To Do or to Have

the-undigi1A few weeks ago, reader and fab scrapper Christine sent me a link to a blog entry she had done.  I read it and knew I had at least one kindred spirit out there.  Her post was called “Buying into Life” and was about the happiness gained by spending  money on experiences rather than things.  This is something that we have a family have chosen to do and it is interesting to hear that studies have been done on it.   So this weeks The UN-digi is all about bringing some more happiness into your life…not with new stuff but with new experiences.

I remember a few years ago I was telling someone about our plans to stay in a hotel for a night, “just for fun.”  She asked, quite shocked at our plans, how we had the money to do that.  That was  good question!  Our family has a lot of things but money has never been one of them!  I simply responded that we don’t usually spend money on things — we spend it on experiences.  I tried to explain that with an experience, everyone gets to enjoy it, you can savor it long afterward, and it brings the family closer together.  I did a poor job of stating my case, but I can assure you we had a great time at the hotel!

After reading Christine’s post and the related articles, it seems as though we are not alone in our belief that things can never take the place of experiences.  Christine did a great job summarizing what she had heard and read:

Basically, the gist of it is that people who spend money on experiences are happier than people who spend money on material possessions, because:

  • The initial excitement of a new possession fades over time, usually 6-8 weeks. (And in my opinion and experience, I think that’s why there are shopaholics. They crave the initial “high” of a purchase.) Experiences continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event.
  • Experiences draw people closer. Common and shared experiences with family & friends are often what draw us together. This fulfills our need for social bonding and brings satisfaction.
  • People felt a greater sense of “being alive” during the experience and in reflection.
  • When you spend money on experiences there’s less of the “keeping up with the joneses” phenomenon. Experiences are unique and so we are less likely to compare ourselves to other people and feel inferior.

Personally, here are the reasons our family chooses to spend time and money on experiences rather than things:

  • For the most part, experiences can involve the whole family while things are for one person or one group of people (adults or kids).  For a child’s birthday, I can buy a new toy that the child alone will enjoy for a few days (or hours!) or we can go and do something as a family and everyone is able to enjoy it.
  • We remember our experiences much more — and much longer — than the “stuff” we get. My kids wouldn’t be able to tell you what they got for their last birthday (we do buy them a few things) but they sure could tell you what we DID.
  • Going places and doing things together bonds us as a family…more than any new toy ever could. I firmly believe that relationships are built and strengthened through common experiences and fond memories, not over shared things.
  • By spending money on experiences (trips, outings, etc) rather than things, the amount of stuff in our house remains somewhat under control.  In many homes, Christmas and birthdays usually bring a ridiculous number of new things into a house (and most people don’t ensure that the same number of things go out of the house).  Choosing experiences instead of things keeps the “stuff” from accumulating.
  • We crave doing stuff together.  People, by nature, want more of what they already have.  If we give our kids lots of toys they will crave more.  If we give our kids lots of experiences, they long for more of the same. What would you rather have?  A child who begs for more toys or one who begs for more time together as a family?
  • Experiences can be cheaper. Of course there are always ways to spend money, but experiences can be inexpensive or free.  We often look for fun and cheap ways to do things together.

I want to touch for a minute on the last point: financial issues.  I wouldn’t want someone to read this and think, “well, we don’t have much money so this won’t work for us!”

1.  Yes, there are lots of expensive things you can do and places you can go.  We have spent money on some expensive options (like yearly passes to Disney World, nights at hotels, weekend trips).  We have made this possible by choosing to watch where our money goes. For example,  I think some people were surprised that we paid to have passes to Disney World.  They were expensive, but we made choices in other areas that saved a lot of money: we didn’t have cable.  We had basic cell phone service with no extras. We went to Starbucks only three or four times all year…think of how much money we saved by not spending $4+ on coffee several days a week!)  We chose to drive a cheap, older car. We almost never bought books or DVDs…instead we made insanely heavy use of the local library.  Obviously this was not just so we could go to Disney, but these choices (and many more like them), enabled us to have money for other things.

2. There are many, many cheap or free ways to invest in experiences rather than things.  Get creative in what you do and where you go.  The internet is an amazing resource for finding free stuff in your community and surrounding areas.  Look for things that the whole family will love.  Here are some ways that our family does inexpensive things together:

  • We go to lots of parks and playgrounds and try to decide which ones are the best
  • We do lots of crafts.  I am craft-blog obsessed and have found so many wonderful ideas of things to do as a family. The kids love it and are always so proud to show off their new creations.  Just this week my sons spent days playing with some swords and “hooks” I made out of cardboard and tin foil.
  • We create fun meal time activities.  We have had “no manners meals”  when everyone gets to “forget” their manners for a while.  We often invite people over for dinner and then the kids get to help cook and prepare for our guests. Just this weekend we created an at-home version of a favorite restaurant, the Pancake Parlour.  The kids created their own special placemats (and one for our guest) and we had a great time cooking up pancakes and then decorating them with ice cream, sprinkles, chocolate sause, chocolate chips, and more.  We turn the every day in a FUNday.
  • We look for ways to let the kids to do thing they think they shouldn’t be doing.  Kids love feeling like they are “getting away” with something.  One day I bought some cans of shaving cream and we had a shaving cream graffiti party in our backyard.  At first they couldn’t believe what I was doing!  But once they got over they shock they loved writing all over the sidewalk and walls.  We played shaving cream hop scotch and then painted each other white!
  • We find fun ways to get places.  Jason has a love for transportation adventures so he will often try to find fun ways to get “from here to there.”  You can take the bus instead of a car.  If you are in a bigger city, take the train. Ride bikes. Pull a sled…anything that makes the mundane new and exciting!

I encourage you to ask yourself, “To Do or to Have?”  Which is most important to you and to your family? What kinds of memories will you and your children take through life?  What kinds of things do you remember most from your own childhood.  Think through the answers to these questions and then takes some appropriate steps in the direction of your choice!


P.S. If this is a topic you want to read more about, check out the THIS radio broadcast or read an in-depth study from Cornell University.