Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
I made my hangover significantly worse on Sunday morning by logging into my Bank of America account and realizing how much money I spent this past weekend. Looking at the receipts littered all over the car floor, it became clear that my friends and I treated our trip to UMass as if we were drunken sailors landing in an exotic port. Between food, beer, gas, beer, coffee, and beer, we ran up quite the tab. But it made me realize a notable trend of spending throughout my past two years of college: fewer and fewer of the things I buy are actually things. Instead I’ve found myself doling out cash for experiences.
Whoever sits in front of me in my Chemistry in Society class does a lot of online shopping. And when I say a lot, I mean like six-tabs-simultaneously-open-with-different-retailers a lot. First off, I don’t understand your obsession with Hunter boots. Who cares what color they are? Second of all, you must have enough American Express air miles racked up to just fly to Mall of America and cut UPS out of the equation. Perhaps I’m just a guy and struggle when shopping for even the simplest of items (which is why my sisters get gift cards for their birthdays), but when trying to “ball on a budget,” as Big Sean so aptly puts it, I’d rather fund memories than materials.
This is exemplified by the fact that I feel more comfortable making a spontaneous purchase for an experience rather than an object. For instance, one time I bought a 4-foot tall palm tree for around $100. One minute I was at Eagle’s Deli eating a burger, the next I was at the small plant store next door shelling out cash for an island tree that I ended up killing within the next two months. Around a month later, I ended up paying about the same amount of money for concert tickets to see Aerosmith at the Garden. Walking out of my summer job at 6 p.m., a friend called out of the blue with extra tickets to the show, which started in less than two hours. I deliberated for all of 10 minutes and haven’t regretted it since. Even though we got there halfway through the band’s set and I had to take four trips to Dunkin’ Donuts to stay awake the next day at work, it was worth every cent.
I rarely listen to anything other than sports radio when driving, but I still remember an NPR segment I heard a few years back. It discussed the psychological effects of spending money in search of happiness. Ryan Howell from San Francisco State University showed through a study that spending money on dinner, a vacation, or a concert can bring about more happiness than purchasing a material item. One of the reasons for this is that when people spend money on an experience, the purchase is followed by less social comparison than if they were to buy an article of clothing or a car. When a person buys a pair of shoes they automatically compare them to those on the feet of others around them. Spending time with friends or experiencing something new isn’t bound to the same social comparisons as buying an item, since every experience is unique.
A group of my close friends and I have a pact that if one of us ever hits the lottery or invents something successful when we are still young, the first thing we are going to buy isn’t a sports car, piece of jewelry, or a house. Instead, we’d pay to take all of our buddies on Yacht Week, a sailing trip through Croatia, Greece, and Ibiza. I swear my buddy Tim has played the trailer on YouTube at every pregame we’ve ever been at together since graduating high school in 2009. He’s probably responsible for a quarter of the video’s three million views. It always follows the same narrative. “Dude, we’re going to go someday. We have to. It would be the trip of a lifetime, a dream come true. Can you imagine going on a trip like this with your closest friends?” (followed by his lengthy commentary on the European women in the video). But he’s right. I can’t imagine spending money on anything else as memorable.
Although I may never get to go on Yacht Week, the money I shelled out this summer to rent jet skis in Cape Cod will have to qualify as a close rival. Daniel Tosh has a diatribe in one of his standup routines in which he claims that money can indeed buy happiness. He rhetorically asks his audience, “Have you ever seen someone frown on a wave runner?” I can’t take that jet ski with me when I’m gone, and I hope I don’t pull a Sean Kingston and hit a pier going 60 mph on one (too soon?). But I’m finding that it’s becoming increasingly important to me to use my money to fund memories over materials. So as I break the bank on my last lap of college, I know I’d rather spend my cash on a few extra Busch Lights at MA’s with my classmates over most anything else. And let’s be real, where else can you create such awesome memories for only $2 in this economy?