5 tips for spending money on family happiness

Author: Money Can Buy Happiness, But It's Not How You Think

When it comes to money, many Americans are trying to be more intentional about spending. Instead of just buying the latest gadget, we are concerned about spending money in ways that will actually increase our happiness.

Recent research shows that spending money on experiences and other people, specifically, increases our happiness. And families today seem to understand this intuitively.

In November, FamilyFun magazine surveyed 300 U.S. adults with kids ages 5 to 12 to see how they would spend money to boost the happiness of their family. Here are some of the survey results:

  • 88 percent of families say a family game night would make them happier, while only 12 percent said a new, big-screen TV would make them happier.
  • 71 percent of families would rather take a dream vacation than renovate a family room.
  • Families ranked vacations as the No. 1 way to promote family happiness, followed by smaller outings (such as the zoo and museums visits) and playing board or video games together.

So what can you learn from other families? The bottom line is that the way to be a happier family is to spend more quality time doing fun things together. Point your budget in that direction, and you'll be on the right track.

Here are five tips for spending money in ways that will make your family happier:

1.Get your budget in order.

This is the most basic step, but it's essential. In fact, the FamilyFun survey showed that over half of families believed more money would make their families happier. That's no surprise, considering many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. In Bankrate's 2014 Financial Security Index survey, 26 percent of over 1,000 respondents reported having no emergency savings, and 24 percent reported having less than three months' worth.

Clearly, money isn't everything. But living paycheck to paycheck is stressful, at best, and can take a toll on the entire family. So your first step is to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, create a budget and put some money into savings. Then, you can focus on developing family spending goals to promote happiness.

2. Save for vacations – and take your vacation time.

Even though nearly three-fourths of American workers earn some paid time off, most don't use all they've earned, according to a 2013 Oxford Economics survey of 971 employees. It's time to start taking those vacation days you've got banked! Your family will thank you for it.

But before you just up and take a week off, make a habit of saving for vacation. One way to do this is to set up a separate savings account, where you funnel a small part of each paycheck. That way, when vacation time rolls around, you've got enough money to enjoy yourself.

Don't think you need to save thousands for a swanky European vacation, though. Your family can get as much enjoyment from a cheaper vacation near your home. The U.S. is full of fabulous vacation locales, some of which are sure to be within a few hours' drive.

3. Budget for smaller outings, more often.

Clearly, your family shouldn't just spend time together on a once-a-year 10-day vacation. Set aside time for smaller outings throughout the year.

One good way to do this is to check out memberships to local zoos and museums. Often, the cost of a membership is the same as (or even less than) the cost of two family trips to the zoo or museum. So if you go once a quarter, you'll save money with a membership.

The other advantage of a membership – especially for a museum or zoo near your home – is that these outings don't have to be stressful, coordinated, all-day affairs. If you have a membership, you can hit up the local children's museum for just a couple hours on a Saturday. It's a great way to spend time with the family, without feeling the pressure of planning snacks, packing the diaper bag and getting everyone rested enough for a tantrum-free, eight-hour event.

4. Spend money on at-home family activities.

The FamilyFun survey indicated that families want to spend more time at home playing board or video games together. This can easily be achieved and won't throw off your budget.

Over the next few months, set aside some funds to build up a family game library. If you already have a video game system, check out all-family options for your game system. Or consider board games that the whole family will love. Some great entry-level options are old-fashioned games like Go Fish. Older kids can learn strategy and critical-thinking skills from higher-level games like Ticket to Ride and Catan Junior.

If your family prefers the outdoors to board or video games, invest in some new gear you can all use together. Kayaking, rollerblading, biking and hiking are all great activities you could regularly work into your family time.

5. Give it away!

Giving is an important part of the spending-for-happiness equation, since regularly giving back to others can increase your sense of fulfillment.

As a family, you could practice this by sponsoring a child in need through an aid organization. Or you could save up money every week, and spend it all on a needy family around the holidays. If you really don't have cash to spare, reap the benefits of giving back by regularly volunteering together.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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