Give Me the Goods: Why I Value Things Over Experiences

I’ve previously talked about how much I love the money-saving practice of self-massage. That being the case, I recently decided to treat myself by purchasing a top-of-the-line handheld vibrating massage tool. It cost me $300.

Before you call me a spendthrift and suggest I should have gone dumpster diving for spare parts and learned to weld them into something approximating this massage tool, hear me out.

I use this device every day, it should last for years, and it brings me so much joy. When I use the massage tool on my feet, it feels like a thousand tiny angels are tap dancing on my arches. If that’s not worth $300 — when I have no debt and a 60% savings rate — I don’t know what is.

Things vs. Experiences

My new device got me thinking about the divide in the personal finance community over those who value things versus those who value experiences. At the moment, it’s not cool to want things. I would not be worried about backlash to this post if I were writing about how I was travel hacking my way across South America for a week on “only” three hundred bucks. That would be acceptable, because it’s an experience — especially among my generation.

A recent study found that 72 percent of millennials prefer to spend money on experiences rather than things, and it’s becoming dogma that people my age should be valuing experiences over all else. The notion is so commonplace that brands are now trying to capitalize on the “experience economy” with tactics like planning custom trips for millennials. It’s even become a budgeting priority, as evidenced by articles in the popular press like “How to Create a Budget That Prioritizes Experiences Over Things.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against a good vacation or a pricey yoga class every now and then. I just want to be a small voice for the other side. For the folks who would rather spend a thousand dollars on an extremely comfortable sofa that they’ll use for the next 15 years, rather than on a one-week pilgrimage to a music festival.

The biggest issue for me is that the experience-focused mindset does not fit with my personality type. As an introverted person, I prefer quiet nights at home to going out and hitting the bars. In fact, I’m comfortable staying in on many levels, including “staying in” my city the majority of the year rather than pursuing travel. I love holiday travel to see my family, and the occasional cross-country trip to visit an old friend, but I’m not raring to explore the world. If I’m mindful of all the little wonders around me, I think that I can get as much out of a walk in my local park as I could on a walk through the Swiss Alps. It’s all about your mindset.

Rather than fighting against my genetic predispositions by pretending to be someone I’m not, I choose to work with them to maximize my personal happiness. And according to a research paper out of the University of Cambridge titled “Money Buys Happiness When the Spending Fits Our Personality,” I’m on the right track. The study found that “individuals spend more on products that match their personality, and that people whose purchases better match their personality report higher levels of life satisfaction.” So instead of criticizing each others’ choices, let’s realize that we’re all different, and that there’s no right or wrong way to spend money in the pursuit of happiness.

I also might be more inclined to spend money on things because I make sure most of the things I buy are high quality and durable. Those of us on “Team Things” aren’t saying that happiness can be found in a trendy outfit that only gets worn once. We’re saying that it’s hard to calculate the total amount of joy you can get out of a wonderfully built item that you can use day after day, year after year.

Say what you will about the life-changing experience you had zip-lining in Costa Rica, but you can only do that every so often. If you buy a top-of-the-line pair of headphones for the amount of money you’d have spent just on airfare, you get to reap the benefits of peak audio craftsmanship every single day.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m becoming more sentimental about the stuff I own. I didn’t use to care about hanging on to trophies, homework from middle school, or tickets to concerts. But lately, I have been finding a lot of joy in curating a collection of stuff that has meaning to me. I’ll never be a hoarder, but I find it nice to have pieces of my past that I can look at and use to recollect a happy memory. This feeling extends to pieces of art and even to more basic consumer goods like tables and chairs. They all come with their own story.

I know that the experience-minded folks get the same feeling from looking back on pictures of their travels, and that’s great. My point is that both approaches are valid and neither side should lay claim to the moral high ground.

Finally, experiences don’t entice me because I do my best to reduce the amount of FOMO I feel. A poll by Harris Insights and Analytics found that “a craving for recognition and a fear of missing out help drive millennials’ craving for experiences.” A study by McKinsey concurs, noting that keeping up with the Joneses used to be about wanting the same car or other material goods that your neighbor owned. Now, “with more consumers opting for experiences and sharing their stories and pictures online, people feel peer pressure to join in or keep up.”

By limiting my exposure to social media, practicing meditation, and taking breaks from technology altogether, I find I can keep FOMO at bay and I’m less inclined to be swept up in the experience mania that grips some of my peers. That’s not to say there’s no FOMO when it comes to consumer goods, but that’s less of an issue for me as it is not the dominant paradigm among my peers.

Summing Up

I like quality board games, laptops, headphones, shoes, cookware, camping gear, and books. They are all things, yet they all bring me lasting joy. Spending my discretionary funds on those items instead of on travel or skydiving lessons doesn’t make me bad, just different. The key for any of us is in figuring out what truly makes us happy, and then saving and setting aside enough money to follow that bliss.

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