Buy experiences or material possessions?

Buy experiences or material possessions?

13th June 2016 6 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Last Updated on 24th July 2020

I’ve just celebrated my 40th birthday with friends and family in my local pub and it’s made me consider the old “experiences versus material possessions” debate. The theory that you should spend your money on experiences and travelling rather than “things” –  We’ve all seen the studies, those that suggest new “things” are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them, whereas a holiday or experience supposedly stays with us forever.

Also those articles in the media about the shift from using your income for ‘conspicuous consumption’ (buying that fancy watch or bright red Porsche 911) to ‘inconspicuous consumption’ (such as using your income to buy more expensive organic foods and yoga classes instead).

Just go for cheaper material possessions?

Well in an attempt to back the “experiences” camp, this weekend’s birthday celebrations made me realise that the expensive Tag watch I wanted to treat myself with would have been a lovely (but slightly grandiose) 40th birthday keepsake, but the cheap Casio digital watch a group of my best friends bought me last weekend feels more special, tells the time just as well, saves me £££s in the process … and only cost them £14.99 too. And the experience of opening it in front of everyone …was well … priceless.

You obviously need some material possessions. But buying a watch for £15 rather than £1000 leaves £985 for potential experiences instead. Detractors might of course say that a £1000 watch will hold its value and still have some worth but once £985 has been spent on experiences it’s gone! They might have a point – but still 🙂

Casio digital watch
One of my 40th birthday presents. A lovely £14.99 Casio digital watch

You need some material possessions of course?

So in turn, backing the “things” camp … well I do love my iPhone 6 as that allows me to do ever so much and keeps me in contact with all my friends on Whatsapp. Admittedly I’d find it hard to do without it. Apart from that there’s my Brompton fold-up bike. This serves as a great way to commute into London. My MR2 “sports” car, which I’ve owned for over 12 years now so the “thrill” has long since gone. It’s much more a functional item now, simply for getting from A to B. If it was a cheap Ford Fiesta it would serve its purpose just as well – if not better.

The wow factor of a recent wireless speaker purchase wore off extremely quickly. Now I find I rarely use it at all. Once again you can live without any material possessions. It’s a matter of how much you want to spend out on the ones you do have. Plus whether you need any extra “things” that you don’t actually need.

Toyota MR2 sports car
My 16 year old Toyota MR2 sports car – back in 2003 when it was nice and shiny

I remember experiences far more strongly than my material possessions

But the “experiences” I’ve had leave a far longer lasting and satisfying memory. Like the time I trekked to Everest Base Camp back in 2012 and had a group photo in the high altitude sunshine. The Full Moon photo in Koh Phangan with the Swedish girls and lads from Middlesborough I met in Hanoi just weeks earlier. Completing the ‘RideLondon 100’ with my oldest pal Dan even though we got “photobombed” on the line by a beaming OAP. Running 8 miles around Central Park with a famous supermodel (Christy Turlington) whose charity I’m now UK ambassador for

I attempted to swim in the cold Welsh sea in November with my girlfriend Claire after a wedding the night before. Even having a reflexology treatment with another friend Claire to experience what that feels like too. All of these “experiences” stick far more in the memory than “things” which is why the £££s I wanted to spend on “stuff” like that watch is going to be spent first on “experiences”with friends and family instead.

A friend of mine did say that you buy some material possessions to have experiences with! Another fair point! He bought a very nice road bike to do more cycling on. I’ll let him have that one.

Being "photobombed" on the line as we finished the inaugural RideLondon100 bike ride - 2013
Being “photobombed” on the line as we finished the inaugural RideLondon100 bike ride – 2013
Running 8 miles around New Central Park with Christy Turlington
Running 8 miles around New Central Park with Christy Turlington – 2016

Get rid some of your stuff as well as simply buying less stuff?

In fact rather than gaining more “stuff” I’m aiming to start having less stuff. Well apart from the essentials that everybody needs to run and decorate a home that is. That might mean eBaying/gifting many “odds and sods”. But I believe that less is more and we all have too much stuff cluttering up our lives anyway. And then not buying more “stuff” to replace the “stuff” I’ve just got rid of! NB. I don’t have children, so yes – I’m more than aware that when you have a family the amount of default “stuff” has to go up.

Another footnote to the 4-5 experiences above is that yes, trekking to Everest and flying to New York all involved having the money. But it’s money I’ve decided to spend that way rather than collecting a whole room full of gadgetry. One of my best experiences recently was cycling around Hertfordshire with a group of friends on a bike ride and that was pretty much free (apart from the entry free). Swimming in the cold Welsh sea was completely free!

Also reinforcing this drive to de-clutter is the recollection I have after returning from 6 months of travelling back in 2010. With just a rucksack full of possessions to realise how little “stuff” we actually need. On landing at Heathrow I was adamant I’d do a complete “de-clutter” … but I left it too long and within weeks I became unable to part with things again. This time I will be stronger 🙂

Anybody else out there consider “experiences” are far more important than “material possessions”? Or like most things in life is it importance to have a balance?

The Full Moon party in Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand - 2010
The Full Moon party in Ko Pha Ngan in Thailand – 2010
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