If you choose to blow your hard earned cash on avocado toasts, soy lattes or monster trucks Australian billionaires will mock you and men with large mustaches are likely to offer to punch you in the face. On the other hand, should you claim to be spending on “experiences”, you are greeted with appreciative nods and pats on the back.
Somewhere along the way we seem to have collectively decided that experiences are superior to things. That spending on experiences makes us superior to those mere mortals who accumulate stuff. That we are wiser, we are smarter, we are better than those poor misguided consumers of commodities.
Is there any truth to this? Or is the simple truth that spending is spending, and we are simply growing poorer either way?
The Truth About Experiences
So what is an experience and why has it achieved god-like status over mere stuff?
- encounter or undergo (an event or occurrence)
- practical contact with and observation of facts or events.
By the dictionary definition most anything can be called an experience. Shopping is an experience. Wolfing down avocado toast is an experience. Watching paint dry is an experience, albeit not a particularly stimulating one.
The dictionary has proved less than helpful for our purposes, so let us turn our attention to what are commonly lauded experiences and disparaged stuff on financial independence blogs and forums.
The most commonly cherished of all experiences is travel. The most vilified of all purchases is a new, expensive car. Let’s use these totems for the purposes of our debate.
Disclaimer: I love travel. I have never, and will never, purchase an expensive car.
Consider Mr. Gallivanter, who makes it a point to holiday twice a year. He budgets for all-inclusive vacations in beach resorts down in Mexico. He spends his time there attacking the buffet with gusto, doing his best impersonation of a rock on the beach and by the pool, and sucking margaritas until his liver cries uncle. He doesn’t leave the confines of his behemoth of a resort for the duration of his stay. The only locals he has interacted with wear uniforms with their names embroidered above their crisp pockets.
Is Mr. Gallivanter a superior being compared to Mr. Zoom? Mr. Zoom lives 15 minutes from his place of work and bikes to work every day. Mr. Zoom has recently procured a sporty looking red automobile, with an engine that purrs more sexily than a lion as he cruises down the highway. His favourite weekend activity is to take a long drive to a scenic spot with a friend. They discuss life, love and happiness and down a couple of cold ones before heading back to civilization.
Should we laud Mr. Gallivanter’s spending decision and scorn Mr. Zoom’s foolishness?
What Makes Something A Worthy Purchase?
Putting aside the labels of ‘experiences’ and ‘stuff’ for a moment, let’s try and come up with a list of criteria that makes something that is not a need but a want a worthy purchase.
- It helps you create memories that will last the long haul, the kind of memory that you will look back fondly on in the sunset of your life.
- It broadens your mind or otherwise helps you grow as a person.
- It helps you learn something.
- It helps you hone a skill.
- It helps you build and nurture relationships.
A vacation in Thailand where you volunteer to help elephants? Memories? Check. Growth? Check. Learning? Check.
Purchase paints and brushes and other artisty paraphernalia in order to create some beauty every day? Learning? Check. Honing a skill? Check.
Buy a game controller and games and play with friends every Friday night? Skill? Check. Nurturing relationships? Check.
Judge Purchases Individually, On Their Merits
I don’t find the arbitrary elevation of a class of expenses to be any more useful than decidedly denigrating another. When we assign value to a class of expenses, no questions asked, we enter dangerous territory. We may not stop to ask ourselves if our spending is really enriching our life. We may not stop to consider if the money may bring more value another way. We may not stop to tailor our spending to our phase in life, to the current, urgent needs of who we are today and who we are aspiring to be.
Every expense should be judged on its own merit, and the only person capable of honestly judging the value of your purchases is you.