My Frugal Life: $20,000 Experiment in Happiness a Failure

We all seek joy and happiness. That seems to be the very purpose of our being. But in the U.S. especially, we continue to believe happiness comes from things we buy, whether it's a Porsche, an exotic trip, a fabulous haircut, or an upscale cup of cappuccino.My Frugal Life

Yet every single study on happiness shows happiness comes from within us and is connected to our relationships with others, a sense of purpose to our lives, and doing good for others.


The temporary high that comes with buying a new dress, car, or even a house simply does not make people happier six months to a year later. This is true even of those who win the lottery, though each of us seems convinced WE would be the one exception, living happily ever after if we could just hit those lucky numbers.

About a year ago, we put new siding on our home. The house had had dark brown, dated, vertical cedar siding and in the ten years since we'd moved in, I'd dreamed of a bright, white, lighter, more modern home. We finally did reside, a white cement siding, partly due to the 300 or so woodpecker holes all over. And it does look great.

But the truth is, the new siding, as nice as it is, hasn't made me significantly happier or more joyful than before we spent the $20,000 (which included a few new windows and two doors). And I don't think that will change in the next 5 to 7 years. At my job teaching law part-time, I clear $10 an hour after taxes, commute, dry cleaning, occasional baby sitting costs, etc. So the siding "cost" me 2000 hours. (My husband clears considerably more as a corporate attorney, but I always use my own salary to assess expenditures).


So the question is, how would those 2000 hours have been best invested for long term happiness? Where would the best return be? According to most studies on happiness, those 2000 hours would give the best long term return spent with family, volunteering, spent in nature, spent in "flow" activities, spent building community or with friends.

This analysis did make me decide against a sun-room, which I'd long wanted to have. The cost with a foundation was about $25,000, and though I love the House Beautiful version of myself with a cup of green tea, sitting on a white wicker lounge, perusing a good book, I think I can find even more long term happiness investing those work hours elsewhere.


By eileen from Wisconsin

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November 5, 20090 found this helpful

I would have put the siding up myself (very easy to do), and saved a whole bunch of that $20,000. We just doubled the size of our garage, added a new door and completely resided it for about $4000. It was totally worth it and does add to my happiness every time I look at it as it was so ugly before and I have the memories of doing it all with my husband and father-in-law. I'm not sure it would have added to my happiness if I had spent $20,000 on it.

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November 6, 20090 found this helpful

It is so hard to know when to invest in upgrading your house and when to let it be. I currently live in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house with my husband and TWO boys. They are still in grade school so have no regard for privacy. I long for a second bathroom and dream of ways to fit it into our existing floor plan.


We could do much of this work ourselves but will need to hire a plumber and an electrician for the hard parts. We don't want any fires or bad pipes! But, we don't have the money, even on our home equity, so the plans will just have to stay in my head for awhile longer. Maybe I will have some privacy when they graduate and move away :)

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November 7, 20090 found this helpful

In a reply to Jess, you can hire a plumber to do an evaluation, and he can give you an idea of where to place the pipes. I watch the DIY network all the time, and there are several shows that have said doing this will save you big, while at the same time, you know where things need to be to pass inspection. While the plumber is there, it would also be the time to ask him to look at your other pipes, to see if you need to change them due to house code changes, such as lead pipes, etc. installing pipes isn't hard, we had to do it a few years back when the pipes froze under mom's trailer, just be sure to read a few manuals, maybe from the library, to make sure you get the hook-ups to the hot and cold water lines right.


If you have a good home improvement or hardware store, the people who work there can usually help you find what you need, and you can always do the research online too. I've been trying to learn about as many things as I possibly can, and though I'm not progressed onto plumbing, etc, I've come across some pretty interesting sites. Try the diy network site, they have some really good tips for projects like yours. Good luck!

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November 10, 20090 found this helpful

True happiness can never be found in material things!

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November 11, 20090 found this helpful

Funny how that works, isn't it?

The things that have made me happiest have almost always been small, idiosyncratic [peculiar to me] moments or treasures. I love it when I finally get a recipe the way I want it so I can enjoy it for years. I love it when I get a little tool that works well for one of my hobbies. I'm happy when one of my small design ideas comes out more or less the way I wanted, and it's pretty. I love it when I figure out a personal glitch that's bothered me for years, and I know it will never bother me again. I love it when I find out where to get something I really need.


I like it when I get all the things done that I wanted to accomplish, in a day, without stress. I love it when I see my children or grandchildren in a better place regarding maturity, or being able to handle life's issues. I feel something like heaven when I am in an orchard or a patch of blackberries and the bees are buzzing in the background, and I am appreciating the generosity of life and the earth, and thinking of the lovely pie my family will enjoy.

I love it when I learn something new, and realize I could do this for my family all by myself, as in spinning wool, and making a pair of socks. Or picking up lichen after a storm and making a pot of dye and smelling the woods in the wool for months afterward. I love it when times are hard and I make a pot of good soup, and a loaf of bread and know my family is glad for it, and eats their fill and goes to bed nourished.I am glad I know how to do these things. I don't have money to give. I have that.

Now, what is that? It's not a lifestyle. It's not poor, or middle class, or rich. It's the skill of my hands, the knowledge of my life experiences. It's what I know without question that matters. It's not an ideology. It's not a national identity, nor a creed, nor a religion.

I think it's what women suspect, and as they grow older, know that they know. What matters in life can hardly be named, or put to a value. In advertising these things are often attached to a product, but the product doesn't give us the real thing. The real thing has minimal requirements materially, but it draws from a deep well inside us, that is actually timeless, and without culture, but without which, the world for humanity, would not turn.

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November 12, 20090 found this helpful

Jess, you could try locking the door when you're in the bathroom. A new knob with a lock doesn't cost much and is a piece of cake to install yourself. I wouldn't go with a chain or slider type lock, since then the kids can be smart alecks and lock themselves in. We keep the key to the bathrooms above the door frame so we can reach it and they can't! I've gotten to the point I won't even let the kids TALK to me if I'm in the bathroom. They start with something and I say, "Does this involve blood or fire?", and they know by now that means to leave me alone until I come out!

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November 20, 20090 found this helpful

It's really funny that you are all talking about siding a house when that is exactly what I need to do and yes, it would make me very happy to be able to afford to do so as I love my little one bedroom bungalow. However, it is sided with stucco that is deteriorating very badly. I've gotten estimates on getting the stucco repaired, but the cost far outweighs getting it sided.

My house payments are very low, but I'm recently widowed and what little money I do have, I have to keep because I currently am out of work. I do agree however that $20,000 to side a house seems a bit excessive. My estimates were $10,000 on the high side. But, for now I will wait and trust in God that when the time is right, I will be able to afford to get the job done. I don't think spending money on upkeep for your home is extravagant unless it's for an addition that you really can live without. Besides that, spending a little money now and then is what keeps America working.

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Better Living Frugal Living My Frugal LifeNovember 5, 2009
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