with someone else, you might spend money you do not have. You might put expenses on credit cards to (in a pretend world) “afford” things. You might buy things that you do not care about. The problems can go on and on.

This can lead to a lot of debt.

Buying the same things as someone else is not worth it because:

  • You will never be happy, no matter how much money you spend.
  • You will constantly compare yourself to others.
  • You will go into debt because that’s the only way you feel like you can keep up with others.
  • You will have a loan payment for everything because that’s the only way you can “afford” things.
  • You won’t have any money leftover for retirement, an emergency fund, etc. because you’re spending it all on things you do not need.

Instead, you should figure out why you want to keep up with someone else, think about your own life and your own goals, realize that jealousy won’t get you anywhere, and try your best to live within your means.


You’re not impressing anyone.

If you’re purchasing things just to impress others, well… you will be disappointed. For the most part, no one cares or will even know that you bought something new.

You should do what makes you happy and only buy things for yourself, not to impress anyone else.


Money problems may lead to stress and other problems.

If you buy things that you cannot afford, this can lead you down a path of stress and other financial problems.

You may find yourself with more credit card debt than you can handle, personal loans, high interest charges, stuck in a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, and more.

Who wants all of that?

Have you ever bought something to make you happy? Do you think that buying stuff can make a person happier?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Buying things only supplies temporary happiness. The soul needs more than material items.

  2. I’m the same as you Michelle. When I was young, I just couldn’t stop myself from shopping. But as I grow older, I realise that buying things didn’t bring me any lasting happiness. It actually made me feel worse as I have accumulated more stuff I don’t need.

    I have a daughter now and I’m sure she will go through that same phase. I think kids are more susceptible to the buying things freezy. I wanted her to learn about responsible money matters that are not taught in school nor in most households, and that’s one of the reasons why I started me blog.

    1. Yes, I agree. It’s definitely a learning process.

  3. You are absolutely right. Happiness is only for a few moments.

  4. Dickson

    I had bought things that I never needed just to satisfy friends or minimize my stressed condition. That is, I had spent money on items that were not necessary at that moment just to look happy. I was compelled to give out some of those commodities to people that needed it. This article is a food-for-thought. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

  5. I would go even further… material things give us momentary pleasures not happiness. Happiness comes from non-material things and usually comes from us giving ourselves to others… loved your post!!

  6. I think it depends. I buy fishing lures that my wife and I use to fish. Hiking poles and boots we hike with. A boat we fish from. Running shoes we run in, tennis racquets, strings, balls and shoes we play with. Same for pickleball. I could care less about any one of those possessions save for the fact that they are the tools required to pursue our hobbies at a high level. And the time we spend on trails, on the water and on the courts is priceless time with her and with our friends. Our equipment is not top of the line but it matches our level of expertise and is kind of a necessary evil.

  7. Mr Fundamental

    I think that Steveark is on the right track. Buying stuff is perfectly fine, as long as you get a lot of VALUE out of it. It sounds like he buys things that make it more fun to spend lots of active, outdoors time, with his wife. That sounds like great value to me!

    NOT buying stuff is usually the way to go. But, for those things that you’ve thought about and really need/want, you should still consider if you can buy an alternative for less money that will give you as much (or close to as much) enjoyment. For example, why buy that $1000 iPhone, if you can buy a $150 Android phone that will do everything that you need. Why buy a brand new car, if a 5 year-old one will satisfy your needs for 1/2 the price?

    I agree with Michelle that “you’re not impressing anyone” by buying stuff. Consequently, why not just buy things that give you the best value/most bang for your buck? ๐Ÿ™‚


  8. Great perspective! It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that we just need to buy the next great thing and that will make us happy, but happiness doesn’t come from “stuff.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Great article! Really helped put things into perspective. I sometimes feel down and on a whim will go buy something and it makes me happy in the moment. Things don’t make us happy though. Thanks for this.