Money Unhappiness? It’s All About Expectations

Every year that the birthday clock turns another year I ask myself one simple question, “Am I getting any wiser?”   Many say that gaining wisdom in life is far more powerful than any bit of knowledge that you can acquire.   Of course, you can know a lot of information about many different subjects, but the key to making progress is about applying your wisdom to situations for the best possible outcome.    I’ve come to the conclusion around one very key piece of information with an extremely simple statement:  Happiness or unhappiness is all about expectations, met or unmet.   This statement is instrumental in handling financial fights and crises in your household, because if you dig deep enough you’ll find that your current state of mind is all about how you feel about the bar of expectations that were set for you or that you set yourself.   Let’s take a look at how to apply this wise piece of advice so you can achieve greater happiness in your life.

  • 1) The Spender Saver Couple – When a married couple splits, there are many factors that can cause the break up.  However, personal financial matters are among the leading reasons that create splitsville.   This is why when you get married or if you are currently married discussing your financial goals are extremely important.   It’s also imperative that you figure out how you are going to handle money matters, and what types of purchases truly matter to you as a family.    For example, you may expect to send your children to the college of their choice while your spouse is thinking just to give the kids a head start of $10,000 when college begins.  Without setting agreed expectations through a simple conversation, consider the battle that will ensue down the road.   What if you believe that wearing brand names clothes will increase your children’s popularity in school and your spouse does not?  With unspoken words on this subject, ill will can be harbored for many years before an emotional explosion erupts between the two of you.    The key is that even if you don’t agree 100% on the principal, it is crucial to set expectations about where the spending levels should occur so your blood pressure doesn’t rise to epic proportions every time you open the credit card bill.
  • 2)  The Dream HomeYour home will most likely be the largest overall purchase you make in your life.   Inevitably one discussion you and your spouse will have is the conversation about what your ‘dream home’ would look like.    Since hardly anyone pays cash when they buy a new house, the dream home is going to be acquired through leveraging significant debt.   Have you ever noticed on reality TV shows on HGTV that first time property buyers on the search for a new house program almost always pick the highest dollar amount home?  Duh! What do you pick?  Nice and cozy, fixer upper, or ready to move in today?   The real important part of this conversation is about expectations of location and then some of the real ‘must have’ elements of the dream home.   If you meet someone who has bought a $500,000 or a $1,000,000 home, they’ll quickly tell you about all of the rooms they don’t use or the fancy gadgets that they never touch.   Is the fantabulous kitchen the most important item?  Did you always want a walk-in closet?   Is it most important to be by the beach? Or the mountains?   This discussion is critical to have or you can be very unhappy even if you do reach the pinnacle of getting your dream home.
  • 3) Random Spending SpreesMost people believe if they buy the expensive items that they have always wanted, it will lead to happiness.  The truth is that it won’t.   You may feel a shock of momentary gratification, but wearing that new watch or carrying that ritzy handbag will last like a shot of 5 hour energy.   What you really need to consider is what types of purchases will lead to longer lasting happiness.   Perhaps it could be a special place your entire family will vacation every year, or you and your family really enjoying the theater or local sporting events.   If I buy something in my life, I tend to wear the you know what out of it.     Be careful about making purchases without thinking about the long-term happiness it will bring you versus short-term gratification.   If you start buying high end items and your spouse or partner starts matching your purchases, there is an element of disruption that can happen between both of you many years after the fact when you are both climbing your way out of debt.    Part of the key here is to manage expectations about how much each of you can spend on special purchases and buying only what will truly make you happy.

If you are struggling as a couple with money issues and it feels like two dogs barking out loud on either side of the table, then start with this question and follow-ups,  “What are our expectations of each other when it comes to money?”   “Why are we happy or unhappy at the moment?”  “Is the person that is making us unhappy relative to where we thought we would be at this time?”    If you can get explicit with each other about expectations surrounding monetary expenses, what you will and won’t spend money on for purchases, and getting clarity on financial goals then you will be well on your way to land of happiness.

Written by:

Ted Jenkin


Editor in Chief of Your Smart Money Moves

Co-CEO and Founder of oXYGen Financial, Inc – The Leaders in Gen X & Y Financial Advice and Services

Ted Jenkin  is one of the foremost knowledgeable professionals in giving financial advice to the X and Y Generation.

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About the author  ⁄ Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves

Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves


My friends and family all think I’m a workaholic, but I say I’m just a guy that loves to help people do better in life.

My mother is still the only one that calls me by my real name Theodore Michael, my wife calls me Teddy, but for the rest of you it is just plain old Ted.

Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved money and being an entrepreneur. In fact, I still have cassette tapes of me talking to my grandmother at the age of five and my mother tells me all the time how much I played with money as a kid...

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Ted Jenkin is a frequent guest columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Headline News Weekend Express. He is the co-CEO of oXYGen Financial. You can follow him on LinkedIn @ or on Twitter @tedjenkin.

Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS. oXYGen Financial is not affiliated with Kestra IS or Kestra AS. Kestra IS and Kestra AS do not provide tax or legal advice.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect those held by Kestra Investment Services, LLC or Kestra Advisory Services, LLC. This is for general information only and is not intended to provide specific investment advice or recommendations for any individual. It is suggested that you consult your financial professional, attorney, or tax advisor regarding your individual situation. 

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  • Avatar
    January 18, 2013

    I was just reading Laura Vanderkam’s book “All The Money in The World” and she mentioned that people get used to things over time….so people who spend lots of money on their dream home, hoping it’ll bring happiness, find out later that they’re bored with that same house (mostly because they see it every day).

  • Ted Jenkin @ Your Smart Money Moves
    January 18, 2013

    Everything in life looks great when its news and fancy, but over time these material possessions never create lifelong gratification!

  • Avatar
    January 25, 2013

    Great tips for married couples. Sometimes financial problems can lead to divorce, thus it is important to sit down and talk about your financial goals and how to manage your finances as a couple.

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