5 Ways to Prioritize Experiences Over Stuff

Jenna Kutcher 

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September 21, 2022


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Would you rather have unlimited shopping funds to only be used for clothes and personal items, or unlimited free flights to anywhere you want to go? Next question… Would you rather get to buy a luxury handbag or fancy watch, or spend a weekend in a city you’ve always wanted to visit? Final question: Would you rather get to pick out all new furnishings for your family room, or take 3-day weekends for the rest of your life?

Chances are that you lean toward the second option for all of those questions, meaning you’re an experiences-over-things kind of person, and you’re in good company. The McCombs Business School at the University of Texas at Austin actually performed a study in 2020 that found that MOST people are happier when they spend their money on experiential purchases over material ones. The researchers’ possible explanation is that experiences live on more fondly in our memories than material items do, even though we generally use our material items for longer amounts of time and more often.

Think about when you buy a new phone, for example. The first day or two is so exciting as you tinker with different settings and a fancier camera, but after about the first week, it just becomes your norm and the phone loses much of the initial excitement it brought you. In contrast, if you think about a concert you loved or a favorite trip you went on, even though it might’ve happened years ago, the memory still brings you lasting joy.

“If you want to be happier, it might be wise to shift some of your consumption away from material goods and a bit more toward experiences,” one of the researchers and the assistant professor of marketing Amit Kumar said. I’m completely on board with this mentality, and we’re aiming to instill this same value into our kids as well.

If you’re in the pursuit of spending more on experiences vs. material things, this episode will help you with 5 creative ways to prioritize your spending in a way that may actually lead to greater happiness, according to the experts!

1. First, decide what kinds of experiences you gravitate toward.

What kind of experiences do you feel like you’re missing in your life? WHY do you want to bring more of these experiences into your life vs. even more ‘things’? Why does that matter to YOU? What’s the driving force and value behind pursuing more experiences? How can you involve your family, your friends, and other loved ones in more experiential pursuits? If you’re a journaler, these are some great prompts for you to write about this week. If you’re a manifestor, you may want to craft some “I am” statements around the experiences you find valuable. Statements like, “I am worthy of taking the time to enjoy experiences,” and “I am capable of slowing down and prioritizing time doing the things I love.”

Make it personal and be honest with yourself about what you want. In pursuing ANYTHING we desire—whether it’s professional goals or a lifestyle change or whatever else—the first step is almost always getting clear on the specifics of what you hope for. Oh, and just a side note: We’re not villainizing material things here by any means—this isn’t me saying sell all your stuff and go live out of a van (unless that’s what you want for yourself, of course, and then by all means, go for it!). Heck, more often than not, things and experiences are intertwined! You can’t have a great rock climbing sesh without good, safe gear or a place to climb, right? You can’t really go for a seaside picnic without some food and a little cooler, right? Repeat after me: Material items are not BAD. 

But I’ve noticed how often we tend to choose to collect more and more things, filling up our Amazon carts or clicking on the link to whatever new and amazing item an influencer shares on Instagram, hoping those things will do for us what only experiences do best. Change us. Enrich us, give us hope, joy, peace, new perspective. Experiences tend to open up our worldview and connect us with other people and allow us to share more of ourselves, whereas constantly buying more and more stuff might give you a temporary thrill or surge of adrenaline, but it’s gone by the time the next blogger shares a link to something shiny and enticing. Experiences give us lasting memories and changed perspective, and that sticks around much longer than a high from buying a new pair of cute shoes does.

2. Second up, list out your priorities as they stand right NOW.

I highly recommend writing down your priorities in terms of expenses, time spent, and energy spent. For me, I want my time and energy to first be spent toward my family, then my health, and then my business. So for me personally, it’s a nonnegotiable and no-brainer to outsource many pieces of my work life so that I’m ABLE to prioritize family and personal time. As far as money being spent goes, my priorities are our family’s health, future, our home, my business and team, travel, and then other important experiences like outings with our daughters and dates for Drew and I.

I mean, this is the most baseline, simplified list of my priorities but even looking at them from a birds-eye view can show me where my focus is and whether I’m living out this vision in my day-to-day life. Everyone gets caught up in times of heavier spending and it can almost become a snowball effect when you start, so whenever I find myself spending in excess on “stuff” that might not necessarily be fueling my true priorities, I try to step back, evaluate what’s going on, pause, and think through any of my unnecessary purchases for at LEAST 24 hours, or even up to a week or more if it’s a larger purchase. This helps me stay aligned with what I really want to be spending my time, energy, money, and resources on rather than just going through life on autopilot, which tends to happen so easily especially in busier seasons.

3. Watch where conveniences might be overshadowing experiences.

Sometimes material THINGS come into our lives to serve as a convenience and that’s okay! But occasionally, convenience ends up creating a quick shortcut that causes us to overlook an experience. Let me break this down: think of getting a special coffee drink from your favorite coffee shop. This alone is an experience – going to the coffee shop – combined with a thing – your drink of choice. The convenient way of doing it is as quick as possible: ordering as fast as you can on an app and running through the drive-through to pick it up as you hustle on to your next responsibility. 

But… the savored and slower way to do it might be walking to get coffee with a friend and sitting in the shop for 30 minutes to enjoy each other’s company, and catch up, and sip on your coffee in a more relaxed way. In this scenario, you might see your neighborhood in a different light, notice more, and experience how good it feels to breathe fresh air and stretch your legs. You can spend quality time with someone you love and slow down for a minute while you share in each of your worlds. In a day and age where we’re rushing and outsourcing and simplifying, maybe we’re outsourcing the wrong things or that convenience is taking away from our opportunities to have experiences.

Take stock of all the things you tend to speed up or shortcut in your life, and ask yourself if there’s a way to slow down and make it more of a quality, meaningful experience rather than rushing your way through it. I’m all about efficiency but sometimes I wonder at what cost? What’s the point of hurrying through everything just to get to the next thing on our list? Why do we feel the need to rush so much of our lives away? Wouldn’t it make our days so much more meaningful and peaceful if we could expand and breathe more life into certain pieces of our routines?

4. Create an experience budget.

Experiences still cost money sometimes, so make a real budget that you can use to honor your finances and that helps you make room for experiences in your spending! This way, money is never an excuse to not prioritize impactful experiences… and I’m not just talking about BIG, FANCY TRIPS either! Those are fun and everything, and you should definitely have a saving strategy for them if you value travel, but what if you also wanted to save up instead for a facial but don’t have the wiggle room to just splurge on something like that with the rest of your financial responsibilities? Or maybe you want to set a little aside to go out to dinner with the friend, your treat. Or you could start a little fund that allows you to see a concert every couple months!

I feel like budgeting as a whole is all about pinpointing your necessary spending including your housing, bills, retirement savings, and other necessities like groceries, gas, loans, etc. and then combining that with your desired spending – things like shopping, experiences, travel, home projects, and beyond. One of the BEST things you can do to remove overwhelm from budgeting is to simply write down all of your monthly spending and what you hope to save for, and then work backwards to create a saving plan and budget for yourself within each category. So many apps out there also make it EASY to save up quickly for extras – one of my favorites is Qapital (with a Q) because it lets you set savings goals and then automatically deposits an amount of your choosing into a savings or investment account so that you can begin saving for those experiences with as small or large of quantities as you feel comfortable with. 

5. Start small by infusing little memorable experiences into regular weeks.

Challenge yourself to integrate an adventure day – or even just an hour – into your regularly scheduled programming. You can call it something cute and fun that keeps you accountable to it, like “something new Sundays”. It’s simply a way for you and your loved ones to challenge yourselves to try something new or do an experience together on a consistent basis. I do coffee dates with Coco on Saturdays, and even though sometimes it feels like other responsibilities are tugging at my attention, keeping my commitment to this routine has been a beautiful way for her and I to connect and have one-on-one time every single week.

Start with a singular commitment where you simply dip a toe into new experiences or even back into old hobbies you miss! It’s such a great way to begin to retrain yourself to crave experiences first and to regularly remind yourself of the way they fill up your cup. Maybe it’s a great week to bust out the ol’ bicycle, dust it off, and take it for a spin. Ask a friend out to a movie or a show rather than streaming something solo. Take a walk with your partner while you sip your morning coffee. Maybe walk the dogs together! Look for a free day at a museum you’ve never visited. Sign up for a volunteer opportunity and reconnect with your community. Find little ways to infuse experiences that you love and that light you up into your schedule every single week.

The Big Picture

There are so many small, simple ways to infuse experiences into normal weeks — and by doing so, it can take what might feel regular and mundane and add some spark to it! You don’t have to spend tons and tons of money or book a trip to the Bahamas to prioritize experiences over things – it just takes some intentionality and planning, and odds are, you’ll feel the benefits of it immediately – both with the people you love, and within your own sense of purpose and happiness. Afterall, the memory of experiences stick with us long after they’re done, and that leaves a lasting imprint of joy on us that we can relive for years to come.

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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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