One of the tenets of the FIRE movement has been to avoid accumulating things. Our society’s consumerist culture is overtly shunned by most in the FIRE community. This makes a lot of sense since buying things is expensive and research has shown that material items don’t seem to give people lasting happiness.
So, what can give us lasting happiness?
Life’s experiences and spending time with friends and loved ones.
When we purchase a new thing, we receive a momentary boost in dopamine which makes us feel good. That momentary hit of dopamine goes away after a short time and we return to our previous level of happiness (or sadness). Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as “hedonic adaptation.” Research suggests a hedonic superiority of experiences over things, meaning the happiness felt from an experience won’t fade as fast as one felt from a material purchase. In fact, memory will cause the experience to improve over time. Additionally, you can gain happiness even before an experience due to the excitement of planning, and anticipation of, the upcoming event. Lastly, things clutter your life, experiences don’t. Clutter has been shown to cause stress and negatively affect mental health.
Taking a look back at the things I’ve bought and the experiences I’ve had in the past, I would have to agree. So then by eliminating unnecessary purchases and spending money mostly on experiences, I can save my way to financial freedom? Unlikely, because many of the experiences people tend to gravitate toward are pretty expensive.
Let’s take a look at some of the fun but expensive experiences that might be keeping you from reaching financial independence.
Travel is expensive. The average person spends $1,145 on a vacation or $4,580 for a family of four. Between the cost of flights, hotels, rentals cars, and the various tourist attractions people participate in, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. So, unless you’re travel hacking, be prepared to spend thousands both getting to, and then staying at, your destination.
Another expensive travel option is a cruise. And unless you live in one of the few locations from which cruise ships embark, you’ll still likely have a transportation cost before you even start the cruise. When your cruise stops at your destination ports of call, you’ll also have the additional cost of any shore excursions you choose to do.
With an average concert ticket price of $96.31, concerts can be a fun but pricey experience. Factor in the additional cost of expensive food, drinks, and concert gear and a night out for two to see your favorite band can easily set you back $250-$300 or more.
Going out for dinner or drinks can be one of the biggest wastes of money in your budget over the course of a year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spends over $3000 a year on dining out. Restaurant meals cost an average of $13 whereas the groceries to cook the average meal at home cost about $4. The potential savings for a family of four to eat at home then is on average about $36 each meal.
Entertainment can come in many forms but by far one of the most popular is watching movies. The average movie ticket price in 2018 was $9.38. Contrast that with the price to rent a movie through Redbox or similar service of around $2 and it becomes obvious that a family movie night out every few weeks can end up costing a family hundreds of dollars.
While some sports are inexpensive to play (think soccer, softball, or basketball), others can break the bank. Many sports such as mountain biking, kayaking, and rock climbing have large upfront costs. However, sports with recurring costs tend to be the most expensive. Two examples of this are skiing and golf.
For skiing, there’s the cost of the skis, boots, poles, helmet, goggles, and all of the winter apparel. These upfront costs, however, pale in comparison to the recurring price of lift tickets each time you hit the slopes. The average price of a single day lift ticket in 2018 was $94.
For golf, just the price of clubs alone is absurd (A driver can cost hundreds of dollars), not to mention shoes, gloves, and golf balls. If that’s not enough, add in the price of greens fees and a cart each round and you can see how things can add up quickly.
People are always touting “experiences, not things” as both a key to happiness and a way to save money. I have to agree that experiences will make you happier than things. But it’s important to consider the costs of the experiences in which you choose to partake. My family enjoys travel, concerts, dining, movies, and sports as much as the next family (we bought the epicpass season ski pass this season!). But moderation should be the name of the game. We try to limit dining out to special occasions, rent most of the movies we watch, and enjoy saving money on travel by travel hacking. At the end of the day, it’s best to be intentional about your spending and ensure that it reflects your values.