Are Experiences the New Avocado Toast?

experiences versus stuff

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?

Experience (noun):

 

  • 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.
experiences versus stuff
Toddler BITA making memories in the $10 pool

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.

 

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9 thoughts on “Are Experiences the New Avocado Toast?”

  1. I love your titles! I think overall when they so “scientific research” and people look back on their life, thing like travel stay with them as positive experiences, whereas throw pillows which may or may not add comfort to a conversation with a friend who came over may not be the long lasting. However, I will say people use that scientific research as pass to go ahead and travel when they may be in thousands of dollars of debt. I see that quite a bit. But like you said, to each his own!

    1. Why thank you! Spending on travel (or anything else for that matter) when you can’t afford to does make it hard for me not to judge. I try, but I will admit that my better nature does not win as often as it should.

  2. Experiences are great. I’ve never regretted spending up on them.

    Don’t care how anybody else spends their money.

    I personally plan to spend more bc I’ve been too frugal the first half of my life.

  3. Ever since I read your article about the “Buy Nothing” group I tell myself to “buy nothing” when I see something I want but don’t need. Just the other day I was eyeing a storage container that would be great for my loose bobbin spools. Images of the little bobbins with their colorful threads all lined up neatly in the box made me happy but it wasn’t a necessity. The bobbins were just fine in the old cookie tin I have them in. I totally agree that it’s important for each person to place a true value on each purchase.

    1. I bet your poor old bobbins dislike me for cheating them out of their fantastic new home. Sorry spools!

      I know what you mean though – I’ve been doing a lot of that myself in the last year, and I have been pleasantly surprised to find that most of those “I must have thats” fade away when I ignore them, and I find myself just as happy without them in my life.

  4. What an interesting topic! It’s true, we see a lot of “experiences trump stuff” articles these days. I am personally in the camp of experiences, particularly travel, but some people don’t really enjoy travel and might get a ton of enjoyment from their stuff. I suppose if one can “afford” their wants and buying them doesn’t put them or their loved ones in the poorhouse, it’s their prerogative!

    1. Oh I am firmly in the travel camp as well – I just think that it isn’t necessarily the only ‘good’ or ‘superior’ way to spend. As long as your wants do something more than occupy space in your house and make you want more – go for it say I!

  5. I’ve been thinking about this lately as well. Technically, enjoying my morning coffee is a nice experience (and I spend more on coffee for that reason – crappy coffee doesn’t translate to a good experience!). Going on a vacation is an experience. Reading a book, or playing a game, is an experience. I want a motorcycle primarily for the experience factor (it feels much more freeing than driving a car).

    Ultimately, I’ve decided to simply spend according to my values. As long as I’m not mindlessly consuming, I normally don’t regret most of my purchases – however they’re “classified.” =)

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