Would you rather take a nice vacation or get a nicer car to drive? Would you rather spend a day kayaking with your family, or would you rather have a new outfit to wear? Would you rather go to a concert to listen to your favorite musician, or would you rather have a new set of dishes for your kitchen?
These aren’t always easy questions to answer, and different people obviously have different tastes. It can also depend on your situation. If your kitchen dishes are really old, maybe that is a legitimate need/ want.
We have a lot of financial choices to make throughout our life. We have to figure out how much to spend and how much to save. We have to figure out the trade off between work and leisure time. And for the money we do spend, we have to decide on our highest priorities.
When I was much younger, I had a preference for material things over experiences. This isn’t to say that I was a spendthrift. I typically had a preference of having money saved over having material things.
As I have gotten older, I tend to favor experiences over material things, unless those material things are going to make me happier on an almost daily basis.
There are some material things – if you want to call them that – that are basically non-negotiable for me. Maybe need is a strong word, but I really have to have my computer and iPhone. Aside from being somewhat of a necessity for doing work, I also use them for pleasure. Combined, I use them for several hours virtually every day of my life.
There are other material things that may be somewhat of a luxury but still provide enjoyment or make my life a little bit easier.
There are also things that are mostly a necessity, but upgrades are optional. I don’t need to drive a fancy car just so I can have leather seats and some extra gadgets on the dashboard. It isn’t worth thousands of dollars extra to me. I do enjoy my wireless bluetooth because I can listen to podcasts in my car through my phone. But that is just about a standard feature in most new cars now.
I used to think that if I was going to spend money, that it is better to buy something so that it can last for a while. If you take a vacation or do something for a few day, then you have nothing to show for it after it is done. If you buy a material thing, then you will still have it after the week is over.
I realize now I was wrong in this way of thinking because you do have something after a vacation or some kind of experience. You have memories. I still remember the really big vacations I took as a kid when I was a young teenager. I don’t have as many memories of the toys I had, although I do have fond memories of a few of them.
I can see the wanting of material things now with my own kids. They have more than enough stuff. But I find that most of it is not used in a given day. They have enough stuff that they would probably find it difficult to have the time to use everything in a given day. To be fair, my son has a lot of legos, but he did have the experience of building them.
Perhaps there is something of the Pareto principle at work here. For my kids, 20% of their toys are played with 80% of the time.
To be fair to them, they get Christmas and birthday gifts from extended family. When they buy something, it is usually from money they received as a gift or from money they earned doing something.
My kids usually get one night out for dinner on the weekend and one treat (like a lunch) during the week. If my daughter has her own money to spend, sometimes she will buy food or a special drink that we would not normally buy at the grocery store. I am ok with her doing that. If she bought more “stuff”, it would just add to the clutter in our house.
It is tough finding a good balance between saving and spending. Unfortunately, since government at all levels takes almost half of our income, there isn’t as much to save as there should be. This is why most middle class Americans barely save any money.
If you are able to save some money, and you do have some discretionary spending money that is not going to your necessities, you will also have to find a balance between material things and experiences. For me, the big test is whether you can enjoy your material purchase every day. If you aren’t going to enjoy it daily, or at least on a somewhat regular basis, then you probably shouldn’t buy it. You don’t need to spend money on something that is just going to sit there and add to the clutter. Instead, buy an experience where you can have memories of fun activities with family or friends.