New Idea: The Happiness Tax

That pig is happy with this tax and with not being smashed with a hammer (Thinkstock Images)That pig is happy with this tax and with not being smashed with a hammer (Thinkstock  …

The big story these days is that spending less leads to happiness. The latest comes from The New York Times which profiled a 31 year old couple who abandoned their worldly possessions, quit their jobs and moved across the country for a consumption-free lifestyle.

They're happier now, and debt-free. Their story is one in a long line of recession-related experiments-- wearing the same black dress for a year, forcing your self to own less than 100 items, paring your closet down to five main looks. These are all good ideas.

Here's another: What if we spent more, but better? While binge shopping is addictive, financially dangerous and ultimately unsatisfying. But a little self-prescribed present can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered. It's selfish, but it doesn't have to be.

Consider a new concept I just thought up and have yet to put into practice: The Happiness Tax.
Every time you purchase something indulgent--be it an upscale dinner, a new dress, or a kitchen utensil upgrade--factor in an additional 10 percent tax. Then take that money and give it to a charity of your choice. [Here's a helpful list of top-rated charitable organizations]

So say you spend $300 on a new pair of shoes. That's outrageous and you're a jerk! But wait, that means you have to give 10 percent, a.k.a $30, to an organization like Meals-on-Wheels, that very same day. Now you're an amazing person. So you're down an extra $30. At least some one else is benefiting from that money. Plus the tax will keep you from spending even more.

There's nothing more soul-corroding then buying an impulse pair of shoes and then going home and throwing them in your closet with your 10 other pairs. That's when you ask yourself-- sure they're great but did I really need them? i mean if that New York Times couple can live off 5 plates and a surfboard, do I need enough footwear to bury a body under?

I'm not a huge shopper. But when I do shop, i tend to over-buy and then feel really guilty about my selfish act. My standard move--prior to today's light-bulb idea-- was to donate one thing from my closet to the Salvation Army every time I added something new. Not a terrible idea, but that didn't curb my desire to buy big.

With the tax, I'll be forced to buy less because everything is now more expensive. And the more you buy, the more you give away. Which is win/win if you think about it.

If you're mired in debt, or have a family to support, this concept may not be for you. But if you're a single gadabout, prone to occasional splurge seizures that end with a feeling that's the sartorial equivalent of eating an entire box of Entemanns cupcakes, this might be worth a try.

A lot of us wait till the holidays to donate to our favorite organizations, but with this self-imposed rule, we can disperse money to good causes throughout the year. And in the process, maybe learn to spend a little less on the stuff that only makes us happy in the moment.

Sure, giving to charity is self-congratulatory, We do it because we feel better about ourselves. But it's still giving to charity. And it makes us feel better.

I'm going to try it for a month and check back in. Here are my personal guidelines:

10 percent tax on all clothing, accessories, books, music, movies and home furnishing purchases. Since I live in New York City where produce is the cost of a Zales diamond necklace (cheap for diamonds, expensive for lettuce) and have a kitchen the size of an end table, I'll allow myself eating out. But I'm imposing the 10 percent on taxi cabs--which is my own over-indulgence and one that may make me go broke.

I'm going to keep a journal of the amount I spend and the amount I give away and figure out if I end up saving at all. If you'd like to join me, feel free to modify your tax impositions according to your own indulgences. And shoot me an email (shine_piperweiss at with your own experiences.
I hereby decree this tax the law of my wallet (gavel smash!)