Friday, July 28, 2017

How your Bank Balance buys you Happiness

I recently read an interesting study, How your bank balance buys happiness: The importance of "cash on hand" to life satisfaction, by Ruberton, Gladstone, and Lyubomirsky from the University of California, Riverside and Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. The study claims having more cash in your checking and saving accounts leads to increased life satisfaction.

This is the first study on money to use actual banking records from the participants to assess how their “liquid wealth” affected their life satisfaction. Previous studies only used self reported estimates of bank account information. In addition to the previous year of bank records, the participants took a Life Satisfaction survey and a two question Perceived Financial Well Being survey. Measures for the study also included Income, Total Spending, Total Investments, Indebtedness status, Employment status, and Relationship status. Another key detail was anyone who had greater debt than savings was excluded from the study.

The study’s results confirmed previous studies findings that people with higher debt have lower life satisfaction and people with investments have higher life satisfaction, as do people with an income high enough to have a moderately good quality of life (approximately $75,000). It also confirmed studies showing that life satisfaction is unrelated to income above $75,000 and people with no debts have higher life satisfaction.

The new revelation from the study was that having more cash in savings or checking accounts increased financial well being and life satisfaction more than any other factor, including total debt, income level, or investments. The study found that with each increase in cash by a factor of ten, life satisfaction increases by 3.45%. So an increase in savings from $1 to $1000 increases life satisfaction by about 10.35%. The next 3.45% increase in life satisfaction is at $10,000 in cash. And another 3.45% increase is at $100,000. The next 3.45% increase in life satisfaction requires a million dollars.

Even people with very large investments (over ten million dollars) who had small amounts of liquidity in their bank accounts had significantly lower levels of financial well being and life satisfaction than those with vastly lower investments yet more liquid wealth in cash.

What is unclear about this new finding is if it is the result of the 2008 financial collapse, since investments may not provide the same feeling of financial well being as before. Or is this something that has been true for a long time and not previously found due to self reporting biases, since actual bank statements were not used in the past. 

The researchers also raised the alarm about how much the long-term, extremely low interest rates from banks may be costing society in happiness and well being. These low rates punish those who have more cash in savings.