Spend Happier: What to Spend Your Money On

By Ashley Niedringhaus, REDBOOK

Deciding what to spend money on is easy if you ask yourself which purchase will bring you the most joy.

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1. Three manicures vs. one massage

A 2011 study in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found that frequent small purchases, like mani/pedis or lattes, provide greater delight than pouring money into larger expenses.

2. Cute, full-price dress vs. three so-so sale items

"Shoppers get so wrapped up in how much money they're saving that they lose sight of how the item will make them feel," says Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., a psychologist at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "If something you want is full price and you can afford it, get it. In terms of lasting satisfaction, it truly beats buying a bunch of sale stuff you don't really love."

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3. Donating to charity vs. buying for yourself

Giving to others is a surefire source of pleasure for anyone. Researchers at the University of Oregon found that some people show more activity in the area of their brain that's typically associated with receiving rewards (which makes them happy) when they donate money to those in need.

4. Repair it vs. replace it

"Most people develop a bond with treasured items like a favorite pair of jeans," says Roberts, who spends his own time and money fixing up a classic car. Invest in a special item's longevity and you'll feel good every time you use or wear it.

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5. A blowout anniversary party vs. an expensive gift

"Assuming you can pay for either without going into debt, research shows that spending money on experiences and social activities versus things gives people a bigger happiness boost, because of the lasting memories," says Jim Roberts, Ph.D., an associate marketing professor at Baylor University in Texas. "Take and display pictures of the event for a constant reminder." 6. Three weekend trips vs. one long getaway

"Research has shown that shorter, more frequent changes in your life increase happiness more than one big event. Long vacations can bring on a greater amount of stress, because after a few days you start to worry about the heavy workload you'll face when you return," says financial psychologist Mary Gresham, Ph.D.

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