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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Buy Experience. Don't Buy Things.

OK, so that may be a bit of an oversimplification. I'll modify it thusly: whenever you can, use your money for experience over things. Obviously if you need shoes or a place to sit, you should buy shoes and a couch or chair.

But when you are at a point where you have some discretionary funds--amounts you will choose to spend on yourself in some kind of "fun" way, my advice is to pretty much always buy experience over things.

What does that mean? (And why am I denying you a new purse or the iPod of your dreams?) To me, it means using your "extra" money to gain:
  1. Experience
  2. Education
  3. Improved Health / Well-being
So, instead of the $400 purse, take a $400 plane trip to visit your best friend from college that you haven't seen in ages. Why? The purse is nice, yes, but what do you get from it? Does it love you? Comfort you? Listen to you? Make memories with you? No, of course not. Not in any meaningful way. (And if you're talking to a purse, perhaps my advice will not be so helpful to you. Ahem.) But when you visit a friend with that money, you gain a strengthened friendship, and, not to sound too corny, but you will have memories that may sustain you for years, even a lifetime.

Or let's say you are considering quitting your job to do freelance design work, but you really need to learn some new software. That money can go toward a class at a community college or the like, where you will come away with something of real value--namely an improved and better educated you--instead of a thing that will be unfashionable/obsolete in six months. (At some point in a future post, I will address the value of spending money for things that are well-made classics, that you can use for a very, very long time.)

Or perhaps you have $150 you can spend on shoes (can you tell I have a bit of a shoe weakness?) or on 10 weeks of yoga. Pick the yoga or gym membership or massage therapy! The kind of improved health and wellness that comes from those things will far outlast the material thing, and will ripple throughout other aspects of your life. You may have a better relationship with your spouse, be a better employee, or just have an improved sense of confidence, which is something no pair of shoes can promise. (OK, so maybe, sometimes, the shoes--if they're really shiny and beautiful--build up confidence, but I usually find this to be so temporary as to almost be a negligible effect.)

I've been thinking about this today because I found the website Unclutterer.com, which is like the blog version of Clean Sweep or Real Simple. Once there, I found the essay Against Stuff, by Paul Graham, some computer guy I have to admit I'd never heard of. So I can't evaluate his geek cred, but he has some seriously insightful things to say about the burden of things:
"What I didn't understand was that the value of some new acquisition wasn't the difference between its retail price and what I paid for it. It was the value I derived from it. Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it.


I don't know about you, but for me, this time I have on Earth is so much about experiencing what I can, with the body and mind I have, in the time I have. Anything I can do to have amazing experiences, learn new things, and take care of myself so I can have amazing experiences and learn new things is what I want to spend my money on. Yes, I have a nice dining table. But I will never replace it, because I bought one that will last me forever and will never go out of style. This frees me up for trips to Prague, visits with friends in other states, and a house just big enough for me and my husband (and dog!), which means a very reasonable mortgage payment, and one that we can still afford if one of us lost our jobs or needed to quit.

Some people see experience as "consumable," in that once the experience is over, you have nothing really tangible (save photos) to show for it. But I would much rather have drunk Czech beer and stood on the Charles Bridge than have a fashionable outfit. Obviously this is a matter of priority, but if you're serious about pursuing a life you love, this is worth contemplating.

After all, which will teach you more about the kind of person you are: Reading train schedules in Czech (when you don't know Czech and are trying desperately not to miss a train) or carrying something a magazine told you was fashionable?

Experience and education and good health increases your wisdom, happiness, bliss. Stuff just increases your need for storage. To me, it's no contest.

1 comment:

Jason Becker said...

Experience is great. Although it does make you wish you were in Vienna, eating a Käsekrainer while drinking a Wieselburger, instead of sitting in your cubicle.