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Favoring experiences over things

One recession lesson seems to be that experiences provide more joy than things. But will it stick?

By Teresa Mears Jan 4, 2010 6:27PM

Here is another unintended consequence of the recession: Americans are changing their lives to favor experiences over things.


Or at least that’s what The New York Times says, based on a November New York Times/CBS News poll.


The poll found:

  • Nearly half of Americans are spending less time buying nonessentials.
  • More than half are spending less money, both in stores and online.
  • More people are spending more time with family and friends gardening, cooking, reading, watching television and pursuing hobbies.

“It’s a different kind of recession,” Richard Florida, the author of several best-selling books about the economics of cities, told The Times. “It’s not like in the ’30s when people stopped going to concerts. Now people seem to be keeping up with experience consumption and cutting back on other necessities.”

Megan Stallings, 25, an investment analyst in Raleigh, N.C., told The Times she learned to value experiences over things when she was studying abroad in college and found that trips were more fun than souvenirs. She is shopping less and paying more attention to how stores organize displays to make people buy more.


“That awareness has saved me a lot of money,” she told The Times. “Now I am having fun working on projects around my house, even if it is just pulling weeds or taking my dog, Amos, for a long walk.”

There continues to be much debate over whether the “new frugality” is transitory or here to stay. Have people’s values really changed or are people spending less simply because they have less to spend?


“Part of it is cyclical,” Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody’s, told The Times. “They have less money, so they’ll spend less time and money shopping, whether they want to or not.”


The moves toward voluntary simplicity and consuming less to benefit the environment started long before the recession, but certainly being forced into spending less has brought more people to the simple life, some happily and some kicking and screaming.


Trent Hamm at partner blog The Simple Dollar made an interesting discovery when he started the exercise of each night writing down the five best things that had happened to him that day.

The good moments in my life are the ones where I don’t spend money. The happiness comes from spending time with my family and with my friends. It comes from writing and from learning new things and from pushing my mind. It comes from conversation and companionship. It comes from intellectual growth and reading.

But some commenters to the NYT were skeptical that anything significant had changed. Wrote MarkDC:


Frankly, this is ridiculous. After 9/11 the same nonsense was reported and polled. People were taking stock of their lives, caring less about material things, wanting to make a difference rather than money.

Less than five years later, real estate was god, blackberries were devouring time off, and we entertained ourselves more and more by viewing conspicuous consumption or aspiring to appear richer than our peers.

What do you think? Are you finding that being unable to (or choosing not to) buy things makes you happier? Are you spending more time doing things you enjoy? Do you think the recession has made people more conscious of experiences over things? Or will we someday go back to our shopaholic ways?


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