Buy Things, Not Just Experiences: 3 Questions That Will Help You Buy The Right Stuff

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You’ve probably heard that you should buy experiences, not things. But what about things that help you experience? Rebecca Rosen of The Atlantic shares research by psychologists Darwin A. Guevarra and Ryan T. Howell in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (an academic journal which I didn’t know existed).

Begin by examining why experiences provide more happiness than material consumption. […] Experiential goods fit in under this framework because they likewise can satisfy those same psychological needs. A musical instrument, for example, makes possible a sort of human happiness hat trick: Finely tune your skills, get the happiness of mastery (competence); play your heart out, get the happiness of self-expression (autonomy); jam with friends, get the happiness of connecting with others (relatedness).

You could reframe this into asking the following questions before buying something:

  • Does it encourage you to become skilled at something over time?
  • Does it help you express your personal voice?
  • Does it help you spend time and connect with friends and family?

Of course, if you were really determined you could make anything fit into this criteria. (We could all use the Ab Blaster 4000 together!) But I think it’s still a good general guide, as you avoid things that are disposable, only provide temporary amusement, or only useful for giving the appearance of wealth or popularity.

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  1. RentalRandy says

    Thanks for today’s tip. I’ve casually considered the Experiences versus Material expenditure question for a while now. In general, I agreed with leaning toward Experiences, but I knew it wasn’t a 100% steadfast truth.

    It bothered me that I couldn’t flippantly come up with the “why” it couldn’t be always right. Thanks for a simple way to say sometimes a Material purchase delivers Experience results.

  2. Something I am not guilty of spending money on is my online language tutor. It’s an extra expense each month but the benefit I get from learning another language is definitely something I think is worth investing in.

  3. Alexandria says

    We have always preferred “things” to “experiences”. I think this short and sweet post covers the why. Our things can provide many years of experiences and tend to be things we use every day.

    I particularly like the last question. Connecting with our friends and family is that which we hold most dear. I’d personally rather host a gathering at my house (pretty much free) than spend thousands of dollars to travel somewhere. Too often I see the whole “experience is better than things” argument as justification for some fairly lavish spending. & I think it’s interesting how the line between “experiences” and “things” is really pretty blurry.

  4. My cousin who also works online as a Developer and he really want to learn more. He took an online course for 3 months and I know that the course price was pretty expensive. But he didn’t mind that at all, he wants to learn more and develop more skills.

  5. I think experiences that provide genuine happiness are valuable. Those that are there just to show oneself of, or buy some comfort at much higher cost are not.

    For example it comes to mind traveling first class: I would value that at 25% higher than traveling coach. Yet the ticket is often 1000% higher! Why? Just for some extra legroom and free drinks? Or to rub in to those schmucks who have to wait extra before boarding?

    An unnecessary luxury IMO even if you pay for it in miles, since it costs it usually costs least 100% more miles than saver.

  6. I am 42 and for years I was looking for something to collect. I collected Baseball cards and comic books when I was young and really enjoyed myself. I bought a new house and it had a basement and while looking for entertaining items to put down there I stumbled upon pinball. I bought my first pinball machine and now own three.
    I love playing and getting better at my skills and I compete with other local players in a pinball league I joined. I am always learning how to fix and take care of my games and get help form bloggers on line and locals. There are hundreds of pinballs that were made over time and I like to play them and decide what I like and don’t like and narrow down ones I would like to own someday. I love having friends and family over to play and have visited other collector’s homes also. Finding games on location in arcades and bars and visiting collectors in my travels is very cool too.
    I was glad to see my pinball purchases cover all 3 of Jonathan”s things to think about before you buy something. I am having a blast.

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