What I Learned From Attending a Woman2Woman Webinar on Joy-Based Spending

Needs-based spending always comes first.

JOY. (Also Sadness.)

When TIAA-Cref sent me an email asking if I would like to participate in a Woman2Woman webinar on the topic of “joy-based spending,” I immediately said YES. There was no other option. I would attend the webinar, and I would share what I learned with you.

The Billfold counts as “friends and colleagues!”

The most important thing you need to know about this webinar is that they brought up lattes within the three-minute mark, and the expert opinion is that you can in fact enjoy your latte if it brings you joy!

No, wait. The real most important thing is that joy-based spending is hard if most of your income is taken up by needs-based spending.

I’m not sure if that’s the direction the webinar intended to go, but it’s the direction it went, especially during the Audience Q&A part. People were asking questions that were difficult to answer, like “how do I set aside money for joy-based spending if most of my money is going towards housing.” The experts cited high housing costs as something that might prevent joy-based spending multiple times during the webinar, and offered the following suggestions:

  1. If your house is not bringing you joy, just sell it and buy a different one!
  2. Don’t buy too much home. Only buy the minimum amount of home you need.
  3. If you’re living in a high-rent area, can you try living in a lower-rent area for a month, and see if you like it? Who knows, maybe you’ll discover that you love your new community!
  4. Ask yourself “Why am I spending 60 percent of my money on housing when I prefer to be outside?”

That was an actual quote, and an answer they provided to a woman who was asking how to manage joy-based spending on disability income. They were trying to suggest that if being outdoors brought this person joy, maybe spend less on housing so she could spend more time outside, but that implies there’s a less expensive housing option available to a person with limited financial resources.

So much of the conversation dealt with “there’s probably a less expensive way to meet your basic needs, if you can just figure it out,” and I’d argue that this isn’t always true. I’d also argue that meeting those basic needs can bring you a lot of joy. Joy-based spending involves spending in accordance with your values and your desires, and I very much desire to live in an apartment where I don’t have to sleep on the floor or wash my dishes in a bus tub and then dump the water down the toilet. My current apartment is not The Best Apartment In The World, but compared to where I’ve lived before, this place fills me with joy.

This isn’t to say that the webinar didn’t make some excellent points. I loved the idea that you should fix things that are causing you stress so you can focus on things that bring you joy. Obviously there’s privilege involved in that statement, and not every stressful situation can be “fixed,” but there’s something about that idea that still resonates. It’s kind of like our weekly Do 1 Thing: if you’re putting something off because you think it’s going to be a Terrible Tedious Task or because it’s causing a lot of stress in your life, try facing it head-on.

I also liked the question “are you stressed because you have too many needs, or are you stressed because you have too many wants?” even though I think the answer is often “TOO MANY NEEDS!” (My many wants—most of them involving clothes, books, and robots—amuse me. My needs keep me up at night.)

Lastly, I appreciated the acknowledgement that some financial stresses can be relieved, if not solved, through communication. Talk to your spouse/partner/roommate/parent. Tell your friends that you can’t afford to go out to that fancy restaurant, but don’t follow the experts’ advice and suggest a potluck instead, because a potluck is way too much work. Suggest ordering a pizza. I hear Domino’s isn’t terrible anymore.

Or, you know, you could just sell your house and buy a different one. That is guaranteed to be a no-stress situation that will bring you all kinds of joy.