3 Reasons Not to Spend Your Money on Things

Posted on July 1, 2015

When surveying various cultures to determine what makes people happy, researchers kept stumbling upon the finding that having more didn’t equate to being happier. And people who aspire to have more are, in fact, less satisfied.For example, the more that people endorse the statement “Buying things gives me pleasure” the less satisfied they are with their lives. But, it seems, this is only true if you are spending your money to buy “things” rather than “memories.”

Whether people are asked to directly compare experiential versus material purchases or to simply write about or reflect on a specific recent purchase, they report that the experiential purchase made them happier, contributed more to their overall happiness, and was “money better spent.” In the moment, recalling their most recent vacation seems to put people in a better mood than recalling their last shoe purchase.

Why is money paid for memories better spent? Given the mounting evidence that people get more out of their experiences than material goods, researchers have turned to the question of why we get more bang for our buck when we spend our money on memories. Van Boven (2005) suggests three different reasons why experiential purchases make us happier:

1. With experiences, we can put a positive spin on our memories

Van Boven argues that we can put a positive spin on even our less picturesque experiences as we recall them down the line. Material purchases, on the other hand, get worn and no amount of spinning will change that fact. So, if you like food analogies—while experiences age like a fine wine, material possessions age like a fine fruit (spoiling with time).

2. Experiences are less subject to social comparison

You got a raise, your coworker got a bigger one. You bought a new house, your neighbor built a bigger one. On the other hand, Van Boven suggests that experiences are more personal and unique, and thus harder to compare. When people were asked whether they’d prefer to live in a world where they earned $50,000 a year while others earned $25,000 or a world where they earned $100,000 while others earned $200,000, about half of the people preferred to earn $50,000 if it meant they earned more than everyone else. But when asked whether they’d prefer two weeks of vacation while everyone else got one, or four weeks while everyone else got eight, only 15% of people preferred to have two weeks of vacation if it mean they got more than everyone else.

3. Experiences helps us create relationships

People are generally engaging in experiences with others, whereas purchasing a new pair of boots is more likely to be a solitary affair. There is also a stigma associated with being materialistic and researchers have found that people tend to prefer to interact with other people who are “experiential” than those who are “materialistic.” Engaging in an experience together can also help people create shared memories and bond, solidifying relationships.


Source material from Psychology Today