How Money Bought Us Happiness

The grass is greener on our side.

Sure, we have some crabgrass and the occasional dead grass stains from dog pee and we would like to do some more landscaping. These imperfections are temporary and help us appreciate how green and lush the rest of the grass is. Maybe our grass is several hundred feet below yours, but we’re slowing raising it and flooding hasn’t been a problem.

Over the last few years we have devoted energy, time and money into maintaining our grass and it wouldn’t be as green without that investment. As doctors we have seen first hand how short life can be, so we believe it’s important to invest in one’s lawn. For now, we’re happy on our side of the fence and have no intention jumping to the other side any time soon.

Now that I’ve beaten the “grass is always greener on the other side” metaphor I’ll explain. We are happy! Occasionally, life takes a swing at us such as minor car accidents and illnesses, all which remind us how short life can be. We have significant debt from graduate and medical school which has made our “lawn” a pit, but are aggressively paying off that debt.

The Hedonic Treadmill

Previously, Mr. PW discussed the Hedonic Treadmill, that everyone has a level of happiness. Regardless of what happens in life, success and riches or poverty and trauma, one returns to their satisfaction level. I would like to argue against that theory. Based on personal experience, we have been unhappy, and because we had the financial resources, we were able to “buy happiness.” This has been demonstrated repeatedly in our lives through where we live and finding our work-life balance.

Money Spent

We aren’t living a Fat FIRE-style life (nor have we retired), but we’re not cutting corners either. Over the years we’ve found that some forms of spending (in moderation) makes us happier and less likely to burn out.  




Our girls are in childcare full-time. This is partially because when I started my job, I didn’t know what my hours would be and needed the flexibility. The first year and a half after our second was born, I would sleep 3-4 hours a day while the girls were at school. Clearly I needed the time to take care of myself.

The girls remain in school full-time because when Mr. PW is post-call or has a random day off during the week, the quiet rest is worth the cost of childcare. Now those days off allow Mr. PW and myself to have a coffee date and not pay extra for a sitter. And a coffee date is cheaper than a dinner date.

It’s worth the extra cost of full-time daycare so I can be fully present with my girls every night, or at least try. During the week I’m able to focus on my mental and physical health. Most mornings I wake refreshed and look forward to work or a day with my family.


Unlike many families in their mid-30’s, we don’t own a house. We don’t live in a high cost of living (HCOL) area, but it’s more expensive than most locations in our state, and we do pay for where we live near downtown. Our walkability score is 78. We could live in the ‘burbs and rent would be half what we pay now. But we actively cherish living where we do, and walking downtown (and not dealing with parking!) adds an immense amount of happiness.

Buying Time

Of all the things money can buy, time is often seen as worth it. We do use a weekly meal service and have our house cleaned twice a month. When we look at our debt, we waver on this choice, but every time we come home to a clean house or don’t have to coordinate dinner three nights a week we agree it’s worth it. Physician on Fire wrote a nice post about time=money, I won’t rehash it here.

Money Not Made

In addition to spending money to buy our happiness, we’ve opted to make less money than we could. We’ve tweaked our scheduled over the years to find the right work-life balance.

While Mr. PW works full-time, I work part-time for the several reasons above. I’m not going to be able to increase my time in clinic anytime soon, for complicated reasons, so I’ve looked into making supplemental income. Mr. PW has been offered several lucrative moonlighting opportunities and has declined several because it would cost time with family.

We’ve learned that we can buy happiness, to an extent. We could live in the ‘burbs, I could work full-time and moonlight and pay off our loans a year or two sooner, but I know that I would be miserable. I’ll take an extra two years of happy debt than two years of misery (plus recovery time) to get out of debt.


How have your bought yourself happiness? Please share your experiences and stories below.


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