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?