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Not Everything Is About the Inside

It Is Better to Spend Money on Material Goods Over Experiences


Photo by Julie Fader on Unsplash


“Money doesn’t buy happiness.”


This platitude is often used to express that there is more to life than wealth. The saying is true only to some extent, though, as money itself does not buy happiness, just like it can’t bring true love in the American novel “The Great Gatsby.” Still, the materials and experiences that money buys contribute to positive feelings. When talking about wealth, most people imagine a great deal of material possession. Many admit that experiences bring happiness; however, only a few agree with the same statement about material goods. Despite the common notion that material possessions are always linked to superficial happiness, it is crucial to acknowledge the importance of material goods.


Under the growing dominance of the experience economy, many individuals have started spending money on experiences rather than physical items. What most people forget to acknowledge, however, is that spending money on experiences involves a lot of risks of the unknown. Unlike physical items, experiences involve a lot of uncertainty. Traveling, for example, sounds like a wonderful event that helps people relieve stress and build memories, but even with the same travel destination, the experience of traveling is different for each individual. When people think they did not make the most fun out of traveling due to unexpected incidents, such as weather issues, it is easy to believe that all of their money spent turned into a waste. All of these unwanted events are easier to avoid with material goods, especially with copious amounts of reviews on the internet. Therefore, spending money on physical items is more likely to bring the happiness that consumers anticipate.


There are indeed once-in-a-lifetime experiences that give people special memories; however, not everyone can afford them. According to research by Wendy Wood at the University of Southern California, people who are less financially advantaged feel just as much, if not more, happiness spending on material objects over experiences. Experiences in general end quickly, while materials last until they can be used up. Thus, for individuals with less financial privileges, materials provide long-term happiness that they can experience daily. In addition, a majority of people look for materials before they look for experiences. Even though those with more financial opportunities can seek desired experiences regularly without any stress, those individuals only constitute a small portion of the national or global population. In fact, a 2023 survey conducted by Bankrate revealed that 58% of American adults who are not going to any vacation reported that they cannot afford it, while a different survey from Go City found that 37% of Americans chose balancing traveling expenses with other financial duties as their primary concern when it comes to traveling expenses. Therefore, considering the larger proportion of the population, spending money on material goods is more worth it.


One of the most common mistakes that people make when discussing material goods is only taking the superficial advantages into their account. Despite the general assumption that experiences more often benefit people on the inside, materials are sometimes more helpful for individuals to develop certain skills. Musical instruments, athletic items and art products are all examples of goods that not only help develop individuals’ skills for hobbies but also encourage personal growth as individuals put more effort into polishing their skills. With these benefits, material goods can bring individuals something that mere experiences cannot.


A common claim from advocates of experiences is that experiences form better and longer memories. Ever since an individual is born, different kinds of experiences shape core memories and a sense of self of the individual. One study found that when participants were asked to list the five most memorable experiences and material purchases and summarize their lives using the lists, participants were almost twice as likely to include their experiences versus material purchases. This finding confirms that experiences make greater contributions to one’s identity when compared with material goods.


However, it is necessary to acknowledge that material goods also contribute to enhanced memories. For example, a cup that you buy at a local market in your neighborhood would not have the same meaning as a cup that you buy at a traditional store during a trip on an island. To elaborate, even after the island trip is over, whenever you look at the cup, the item will bring back specific memories from the trip, making the experience more enriched and long-lasting. In other words, buying things at certain locations that are meaningful to an individual makes the purchase more special and memorable.


As experiences have received growing recognition in their value, many feel hesitant or guilty about spending a considerable amount of money on something tangible. However, spending money on materials almost always meets the expectation and provides opportunities to develop certain skills for everyone, regardless of their economic status. Regarding these positive effects of material goods, it is safe to say that spending money on those items over experiences is more worthwhile, and more appreciation is needed for them.

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Andy Poll

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