I found 3 cents on the ground. Woohoo!

I ran into the store the other day to grab some propane for camping … sadly, they were all sold out. 

BUT … on the way out of the store I noticed 3 shiny new pennies on the ground! Woohoo! I love finding free money!! It’s not every day that you leave the store with more money than what you walked in with.

When I got back to the car, my wife was wondering why I had no propane, just a big dumb smile on my face…

“Babe! They were out of propane, but I found some free money on the ground!”

Wife: “Cool! How much?”

“Three shiny new pennies! Look, they are beautiful!”

Wife: “3 cents? You’re excited about finding 3 cents on the ground? You’re acting as if you found a $20 bill or something”

Hmmm… She’s right. 🤔 That’s interesting… There’s a huge difference between $0.03 and $20. In fact it’s a 66,000% difference!  But, my reaction and excitement is almost the same if I found 3 cents or $20. (Ok, maybe I’d have been slightly happier to find $20 on the ground, but not 66,000% happier).

And this all got me thinking about how money and happiness isn’t matched on a 1:1 scale. Humans tend to think linearly.

It’s easy to think that…

  • If a car is 2x more expensive, it will bring us 2x more happiness.
  • If we had a 5 bedroom house, it would bring us 5x more happiness than a 1 bedroom house.
  • If we make $1M per year, we will be 10x happier than making $100k.
  • If we wear brand new clothes, we will have brand new experiences.
  • Etc, etc, etc.

But the reality is, there’s a point of diminishing returns when it comes to dollars and happiness. And it usually comes WAY sooner than most people think.

It’s easy to focus on the money side of things in life. But at the end of the day, happiness is really what we’re all shooting for, right? So shouldn’t we focus more on the happiness side of things when we earn money, spend it, or randomly find coins on the ground? 

My happiness tipping points

Took me a while to find my happiness points for different things in life (and maybe it will keep changing as I grow older?). But, I think recognizing where my point of diminishing returns is has played a huge role in wealth building and avoiding unnecessary spending.

I’ve learned that…

  • Driving my 2010 Prius (worth about $6k) gives me just as much happiness as driving my friend’s new Tesla (worth probably $50k)
  • Surfing on my 15 year old surfboard gives me just as much happiness as surfing a brand new board.
  • Drinking a $2 craft beer in my backyard feels just as good as spending $8 for a beer at the pub.
  • I’m just as happy buying fruit and veggies at the 99c store as I am shopping at expensive places like Whole Foods. (Yes, the 99c stores in my city sell fresh produce, even organics.)
  • My iPhone 7 that I got for $100 does the EXACT SAME stuff as the new iPhone XVII (or whatever number they are up to these days.)
  • The free haircuts that my mother-in-law gives me have the exact same happiness effect on my life as $60 fancy salon cuts do. (Well, there was that one time where she accidentally shaved a bald spot on the side of my head, but that was an accident, (I think!) 🤣)

Of course this doesn’t mean that I never do expensive things… Spending money is sometimes fun. But it’s just not a habit for me to overspend, especially knowing there is very little extra happiness to gain in doing so.

Anyway, just something to keep in mind as you’re going about designing your ideal life. Sometimes the cheaper/free stuff can give you just as much happiness —> while also increasing your $ savings and progressing your path to future financial independence.

And when you see those pennies on the ground, pick ‘em up and rejoice! All free money is good money!

Cheers 😎


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  1. billy August 9, 2021 at 8:39 AM

    I can’t bring myself to pick up pennies, but maybe I’ll start. I enjoy reading these articles about hedonic treadmill, good reminder what’s important in life.

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 8:47 AM

      For me it’s not about the money value, and more about celebrating money coming into my life – no matter the source :). Cheers Billy, have a great week!

  2. Lisa O August 9, 2021 at 8:57 AM

    I love picking up pennies~it reminds me of my childhood! Find a penny pick it up and all day long you’ll have good luck per my Grandfather! He was also a coin collector so they all had to be checked!!

    I agree that all free money is good money! I have only ever found change but to find “shiny new” is an added bonus.

    Great positive frugal article for a Monday!

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 9:05 AM

      I say that too, every time! “See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck!” I learned it from the movie Grease, right before Danny drag races against the pack leader of the Scorpions! :)

      1. Lisa O August 9, 2021 at 10:17 AM

        Haha, yes it was in that movie! Life lesson… just make sure you are bending in a safe position to get the penny!

  3. Lucas August 9, 2021 at 9:40 AM

    Very important lesson for all of us that deserves continual repeating. More stuff and money helps, especially on the initial increase, but does not always equal more security and happiness.

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 12:11 PM

      I know a few rich and insecure people :(… It’s a hard mentality for many to break.

  4. Greg Brown August 9, 2021 at 2:41 PM

    I love finding money. I made an agreement with the universe/mystery/whatever you want to call it – or not – that found money is a way to let me know that I’m heading in the right direction of abundance. I also agreed that I would always pick found money up no matter the denomination. I’ve found lot’s of pennies and other change as well as several $1’s, $10’s, & a $20 in the middle of a cornfield. Every time if find them I’m joyful! Thanks for letting me know someone else get’s just as excited as I do.

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 2:53 PM

      Me too! No matter the denomination, I pick it up!

      I just got an awesome email from another reader who told me these were “Angel Pennies”. When an angel misses you (a deceased love one), they toss a penny down in your path. It’s a beautiful reminder of loved ones passed. Thought that was kind of cool — and now I’m going to think of that when I see pennies in the future :)

  5. FreshLifeAdvice August 9, 2021 at 3:18 PM

    Haha! Joel, I see so much of myself in you. I enjoy picking change off the floor and have an iPhone 7. In addition, I’m naturally an optimist as well. I’m sure your wife being more of a realist helps ground you and brings a healthy balance to the relationship. The lesson of diminishing returns is one of the greatest lessons you can teach. Love this post!

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 4:42 PM

      Cheers to optimism! I can’t live without it :)

  6. Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy August 9, 2021 at 5:06 PM

    3¢ is still money and if it makes you happy, more power to you! As for craft beer, I get little enjoyment out of it in my backyard. For me it is about the rarity of enjoying it – maybe once a month – and the excitement of what the rotating list now features. Plus, I exclusively meet friends at the brewery, adding fondness to the memories. As for cars, my decade old Honda Fit is more than exhilarating enough for me as I am not a car person and could never wrap my head around spending a years salary on a fancy vehicle.

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 6:10 PM

      I get what you mean about having fun at breweries! I really like the games nights — trivia and bingo are always fun :)

  7. David @ Filled With Money August 9, 2021 at 7:21 PM

    I never saw it like that.. It’s smart to look for opportunities where your input is 1 but your output is 20. You don’t want your input to be 10 while your output is 11! This post is inspiring me to look for avenues on inefficiencies. Hmm..

    So the moral of the story is…. Finding 3 cents on the ground feels better than finding $20 on the ground from an efficiency standpoint ;) If I see a $20 on the ground next time, I should put it back on the ground just because of how inefficient it is! Just kidding!

    1. Joel August 9, 2021 at 9:46 PM

      Yes, if you find $20 on the ground, just put it back… and then text me the exact location and I’ll take care of it from there :)

    1. Joel August 10, 2021 at 9:23 AM

      True! And if I invest all these cents in a Roth IRA… Then I could possibly avoid $2-3 in capital gains tax!

  8. Glasses Guy August 10, 2021 at 6:56 AM

    Hi Joel! Thank you for the article on being content with what we have, and being appreciative of the small things in life. I especially liked the comments on being just as happy with your older Prius as you would be with a Tesla! My wife really wants a new vehicle, but since we have 2 kids and another on the way, we need something bigger. We already have a 2012 GMC Acadia that seats 7 and is plenty big. We have had to make some repairs, but its paid off fully. A new van or SUV can be $40K+ easily.

    A few months ago, we ended up needing to rent a van. We got a 2021 Pacifica Liimited, with an MSRP of $45k! At first, it felt really good to drive that brand new van, but after a few days that feeling wore off. I was just as sick of that van as I would be any other vehicle.

    I think I am now actually HAPPIER driving the used Acadia because I know that every month it only takes me an hour or two of work to keep it operational, while a new car would represent a derailment on my journey to FIRE!

    1. Joel August 10, 2021 at 9:21 AM

      Congrats on making that realization. These small sacrifices have a huge effect on your wealth building trajectory. Congrats!

  9. Laura August 10, 2021 at 5:27 PM

    I picked up 6 the other day by a parking meter and one more today right by my car in a parking garage. I love finding any money amount!

    1. Joel August 10, 2021 at 5:57 PM

      Woot woot!!