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The Right Way to Spend Toward Happiness

You have the car, the clothes, the big house, but does it really make you happy?

New studies are out that say some purchases can have a more positive effect on your happiness than others.

With those studies in mind, on "The Early Show" Monday, financial adviser Ray Martin discussed how to get more joy and happiness for your buck.

But first, Martin pointed out Americans are saving a lot more. The personal savings rate, is at 6.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. In addition, credit card debt, according to the Federal Reserve, has been down for 21 consecutive months.

"People are definitely saving more," Martin said. "...(And with credit cards,) that's astounding, because Americans have more credit cards than the rest of the world combined. And I think Americans' love affair with pulling out the plastic and making impulse purchases has now changed."

Why the shift?

Martin said it's in response to the economic crisis or job loss.

"(People are) now taking a look at their spending. They're spending less in some categories but spending differently in others and finding out it makes them happy."

What kinds of purchases make people happier?

Martin said a recent study from the University of Wisconsin in Madison found that only one spending category out of nine was actually shown make us truly happy, and that category was leisure.

He noted that people who buy services or leisure experiences, such as a facial or a camping trip with the kids or music lessons -- things that don't necessarily have to cost a lot of money -- turn out to be happier.

Martin said these things typically are interactive, so people become less lonely and strengthen social bonds. Therefore, people with stronger relationships tend to be happier. These experience-oriented purchases also create fond memories, which never get old, and make us feel good.

So what should you be buying to get happy?

Martin said a vacation is a good place to start. According to research, Martin said money spent on experiences, such as a trip, versus material items, such as a car or a dining room set, will contribute more to your overall happiness.

"In other words, spend on the vacation, not that new sofa," Martin said. "Also, think through purchases longer. Studies also found that anticipation of buying something also increases happiness. So really take time to consider what you're buying for as long as possible and forget doing the impulse buy. Lastly, don't try to compete with what your neighbors, in-laws or friends are buying. The stress of trying to keep up with the Joneses has been shown to interfere with people's ability to savor positive experiences and life's smaller, everyday pleasures."

Retailers also know about this consumer trend of leisure above luxury goods -- and they're reacting accordingly, Martin said.

"They're marketing their merchandise in a way that's more entertaining for staycations," Martin said. "So Walmart now sells camping goods or board games -- things that qualify as leisure and build stronger relationships and build memories. Stores also offer more services to create shopping in their store as a more interactive experience. So Apple offers lectures, lessons, and the Genius Bar. And Best Buy offers the Geek Squad, so it's not just the product on the shelf anymore."

He added, "Lastly, retailers are turning to Facebook and Twitter to give out special offers to consumers for discounts or special events, such as automakers offering 30-day test drives, so you can really take the time to think about the car before purchasing it. Or retail stores are offering free personal shoppers. (These are) ways to create an experience, rather than just (buy) a luxury item off the rack."