Buying Things vs. Buying Memories

by Debra L. Karplus

Which is a better use of your money: paying for an experience, such as a vacation, or buying a tangible item that you can use and keep? We explore buying things vs. buying memories.

Logic tells you that spending money on stuff, tangible material goods, is wiser than spending on intangibles because you’ll have something that could be yours forever, instead of spending on experiences and fleeting moments that come and go quickly. But search online and read what researchers say and frugal you may be very surprised at the findings.

Unlike your assumption, materials goods aren’t as likely to bring happiness as thought.

According to FastCompany.com, happiness is more likely to come from experiences than from tangible goods. The rationale is that things people acquire – electronics, televisions, cars or jewelry, for example – are sometimes viewed as status symbols, quickly losing their luster, figuratively speaking; the thrill of owning them fades, sometimes very fast.

Spending on experiences has more staying power and the ability to cause happiness.

On Entrepreneur.com it’s reported that millennials may have an edge on their older counterparts, spending money on experiences like hiking and music festivals. Approximately 72% of millennials value experiences more than stuff.

Material goods contribute to a sense of belonging, a sameness that you’re like everyone else because of that new trendy purchase.

But experiences provide people a sense of purpose and passion; unlike material acquisitions, experiences grow in value rather than fade. Think about your recent fabulous vacation. You have boatloads of photos of family enjoying amazing scenery.

And oh those stories you love to tell repeatedly that make the listener smile. Be it the whacky story of missing your airport connection or breathtaking scenery while riding Amtrak’s Southwest Chief across southern Arizona, the experience becomes part of you, creating memories that you’ll treasure forever.

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How does your frugal lifestyle fit with spending on intangibles versus tangibles?

As a frugal person, you already know money-saving tricks with coupons, deals and holiday sales. You know how to maximize a supermarket trip, buying generics over name brands. You know how, when and where to purchase used items versus new ones. You know when to buy top-of-the-line items, and when to purchase bargains. You know how to barter goods and services.

But how does one live frugally while capturing the excitement and joy of creating treasured life experiences without breaking the bank? You may have heard the ad on TV of a group trip offered by a local travel group for 8 days in Iceland, prices at $4182 and up. You’ve never been to Iceland and how fun that would be for the family to go – total cost approximately $20,000.

But wait a minute! Your family has never been to Upper Peninsula, Michigan. No matter where in the United States you live, a road trip to this very beautiful part of America can be enjoyed by your family for a much, much smaller amount of money than that packaged Iceland trip. Add up the cost of driving there, gas and incidentals, food along the way, some local attractions, and lodging and you can have quite a lovely holiday at a more affordable price. And it can be very memorable. Stay at a campground and really cut the cost. Or rent a house via Airbnb.com and bring in meals from a nearby grocery and you can feed your family for about the same as it might cost at home.

Life can be rich with wonderful memories whether they be travel or day-to-day activities in or near your home. Get your family involved in bicycling or hiking. The exercise is great. The cost is relatively nominal and the experiences you have will be with you forever and ever.

Are you getting value for the cost incurred?

Before committing to that “once-in-a-lifetime vacation”, you must look at the big picture and keep perspective on what you can truly afford. Living life to its fullest is a wonderful pursuit but there may be longer term reasons to not jump in on the “experience bandwagon” in a grandiose way. If you’re seeking something you cannot really afford, it’s prudent to rethink it. After all, what joy is there in planning a dream vacation if it means overspending on a credit card with enormous interest rates (over 13% these days!). The angst from accumulating debt to finance a dream experience is simply not worth it.

In the past few years, “Staycations” have become increasingly popular. People are finding new and interesting places to visit and things to do within their own town or neighborhood. Next time you get the urge to “live big”, search closer to home for a plan that is in sync with what you can afford.

Reviewed December 2019

About the Author

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (Kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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