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buying experiences buying things

Over the last few years there’s been a push toward spending your money creating memories instead of just buying more stuff. That makes sense when you think of the memories you have of places you’ve gone and things you’ve done versus the random stuff you’ve bought over the years that’s now stored in the attic. posted an article that outlined “7 Reasons Why Spending Money on Experiences Makes Us Happier Than Buying Stuff”. These include how material items lose their “newness” quickly, materialism becomes about keeping up with the Jones’, and how experiences build social relationships.

Nearly a year later, Utpal Sholakia, Ph.D. wrote an article titled, “3 Drawbacks of Spending Your Money on Experiences”. Devil’s advocate is usually a fun perspective, so I gave it a read. My impression was it’s a counter perspective written for the sake of doing so.

Breaking It Down

Point 1: “The advice sets up the consumer’s decision as ‘spend on experiences vs. spend on things’ instead of the more relevant decision of “spend on experiences vs. not spend at all.”

Thanks, Doc. We’re aware that we need to save more, but that’s not the point. We ARE going to spend money, so why not spend it on creating memories that will bring joy for decades than sit at home doing nothing with the stuff we don’t have.

We drove to Disney when I was a kid. The car caught fire on the way there. We lost the keys in a river while tubing. The spare set of keys were in the trunk and we had to unload the car by removing the backseat. We collected a bathtub of hermit crabs from the beach…then forgot to take them back before we left the hotel. Bet housekeeping was MAAAAADDDDD!

Oddly enough, my sister and I were largely “meh” about Disneyworld, so we bailed after a few days. Because of that, I, as a 10-year-old kid, got to drive an airboat through the Florida swamps! It was the highlight of the trip and possibly my entire childhood. I’m sure a lot of that was stressful on my parents, but boy-oh-boy do I remember that trip! I’m glad they didn’t decide to stay home because the car was old or because we really couldn’t afford that major trip.

Point 2: “Most consumer experiences are mundane, variable, and even downright unpleasant.”

He brings up how “like going on an African Safari, visiting the Van Gogh museum, or watching a Broadway show…are rare, once-in-a-lifetime occurrences”. Since the article was written for Psychology Today, this seems like an odd perspective. That might be viable if ONLY the major experiences could bring joy. Dads know better.

Last weekend took the boy to see Paw Patrol Live. It was a Saturday afternoon in town, but it was a great time. Once-in-a-lifetime experience? Hopefully (kidding…sorta). Mundane? Oh no. Nothing about $15 cotton candy is mundane. But watching that 3-year old boy dance and sing for 90 minutes…those are memories we’ll have for a long time as parents and the kind of stuff he’ll remember doing as he gets older.

Point 3: “Repeated consumption of any experience diminishes our pleasure.”

I’ve read the same book with my kid 13,243 times. I’ve seen the same Paw Patrol 1,122 times. I’ve heard the same song on YouTube on infinite loop. I get the law of diminishing returns. But who takes the same trip over and over?

Disney? Ok, maybe if you’re like a few people I know. I purposefully DON’T keep going on the same vacation because I KNOW it won’t have the same effect. So when my family takes one big vacation every year, it’s gonna be fun and memorable and to a different place.


Probably nobody knows better than a parent how much better money is when it’s spent on experiences instead of stuff. A $300 weekend trip or another $300 worth of toys. Pretty sure they’ll remember the fun long after that toy is forgotten. This week was Spring Break which included a trip to the highly overrated, Peppa Pig World and lunch at the Rainforest Cafe.


Of course, there are some exceptions and times when you SHOULD buy stuff. Last year we spent a metric crap-ton of money on a playset for the backyard. But it will provide years of fun and memories for him and his friends. The bicycle? Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are on a bike with friends whether it was doing tricks that landed me in the ER with stitches in my lip, or exploring the neighborhood and tasting independence. Without the stuff, none of that happens.

It needs to be acknowledged that this descision assumes you have the financial ability to decide whether to buy either experiences or stuff. I’ve been in a position where it was a struggle to buy groceries, cover rent, and pay bills. Probably not a great idea to spend a bunch of money or rack up credit card debt for a trip which will likely bring less happiness than being able to cover all the bills for the month and still have a great movie night at home with the family.


Spend your money wisely and don’t think that buying your kids another video game will be money better spent than going to a basketball game, taking a train ride across town, or getting away for the weekend as a family. Do things with your kids that enable them to learn, experience new cultures, and become better people. This is where the value of time and money can be taught. Money spent building relationships is much better allocated than money spent building collections of stuff you never use.

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