Should You Spend Your Money on Things or an Experience?

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

In a consumerist culture, it’s easy to get into the habit of spending money to buy things, and to also assume that having more things will make us happier. Unfortunately, many of us have experienced buyer’s remorse. A trendy new gadget might entertain us for a few weeks, but then we are left feeling empty or like we wasted our money. Of course, there are certainly times when it’s justifiable to purchase something, even if you are only buying it because you want it and not because you need it. Yet, participating in an experience can be more satisfying at times than purchasing something, even though an experience lives in your mind rather than on your coffee table or in your work cubicle. So how do you know when to spend your money on things, and when to invest in an experience?

One of the reasons that purchasing things often results in buyer’s remorse is because we¬†impulse shop. We think only about what we want right away, and not about what we want in the long run. Things are fun for a while, but most things lose their appeal after we get used to them. Of course, there are some things that we might genuinely need, and we might enjoy for a long time to come. If you really enjoy tennis, then purchasing a high quality tennis racket might be worth it. On the other hand, trading in your old phone and getting the newest version each year will probably waste money in the long run.

In order to participate in an experience, we often have to plan ahead of time. Trips, classes, and other experiences may require you to save money, and you therefore will have time to really think about whether or not you should spend your money on the experience itself. Of course, the same can be true of more expensive items that you buy; giving yourself time to truly think about how important the item or experience is to the future can help you spend your money wisely.

Stuff vs. happiness

People often assume that more money will make them happier, and so will buying more things. However, according to Psychology Today, while having more money might make you more satisfied, it won’t necessarily make you happier because those are not the same thing. When we spend our money on things, especially things we don’t need, the happiness is often fleeting.

On the other hand, when we spend money on an experience, we may have happy memories that last for a while. According to the Cornell Chronicle, just talking about your experiences can make you happier than talking about your things. A Cornell study found that talking about an experience allows you to relive it, which makes you enjoy the experience even more. The study found that the same is not true about material goods.

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

Some things are necessary, and you need to consider that when deciding what you should spend your money on. Most experiences are not necessary, but many things are. If you are in debt, or you have a strict budget, you may need to spend your money on what you actually need, such as clothing and food, and not on an experience. However, when your shopping list moves past basic needs, that is when you really need to think about whether or not what you are buying is necessary.

The same is true of an experience. Although most experiences are not necessary, you may feel that certain experiences are (such as traveling to a family member’s wedding, or taking your first vacation in five years, and so on.) When you are working with limited funds, it can be difficult to justify an experience or an unnecessary item.

The question of whether to spend your money on an experience or on things is a difficult one to answer because it often depends on the situation. There are times when you will want or need to buy things. However, it is clear that although things may make you momentarily happy, an experience has the potential to make you happier, for longer periods of time. Some experiences, such as going to college, can help you in other ways than just boosting your happiness. In addition, you can relive an experience by sharing it with others, bonding with the people who shared the experience with you, and by looking at photos. On the other hand, possessions could eventually break or lose their appeal.

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