Things Or Experiences? Which Is A Better Use Of Your Money?

Carnival Cruise Trip Cost Report

You generally have two options when spending the money that you don’t save, invest or use to pay down debt.

You can spend money on things or you can spend money on experiences.

On the surface, you might think that where you spend your money doesn’t matter.

I’d argue that isn’t the case.

At one point I thought that things would result in more happiness because I could hold on to them for longer periods of time than experiences. At other times I’ve thought whichever I bought would give me an equal amount of happiness.

Of course there were times when I was convinced that experiences were the best way to spend my money. I honestly believe it depends on the particular point in time for any given person, but in general there is an answer to the question things or experiences.

My Thoughts On Buying Things

American culture dictates that we must always be buying the next big thing. It could be the newest iPhone, a bigger TV, a newer or more luxurious car or a bigger home.

We have to keep up with the Joneses or risk being ridiculed by your neighbors. After all, you don’t want to be the only one not keeping up!

I can’t stand how effective marketing is in making people believe the crap I just spewed from my fingertips in the above paragraph. It’s all hogwash.

If you have something that works perfectly fine for you and you have no desire to have the newer, bigger or better version of the item without being marketed to, then chances are it won’t increase your happiness.

If you’re buying it just to keep up with your neighbors, stop.

There are certain things that you can buy that will increase your happiness. After the basics of housing, food and basic security there are still more things you can buy that will make you happier.

Having a more convenient way to get around town other than walking has definitely made me happier.

However, having a fancy car versus a basic car to get around town probably wouldn’t add much happiness to my life as I don’t place a lot of value on what type of car I drive. On the other hand, if I was a car aficionado, having a fancy car might be the thing that makes me happiest in life.

My Thoughts on Buying Experiences

Experiences are a whole different concept than things. Experiences are something you encounter or take part in, but it isn’t something that you can physically hold onto for the rest of your life.

The thing with most experiences, especially unique ones that you don’t encounter all of the time, is that they generally result in memories that you’ll reminisce about for years or even decades.

You can relive your happiness from a particular experience or event many times, despite only experiencing it one time.

I’ll always remember the time I went on my first cruise and it got extended a day due to Hurricane Sandy. It was a rough ride on the Carnival cruise ship at the time, but it is still fun looking back on it today.

Whenever people talk about rough seas on a cruise, I can always tell the stories of the 20 foot swells we dealt with in a cabin all the way in the front of the ship.

It’s fun to talk about those memories, and I relive the experience each time I tell the story.

Why I Side With Experiences Most Of The Time

I’ve bought plenty of both experiences and things. Things tends to lose their luster after a while.

As soon as I bought them, they made me very happy. I remember being a college senior and buying a 42″ flat screen TV with the money I earned from my first internship.

I loved that TV. I still have the same TV today and it is just a TV. I’m no longer excited when I look at that same TV because bigger and better TV’s exist.

I’m smart enough to know that bigger and better TVs add no additional value for me and I no longer want something better. My TV serves its purpose and that’s good enough for me.

However, with experiences, I still am happy about them long after I experience them. As I mentioned above, vacations create memories that I won’t soon forget and I can relive them many times over. Attending a concert of my favorite musician would likely have the same result.

I just don’t get the same long term result with the majority of the things I buy. Once the initial happiness wears off, I’m just simply glad I have something that works and fits the purpose of that thing.

Upgrading to something bigger or better, while it would provide a temporary boost in happiness, would likely result in the same overall happiness level of the old item I used to have.

Update: It’s funny updating this article because I have since bought a 65″ TV to supplement our 42″ TV. While I still have the original 42″ TV, I do have to say I enjoy having a 65″ TV more than I did the 42″ TV. That said, I still value experience more than things in general, but sometimes I like things, too.

What’s your thought on the things versus experiences debate? Which provides more happiness for you most of the time? Would you rather spend your money on upgrading things, or paying for experiences?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. I would have to say that I value buying experiences over things 99.99% of the time. Experiences create memories. I just don’t things bring me a lot of happiness. Especially when they start to clutter my home!

  2. I’m definitely on the experiences side of the fence. “things” get old and fade and lost. Experiences can always be recalled and bring a sense of accomplishment. There’s never a shortage of cool new things to do, learn and experience!

  3. I’m firmly in the experience camp. More stuff will only collect and eventually break down over time, or be replaced by something else that is newer and “better”. Experiences, on the other hand, can provide lifelong memories as well as lessons to you can carry with you.

  4. I’m 100% hands in on experiences!

    I’ve bought some pretty expensive stuff, and it never really seems as fulfilling or meaningful as you think it will later on. For example I don’t remember or reflect upon the day I bought a new car or new guitar.

    BUT I do think fondly about vacations I went on, places I’ve traveled, etc. For me its less about the cost of these things and more about sharing the experience with others that sticks more positively in my mind.

  5. Let me firmly come down on the side of….it depends. While I have taken a couple of trips that I absolutely loved, I really don’t care that much for travel. (I know….I’m a heretic). But in anticipation of one of our trips, we purchased a new digital camera and as a result have a bunch of frame worthy pictures that many people have commented on. Actually I find it sort of presumptuous to tell someone else which they ought to prefer. Is someone a better person because they like experience more than things? Is someone more materialistic because they like things more than vacations? I don’t know, but I sure wouldn’t tell someone else what I thought they should prefer.

    • I didn’t mean for it to come across as one is definitely better than the other but I could see how you came to that conclusion. I just wanted to get people to think about it and decide for themselves. I hope that clears things up!

      • Lance, everything is cool. Sometimes I’m too cynical and defensive. It basically comes down to…..”to each his own”.

    • Kathy, I totally agree with you. It depends. I have bought things that have made my life easier and I continue to enjoy them to this day. Sure the initial “excitement” wears off but it doesn’t mean I don’t still get pleasure from having them. I have also spent money on “experiences” that were a complete waste of time. But then again my husband and I have a tradition every year of going on a Christmas date. To tell you the truth I would have forgotten about a lot of them if I hadn’t written it down in our Christmas remembrance book. I think if most people really gave it some thought they would probably agree with us. Sometimes “things” bring pleasure, and sometimes “experiences.”

  6. eemusings says:

    Yeah, some things are definitely worth it. Bed, good knife set, quality frypan, certain items of clothing, and for the husband, TV and Xbox. Aside from those, experiences all the way for me. He’s actually a lot more materialistic than I am and gets insane pleasure out of new shiny things – he’s big on toys and gadgets.

  7. I pick experiences over material items any day. Who remembers the crap that they get within a few months, but memories are a lifetime.

  8. Possessions are temporary, experiences are forever. I have euphoria from buying a new thing… For about 2 weeks. Then the euphoria wears off and I don’t feel special anymore. With memories, I still remember things from 10 years ago that I remember with enthusiasm and euphoria. Experience trumps material possession any other day except maybe buying a significant thing that also can be very memorable, like buying a first car or a first house. I teared up when I was able to buy something from the grocery store with my very first paycheck from working. Experience and material things blended together can be fantastic!

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