Spend Money on Experiences Not Stuff

You deserve a treat. What should you spend the money on?

A.    A new pair of shoes

B.    The latest HDTV

C.    Diamond earrings

D.    A new couch

E.    A trip

F.    Tickets to a concert

G.    A romantic meal at a restaurant

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

According to the latest research, answers E, F, or G may be your best bet. Why? Research suggests that, in the long run, experiences make people happier than things.

“One of the most common things people do with their money is get stuff,” said Michael Norton, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of the book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending. “But we have shown…with research that stuff isn’t good for you. It doesn’t make you unhappy, but it doesn’t make you happy. But one thing that does make us happy is an experience.”

That’s in part because the initial pleasure of purchasing a new object, such as a new TV or pair of shoes, quickly wears off. Buying things has an instant drug-like effect – immediate and gratifying at the time – but the satisfaction doesn’t last long. Material objects, after all, depreciate and deteriorate. Memories of experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide feelings of joy and happiness long after the event happens. In fact, fond memories typically get better as time passes.

Think about it. After seeing a new necklace day after day, the newness wears off and the joy fades away as we become accustomed to seeing the jewelry and become bored with it. However, small, frequent pleasures tend to be different every time – whether it’s reading the latest summer blockbuster, a cup of tea with a friend, a weekend trip to the beach, or a picnic with our loved one. Because each experience is unique, instead of feeling bored, we treasure the memory.

My parents loved to travel when they were younger and often told me they never regretted spending money on a trip somewhere new. I took their advice to heart and if my husband and I had to forgo a new couch for a vacation – so be it. A word of warning, however, my parents, nor my husband and I, ever went into a debt for a trip. When you come home facing credit card bills you can’t pay off, it quickly saps the joy out of those memories.

In fact, several small indulges like a Starbuck’s latte or pedicure, might be better than one big-ticket item, such as a sports car or European vacation. The frequency of pleasures may be more important than the size.

For example, maybe you dream of a lakeside cabin or beach house with great fishing and spectacular sunsets. What you don’t think about are all the plumbing disasters or the countless long drives home with kids fighting in the back seat of the car. Or all the monthly expenses that make you feel even more stressed out. How about renting a cabin for a weekend with all the pleasure and none of the headaches? Instead of purchasing a sports car, consider renting a convertible for a weekend trip or while on vacation. You can have all the fun without the burden of huge car payments or expensive repair costs.

After all, when someone asks you what was the best part of your life, is buying the latest electronic gadget or a new ring the answer? Most likely, you would share an experience that you cherish.

That’s because we are the sum of our experiences and memories, not the sum of our possessions.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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7 Responses

  1. Jackie says:

    We tend to take it to the extreme. Work for a few years and do nothing else but work and earn money – then spend several years enjoying what we have earned with travel (and topping up the kitty with writing articles/books and photography!).

  2. Tamara says:

    Hear, hear! The simpler I get in my living situation, the more time and opportunities I have to experience the things I truly enjoy, like time with spiritual things, close friends and family, and music! It always seems to work out that a bit of travel goes right along with it too!

    • juliegorges says:

      It’s true, too many material possessions seem to only complicate our lives. “Stuff” drains our bank account, our energy, and our attention. Buying things can keep us from living a life based on our values, spending time with the ones we love, and enjoying the simple things in life. As you said in your comment, Tam, simplifying your life can be rewarding. I couldn’t agree more!

  3. Cindy Stockman says:

    One again, you have produced a wonderful blog. I’m 100 percent in agreement with this. That’s why I’m busy living life … and it’s experiences.

    • juliegorges says:

      Thanks, Cindy. I don’t know everyone who comments on my blog, but in this case, as your childhood friend, I know that you’ve overcome many trials which has taught you to appreciate every moment – and every experience – life offers. You are a shining example of embracing each new and exciting experience as it comes along – including learning French and visiting France soon. As the French would say, “profiter de la vie” which means “Enjoy Life.” (If Google Translate worked properly because I don’t know a word of French!)

  1. July 9, 2015

    […] one of my blogs, Spend Money on Experiences not Stuff, I point out that while the initial high of buying things like a new pair of shoes quickly wears […]

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