Author Topic: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier  (Read 5955 times)

arebelspy

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Really well written article by The Happy Philosopher.

http://thehappyphilosopher.com/how-understanding-the-marginal-utility-of-money-will-make-you-happier/

At first I thought it was going to be "yeah yeah" just nodding along and skimming, because most of us here are familiar with the concept, and so it'd be mostly useful for people not, but I found myself getting really engrossed.  He explains the marginal utility of money, but then links it to time, and how time is more valuable as we get older, and then links it to frugality and how these three interplay.

Just a well written article that I think people here will enjoy, even if the concepts aren't entirely new.  And probably a mind blowing article to share with friends if they aren't familiar with the concept(s).
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Caoineag

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2016, 09:08:52 AM »
Definitely a well written article. As we get older (and more fed up with our jobs which are extremely high stress), we value our time more and more and money less and less.

Bicycle_B

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2016, 09:21:10 AM »
Good summary.

okits

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2016, 07:24:30 PM »
Ooh, that was good.  In the past I've often felt the need to defend trading my time and energy for something other than money, so reassurance that I've correctly assessed the value of that trade is comforting.  :)

Another consideration is that you can obtain or achieve certain things with time and energy that money cannot buy.

FIFoFum

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2016, 12:19:30 AM »
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

It's a little prone to oversimplification. Money is not worthless to you when you are 10 minutes away from dying if it gives you tremendous happiness to know that your kids will have food tomorrow. And time is not on an ever upward climb in value if that time is accompanied with debilitating illness or severe cognitive decline.

My pedantry aside, the argument holds up for most applications. :)
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MasterStache

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2016, 10:28:10 AM »
I enjoyed reading as well. Thanks for sharing.


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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2016, 03:20:30 PM »
I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

It's a little prone to oversimplification. Money is not worthless to you when you are 10 minutes away from dying if it gives you tremendous happiness to know that your kids will have food tomorrow. And time is not on an ever upward climb in value if that time is accompanied with debilitating illness or severe cognitive decline.

My pedantry aside, the argument holds up for most applications. :)

yup, I had that thought too.
It made me wonder how that 3rd graph might be different for a successful mustachian.
Someone who has crossed off a whole lot of bucket list items..
I imagine there would be some plateau of happiness through mid-life.
and that it will gradually decline and become dominated by health issues.

sol

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2016, 03:50:22 PM »
I have some problems with this argument.

Why say that "most people make this trade (time for money) too long" without recognizing that the decision is entirely arbitrary?  Some of the happiest people in the world are dirt poor, and have basically opted out of the trade completely.  Once you recognize that most Americans consciously choose the trade, voluntarily and without coercion, doesn't it seem silly to pass moral judgments on what constitutes " too long"?

If money only decreased in value as you earned more of it, and time only increase in value as you spent more of it, then the logical choice would always be to earn zero money and preserve as much of your time as possible.  But isn't that entirely contrary to the MMM message about stoicism and the value of hard work?  Human beings WANT to work, we derive pleasure from teamwork and accomplishment.  We value spending time in ways that make money.

Not everyone has a job they find meaningful, I recognize.  And some folks need to escape their jobs in order participate in teamwork and accomplish things.  But that's not how it is supposed to be.  The modern economy is designed to create jobs where your productivity is harnessed and applied to a larger goal, and to pay you for that contribution so that you can afford to enjoy the benefits of what our collective economy (our work) has created.  When it works correctly, you get to work as much as you want for as long as you want and internet philosophers won't make you feel bad about it.

Basenji

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2016, 04:22:52 PM »
Sol, but you can't "preserve" time. This is thing that gets me every time I try to think about this issue. Time flies by. So, as our time gets more valuable, the trade for money means less. Sure, it would be nice to have perfect trading of significant and life fulfilling work for our time, but wow how rare. I have a great job, white collar, intellectual, even objectively awesome, but I still want to gather my Now, my time, over that 8 hr day. To study Japanese, to grow herbs, to do leisure. How do I do that? Save, then stop working. Maybe I can fit in something that pays, but what I have is an unknown but short amount of time. I will still work, work at social issues, work at community things, but by disconnecting work from money I get to keep the advantages and discard the waste. Why do you have such great faith in the "system" and how it is "supposed" to work? And isn't the equation of work = getting paid money part of the problem with people finding meaning in life? (all written with great respect and warmth for your always amazing posts)

EscapeVelocity2020

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2016, 05:26:26 PM »
An enjoyable read, but I use the marginal utility concept to figure out 'enough' and asset allocation, not necessarily exactly useful as to when to retire.  Those simple graphs and charts are a lot more messy in the real world, not having fixed prices or fixed investment returns, nor a mortality date or really much future certainty about anything on that time chart.  How much is next year worth?  (edited out political sounding stuff)
« Last Edit: October 31, 2016, 08:46:23 AM by EscapeVelocity2020 »
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tooqk4u22

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2016, 07:54:54 AM »
Really well written article by The Happy Philosopher.

http://thehappyphilosopher.com/how-understanding-the-marginal-utility-of-money-will-make-you-happier/

At first I thought it was going to be "yeah yeah" just nodding along and skimming, because most of us here are familiar with the concept, and so it'd be mostly useful for people not, but I found myself getting really engrossed.  He explains the marginal utility of money, but then links it to time, and how time is more valuable as we get older, and then links it to frugality and how these three interplay.

Just a well written article that I think people here will enjoy, even if the concepts aren't entirely new.  And probably a mind blowing article to share with friends if they aren't familiar with the concept(s).

It something I have recognized for a long time and become more acutely aware and sensitive with each passing day.   The challenge is when you are married to someone who is at a different (escalating money) point on the slope and whereas you are at the "questionable benefit" and really the declining benefit point on the slope.  It is a challenge at times. 


EscapeVelocity2020

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2016, 08:44:12 AM »
[
It something I have recognized for a long time and become more acutely aware and sensitive with each passing day.   The challenge is when you are married to someone who is at a different (escalating money) point on the slope and whereas you are at the "questionable benefit" and really the declining benefit point on the slope.  It is a challenge at times.

Or you could just have a spouse that values 'financial security' differently (and hence has a higher 'marginal utility' for your ongoing paycheck than you yourself do).  Or the primary breadwinner might lose sight of how hard an additional surplus dollar can be after a long period of surplus vs. the dependents who have different experiences about earning and spending.  Lots of variations on flawed practical application of an economics construct.  And the more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea of applying marginal utility to time.  Time is always priceless.
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clarkfan1979

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #12 on: October 31, 2016, 11:18:18 AM »
It's also a lot easier to hustle when you are younger because you are healthier and more fit.

arebelspy

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #13 on: October 31, 2016, 06:22:29 PM »
And the more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea of applying marginal utility to time.  Time is always priceless.

At the very least, the realization of this fact is likely very strongly correlated with time/age.
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mikefixac

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #14 on: October 31, 2016, 09:10:55 PM »
Hello Mr Spy. I liked the article but I did enjoy this one more:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/02/09/brave-new-life/

EscapeVelocity2020

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #15 on: October 31, 2016, 09:11:48 PM »
And the more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea of applying marginal utility to time.  Time is always priceless.

At the very least, the realization of this fact is likely very strongly correlated with time/age.

I'd argue that there is no correlation between time's value and age.  I had great times in my childhood, awesome times in adolescence, getting married, having children, watching my children grow up...  all those times were invaluable.  And there are plenty of people in old age that are lonely, declining mentally and physically, etc.  So I just try to treat the present as something to make the most of, even when things are meh.  I'm certainly not in the camp that having less time magically makes time more valuable.
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arebelspy

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #16 on: October 31, 2016, 11:56:55 PM »
And the more I think about it, the more I dislike the idea of applying marginal utility to time.  Time is always priceless.

At the very least, the realization of this fact is likely very strongly correlated with time/age.

I'd argue that there is no correlation between time's value and age.  I had great times in my childhood, awesome times in adolescence, getting married, having children, watching my children grow up...  all those times were invaluable.  And there are plenty of people in old age that are lonely, declining mentally and physically, etc.  So I just try to treat the present as something to make the most of, even when things are meh.  I'm certainly not in the camp that having less time magically makes time more valuable.

You misread what I said.

I didn't say the value of time correlates with age.

I said the realization about the value of time correlates with age.
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Mr. Green

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #17 on: November 01, 2016, 05:38:33 AM »
A very interesting perspective, and I can't help but think about it in relationship to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Ideally, we can satisfy the lowest tiers while we're young. The bigger house and the nicer car trick us into psychologically thinking we're still taking care of those. I can relate to what Sol says about work and, for most, it simply being a part of life. However, as a now 33 year old I'm keenly aware of how much more I value my time than when I was in my early 20's. Applying the article's perspective, people could absolutely free themselves from the "have to work this job" mentality, and then use that freedom to find enjoyable work that occupied whatever amount of time they're comfortable with if they still feel that work should be a part of their life. Time still still feels like it becomes more valuable as we age but at least we're now making decisions out of sheer choice, not need.
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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #18 on: November 01, 2016, 06:40:07 AM »
Can't wait to read! Thanks for sharing :)

Liberty Stache

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #19 on: November 01, 2016, 07:52:11 AM »
arebelspy - thanks for the link. I read a few of his articles, very good.
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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #20 on: November 01, 2016, 11:09:30 AM »
What I'm finding interesting about this little side chat on the marginal utility of time (or some magical increasing awareness that time is valuable as we age) is that differences of opinion, even a seemingly flawed perception of reality, can still come in to being and be held with somewhat equal regard.  Maybe this is an artefact that the internet will eventually supress as consensus is reached, increasingly sophisticated algorithmic search and popularity providing a de facto answer.  In reality, of course, time is priceless.  Whether we have no time or a lifetime, regardless of if we are aware of it or not.  There is no marginal utility curve, no research paper to reference, no philosophical work to cite which concludes that time follows a utility curve (let along a curve similar to the money utility curve).  Sometimes others value our time, sometimes we value our time, sometimes we think we don't have enough time - but in reality we always have all the time left in our world.  Maybe we allocate it poorly based on flawed perceptions of what we 'must' do.  Maybe we are ignorant as children as to time being finite, but that usually clears up as soon as the concept of death pops up.  And it didn't change, whether we were aware of it or not. 

Of interest to this forum, people that ER claim to value time more highly than people who are still working, probably under some flawed assumption that their job experience is similar to the job that the ER person opted out of. 

I don't disagree that people have different awareness of time's value, but at least we all seem to agree thus far that there is no marginal utility function, which was really all I was trying to get at.
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MrMoogle

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #21 on: November 07, 2016, 10:40:19 AM »
There should be more curves, here's the ones I think you need:
money spent vs happiness
hours worked vs money made
hours worked vs hours free
hours worked vs happiness (during that time)
hours free vs happiness (during that time)
money saved vs years to retirement
age over years worked vs happiness
age over years retires vs happiness
It's a multidimensional problem, where all the values are related.
The more you work, the less time you have to enjoy, but the more money you can save, the quicker you can enjoy retirement.
On the other hand, if you're really enjoying your work, your working happiness might be the same as retired happiness, so why retire, other than to protect yourself in case you cannot work later.

Also for me, $20k/year (working) spending seems to be my sweet spot.  If I made just that I'd have enough.  But my net happiness increases if I make more, since that will allow me to retire early.  Making an extra $10k/year will let me retire in ~28 years.  That allows me to trade time (and happiness) now, for greater time (and happiness) later.  But at some point, trading time now for time later bring happiness now down too much, making it not worth it.

You can draw all the figures, but you can't put numbers on them to be universal, each one will be different from person to person.

dude

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #22 on: November 16, 2016, 12:44:40 PM »
Good article, but it's a subject that's taught in basic college econ courses.  It's the same concept that undergirds a progressive tax system.  It's also closely tied to the economic concept of opportunity cost.

frugaldoc

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #23 on: March 11, 2017, 09:19:14 AM »
Hey everyone,

Thanks to Joe for posting and everyone here who read my article. I also really appreciate the discussion, gives me good ideas for future posts.

I just published a similar article which builds upon the concepts I talk about in the first one. I dig into the difference between utility and happiness a little more. This is not earth shattering stuff to most mustachians. I think we more or less internalize this concept early on when seeking FI, but some of you may enjoy it.

Cheers!

http://thehappyphilosopher.com/utility-happiness/

PS: I  was looking at some blog stats today and you guys were responsible for about 30% of the page views on that first article which is pretty amazing!
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TomTX

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #24 on: March 15, 2017, 06:13:27 AM »
Couple of comments:

1) That $75k for "peak happiness"  has two problems - happiness did continue to trend up (though at a much lower rate) above $75k. More confounding - that's a fairly old number at this point. Given inflation, the number would probably be more like $90k today.

2) While "happiness" didn't increase much above $75k ($90k) - "contentment/life satisfaction" continued to increase fairly strongly well above that number.
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frugaldoc

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #25 on: March 15, 2017, 09:00:52 PM »
Couple of comments:

1) That $75k for "peak happiness"  has two problems - happiness did continue to trend up (though at a much lower rate) above $75k. More confounding - that's a fairly old number at this point. Given inflation, the number would probably be more like $90k today.

2) While "happiness" didn't increase much above $75k ($90k) - "contentment/life satisfaction" continued to increase fairly strongly well above that number.

I think all those happiness studies are flawed, but for me I've found that my spending after 90-100k or so doesn't really move the needle. I'm sure I could find cool things to spend on, but I'm not sure my happiness increases. I know I've either written or talked about this before, but some of my happiest days were actually when my spending was near poverty levels (medical school).

The other thing is it doesn't take into account the fact that you have to work to support that spending, and it seems to me that most mustachians are not super thrilled about having to be dependent on work for money. So as my spending needs decrease, my freedom actually increases. At some amorphous point there is an equilibrium between my happiness from increasing freedom and my happiness from spending money.
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Gunny

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #26 on: March 23, 2017, 06:13:09 AM »
Couple of comments:

1) That $75k for "peak happiness"  has two problems - happiness did continue to trend up (though at a much lower rate) above $75k. More confounding - that's a fairly old number at this point. Given inflation, the number would probably be more like $90k today.

2) While "happiness" didn't increase much above $75k ($90k) - "contentment/life satisfaction" continued to increase fairly strongly well above that number.
[/quote

I think all those happiness studies are flawed, but for me I've found that my spending after 90-100k or so doesn't really move the needle. I'm sure I could find cool things to spend on, but I'm not sure my happiness increases. I know I've either written or talked about this before, but some of my happiest days were actually when my spending was near poverty levels (medical school).

The other thing is it doesn't take into account the fact that you have to work to support that spending, and it seems to me that most mustachians are not super thrilled about having to be dependent on work for money. So as my spending needs decrease, my freedom actually increases. At some amorphous point there is an equilibrium between my happiness from increasing freedom and my happiness from spending money.

Are we talking gross or net dollars?  It so happens that my spending in FIRE is about what someone in my familial situation grossing 75k a year would net. We live in a LCOL area and are fairly frugal.  I'm happy, content, and wouldn't go back to work to make 250k a year.  When I was bringing in 200k plus, I was less happy because I was a slave to the whims of my superiors.  I could actually ramp up my spending based on my stash, but I don't think it would make me happier, so I don't. 

BeanCounter

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #27 on: March 23, 2017, 02:52:04 PM »
good article

Linda_Norway

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #28 on: March 24, 2017, 06:10:32 AM »
I like the article and it's conclusion:

Quote

Understand that frugality is not cheapness, and it is not inexpensive. You are buying something. You are buying freedom.
 
You are trading short term pleasure for freedom, with the expectation that freedom will bring you happiness, or at least the ability to pursue it on your own terms.
 
Once you frame this concept correctly in your mind, frugality does not seem like deprivation. In fact, just the opposite, it feels like abundance. It allows you to savor what truly matters and what is truly limited Ė your time.

I feel the lack of time every day. I am now 43 and feel healthy. My FIRE plan is to retire at 50. But then I'll be older and my body is not getting better. The other thing I am worried about is the world getting warmer and resources being used up. Who knows how many decades we have left living in the luxury life that we have now. I feel very much that time is running out fast and I would like to be retired as soon as possible. Therefore I have started to save even more wherever I can to expedite our FIRE.

Khanjar

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #29 on: March 29, 2017, 05:32:41 AM »
Quote
Figure out how much money you need to fulfill your basic needs: food, shelter, transportation, etc.
Think deeply about what in life brings you happiness (not pleasure, but happiness) and how much money above what is needed for basics you need to provide for this. This will take time and tinkering and will change over time, as what makes you happy will change as you evolve.
Cut out all spending from your life that does not bring you joy. Examine everything you spend money on and ruthlessly eliminate or downgrade. Optimize everything that is left over.
Use the saved money to buy your freedom.
Use your freedom to do the work you love, or do less of the work you hate.
If you are still working reassess and see if the trade makes sense, if not go back to step 1 and repeat until satisfied.
If you donít have enough money to get past step 1 you need to figure out how to make more money.

Mustachianism 101 right there.

Bart1ma3u5

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Re: How Understanding the Marginal Utility of Money Will Make you Happier
« Reply #30 on: March 29, 2017, 07:50:55 AM »
I enjoyed this article and went on to read a couple more. As far as the marginal utility of time, I see it the other way, I value my time now, being younger and more physically fit to do as i desire more highly than future time where I don't know what condition I will be, but knowing it will most likely have deteriorated by some amount when compared to now.