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Experiences Over Stuff

As I have shared in past, Francis is a fan of the movie Cars. This includes Cars, Cars 2 and Cars 3. He knows the characters and is constantly talking about them. A few weeks ago, for his birthday, all he wanted were miniature versions of the characters. By miniature, I mean they are approximately an inch and a half by an inch in size. They are marketed as “compact size for play at home and on the go”. Another way to describe them would be an “easily lost” toy.

Well, we just so happened to “lose” one this week. The character toy car we could not find was Fillmore. For those of you who have not seen the movie, Fillmore is a 1960 Volkswagen bus who could be described as a hippie. In the various movies he has psychedelic symbols painted on the exterior of the bus and his job is selling organic fuel.

This Photo by Unkown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

When Francis loses a car, it does not matter if he has fifteen other ones to play with, he expects everyone to stop what they are doing and search the entire house for the car. As Katie and I put together the search party, I was responsible for searching in his playroom. As I looked through the various buckets of toys throughout the room, I was amazed to see the number of toys we have collected over the past four years. From cars and bugs to various books, there were a lot of toys.

During the search and rescue for Fillmore, it got me thinking of recent conversations I have been having with individuals and how they spend their money. When we spend money (beyond the necessities for daily living), we are doing more than simply buying things, we are trying to create feelings of happiness, satisfaction, and well-being. However, are we really spending our money in ways to help us achieve these results? More likely than not, the answer is probably no, because our spending by the act itself does not really spark joy. However, we can shift our spending, so our purchases deepen our happiness and help us create more meaningful lives.

From talking with people, it seems as if they focus more on experiences and less on physical stuff, they might have greater happiness. From the trip to see one’s family to going apple picking, experiences are a big part of our lives. However, our culture tells us that buying lots of stuff will make us happy. And that is often true—but only up to a point. Ever notice how quickly that excitement and rush from having a new gadget, appliance or even car fades?

Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology reveals that people who spent money on experiences rather than material goods were happier and felt the money was better spent. The excitement we often get from purchasing things tends to diminish quickly because we get used to seeing the items every day. In contrast, experiences—and the joy and memories they bring—can give us stronger feelings of satisfaction. That can be true even if the experience is fleeting.

Importantly, the good feelings we derive from our experiences tend to last well beyond when the experience happened—giving us a longer-lasting sense of satisfaction than we might get from an object that quickly blends in with our environment.

While I know it is more difficult for many of us to have an experience in today’s environment, as we slowly move forward, be sure to think of all of the experiences you have had in your life. Additionally, think of what you want to experience and even who you want to experience them with. This exercise is sure to bring a smile to your face.

An update on the search and rescue for Francis’ Fillmore toy car. After forty-five minutes of looking, he was finally found. He had slipped between the couch cushions. During those forty-five minutes though, Francis was trying to describe Fillmore to me. Rather than just say his color and shape, he said he looked like the bus we saw at the “car place”. Not knowing what he meant, I asked him to try and explain what the “car place” was. As only a four-year-old could, Francis described our family going to look at all the cars and motorcycles when we were in California. It was only after that explanation that I realized Francis was talking about the San Diego Automotive Museum which we visited a year ago. I guess it just goes to show how an experience such as going to the museum, could have a memorable impact.

As you may be aware, volatility returned to the stock market this week. Depending upon the index, we saw the largest one-day declines since June. While this could understandably cause one to think back to March, we do need to look at the bigger picture rather than just two days. The S&P 500 experienced its best return for the month of August since 1986. Much of this could be explained by continued promise of a COVID-19 vaccine, encouraging consumer spending data and the belief of a longer low interest rate environment. To put the current level of the market in perspective, the S&P 500 is back to the level of just a few weeks ago.

With the long Labor Day weekend ahead of us, I hope you find some time to relax and maybe even think about the future and your future experiences.


Chris Zeches, CFP®
Managing Partner