Savoring: The Key to Stretching Your Dollar

SavoringResearch psychologists have all the best tricks up their sleeves. Maybe it's because they study humans like guinea pigs to figure out what really makes our complicated selves tick.

Feeling stressed? Reason yourself out of it (studies show this actually works). Rushed all the time? Slow down, and you'll be a nicer person (a famous study we cite shows that this is true, no matter who you are).

Feeling broke? Or wish you could stretch your dollar more? We'd normally tell you to head straight to My Money Center and Budgeting Tool (you can't have enough free tools at your fingertips)—but today, we're going to give you a break. We're going to let you in on an easy way to stretch your dollar and enhance your happiness, and it's also totally free. It's called savoring.

What Is Savoring?

Savoring is the ability to prolong and stretch enjoyment or positive emotional experiences. It's the difference between wolfing down a meal versus lingering over every bite. It relates to how much time you spend sitting in front of a sunset (if you even stop at all).

Scientists have consistently found that the ability to savor promotes happiness (see here or here). Which makes sense. The more you can prolong positive emotional experiences, the more positive emotions are filling up your day. In fact, the tendency to savor benefits individuals across the lifespan: studies show it predicts the subjective well-being for grade school children, adolescents, college students and the elderly.

Savoring is also one of the best tricks for maximizing your finances, because you are getting more happiness for the buck—for the same experience, product or expense. Which leads us to the ironic point ...

Money Gets in the Way of Savoring

A study published in 2009 from a group of international psychologists hailing from Canada, England and Belgium found that money actually impairs people's ability to savor everyday positive experiences.

The researchers set out to understand why study after study shows that wealth doesn't correspond with happiness.They conducted two studies, and both confirmed that wealth corresponds with lower savoring ability.

Participants with a higher income scored lower on a test of savoring. Oddly enough, even a prompting of thinking about money corresponded with lower savoring ability. The researchers found that participants who were shown pictures of foreign currency before they ate pieces of chocolate "spent significantly less time eating the chocolate and displayed significantly less enjoyment" than those who had seen another neutral image.

So wealth, money and even reminders of money impair our ability to savor. We at LearnVest obviously believe in thinking about our money to the extent that we learn to manage it well, but it appears that obsessing about it 24/7 will impair our ability to just enjoy life.

Why does wealth impair our ability to savor? The researchers aren't quite sure. They surmise that focusing on the grand experiences of life (visiting the pyramids of Egypt, taking a spa vacation) impacts our ability to appreciate all the smaller things in life, like the taste of our coffee or a fresh breeze. And let's face it, our lives are filled with a lot more of the smaller things than anything else.

There's another theory I have, which is that time and money are often related and triggering thoughts of money causes people to think about productivity, which causes them to move more quickly. The time spent on something is directly related to how much we savor it.

Savor Your Accomplishments

What are you most proud of doing with your money? Hear from fellow LearnVesters and share your own triumphs in LV Discussions.


How to Savor

Luckily, savoring is a pretty easy concept to cultivate. After reading this study, I intentionally tried some of these techniques myself for a recent trip to Iceland, and I can honestly say these helped me maximize the happiness I derived from the trip.

These are the four common strategies for savoring, identified by researchers. They can be used alone or in combination:

1. Anticipate the thing/event: Typically I don't dwell too much on a trip before I depart. I tend to focus on getting things taken care of before I leave, and exhale once I'm at the airport past security. But this time, I decided to build anticipation for the trip—I talked to friends about it, downloaded some Icelandic music, and had lunch with my group of travelmates (actually, my LearnVest co-workers!) to plan activities. All of this went really far toward feeling excitement for the trip for weeks in advance up until the day of departure. I have to admit, I usually don't have as much fun before a trip!

2. Stay present and appreciate the current thing/event: When you're traveling, it's easy to get caught up in memorializing everything, from taking pictures to writing in a journal to posting updates to Twitter or Facebook.  But you can spend more time trying to capture the moment than enjoying it. In Iceland, I tried to fully soak in whatever I was experiencing—feeling the misty spray from the Gullfoss waterfall on my face, savoring the taste of the famous Icelandic hot dogs, slathering on the mud from the Blue Lagoon—before I took out the camera. As a result, every moment seemed so much more vivid.

3. Reminisce about the past thing/event and relish the memory: When I got home, I kept the memories of Iceland alive and strong. It was fun to reminisce about all of our experiences, which we did for weeks. I also bought a cute Icelandic knotted pillow, which is now center stage on my couch and is a fond reminder of Iceland.  I pinned up a postcard above my desk, changed my screensaver on my phone to a beautiful shot of Hallgrimskirkju church, and even decided to dive into a book by Nobel Prize winning Icelandic author Halldor Laxness. 

4. Talk about it/share with others (at every stage): Sharing at every stage (anticipation, experience, reminiscence) helps enhance our enjoyment—this can mean talking to others, writing about it or sharing on social media. My travelmates and I enthused about the trip at every meal, sharing our favorite experiences. I tweeted about Iceland for weeks afterwards, and through social media found some Iceland-goers to share travel experiences with. Other friends posted their photos to Flickr. In fact, I raved about Iceland until I'm certain my friends were tired of hearing about it ... but hey, I never felt happier savoring.

Keep in mind: I was only in Iceland for three full days. The flight was $499 and lodging (via an Airbnb apartment) was only $40 a night, but the amount of pleasure I derived from that trip was exponential—worth a trip many times that cost.

*   *   *

There's plenty we can savor, big and small—from taking a trip to buying that super-soft cashmere sweater to eating that molten chocolate cake. Each small pleasure in life can be lingered over to produce more happiness for our buck. And let's not forget all the free savoring, like smelling a flower or feeling that first spring sunlight on our face.

And I'm going to add one more to this list: SLOW DOWN. Slowing down will help us all savor the moments of life better. The study showed a direct correlation between the time someone spent eating a piece of chocolate and the satisfaction they derived from it.

So let's make a commitment to linger, savor and relish. Not only is this the most economical move we can make for our dollars, we'll be enhancing all the small moments of our lives—which, really, is no small thing.

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  • Vicki

    Great article and great tips. Looking at all your photos is helping me savor the memories from MY trip to Iceland! Also, my brother has always made fun of me for how slowly I eat chocolate cake but now I know I was right all along to savor it :)

  • Val

    Always a great reminder – thanks!

  • Ellie

    I’m savored the idea from the author of this article. :)

  • Katherene

    Sounds like and looks like you ladies really had an awesome trip.  Only one problem you forgot to invitel me.  Next time. :)

  • Mich

    Thanks for sharing the photos along with your article! I enjoyed them! And I really enjoy LearnVest! Thank you to everyone on your team!

  • Steve27kdr

    I know plenty of wealthy people that savor and bless their food and lead extra-ordinary lives.  From personal experience I am much happier when I am creating more money in my life.  The amount of money I create for myself is in direct proportion to the value I create in other people’s lives.  When I am broke, it means I am doing a poor job of serving my community.  Creating more wealth in our lives gives us greater freedom to choose different experiences.   A person who is broke may savor their dollar meal at McDonalds but I highly doubt they would not be happier enjoying a healthy meal, that may cost 10 times as much.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the experiments the scientists ran were completely biased and do not represent true double blind scientifc research

  • How fun!!

  • CrankyFranky

    agreed – comes to mind a single slice of perfect prosciutto – to be savoured – like How French Women Don’t Get Fat – enjoy fatty foods – in tiny portions – one square of rich chocolate.

    Like meditation – focus on one thing, give it your full attention, and enjoy the moment – I often pick up a perfect fallen leaf, or flower, and give it to my partner as a gift of the beauty of nature.

    I think the opposite of savouring is addiction – where people just inhale large quantities – not for enjoyment, but to distract them from some emotion in the rat-cage of their mind.

    Relax – the best things in life are free – falling into the hedonist treadmill trap of having to work ever harder so you can spend money you don’t have to buy stuff you don’t need to impress people you don’t like, is a recipe for pain.

    Time with loved ones – show them how you care by talking with them and giving (inexpensive, things that take time to create) – and they in turn will tend to shower you with love and pleasures.

    The longest-lasting happiness comes not from taking – but from giving and helping others.

  • the_leaky_pen

    This article reminded me to savor the Rooibos tea I’m drinking while reading through LearnVest articles!

  • I would say that #2 is the most powerful in your list. As soon as we think about money, we think about what we should be doing, or what money will allow us to do in the near or not so near future. Money takes us away from the immediate because it makes the immediate feel like it’s not enough.

    This post made me think of the book “Money And The Meaning of Life”. It’s a tough read but the messages echo what you are saying here. Money as a symbol is more distracting than we like to admit to ourselves and others. It shapes how we think about life, ourselves and others. Yet, it’s a human construct. We give it power over our thoughts and actions. It’s bizarre when you think about it really.