I’ve always been someone who would rather spend money on experiences than things and a recent two-week vacation in Peru made me realize just how important experiences – especially travel – are to me. I’m not alone in my conclusion that investing in experiences over things can make you happier. Both The New York Times and Forbes Magazine published studies that prove happiness comes much more frequently from a real-life experience than from purchasing more “things.” But it’s easier to say that you’re going to stop buying things (and invest in experiences instead) than it is to do it.
As much as I love travel, I work online all day and there’s endless temptation to click “buy” at the drop of a hat. But if my vacation taught me anything, it’s that I want to keep that carefree vacation spirit with me in my day-to-day life at home, too. So I decided to put myself on a spending detox diet. I would not buy a single unnecessary “thing” for two weeks. And if it went well, I’d keep going for the rest of the month. The goal was to train myself to recognize which purchases were impulses and which ones were about investing in moments and experiences that would lead to greater happiness: time with loved ones, saving up for another trip or learning a new skill (like Spanish!). At the end of two weeks I learned to see the long-term reward behind changing my buying behavior and ways to avoid temptation and keep my eyes on the prize. –Amy
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The first step was defining, for myself, what was an experience vs. a thing. For example, I decided that restaurant meals were experiences. Drinks with friends? Experiences. New shoes? A thing. This might seem obvious, but I really want a new pair of shoes for skateboarding. A better pair of skating shoes would improve my experience on my longboard (I already had them picked out: perforated leather Vans), but I decided to hold fast to my decision to not bring any more stuff into my house. Now that I had my parameters in place, I was ready to set one rule: every time I wanted to buy a thing, I would put it on a “No Buy” list that I would review at the end of my two weeks.
So, how did it go? I only broke the rule twice. I was traveling to the Arkansas Literary Festival last weekend and my headphones broke (they only played in one ear). I tried to just deal with it, but the thought of three hours on a plane listening to a movie through one ear made me break my pact. I also managed to improve on the huge stack of magazines that I would have normally purchased for the plane and bought only one magazine on the way home. Not too bad for two weeks.
One of the best things that helped me through my detox diet was deciding what my next travel experience (my ultimate goal) was going to be. Looking at travel books (which I checked out from the library) and pricing out trip options seriously helped curb spending. Those Vans shoes basically equaled a night in a hotel and once I started looking at things through my travel goggles, I was much less likely to even consider spending the money on them.
My spending detox also had an unexpected benefit. Resisting buying stuff has made me want to pare down the existing stuff that I have. I already have a plan to go through my closet on Thursday and I’m constantly looking around my apartment to see what I can let go. Last week, I took a stack of mystery novels that had been in my closet for ages and made $60 that went in my trip fund envelope. Thank you, Strand. Now that I’m on a roll and can see the long-term rewards in investing in experiences over things, I think I’m going to try for another two weeks. Wish me luck…