Spending on Experiences Instead of Possessions

Spending your money on experiences instead of possessions results in more satisfaction. Thinking of taking that vacation but opt instead to buy a new bedroom set, maybe not the best choice according to this NYT piece.  I need to heed this advice on my next trip to the Apple Store–I’m seriously excited about owning an I-Pad, which is weird because I’m not into technology AT. ALL.  But there is something about that Apple Store that just seems to make people happy.  It’s all so futuristic and cool.  They e-mailed me my receipt from the middle of the room!  I wonder if they even take cash?  I know, I know, it’s all a facade.

But I digress…the NYT piece is all about spending our money on things that will make us happy, and how experiences make us happier than stuff.

One major finding is that spending money for an experience — concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in Monaco — produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on plain old stuff… (T)he only (consumption) category to be positively related to happiness was leisure: vacations, entertainment, sports and equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles.

According to retailers and analysts, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences than possessions over the last couple of years, opting to use their extra cash for nights at home with family, watching movies and playing games — or for “staycations” in the backyard. Many retailing professionals think this is not a fad, but rather “the new normal.”

“I think many of these changes are permanent changes,” says Jennifer Black, president of the retailing research company Jennifer Black & Associates and a member of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors in Oregon. “I think people are realizing they don’t need what they had. They’re more interested in creating memories.”

Seems pretty obvious to me,   And hey, for all us Catholic moms, adding another child to your family certainly creates memories and qualifies as an experience, right?

  • B-mama

    I can see the rationale behind this argument… but the nagging question in my brain is–When the experience is over, what do you have to show for it? With a possession, it can bring continual enjoyment for as long as you own the thing. I'd also say adding a child to the family brings on a whole mess of experiences to maximize the enjoyment!!

    • Mary Alice

      B, this is why I am a pretty intense picture taker. I do not have a great memory, but I love to look back at pictures and remember the good times we had as a family, and so do my kids. Our picture albums help create that “rosy glow” too, because you don't take a picture of the guy who stole your wallet in the train station, etc. The few “sad” pictures we have, like a crying baby who just dropped his ice cream, are usually funny in retrospect.I have worried about whether having a camera in my hand at all times takes me out of the present moment, but I find just the opposite — when I am taking pictures I am looking for the treasured details of the party, the interactions between people but also the flowers, decorations and the things that tell the story, like the now empty, crumb strewn dessert table that shows what a good time the kids have had.

  • Mary Alice

    It's funny, because I was just on my way over here to post this! This article gives a warm fuzzy view of how the recession is going to make things better by helping us reset our priorities, but the truth is that right now many people do not have the money to spend on either experiences or things. The woman profiled at the beginning is an extreme and very interesting case, but I think the point with her is that spending less altogether, and therefore having less debt and working less has made her happier.One thing is that cheap/free experiences can be just as valuable as expensive ones. This weekend, we spent one day at Sesame Place ($30 per person with discounted tickets) and one day at the beach ($14 total). We all had more fun at the beach. We bought a big beautiful house, but it turns out that the things we love most about our house are its proximity to a nature preserve where we can run/bike and an awesome sledding hill where we have gotten to know our neighbors. For more on the shopping/relationship issue, read Deep Economy. In America we have too much material goods and not enough relationships, but in poor countries people have plenty of community and no basic material goods, happiness is a balance.However, to add in some realism about what the recession has done to family life, The Times made the opposite argument on Sunday in the magazine:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/magazine/08FO

  • Mary Alice

    One last thing, I think that doing community service can be an experience that makes people happier, when you leave the soup kitchen you are so thankful for your imperfect house that a new one doesn't seem so important anymore.

  • rightsaidred

    MA, I knew you would find this article interesting, I thought of you as soon as I read it. I think one of the key points to the piece (which I didn't blog about) was the idea that you do need some basic level of financial income to feel satisfied. Obviously the article was not written for those that are without an income right now, or those who are very poor (I thought it funny that they mentioned sushi-rolling classes as a possible use of money! As if that would be priority for any family struggling financially!)But I digress…I also read the piece you linked to and really disagreed with a lot of the ideas. There is an assumption there that new deal policies actually helped get us out of the depression (an idea I STRONGLY disagree with, and I actually think the opposite argument can be made), and that really the governments policies of redistrubution are the end goal that will make everyone happy and society flourish, “it wasn’t individual families that reformed themselves after the crucible of the Depression. It was our society.” From an economic perspective, I don't buy it and I think this economic perspective is what motivates the entire piece. If we all sit around and wait for “society” to change via the next big Obama handout, we will all be miserable. I think the glass is half full approach, of cutting back, focusing more on our family, and putting on a happy face really does go a long way towards making us happy.

  • JMB

    The thing is, creating memories don't come cheap. Just ask me, we just spent a small fortune on driving across the country to a family reunion. Mind you, it was all worth it. We spent hours in the car together, we laughed at funny things we saw (Flintstone Park outside of Mt. Rushmore), we gorged on fast food, we listened to books on tape, we stayed at motelsand learned to take advantage of the “free breakfast!”, we realized that corn fields cover most of the interior United States. But cheap this trip wasn't. At the end of the day, as I look at my old kitchen sink and the formica countertop, I realize that I'm glad we blew our $ on the trip than updating my countertops. Because I do know that the thrill of granite and brand new will be slowly dissipated as stains are formed and eventually, they will be out of fashion and the next new thing will be the rage. Love lasts, stuff doesn't.

  • http://happilyeverjohnson.blogspot.com Queen B

    This is totally up my alley. Not that we have much money to spend on entertainment or possessions right now. But, I have found that 9 times out of 10 choosing the free activity with kids or my husband is just as if not more enjoyable as the pricey activity, the books we got from the library are more requested than the ones we bought, and the possessions we buy end up in boxes that are really heavy to haul each time we move. Except an Ipad or photos. Ditto to Red & MA on those two ;)

  • Mary Alice

    One thing that I think is tough is the concept of working hard to pay for stuff to keep up with the standards of those around you, this is an issue which has been with American families at least since the 1950's, but probably much further back. Right now, the media has even more power to create an unhappy longing for stuff, especially through celebrity and reality TV which make it seem like everyone has better stuff, vacations and parties than I have sitting at home.In addition to the idea that stuff doesn't make us happy, coveting stuff can make us very unhappy.

    • rightsaidred

      So I should stop coveting B-Mama's ipad? haha. But I think you are completely right here, and often our “happiness” financially is very much related to our perspective. Your suggestion to go work in a soup kitchen is great because it not only allows one to serve others (very rewarding experience) but it gives a whole new perspective. If you regularly spend time with those that have less stuff, you will feel much more content with your financial situation. This can be as simple as going to church in a less economically advantageous area, volunteering (as you suggested) or befriending other families with one working parent.


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