Money-Spending Styles: The Battle Between Experiences vs. Things

by Miranda Marquit · 17 comments

spending styles

We hear a lot about different money styles. Some of the more common personal finance dichotomies that we are used to reading about include:

  • Spending vs. Saving
  • Denial vs. Indulging
  • Impulse Buying vs. Planning Purchases

While all of these financial styles illustrate different characteristics about how we spend our money, I always thought it interesting that few people address spending styles in terms of what we like to spend money on. We talk a lot about whether we should or shouldn’t spend, but not much about the type of spending.

This oversight occurred to me a few years ago when my husband told me that it was a “waste” to spend money on short trips to a neighboring state, at which point I fired back that I thought it was a “waste” to buy a television that we didn’t need—especially when our current TV worked just fine and was certainly adequate.

experiences versus thingsPurchasing Things vs. Experiences

Our conversation led to a realization that my husband and I have different spending styles. He likes things. He likes to have a fish tank, or buy a Blu-ray instead of a regular DVD. I like experiences.

I would rather see someplace I haven’t seen before, or go someplace nice to eat. If we had $1,500 that we could just blow on whatever we wanted, my husband would purchase some large piece of artwork for our already-filled walls. I would plan a trip to the Oregon coast.

Of course, neither answer is the “right” answer. Finances, like so much in life, are personal. And there are few things as personal as the way we spend money and what we spend it on. Also figured into our money calculations are much we are willing to go into debt and what things are worth buying on credit. In college, I thought nothing of whipping out the credit card for a spring break trip to California. I would never have bought a nice, new stereo like my husband did with his credit card.

In the end, it’s about compromise.

I realize that my interest in traveling, whether it is enjoying a day at the spa or getting away for the weekend, can be rather pricey. In order to compromise, we save up for trips, so that it doesn’t take as big a hit out of our monthly budget.

My husband also realizes that I feel hemmed in and cluttered when we have a house full of stuff. He also recognizes that we don’t use a lot of the products that he has insisted we purchase. As a result, we are reducing the number of things we buy, and spending more consciously.

We also find different ways to satisfy our desires: I read books in order to escape and enjoy something akin to a travel experience, while my husband rotates the items he displays so that all of them aren’t out all of the time cluttering up the space in our house. For him, this makes old items seem new.

This isn’t the same as spending whenever and on whatever we want, but they are compromises we can live with.

Do you have preferences on what you spend money on? Do you prefer experiences or things?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Arminius Aurelius says:

    I am probably repeating myself , but ……..
    How I made $ 20,000.00 + in one afternoon , it was easy. It was time to buy a ” New ” car 10 years ago because I always trade in my car when it reaches about 95,000 miles [ about every 4 years ] I always buy a Lincoln Town car because I am 6 ft 4 inches tall [ I need the leg room ] but all my life , my ” new car ” purchase is always a LOW mileage used car somewhere between 14,000 and 18,000 miles . My last car that I bought was a 2008 Lincoln Town Car that I bought in April 2009 , it had 13,900 miles on it . 6 , 7 or 8 months earlier it would have cost $45,000.00 but I paid $ 23,000.00 for it , therefore I saved $ 22,000.00. As it happened the stock market crashed in mid September 2008 . Stock prices dropped about 50 % between September 2008 and April 2009 . With the money I saved , I invested in stocks at the bottom of the market and within 3 to 4 years , I doubled my money as the market recovered. I still have the car because I retired the year before and now put in fewer miles . I now have a bit over 62,500 miles on it . I thought about buying a ” New ” car but it still looks like new and runs beautifully . I take PRIDE in the money I have in the banks more so than new toys that lose value from the day you buy them.

  • Latha says:

    I used to be materialistic. But now, I prefer buying experiences like travel to a new place.
    But my husband likes to collect stuff. He likes to buy all the latest gadgets, Swiss watches, shoes, bags in different shapes and sizes and so on.

  • The Conciliation Group says:

    It is interesting how we are attracted to our partners financially. With my ex I was a spender who liked to spend on experiences but disliked debt balances. The first time while young I married an extreme saver (couldn’t turn the heat on in the house). We spent money for experiences but of course I didn’t enjoy them because of the extreme saving. The second time, I married a spender who was more of a spender than I am so money was spent on things for experiences at a level I was uncomfortable with and an accumulation of debt I could not handle as a result. My belief is that yes, opposites do attract, but “birds of a feather flock together”. Money is still on the top 3 reasons for divorce, so I believe finding a partner with the same money style I believe eases some of the tension in this area. Similar money styles between partners I believe can be resolved with a strategy for any conflicts.

  • money for food! says:

    Opposites really tend to attract that’s why I’m not surprised with compromises that come with a married life. Although I’m quite expecting it, I still had a hard time during disagreements. The problem with my husband is he loves buying gadgets and upgrading the accessories that come with it every now and then. For me it really is a huge money taker but he enjoys just doing that. On the other hand, he hates me for spending too much on food. I love eating good food and dining at restaurants which he views as too extravagant. Lucky for you to have ironed your differences, as for me, we are just on the middle stages.

  • novatedlease calculator says:

    Compromise is indeed the right term. As long as we handle to take a responsive management of our own preferences and take a step backward if needed and adjust to fulfill a desire is something of great and dignified attachment. I must congratulate you both for taking this process in that kind of attitude…

  • The Editor says:

    Factoring the concept of investment into the ‘things’ bought make the expenses worthwhile. It makes a lot of sense to buy things that serve more than one purpose.

  • KM says:

    I prefer experiences, for sure, and always have. Sometimes I want to minimalize my life so much that even thinking about buying new things makes me queasy. I just want life to be simple and straightforward, without clutter or distractions. I am a geek at heart and I will drool over the newest technology or gadget or video game, but I don’t want to actually own it because I probably don’t even need it. I would go through a website I like and add a bunch of things to the cart before realizing that I don’t actually need or want any of them, close it, and walk away. But road trips and travelling are always on my mind and I can’t wait for the next one. I can plan something for hours and will only get more excited. If someone offered me a choice between going to Antarctica or a million dollars, I would go buy a thermal jacket and start packing my bags.

  • Benjamin Bankruptcy says:

    Mmmm if I’m honest I buy a lot of “toys” they’re totally rational toys that I definitely don’t need. I think I just like doing the research and finding the best “product” whatever that is. I’m a freaking nerd.

    I think on some level I’m compensating for “experiences” with “stuff”.

  • The Best Money Blog says:

    Fortunately and unfortunately, my wife and I like both things and experiences. Although lately we are downsizing our possessions in a lot of ways. One of our dreams is to take 1 big trip every year.

  • Cd Phi says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the TV issue. My parents are remodeling their home so they’re moving things around. My father wanted a bigger TV for our living room while my mother was perfectly content with the 50″ TV that we already have. Albeit it’s not the newest technologically advanced TV but it’s still a flat screen and everything. I definitely had my mom’s back on this issue because I don’t see why they would even need a bigger, nicer TV when no one even really watches it. My dad’s rebuttal, “It’ll just look better” and I immediately thought of the whole keeping up with the Joneses scenario. It’ll be funny to see who gets their way this time.

  • CreditShout says:

    I agree with you, I would rather have experiences than buy things. I love traveling and seeing different places. Though I like owning things that will make me happy, I would rather go out and see the world than sit in and watch that plasma tv…

  • Darren says:

    Yeah, people have different values, and our spending reflects those values. I don’t think one is better than the other, we’re just wired in different ways.

    Personally, I’d rather spend more on experiences you’ll remember, rather than on things that’ll lose value, break down, or otherwise aren’t important to me.

  • kat says:

    We aren’t willing to go into debt for much. In our family we both have this idea that we want to have nice things but not too many of them. We also like to have vacations, but again, quality over quantity. Of course we sometimes disagree but neither of us get overly excited by stuff.

  • MoneyNing says:

    There are more “things” that are on my wish list than experiences, but I find that I care more about experiences the older I become.

    Where I used to NOT care about experiences at all, I somewhat care about them now.

    What I really like though is the feeling that I have the ability to pay for them, instead of actually owning (or enjoying) either the “thing” or “experience”. I’m not sure if I’m just strange, but I am okay with just knowing that I can afford it 🙂

    • KM says:

      That’s not strange…much 🙂 I noticed myself feeling that way too lately, after I found a good job and a quick promotion in that company. Now that I make a lot more than I use (and save almost all of it for when I will be working less during the fall and spring semesters), I find that just having the option of whether to buy something or not is a comforting feeling. Sure, flying to Florida on a whim to watch the space shuttle takeoff was great, but I think I was much more satisfied with the fact that I could, for once, afford to do something like that.

  • Doug Warshauer says:

    Marriage is sure full of compromises. It sounds like you’ve done a good job handling the differences in your spending preferences, which could otherwise lead to conflict, as well as overspending. You’re doing better than most.

  • vered says:

    I love this distinction. I’ve never thought about it this way. Now that I do, both my husband and I prefer to spend on experiences.

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