The Blurry Line Between Experiences and Stuff

A few months ago I wrote a twopart post about a study on how money, if spent correctly, can buy happiness. In the report, researchers Elizabeth Dunn, Dan Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson used empirical research to identify eight key ways to spend money that have been proven to increase happiness for the consumer.

Research says when it comes to buying happiness, experiences trump Stuff…
The first principle of spending for happiness, according to the study, is to buy experiences instead of Stuff. Research shows that people are usually happier when they spend their money on, say, a family trip to Florida instead of a new LED television. Why? According to various studies cited in the paper, experiences provide the following benefits over Stuff:

  • Experiences keep us focused on the present moment. A large-scale experience-sampling study found that when participants were focused on their current activity, they were at their happiest. When their minds wandered to pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant topics, they were significantly less happy. A time-lag analyses showed that mind-wandering was actually a cause of unhappiness, not merely an effect. Experiences keep us in the present, which makes up happier.
  • We adapt more slowly to experiential purchases than to material purchases. One study randomly assigned participants to spend several dollars on either a material or experiential purchase, and then tracked participants' reported happiness with their purchase for the next two weeks. The study found that participants adapted more slowly to experiential purchases than to material purchases, in part because people adapt most quickly to that which doesn't change. Stuff doesn't change, and when it does, it's usually through wear and tear, which can detract from happiness even more. (Think accidental stain on the new couch.)
  • We anticipate and remember the experiential purchases more than Stuff. A Cornell survey found that 83% of participants reported mentally revisiting their experiential purchases more often than their Stuff purchases. Experiences bring us happiness not just when we're having the experience, but also when we simply think about them. For example, I remember the fantastic trip my husband and I took to Mexico more fondly and more often than the new flooring we installed right before we left. I still like our floors, don't get me wrong, but they don't excite me in the same way they did when they were new, I rarely think about them today, and I never think about them when I'm not walking on them.
  • Experiences are unique, and therefore difficult to compare. In a 2010 study cited in the paper, researchers Carter and Gilovich found that too much focus on the path not taken is a great source of unhappiness. With experiential purchases, however, it becomes almost impossible to compare. J.D. jumped out of an airplane, I took a three-hour yoga workshop. There's just no way to compare the two experiences because they're so different and personal to the person experiencing them.
  • Experiences are more likely to be shared with other people. Human beings are highly social compared to almost every other creature on the planet. Recounting an experience with the people that were there brings you closer and makes the experience, at least in your mind, that much better.

I mostly find that the research holds true in my own life. I can't count the number of times my husband and I have reminisced about trips, cooking classes, and other shared experiences. Oh, we enjoy our Stuff, and I'm the last person who would preach that Stuff is evil, but we never smile or laugh as we talk about the DVD player or the MacBook or the new floors. It serves its purpose and we use it and it adds to our lives, but I'm not excited about it now that the shine has worn off.

…but sometimes Stuff blurs the line
When I wrote part one of the happiness and spending post, many GRS readers pointed out that some Stuff allows them to have an experience, and that's true. The studies listed above are based on empirical research into spending and happiness, but there are certainly exceptions. Let's look at what some of your fellow readers had to say.

First, DreamChaser57 commented:

Stuff and Experiences are not always polar opposites on the happiness meter. Someone with a large yard might purchase an expensive riding lawnmower and recapture several hours to spend with family instead of toiling in the yard. A big screen television or basement renovation might encourage more family interaction and teens might be more willing to bring their friends by to entertain instead of being in the streets, a win-win for parents.

Next, Lily said:

It's often implied that buying stuff is a sin or an offense to true life values, but this is the case only if you buy just for the sake of buying or to keep up with the Joneses.

And Ely said:

If experiences make us happy, and stuff can help make those experiences possible, then the real choice to make is buying stuff that creates experience, rather than stuff for its own sake. If a Lexus will bring you joy every time you get behind the wheel, go for it; if it's just a way to get around, stick with the Toyota. Don't buy the big TV if you don't care about tv; but if it will make your weekly movie night that much better, go for it. It sounds really obvious but I suspect, in the non-PF world, it isn't.

Many times Stuff makes an experience possible or easier or more pleasurable. It's a means to an end that I don't often consider because I'm more focused on the experience. Some examples from my own life:

  • Cooking appliances. I don't need my food processor or my stand mixer, but I use them both frequently. Long ago I'd whip heavy cream by hand, and my arm felt like it was going to fall off. I still appreciate that I can whip cream in the mixer in about two minutes while I'm doing other things.
  • A digital SLR camera. You know those people who buy way too much camera for their skill level? Well I'm no Ansel Adams, but I was the opposite. I've taken photography classes, studied books and magazines, played with screens and bouncing light and filters and such, and I take pictures almost daily. Up until I bought my digital SLR last month, my primary camera was the one on my phone.
  • My yoga mat. I need my Stuff to be in the present moment! I'm kidding of course, but there's some truth there. I'd slide onto my face without my sticky mat and yoga towel, so the material items allow for a more enjoyable yoga class experience.
  • Equestrian boots from J.CREW. Warning: This post is about to get decidedly girly. I instantly fell in love with these boots. They were the most expensive pair of shoes I'd ever bought, but I felt I had to have them (this is college-aged me, before my financial awakening). I didn't even wait to see if they'd go on sale because WHAT IF THEY RAN OUT? Ten years later people still ask where I bought them. I take them to the shoe doc each season to get conditioned and resoled, and every fall they are the cool-weather item I'm most excited to wear. They are comfortable, cute and they make me want to skip and run. (See? I told you I'm the last person to preach about the evils of Stuff.)

Researchers concede that there's a fuzzy boundary between experiential and material purchases, and GRS readers had some great examples in the comments. General exceptions include the following:

  • Stuff that expands what you can do. For example, I'd reached the limits of my silly camera phone. To take better pictures, I had to upgrade.
  • Stuff that engages you in the here and now. When you're on a mountain bike, on a yoga mat in headstand, or riding a wave on your surfboard, where else could your mind be but in the present moment? Yet in all of those examples, you're also using Stuff.
  • Stuff that helps you learn or see new things. My kayak has taken me to the beach, down rivers and springs, and through canyons in the West Texas desert. I might adapt to the kayak itself, but as long as it's taking me to new places (or giving me different experiences in the same places, since no trip is really ever the same), I won't adapt to the experience of kayaking.
  • Stuff you use frequently. Material items really qualify as Stuff when they're unused, just taking up space. If you use something frequently, you're probably deriving a great benefit from it, even if it just saves you time and allows you to do other things (like the example of the riding lawnmower).

It's also true that experiences aren't one-size-fits all. A few readers gave examples of awful trips that they felt were a waste of time and money. And sometimes we buy Stuff thinking it will lead to experiences, but it goes unused and becomes clutter. In the end, if you buy something that isn't true to your interests and lifestyle, it won't make you happy, whether you purchase something experiential or material. It comes down to doing what works for you.

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J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
8 years ago

I like this post. This is one of the reasons I’ve learned to pay more for quality on the things I use frequently. If I’m going to use something every day, I want it to be a pleasure to use, and I want it to last a long time. If I don’t use it often, then I my goal is to pay as little as possible. Since I’ve been using this personal rule of thumb (which I didn’t develop until after I’d paid off my debt), I’ve been happier.

Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
Katy @ The Non-Consumer Advocate
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

The Experiences vs. Stuff quandary is similar to the mind-body connection. The key is to marry the two together.

For example, going to garage sales with a friend. I get the experience of socializing with a friend, but I also get to find great cheap Stuff that I can later sell at a profit, or use to enhance my life.

Also, I am never going to buy secondhand low quality Stuff, so I get to enjoy things with the potential for longevity.

Great post, April!

Katy Wolk-Stanley
“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

Julie @ The Family CEO
Julie @ The Family CEO
8 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

Good distinction, J.D. Another one I like to make is whether a purchase falls into the “true want” category or the “it would be nice to have” category. I almost never regret buying a true want item, and I almost always end up feeling less than satisfied with an it would be nice item.

Very thought provoking post!

Frugal Texas Gal
Frugal Texas Gal
8 years ago

Thank you so much for this…it’s so difficult so often to separate the experience from the stuff, first. And secondly in an age when many of us are nesting and using our home for entertainment, some investment in stuff is worth while. Thedeep seating on the patio we use almost every day of the year comes to mind, as do the two thousand dollar sewing machine, and the expensive picnic basket I have to use when I drive cross country and the backroads of life.,

E. Murphy
E. Murphy
8 years ago

Patio seating sounds very useful, and a picnic basket, also.

But a $2000 sewing machine? I would love to know what features it had that were a “must”.

I blush to report I’m still using my mother’s White machine from 1964. Your sewing talents must be far superior to mine.

Becky P.
Becky P.
8 years ago
Reply to  E. Murphy

a $2000 sewing machine? Not too difficult to find these days. They have many bells and whistles that cheaper machines don’t have.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t sew with a $10 yard sale machine…you can. It is just that the newer ones have things like the ability to lower the feed dogs, even feed and many, many more things to do, esp. for those who do specialty quilting or crafting or sew on strange fabrics.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  E. Murphy

There’s a 35 year old sewing machine still in our family, but it cost a fair bit in it’s time. However, it easily paid for itself many times over with all the things my mom could make that saved money. (She also used it for a side business at one point.) Many older sewing machines are better built than the stuff they make these days, but used machines are VERY hard to find where I am. New machines are like any tool — if spend the money for quality, they’ll be easier to work with, last longer, and you’ll be… Read more »

Scott
Scott
8 years ago

Sheesh, for a second there, I thought J.D. had some boots he was skipping about.

Great article. I’m going to send it on to my wife.

As blurry as the line is, how many of us ‘think’ we are on the other side of the line, but only to realize we are not?

Crystal
Crystal
8 years ago
Reply to  Scott

LOVE the article, and love Scott’s reply as well. I’d like to think I’m in one camp, but I’m constantly amazed at the mental somersaults I’ll do to justify buying something I really really really want. My Yoga mat- needed/loving it. My THIRD yoga outfit…yeah…not so much.

STRONGside
STRONGside
8 years ago

I have a good friend who decided to spend a lot less money on his fiance’s engagement ring and put that money towards an awesome two week European honeymoon. Everybody thought he was crazy for doing it, but looking back, they will have those memories forever. And let’s be honest, if a girl is upset about the size of her engagement ring, it might spell a bad sign for their financial lives down the road.

Kelly
Kelly
8 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

This is so true.
My husband chose a smaller engagement ring and we both chose a small wedding. We used the money we got from our parents to honeymoon in the Galapagos Islands.
It was awesome! We still talk about that trip.
And, by the way, I’m a wildlife biologist who works in an aquarium and I NEVER even wear my ring. It would get thrashed in all the salt water!
🙂
Kel

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
8 years ago
Reply to  STRONGside

I don’t think “expensive engagement ring” vs “expensive honeymoon” is proof that experiences are better than material items. I had no desire to spend any significant money on an engagement ring when I proposed (I spent $150) since I didn’t think there was any value for me or my wife in that purchase. Luckily my wife agreed. That doesn’t mean I spent the money I saved on an expensive experiences. What if I just spent the money on other “stuff” that had more meaning for me? Bottom line is that you should spend your extra money on things (stuff or… Read more »

C
C
8 years ago

This is a great article. I have always had an issue with the “Experiences trump Stuff” line of thought, and this article really explains all the correct reasons why that is. Most pricey purchases I have fall into the category of “my -time- will be more enjoyable if I have this,” such as good skis, cycling gear, DLSR + lenses, a nice car (I spend several hours in it each day, e.g.), cooking gear (I never go a day with less than an hour in the kitchen), and so on and so forth. The Stuff I own makes my life… Read more »

Joe Amadon
Joe Amadon
8 years ago
Reply to  C

C,
I have a tough time with the Stuff that enables Experience, too. For me it helps to look at cost/use. It’s tough for me to part with $800 for a ski setup, but 20 uses per year for three years has made it pretty affordable, and with probably 3+ years left in them, one of the better investments I could make. But with all of these purchases, it is always what I do with them that makes me happy, not the possession of them.

No Debt MBA
No Debt MBA
8 years ago

My SO and I are both process oriented people and I think that’s a personality type where buying something physical can lead to great experiences and happiness. I may not get great joy from the hammer itself that I bought or the galvanized nails, but the new raised beds that we created in my parents’ yard are a source of pride for us, help my parents enjoy their yard more and we have some great stories from the experience. The same might be true for someone who buys an old Mustang to fix up, a purchase that could keep you… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  No Debt MBA

I totally agree! When I think of the dreaded “stuff”, I think of things that don’t get used or enjoyed. My craft tools and sewing machine aren’t “stuff” to me — they’re useful tools that bring experiences and enjoyment. I like to work with my hands. I have many memories of working on projects with loved ones and friends and family teaching me new things.

Nancy L.
Nancy L.
8 years ago

I think the big difference for me between “now” and “then” is that my ‘stuff’ purchase are now far more considered. In the past, I would identify a problem (“I need a camera!” or “The living room is looking really dull!) and the second I found one, I felt compelled to run out and solve it. Only the quick solutions were often (A) unnecessary, (B) overkill, or (C) the cause of new problems. The stuff I bought was either very cheaply made or of far greater quality than I needed, and it was rare that I felt like I’d solved… Read more »

Leah
Leah
8 years ago
Reply to  Nancy L.

Nancy, I love your process! I’ve got both a dSLR and a small point-and-shoot camera I bought my SO. He rarely takes pictures (tho he is learning how to use my dSLR). I’ve found that I take just as many pics with the point-and-shoot because it can fit in my purse. I like my dSLR for certain applications (especially taking action and kid shots) . . . but for everyday use? The grab and go camera totally wins out. I take tons of photos, so it is worth it to me to have both cameras. But for most people who… Read more »

jarobinson
jarobinson
8 years ago

The best example I have of this is the fireplace my husband and I added to our townhouse. Yes, it’s a material thing, but it gives us so many wonderful experiences (or improves other ones)! I warm up next to it in the morning when I get out of bed. I sit close to it when I drink my tea. We gather around it to open Christmas presents. It’s relaxing, and warming, and welcoming. Much more of an experience than just Stuff!

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago

Very interesting what you say about digital SLRs. It sounds like you have the photography skills to make the most of such an advanced camera, but hasn’t anyone else noticed how common these cameras are becoming? I’ve noticed they are very often taken on flights as an “extra item” in place of a purse/handbag. Isn’t this a case of “all the gear, no idea”? I think these cameras are mostly just status symbols for people who don’t have a clue how to use them properly. And the popularity of these photo sharing websites seems to be the cyber equivalent of… Read more »

phoenix
phoenix
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I have one of the nice SLRs and adore it. I think one of the great points about it is that you don’t have to know a thing about the camera in order to take professional grade pictures. On our last camera (which was not ditigal), there had a really steep learning curve, but was nice enough that my husband used it for his wedding photography business. He jokes that with some of the nice cameras, everybody can be their own professional photographer, if they have the eye for the scene. As for the pictures losing their power because everybody… Read more »

Joe
Joe
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I was on the fence about getting a digital SLR, but its really way too much camera for me. I had a super old digital camera that took pretty good pictures, but used my wife’s newer point and shoot to take pictures on our honeymoon. While the pictures were OK, there were just some that I couldn’t get. I decided to go down the middle and get something that had all of the little tweaks of an SLR if I wanted them, but was also fairly small. I got a Powershot G10, and I have NEVER regretted it, it takes… Read more »

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

It’s interesting to hear that modern SLRs are designed to be used by people who don’t know about photography. I didn’t know that. I would agree with Joe that one of those in-between cameras with certain SLR functions is probably best for most amateurs. As for sharing photos, the message from Google, Flickr etc. always seems to be, “Share your images with the world.” *That’s* what I find a bit vain – why should the world beyond my friends and family care? And that’s what has devalued a lot of admittedly beautiful photographs, because everyone seems to be taking them.… Read more »

Mike Holman
Mike Holman
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Digital SLRs weren’t created for professionals alone – if they were, they’d cost $2k. They make better pictures possible for yahoos like myself for a fairly small cost.

The number one reason I have a SLR is because it is much faster than non-SLR cameras when taking a flash picture indoors. My kids won’t sit still for a picture, so I can take much better pictures with the SLR (since the kids are still in the picture frame).

Eric J. Nisall
Eric J. Nisall
8 years ago

I totally agree with J.D.’s comment, quality is well worth the price in many instances.

“Ely’s” comment struck me as odd. Not because I don’t understand, because I do, and I completely agree with her viewpoint, but rather due to the fact that I seriously doubt that many people in the PF-world will see that as an obvious choice. I’ve seen plenty of articles and posts (particularly here) condemning the types of examples mentioned in her comment.

Traciatim
Traciatim
8 years ago

“A digital SLR camera. You know those people who buy way too much camera for their skill level? Well I’m no Ansel Adams, but I was the opposite. I’ve taken photography classes, studied books and magazines, played with screens and bouncing light and filters and such, and I take pictures almost daily. Up until I bought my digital SLR last month, my primary camera was the one on my phone.” For most people however a high end point and shoot with a nice lens like a Panasonic LX5, Canaon S95, or Olympus XZ-1 would be a far better choice. For… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Traciatim

You know, I read an article in grad school that argued that photography is shaping our experiences. (If I can find it again, I’ll come back and post the reference!) The example the author used was weddings and how taking pictures disrupts the normal flow of events — like artificially posing for the camera while signing the registry, stopping in certain points at certain times for a photo op, etc. Often wedding pictures are as much about capturing the material details — the dress, the flowers, the hair, etc — as the people involved! I’m not sure I totally agree… Read more »

Wojo
Wojo
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Yes! I completely agree with that assessment. During many trips, I’ll purposefully leave the camera at home for a day or two to “be in the moment.” Otherwise, I just find myself snapping photos all the time of the “experience” instead of actually being in the “experience.” It’s a bit funny because people freak out when I don’t bring the camera, but I find it refreshing.

lijakaca
lijakaca
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I agree with this so much. It’s the worst with weddings, but the photography as part of an event can interrupt many things. I remember noticing this in Japan, where almost everyone brings a camera and there are often group shots that have to be taken with 5 or 6 people’s cameras. However, I think I also learned some ways to minimize this there: at a social event, take a couple group pics at the beginning, it can help break the ice and then it’s over. If someone wants to take pics after that, they’re going to be candid and… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  lijakaca

I have found rather the opposite. I never did much photography before getting my first digital camera, a mid/low range PowerShot. I’ve since upgraded one level – it’s still not a DSLR – but since using it I’ve become utterly fearless about what I will attempt to photograph, and in consequence I’ve built my skills. What’s more particularly to the point, though, is I find I study a given scene with *more* attention, not less, before I raise my camera. The shots I take are more likely to be abstract details than landscapes or “snapshots.” (There are hardly ever people… Read more »

KS
KS
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I find that with camera phones, people increasingly document their experiences (here’s my lunch! Here’s where we stopped for lunch! Here’s a waterfall!) before LIVING them. I’m not a very visual person so I don’t do that (and don’t have a camera phone). Lots to think about on this Stuff thing. My husband and I arrived in Ireland 3 days ago with 3 suitcases each, 2 carry-on bags each, and 3 pets each. We also still have a bunch of Stuff coming. I’m panicking about where to put it all – storage is at a premium here. It’s easy to… Read more »

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
8 years ago
Reply to  Traciatim

I think the DSLR backlash is unjustified. Most people can’t use 90% of the features of their computers, but nobody says they shouldn’t buy the one with the bigger screen or faster processor because of that. Sure, lots of people have DSLR cameras who don’t know anything about how to use them except to leave the dial on “auto” and click the button. Big deal. Where’s the harm in that? Given that they’d be doing the same with a point and shoot, they probably still get nicer pictures out of a DSLR with a big APS-C sensor on auto than… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

There seem to be some things that people feel free to be smug about, like flat screens. I guess DSLRs are a little like that too. I don’t want a flat screen. But really, I love my stuff. I guess people think that because they don’t have or want a dslr or a flat screen they are kind of better or more self aware than people who do. My friends rave about their big screens. And I have to admit, when I go over to one of their homes, it is fun to see a movie on such a large… Read more »

Ali
Ali
8 years ago
Reply to  Traciatim

I worked in the photo business through school (film school), and have spent a lot of money on camera equipment over the years. However, as I get older, I find that the activity of photography is not as important to me. Most of the photos I take are snapshots, which I think is the case for most people. Frankly, my D90 is too much camera for me and I’m selling it. If you don’t know what exposure compensation and depth of field are, you probably don’t need a DSLR. There are plenty of compacts that will give you the same… Read more »

Anna
Anna
8 years ago

I like the idea of stuff-as-experience or stuff-as-gateway (to experiences). I have a small but growing board game collection, which is used when I have friends over, when my family visits, and occasionally when I go to board game meetups. They are definitely stuff (and expensive, awkward-to-store stuff at that) but well worth it.

olga
olga
8 years ago

The blurrign line, indeed. I am all about experiences, but to experience what I like I need a few items to make it more enjoyable. Like, good trail running shoes and socks. Good pack. Well, that’s about it:) Still, I hear you on often merging things and doings. As long as those are prioritized in the right order and in the right amount.

Laura in Cancun
Laura in Cancun
8 years ago

April,

I bookmarked your original 2-part post a few months ago, and I love this one as well. Keep up the great writing! I love your balance between financial and fun 🙂

Katie
Katie
8 years ago

Not to be nitpicky, but I have to say, I’ve never understood the reasoning behind capitalizing “Stuff.” It makes it into some mythical bad guy – it’s not, it’s just, you know, stuff.

Joe
Joe
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

Its JD’s editing, he likes to capitalize things (I originally wrote “stuff”). “Big Picture” “Stuff” etc. there are more he capitalizes, and there have been a couple of explanations for it… but I can’t seem to find them right now.

Jay
Jay
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

count me as one who hates the capitalization of stuff. too me, its extremely gimicky and feels somewhat forced. it makes me cringe when i see it

phoenix
phoenix
8 years ago

I love the post. The age-old advice about buying experiences and not stuff never really seemed to fit me. I am a family girl who loves to travel, but I can travel cheap. And I’m home more often than I travel. I get frustrated with a house that doesn’t work for me. Most of our recent purchases really bring me more happiness than I thought they were “supposed” to, but in each case, I really wanted those and scrimped and saved for a while to get them. And they made my life better in some way. My old dining room… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

I recently bought an ice cream making machine (on sale, at Costco, with a coupon: $24 plus tax). The “experiences” provided by this piece of kitchen gear are *amazing*.

Carly
Carly
8 years ago

Thank you for this, April 😀 You presented a great side to “Stuff” (not Stuff-itis), but items that make us lastingly happier.

And, yeah, you’re so CUTE about the boots!

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago

This was a very thoughtful post on mindful spending. I liked it. This summer I opted for a season of experiences by investing in membership in our local community sailing program. Because it’s heavily subsidized by our local university, I can join the club for $500 a year, get a few hours of lessons, and borrow a different boat every day of the week all season long. It’s been amazing. Learning a new skill in my 40s is exhilarating. And terminology that used to be entirely foreign to me (on a port tack sailing a beam reach, anyone?) is now… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

Thanks for a great post! When I used to make minimum wage I used to measure stuff in terms of time, which isn’t very groundbreaking, but I think I do need to get back in that habit. Let’s say I wanted to buy a CD that cost $18 and I made $7 an hour at work. It would have cost me a little over 2.5 hours of my life in terms of work. So I’d ask myself if I would enjoy the CD for more than 2.5 hours, and usually the answer was yes. If I thought the answer was… Read more »

Matt
Matt
8 years ago

This is a great post! I was brought up around a debt-free environment and since I graduated last year I paid off all my loans and currently have no consumer debt. Last year I did a solo backpacking trip after I graduated and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I don’t buy things now I don’t need. I would rather save up for travel now, while I’m young. I know having a nice 1080p LED TV won’t make me happy, and that is why I save my money for experiences!

Joe
Joe
8 years ago

So… at risk of exposing myself as the true geek I am (yes, this is going to be long and geeky, so just skip if you don’t care). What about LEGO®? A LEGO® set is both stuff (in that its little plastic bricks) but it is also the experience that you get putting it together, and playing with the set. But you can also build other things with said LEGO®, use your imagination, create new things, etc. Yeah, its super random but I have been going through all of my old LEGO® sets, sorting pieces for cleaning and reassembly, and… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

I call them legos because I see no need to do the Company’s marketing work for them unless they’re going to pay me.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

And I refuse to capitalize the r in realtor for the same reason 😛

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

My sentiments exactly.

The Other Brian
The Other Brian
8 years ago
Reply to  Katie

I am going to make a Xerox® of this comment; right after I wipe my nose with a Kleenex®.

Ru
Ru
8 years ago
Reply to  Joe

Hooray, someone else who get’s wound up by the “legos” thing! It’s Lego or Lego bricks or pieces of Lego, not “legos”.

I’m with you on stuff that also is an experience. My sewing machine lets me make my own clothes, recycle textiles into quilts, make presents for friend and furnish my home. It’s a tool for learning as well as a piece of cherished equipment!

Material goods can open doors to happiness- how many of us feel fantastic when we get complimented on our outfit? Bonus points if you get chatted up wearing something you bought second hand!

JLL
JLL
8 years ago

My tendencies are to spend my money more on experiences, particularly travel, dining/drinking and education, though there’s plenty of tangible expenses wrapped into both categories. Whenever time and money have afforded me the opportunity to take advantage of an occasion to travel, I have done it, partially because of the fear of not having another opportunity as life progresses and responsibilities start piling on. Dining/drinking gives me the opportunity to work on friendships and have some fun. Also, I find whenever I sink money into expensive clothes or other “stuff”, invariably I somehow ruin the clothes the first time I… Read more »

lijakaca
lijakaca
8 years ago

I also find that the line between stuff and experiences is blurry for me. I live in an apartment so I can’t buy too much stuff, but my hobby is playing games, and my favourites are imports, so I end up collecting them. And they each provide me with several hours worth of experience as well as material to discuss with friends who share my interest. I am still working on purging other stuff though: I have too many clothes, and CDs/DVDs/books that I don’t really need to keep physical copies of. I will always keep some though: the CD… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

I disagree with the DSLR bullet. If you enjoy taking photos at weddings, or family events a DSLR camera will take breathtaking shots even on automatic mode. Like a previous posters husband said, “you just need to have the eye for the right shot”. And just because people “may have bought too much camera for their skill level” this does not mean they need to remain “underlings to the DSLR camera gods” forever. There are people that simply enjoy a challenge, or like to tinker or may even discover a hidden passion with which can be developed further thanks to… Read more »

Tara@riceandbeanslife
8 years ago

Stuff for the sake of stuff is just a ticket to a yardsale down the road. The right tool for the job-whatever the job might be-will always make the job (or experience) more enjoyable! We have an old CRT television and rabbit ears on it because we’d rather be outside. But we have good quality bikes in the garage because we bike a lot. That’s where our values lie and it’s an example of the right tool for the job for us. When we lived in the South with a big yard we had a riding lawn mower because it… Read more »

Tanya
Tanya
8 years ago

“Many times Stuff makes an experience possible or easier or more pleasurable.” I think you hit the nail on the head with this. This weekend, for example, my best friend and I are hosting a garden tea party for the women in our families and some close friends. It’s a lot more fun because between us, we have all the linens and dishes and teapots and “stuff” we need to make it a lovely, very special experience. It would be a very different experience if everyone sat at empty card tables drinking out of whatever coffee mugs we could round… Read more »

Vin
Vin
8 years ago

I think I’ve been on the experience-over-stuff path for quite some time, naturally. I really have no need to accumulate any amount of stuff. I enjoy spending my money on experiences that I can remember and will help me solidify my relationships with other people.

The last “thing” I bought was a flat screen TV for my living room. I think I’ve used the thing 10 times in a year.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago

Rarely are experiences discussed and compared on a cost level. Instead it’s always “don’t buy stuff, experiences will make you happier”. What about more expensive experiences? Is that a good way to spend my money? Am I getting a good happiness bang for my buck? Could I be replacing those experiences with cheaper ones that make me just as happy? A few years ago my husband and I went to Europe. It was a great trip. Then after a couple of years we took a road trip to see some friends and a couple of sights. Very different kind of… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I think you have a smart approach. If something makes you happy without spending a lot, then go for it 🙂 That doesn’t mean we have to shun the expensive experience though. I think there’s something to be said for balance. For example, I love books. However, I find free books are as enjoyable as books I buy. (“Free” being library books, books borrowed from friends and free classics I can read online). Buying used instead of new doesn’t affect my enjoyment either. I still buy some books new, but I can get more from my entertainment budget by incorporating… Read more »

Meg
Meg
8 years ago

This finally makes me feel like I’m doing something *right* with my money. My sort of traveling is a move every few years courtesy of the Air Force, and thanks to it again my husband has a ridiculously hard time getting time off for us to take trips. I get a little ticked every time I see things preaching the good of traveling — Not all of us can take off whenever we want to. (No, that’s not making excuses, it’s just the truth.) Instead of lamenting over the trips we can’t take, we indulge in our hobby — cars.… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Meg

Great comment! Isn’t that what our money is for?! Four cars! Crunchy lifestyle designers everywhere are crying. 🙂

I’d love to travel around the world.Who wouldn’t if they had endless time, money and no responsiblities! I don’t want to travel around the world with a young child. I know people do it. I don’t want to. So until he’s older, potential travel is on hold.

I fill my time. And we still have loads of fun at home!

Some people act as if you can never have fun at home!

Charlotte
Charlotte
8 years ago

April – Do you have a picture of those boots? I’m curious now…lol

SB (One Cent At A Time)
SB (One Cent At A Time)
8 years ago

I would spend money on creating lasting memories. Last year we took a road trip in north east, that costed us money but we had covered 15 states on road for 21 days. The things we experienced is in valuable. I am a music lover, seeing rolling stones live here in Florida was a great worth of my money. Stuffs won’t bring that to me, not even a 55″ TV. May be a Porche or Ferrari would bring that kind of happiness, but that is too much money we are talking about. Hope I am clear in my view..what you… Read more »

First Gen American
First Gen American
8 years ago

I think you hit the nail on the head with your closing paragraph.

Stuff does make people happy if they actually use it for experiences. A mountain bike that is a towel rack does not make someone happy. But to someone who is a mountain biker and uses it to bike on a regular basis does make them happy.

WE’ve used our canoe an awful lot since we bought it for various family experiences. Yes, it’s stuff and I’m fine having it.

margot
margot
8 years ago

OMG, this quote from the article depressed me: “A big screen television or basement renovation might encourage more family interaction and teens might be more willing to bring their friends by to entertain instead of being in the streets, a win-win for parents.” Really?? What a sad statement on American culture and this person’s parenting. Watching TV together is not quality family time, and it does not involve quality family interaction. If you really want quality time as a family, throw out your TV. And a giant TV does not mean that kids will stay off the street or bring… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  margot

I have fond memories of movie nights with friends in high school and university. Did we not have anything better to do? We all jobs, high marks, participated in extra curricular activities, enjoyed hobbies and got together for activities that didn’t involve a screen — like games nights and day trips. Renting a movie and making a bowl of popcorn was a cheap night together so we could save our money for university. In addition, we had family movie nights too. Me and my siblings are quite spread out in age so it’s hard to find “quality time” activities to… Read more »

ali
ali
8 years ago
Reply to  margot

It doesn’t have to be either or, people can do both. Have family movie nights or all watch the same tv show or a documentary or whatever. Plus a lot of people who watch tv discuss the episodes, plot, characters at length and in depth. The way one would discuss a book. Also watching something together can help, especially in complicated relationships. I love my Dad, but we are very very different in our views about the world and there are a lot of things we just don’t discuss because it never ends well. We have tons of experiences together… Read more »

phoenix
phoenix
8 years ago
Reply to  margot

I’m generally an anti-TV person, but my hubby bought a nice, big flatscreen and a Wii with a bonus check as a Christmas gift “for the family.” At first, I was secretly iritated, but I have to admit, it really does create great, ACTIVE memories. He and my daughters play Harry Potter Legos (LEGO?) and we all play this Wii game called “Active Life” which has games that are more active than any of my workout DVDs. We have a movie night once a week now, and my girls prefer watching a movie at home now, rather than going to… Read more »

smedleyb
smedleyb
8 years ago

Experience over stuff.

It’s the only way to live.

Screw the plasma and get me to Florida with the wife and kids.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
8 years ago

Finally a post about this topic that I can agree with! I want both experience and stuff. 🙂

Brent
Brent
8 years ago

My wife and I, just this past week, spent the weekend in Reno, Nevada. I was there on business while she traveled along. One afternoon we drove up to see Lake Tahoe. It was absolutely beautiful. I am leaning more toward the experiences over stuff.

Josh Heckathorn @ Creditnet.com
Josh Heckathorn @ Creditnet.com
8 years ago

This is a great article. I’ve always been a minimalist when it comes to stuff, but we all accumulate things over time right? And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like nice things. I do.

What I’ve found, however, is that having more nice stuff creates more anxiety in my life. The last thing I need is more stress, so that’s what drives me to focus more of my spending on relationships, experiences, and the “necessary” stuff I need to enjoy those experiences.

Oskar
Oskar
8 years ago

I also agree with this, I am a real car freek and have previously owned two sportscars one Alfa Romeo GTV and one Nissan 350Z. They were a joy to drive and realy provided me with much enjoyment. Now we have small kids I drive a station wagon instead as it provides affordable transportation for the whole family and that is what we need right no. Most of my less car interested friends and coworkers drive far more expensive cars and I don’t get it…however when the kids are older I will once again own a sports car…:-)

marie
marie
8 years ago

I guess books and movies fall in that grey area. Obviously, you could rent/borrow them and still have the same experience, but personally, I love to re-read my worn copies of my favourite books over and over, and I think I’ve watched through my LOST season at least ten times.

To me, those ‘things’ are an experience…

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  marie

I’m the same way. Most of the books I’ve purchased are ones I’ve read over and over again, and I only buy DVDs I’ll enjoy many times. Sometimes I buy them new while other times I can wait it out and hunt for used.

I try not to feel too guilty about the “stuff” I don’t use — I just donate it and let it be useful for someone else 🙂

marie
marie
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Exactly. I only have three series: LOST, Gilmore Girls, and Battlestar Galactica. The last two I bought used from Craigslist. I only have about 20 dvds. I’ve watched them all numerous times.

As for books, I have maybe 100 now? But I’ve read them all and they are all dear to me. When I last moved I got rid of a lot of movies and books that weren’t special or that I knew I wouldn’t watch again.

krantcents
krantcents
8 years ago

Experiences such as travel, things with our children, things with friends and family trump everything else. I still remember trips with family more than 50 years ago. Some of my best memories are of travel and other experiences. The stuff that has meaning can be used over and over again to create new experiences.

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago

I am enjoying the comments to this post. People are truly unique and their experiences and how they relate to people and things around them is a very individual experience. The comments and the article made me think about my own situation at this time. We have lived a rather gypsy lifestyle due to work. We don’t own a home – yet (getting close to retirement so am actively looking) – and have accumulated a fair amount of ‘stuff’ from having lived all over. We have had plenty of experiences: living on the local economy in a poor west-African country… Read more »

Karen in MN
Karen in MN
8 years ago

It seems like the hairsplitting questions regarding “is it experience or is it stuff” is just about whether you can justify the spending or not. Otherwise why would anyone care?

As long as you’re a concious consumer and you pay attention to your finances, what’s wrong with spending your money wherever it makes you happy?

I often feel like the “experiences” people are just using that oft-quoted study to justify their overspending on travel etc.

If you can’t afford it, it doesn’t suddenly make it a good decision just because it’s an experience.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Karen in MN

Agreed! I’m not sure which is more frustrating: people telling me I need to buy this or that item or people telling me I should be travelling to this place or that. Somehow I’m not “living the good life” if I’m not buying electronics, eating out and travelling the globe. I try to remember that in each case, the people putting pressure on me just want me to share something that makes them happy. Incidentally, the study doesn’t say that spending more equals more happiness, or that travel is the only experience worth spending on. In some ways, a cooking… Read more »

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

I tend to buy ‘stuff’ wrongly thinking that it will bring more experiences. For example, I have an old bike that I never ride. It works, but not pretty. I then wrongly think that buying a new bike will make me ride more. Nope, it doesn’t change my habits, just adds to the clutter.

AEBinNC
AEBinNC
8 years ago
Reply to  Sam

It’s funny how we buy things that we think will “make” us do something. I have an older mac and when I-life 9 came out it had garage band. I bought it thinking it would spark some interest in picking my guitar up again. Nope, one of the worst 80 dollar purchases I have ever made. However, I have learned that buying something will not make me practice something I wasn’t really interested in, in the first place.

AEBinNC
AEBinNC
8 years ago

How about paying off a loan or paying down debt? What does the science say about the amount of pleasure/ joy spent this way? When I married my wife I owed 8k on my car, she owed 10k on hers. Plus she had 12k in credit card debt. Three years latter we’ve got all of those paid off. We did have lots of help though. 8K came from the government when we bought our first home and 6k came as wedding presents. Her parents are very traditional and they paid for the entire wedding so we didn’t incur any new… Read more »

Joe Amadon
Joe Amadon
8 years ago
Reply to  AEBinNC

Good point. For me, paying off debt is a mixed bag. I feel good about the portion that goes to the principal. I feel horrible about the part that goes towards the interest. And when it is all paid off I feel incredible relief like I just finished a long run.

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago

I agree with the person who said it is personality based. Many years ago, I took an unpaid leave of absence from my job(before marriage and kids) and spent 4 months backpacking in Europe and Asia. co-workers and friends were all saying but it will cost you money to travel and you won’t make money for the 4 months. But here I am 30 years later- and the memories and experiences are still strong- and helped form the rest of my life. The money would not have made anywhere close to the difference the trip did. And for me, had… Read more »

Melissa
Melissa
8 years ago

Love this post! I agree that buying stuff is often painted as a personal sin or something. I love experiences as much as the next person, but you know what? I get a LOT of enjoyment out of my stand mixer. And my 24 inch computer screen. I’m getting giddy just thinking about the earrings I bought the other day, because I really like them. That’s not to say I spend all or most of my discretionary income on stuff – most of it IS saved for long-term things, like experiences – but it’s all about balance. It’s not a… Read more »

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