More money, less happiness: When money makes you miserable

More money, less happiness: When money makes you miserableMoney, the conventional wisdom says, doesn’t buy happiness. Modern psychology seems to back this up, with studies suggesting that beyond an income of $75,000, money doesn’t make you any happier.

This conclusion is simultaneously obvious and counter-intuitive.

As an abstract principle, most us acknowledge that money doesn’t buy happiness. But, at the same time, we all want more of something material — a nicer house, nicer vacations, the ability to live in a certain neighborhood or eat at fancier restaurants — that we think would make us happier. (If you’re J.D., you think maybe season tickets to your favorite team might make you happier.)

So, we’re left with a conundrum. Or, rather, a series of conundrums: Does income in excess of $75,000 make us happier? And if not, why not?

When Money Makes You Happier

In answer to the first question, I believe that all else equal — and as we’ll see below, this is a huge qualifier, as things are rarely equal — more money generally makes you happier.

To be clear, money won’t solve every problem. If you’re lonely or bitter or angry, for instance, more money won’t make you any happier. But just because money doesn’t solve every problem doesn’t mean that money won’t solve any problems.

Money can make many things easier, or better. With more money you can:

  • Build a nest-egg.
  • Pay off your house or car.
  • Go on more vacations.
  • Have more kids.
  • Be a stay at home parent.
  • Eat better food.
  • Retire early.

With more money, you can do any number of other things that people enjoy and that make them happier. And if you’re a victim of systemic poverty, more money can change your world.

As much as we pay lip-service to the idea of money not making us happy, it often does, and it’s okay to admit this. It doesn’t make us materialistic or greedy to want retirement savings, a nicer home, a paid-off car, or a trip to Europe.

When Money Makes You Miserable

Assuming that you buy the premise that (in theory) more money should (generally) make us happier, it raises the question of why (in practice) income beyond $75,000 annually doesn’t make us any happier.

I think the explanation for this seemingly irreconcilable conflict is that most people spend the extra income poorly. Most people use money ways that make them less happy.

Their Job Makes Them Miserable.

People who earn a lot of money often assume that they’re paid well because of their intelligence and skills. And that is undoubtedly often the case.

But often they’re paid well in whole (or in part) because they’ve accepted a very difficult, demanding job that pays well precisely because it makes people unhappy! A job with long hours, lots of stress, lots of travel and time away from family and friends will generally pay well, but also significantly impair happiness.

It shouldn’t then be surprising that people with high incomes are often unhappy. The high income and unhappiness have the exact same origins.

They Spend Money on Things That Bring Them No Happiness.

People are generally conformists. Drive through a rich neighborhood, and you’ll see people dressed similarly, driving similar cars, going on similar vacations.

This isn’t just a happy coincidence, that all these kindred spirits serendipitously found each other and formed a happy community. Rather, people succumb to keeping up with the Joneses and continually buy stuff — not because they enjoy it, but because they’d be embarrassed not to have it.

To a large extent, individuals let their peers dictate how they spend their time and money. Living on somebody else’s terms — living somebody else’s life — is not a recipe for happiness, and if you do it, extra money won’t make you any happier. You’ll be spending it how other people want you to, not how you want to.

They Take on More Debt.

When people begin to earn more money, they generally upgrade their lifestyle — buy a nicer home and buy a nicer car. The problem is, they don’t pay cash for these things. Rather, they use their new, higher income as a means to borrow more money. Far from providing financial security, the extra income often makes their financial position more precarious.

Instead of using the extra income to buy freedom and peace of mind — which would make them happier — they incur more debt, which makes them more anxious than ever, with the added fear that if they lose their job, they’ll be humiliated at having to ratchet back their newly lavish lifestyle.

Extra money won’t make you happy if it tethers you to a heavily indebted lifestyle.

The Bottom Line

The lesson here is simple: If you come into more money, it can make you happier — provided that you use it in a way that provides you security, freedom, and sincere pleasure, not merely conformist consumption.

Money, in short, is neutral. It’s a tool that can make you happier, or less happy, depending on how you choose to spend it.

Money will make you happier only if you choose to spend it in accordance with your values and your preferences. Nobody — not your parents, not your friends, not your neighbors, and certainly not a blogger! — knows what makes you happy better than you do. But, this doesn’t stop people from assuming that they know what is best for you: what neighborhood you should live in, what car to drive, what education you “owe” your kids. If you listen to them, more money won’t make you any happier; in fact, it may make you less happy, because you’re working hard and incurring debt to live out somebody else’s life.

Our family’s life is a microcosm of this.

In our twenties, my wife and I both had good jobs in a large city. We had it made by what society values, but we weren’t very happy; we worked long hours at demanding jobs. We did however live frugally relative to our incomes.

Burnt out on our jobs, we eventually moved to a smaller city and my wife quit her job so that we could have three kids that she stayed home with. Those were expensive decisions, both in terms of cash outlays and opportunity cost. But they were good decisions; we had less money, but far more joy.

This trade-off was only possible because we had spent many years saving our money, deferring gratification — ignoring a culture that told us to spend as a reward for our hard work — so that when we finally spent the money, we spent it on something that we valued, namely our family. It was the best decision that we’ve ever made (all the credit goes to my wife!), but it was only possible to live that way in our thirties because of how we had spent, or more accurately not spent, in our twenties.

The point isn’t that we’re so smart, and that you should have a bunch of kids too. It is in fact the opposite: I have no idea what your best life is.

But then again, neither does anybody else besides you. If you find the courage to decide for yourself what you value, and you use money wisely to pursue your goals and your dreams, you will find that, contrary to popular opinion, money will buy you happiness.

Source: getrichslowly.org

Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons

Man holding large wad of bills

A wealth tax is a type of tax that’s imposed on the net wealth of an individual. This is different from income tax, which is the type of tax you’re likely most used to paying. The U.S. currently doesn’t have a wealth tax, though the idea has been proposed more than once by lawmakers. Instituting a wealth tax could help generate revenue for the government but only a handful of countries actually impose one.

Wealth Tax, Definition

A wealth tax is what it sounds like: a tax on wealth. This can also be referred to as an equity tax or a capital tax and it applies to individuals.

More specifically, a wealth tax is applied to someone’s net worth, meaning their total assets minus their total liabilities. The types of assets that may be subject to inclusion in wealth tax calculations might include real estate, investment accounts, liquid savings and trust accounts.

A wealth tax isn’t the same as other types of tax you’re probably familiar with paying. For example, you might be used to paying income tax on the money you earn each year, self-employment tax if you run a business or work as an independent contractor, property taxes on your home or vehicles and sales tax on the things you buy.

Instead, a wealth tax has just one focus: taxing a person’s wealth. According to the Tax Foundation, only Norway, Spain and Switzerland currently have a net wealth tax on assets. But a handful of other European countries, including Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, levy a wealth tax on selected assets.

How a Wealth Tax Works

Uncle Sam picks a rich man's coat pocketGenerally, a wealth tax works by taxing a person’s net worth, rather than the income they earn in a given year. In countries that impose a wealth tax, the tax is only levied once assets reach a certain minimum threshold. In Norway, for instance, the net wealth tax is 0.85% on stocks exceeding $164,000 USD in value.

Wealth taxes can be applied to all of the assets someone owns or just some of them. For example, the wealth tax can include securities and investment accounts while excluding real property or vice versa.

Every country that imposes a wealth tax, whether it’s a net tax or a tax on selected assets, can set the tax rate differently. It’s not uncommon for there to be exemptions or exclusions to who and what can be taxed this way.

A wealth tax can be charged alongside an income tax to help generate revenue for the government. The wealth tax rates are typically lower than income tax rates, in terms of the actual percentage rate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean paying less in taxes. Someone who has substantial assets that are subject to a wealth tax, for instance, may end up paying more toward that tax than income tax if they’re able to reduce their taxable income by claiming tax breaks.

Is a Wealth Tax a Good Idea?

In countries that use a wealth tax, the revenue helps to fund government programs and organizations. In some places, such as Norway, revenue from the wealth tax is split between the central government and municipal governments. It would be up to the federal government to decide how wealth tax revenue should be allocated if one were introduced here.

In the U.S., the concept of a wealth tax has been used to argue for a redistribution of wealth. Or more specifically, lawmakers who back the tax have suggested that it could be used to more fairly tax the wealthy while relieving some of the tax burdens on lower and middle-income earners. While wealthier taxpayers may take advantage of loopholes to minimize income taxes, a wealth tax would be harder to work around, at least in theory. That could yield benefits for less wealthy Americans if it means they’d owe fewer taxes.

That sounds good but implementing and collecting a wealth tax may be easier said than done. It’s possible that even with a wealth tax in place, high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth taxpayers could still find ways to minimize the amount of tax they’d owe. And the tax itself could be seen as unfairly penalizing wealthier individuals who own charities or foundations, invest heavily in businesses or save and invest their money instead of using it to buy things like luxury cars, expensive homes or other physical assets.

It’s important to keep in mind that a wealth tax is targeted at people above certain wealth thresholds, so most everyday Americans wouldn’t have to pay it. But it could cause problems for someone who unexpectedly receives a large inheritance that increases his wealth, even if his income remains at the lower end of the scale.

The Bottom Line

Rich man in his private jet

In the U.S., the wealth tax is still just an idea that’s being floated by progressive politicians and lawmakers. Whether a wealth tax is ever implemented remains to be seen and it’s likely that debate over it may continue for years to come. And enforcing one could be difficult if it were ever introduced, if for no other reason than there are many ways for the extremely wealthy to avoid taxes. In the meantime, talking with a tax professional may be the best way to manage your own personal tax liability.

Tips on Taxes

  • Consider talking to your financial advisor about the best ways to handle taxes as you grow an investment portfolio. If you don’t have a financial advisor yet, finding one doesn’t have to be complicated. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you connect with professional advisors online. It takes just a few minutes to get your personalized financial advisor recommendations. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Managing taxes is an important part of growing wealth and creating an estate plan. The less you pay in taxes, the more money you have to save and invest toward establishing a legacy of wealth. A free income tax calculator is a good way to start figuring what you owe or to get confirmation that  your calculations are correct.

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Source: smartasset.com