Experiences VS Stuff

Does it really have to be a choice?

I hardly ever comment or link to another person’s blog (at least so far), although I visit quite a few daily.  Part of my regular reading is get rich slowly. Today’s guest post is a rehash of a  New York Times article from last week which suggests that spending money on experiences (concert tickets, hotel rooms, vacations), is better than spending money on stuff. In other words, it’s better to go to Hawaii than buy a new couch or get new floor tiles.

While I’m not into conspicuous consumption, I have to question this. And I have to wonder if the people who say this is the way they feel spent too much money on too much stuff. They’re having spender’s remorse if you will.

My feeling is that a reasonable amount of stuff, even good stuff, does in fact increase happiness and comfort. I’m not talking about just basic needs here, but the really good, comfy couch that you sink into with your book as opposed to Ikea’s cheapest futon. I think this quote backs that up:

According to retailers and analysts, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences than possessions over the last couple of years, opting to use their extra cash for nights at home with family, watching movies and playing games — or for “staycations” in the backyard.

It seems to me then, that people are still buying stuff, just different kinds of stuff. Not only that, but that stuff enhances the experiences. It can make a hobby more enjoyable, a vacation safer.  I am (slowly) becoming a better cook. Even as an okay cook who liked it and loved to bake, I bought stuff to enhance that enjoyment. Now, while I didn’t need every pan Wilton ever made, really good cooking sheets made a difference. When I travel, I road trip almost exclusively. Although I’m a pretty seasoned traveler, and love to go off the road, my GPS (located in my smart phone) helps me and makes this middle aged gal who travels alone safer. By the same token, my travel experience is certainly enhanced by the comfortable room at the Hilton on occasion, rather than Motel 6 or Best Western.

Somewhere along the line, being frugal or financially prudent became synonymous with simplicity or minimalism. Now, while I respect people who are minimalist, and accept that in a few years if not sooner I will be doing some major downsizing, the truth is that I like my stuff.

I like that when I have people over and we sit on the patio with a glass of wine (experience) that we are sitting on good outdoor furniture instead of 5.99 plastic from Kmart. We’re also drinking out of real wine glasses rather than plastic or paper. I like that when friends come over and we sit around watching a good movie or football game with real popcorn instead of movie crap (experience) that we are sitting on my nice comfy couch as mentioned above, with good lighting and a decent sized color TV (yes, it also gets cable). I like that as I am sitting down creating quilts that will last a lifetime I am doing so on a decent, new, well working machine at a real table and a comfortable chair.

Don’t get me wrong, I think many people have too much stuff. I also think that many people spent too much money on too much stuff. I just think that the fact that we have stuff, even good stuff, doesn’t mean that we spent too much money, got into debt, or aren’t having those “experiences”. We all have different stuff that is important. We also have stuff that we don’t care about. We also, in today’s economy, often have ways of getting good “stuff” for a good price, either buying the used market or using other methods.

I’m not in favor of overspending, hoarding, or anything else. In fact, I have my own opinion of stuff that people should never buy, or never buy new (hardback fiction comes to mind, along with almost anything for small children unless it’s a safety issue). I even admit that there is stuff that I can, should, and will eliminate from my own home.

I just think this is one of those simplistic discussions where the “stuff you see”, gets a bad rep, as opposed to the stuff you don’t.  I married at almost thirty, which means I had almost ten years of working and living alone. At the end of that time I had nothing to show for it. No possessions to speak of. It was spent on food and drink, concerts and movies, trips to Europe. There was a time in my life when I was shooting myself for “having nothing to show for having spent all that money”.

There’s a flip side to every coin. 

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