Spend money on the gig economy. It'll make you happier

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The gig economy has a habit of getting bad press.

Are companies treating their workers as employees, or as contractors to avoid getting out of paying benefits? Are they playing mind games? Are they underpaying workers? Are their (former) CEOs screaming at them?

(Yes, all of these just happen to apply to Uber, but it isn’t the only guilty party out there.)

But as difficult as the gig economy has been on workers, it’s been a boon for consumers. Don’t want to hail a cab? Take an Uber or Lyft. Don’t want to assemble that IKEA furniture? Hire a Taskrabbit. Don’t feel like cleaning? Book an appointment with Handy.

There are so many more ways to spend our money with just a few taps on a smartphone. And maybe we should give into that temptation – because doing so apparently makes us happier.

##Buying happiness

A recent study performed by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Harvard Business School showed that people who spend money to save time are happier than those who don’t, or who spend money on material items.

In the study, participants were given money to spend on something tangible, like a shirt. Then, they were given money to spend on something that would save them time, and their happiness increases were measured after each. Saving time won, hands down. The study found spending to help others or buy experiences does more for you than material objects, too.

Maybe the most surprising outcome is that this seems to be universal. The study took place in the U.S., Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands. The latter three countries already rank highly in “global happiness reports” but the citizens in U.S. had a happiness increase similar to people in other countries. Already having money didn’t matter, either – in fact, low-income people were more likely to get a happiness bump than wealthier participants.

Even though spending money to save time makes us happier, most of us aren’t doing it; the study also notes only 28% of people buy back their time. While we’re all lining up to buy the newest gadgets, we’re not spending enough on the things that really matter.

##Spending wisely

So! More spending equals more happiness – spend away!

Not quite. Before you go all Wolf of Wall Street on Handy, have a budget in place. Know what you need to spend money on, and budget for your wants and long-term goals. Use an app if you have to. This is especially important when you’re spending money to save time instead of spending it on items. If you go on a shopping spree, it’s easy to see the clothes pile up and know you need to curb your spending. If you’re spending on Uber and the entire transaction is digital, it can be harder to see when you’re going off the rails.

No matter how happy it makes you, don’t spend more than you can afford. The resulting debt, ding to your credit score, and overall setback to your financial goals will wipe out any happiness not having to clean your bathroom brings.

##Getting in on the gig economy

This study isn’t just good news for people who needed justification for spending money on a housecleaner. It’s also good news for anyone hoping that the gig economy can provide them with some much-needed extra cash.

Maybe you’re a student hoping to earn some money while you’re still in school, but you need the hours to be flexible. Or maybe you’re a renter who needs to save for a home down payment while still, y’know, paying rent. Or maybe you’re just tired of living paycheck to paycheck and want some more money for discretionary spending.

Luckily, Uber and Airbnb are some of the highest-paying side gigs, especially in big cities where money can be tight. And there’s no shortage of opportunities: Taskrabbit, Handy, Lyft, Postmates, Homeaway, Turo, Doordash, Dolly, HelloTech...basically, this list will already be outdated by the time the article is published. There are so many options out there that you’ll be able to find a gig that suits your needs and skillset in no time.

Whether you’re a worker or a customer, make sure you know how you’re protected. Companies may provide some level of protection if, say, something is damaged in a home while someone is Taskrabbiting. But because gig economy workers are often contractors, they might not have protections you’d expect, leaving someone to foot the bill if something goes awry. Check out this list of coverage for some of the most popular gigs, and be sure to get health, disability, or renters insurance if you need it.