Spend on Experiences – Not Stuff

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Thomas DeLeire at the University of Wisconsin recently published research examining nine major categories of consumption. His discovery was that the only category to be positively related to happiness was leisure.

So, why is this important? It’s important because it means the items you purchase should be focused on experiences, things like fishing poles, vacations, athletic gear, and yes, motorcycles. Items that have value when tied to actually doing something active and social. If you really want to up your happiness level, stop buying stuff and start investing in experiences.

Take a moment here and think about all the great things that happened in your past. Your first bike, a social inducing exercise machine with a sense of freedom attached to it. All the activities or sports you participated in. If you remember it, I bet it had something to do with your leisure time and other people. Flip through your photos. How many of them are of toys? None. How many of you studying for a school exam? How many of you alone in your cube working? Now, how many of those photos are of you on vacation? How many of them are you goofing around with friends and family? Photos are a direct line of sight into what makes you happiest.

Now you might be thinking, what if I purchase only good quality stuff that I can enjoy for a lifetime? Isn’t it smarter to buy things of value? My answer to this is simply, “No.” Because even if it is the best stuff, say a drool-inducing Rolex watch, it’s still something that can be lost to you. Experiences can never be replicated, lost, stolen, or devalued. The watch has to be protected, maintained, and it can make you a target for no good reason.

A System to Change Your Thinking — and Actions

Here is your system for spending on experiences instead of stuff:

Step 1: Take the lead

Talk to everyone in the family and make it known you don’t want anyone buying you stuff. If they must get you a gift, tell them you want to do something with them.

Step 2: Reduce the amount of time marketers are in your family’s faces and ears

For me the biggest bang for the buck was changing to Netflix from cable. My kids went instantly from running out every ten minutes to tell me about something they wanted (no, you don’t want a Super Soaker 5000 in December) to rarely asking for things. It was amazing. No commercials, no “needs.” Surprisingly, this also works for myself and my wife. The less we see and hear about shiny stuff, the less we want it. Once you have this going, start systematically applying this to every aspect of your family. Pandora instead of radio, because on Valentine’s Day, no one “needs” a diamond bracelet to be happy. Pull the ads out of the paper when you bring it in and drop them off in the recycle bin without looking through them — you probably don’t need new furniture anyway.

Step 3: When a gift is required, make it an activity

When a birthday comes around, substitute something they like to do for gifts. When anniversaries roll around, a weekend getaway is a better bet than a necklace. During family holidays, skip the gift giving and get together. My brother and I regularly skip the gifts between families and spend time doing. Last Christmas we went to a ski resort with the families — much better than any shiny toy I could have purchased for anyone.  The final challenge, which is also when you know you’ve won, is when you and your wife can skip Christmas gifts and she isn’t mad about it.

Step 4: Take it to the extended family

Tell grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles, and anyone else that toys just won’t cut it — what the kids really want is time and activity. Right now I’m batting two out of three on that one.

Shiny stuff is never going to make you or anyone in your family happy. Freedom, activity, excitement, family, friends, and action will make everyone happy. For most people, hoarding isn’t a disease . . . it’s laziness. There’s a simple spin on our Man Makes Fire motto, here, Less Watch, More Do, and that’s Less Buy, More Do. It’s an easy phrase you can pull out when you’re talking to other people about this, as in, “Just remember, less buy, more do.”

One more thing: If you’re going to give this idea a chance, this let us know the tricks that worked for you!

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  1. Quote:

    “It’s important because it means the items you purchase should be focused on experiences, things like fishing poles, vacations, athletic gear, and yes, motorcycles.”

    Motorcycles . . . you got that right!

    Seriously, though, this is a kickass way of thinking about gifts and making purchases. It really does change the way you think about spending. I’ve been, for the last year, totally disinclined to buy anything that doesn’t in some way contribute to doing things, to experiences, to making memories. I’m not 100% there when it comes to holidays and all the family members and such . . . I’ll have to implement your steps about being verbally proactive about sharing this way of thinking to get better at it.