Poll results: Here’s what you had to say about spending, travel…and guilt

Since the last time I posted, I’ve changed jobs, moving from magazines into the travel industry. It’s no coincidence that my Shopping for Happiness experiment culminated in a new job (more on that later), but it’s also fitting that I now spend my days helping people find and afford their dream trips.

Travel, it turns out, would be the splurge most-often chosen by Shopping for Happiness readers if they suddenly had an extra $1000. I recently wrapped up a reader poll, and that was one of several fascinating findings. Have a look:


Travel was favoured by nearly 35% of survey respondents, followed by clothing or accessories at 28% and dining out or entertainment at 13%.

I’ve written about the rewards of travel before and I’m sure I will again, but meanwhile, here are some of the other findings from my (admittedly unscientific) poll.


This one surprised me. Nearly half – 46% — of respondents said they spend less than $100 on themselves each month. My first thought was that people must be underestimating, and my second thought was to check my privilege and be ashamed of my first thought. I certainly wasn’t expecting many people to spend upwards of $1000, as I did during my experiment, and I wasn’t surprised that only 1% spend more than $2000, but I had thought the $100-$500 category (which came in at 41%) would dominate. Pre-experiment me would have applauded and admired the under-$100 set; I probably would have numbered among them more often than not. But now, I’m worried for these respondents — at least, for the ones who do have the means to spend more. Spend on yourself! You’re the only you you’ve got!

At least people aren’t spending on everyone but themselves.


Phew. I was surprised again, but in a good way;  I thought “partner” or “kids” would top the list. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t spend easily, though, it’s possible you don’t consider the money spent on others to be “extra” – we can see things as “necessities” for others that we would consider “extras” for ourselves.

Question four was my favourite:

“What specific item or activity would you splurge on if you had to spend $1,000 on yourself today? Remember, it has to be something for you!”

 This was a write-in answer, so I don’t have stats, but a word cloud reveals some trends:


It was a pleasure reading the answers, which included “very nice pantsuit and a beautiful coat,” “the start of a flight to New Zealand,” “landscaping/planting or furniture,” and the wonderfully specific, “two-hour massage and dinner at Chabrol with my husband.”

A few people were pained by the very question, however. “I cannot imagine spending $1000 on me in one day,” wrote one. “I find it difficult to think about,” wrote another.

Guilt around spending is a real thing, as my final question confirmed.

““Does spending money on yourself make you feel good…or make you feel guilty?” ”

Every answer was different, but the word “guilty” came up 36% of the time, while the word “good” appeared in just 29% of answers. Many people said they felt both emotions. “It gives me a rush at the time, and then when I get home or see my bank statement a few days later, I feel incredibly guilty.” Quite a few people mentioned “justifying” their spending as a way to avoid guilt – shopping at second-hand shops or scoring something on sale, for example.

“If I buy physical items like a sweater or dress not on sale I will probably return it,” wrote one person, adding: “But I don’t feel guilty for going tandem sky diving last summer with friends. Odd.”

Well, it’s not so odd. Studies (including my unscientific study-of-one) have repeatedly shown that experiences make us happier than things.  I think the fact that readers of Shopping for Happiness cited travel as number-one on their wish-lists shows that many people have learned this lesson on their own. I know I have.

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