The experience experiment.

by Nick on January 27, 2014

Theme Park

A few beers and a slice or two with friends makes for a nice cheap and fun night at home.

Or a nice and expensive night out!

Grab a six-pack of beer and a two-pack of friends, order a pizza, and watch the game at home: $20 or less.

Do the same thing at a local sports bar: $50 or more.

Fancy bar where the New Jersey-born Bartenders have a fake British accent, say “ewww” with an I’m-too-good-for-you eye roll if you ask for a domestic beer, spell beer the German way (”i” before “e” and right after the “b” – there’s a rhyme in there somewhere…) and call pizza “flatbread,” and you could be pushing $100 or more.

Yet every week thousands of suburban Americans squeeze into jeans they shouldn’t wear, don a “vintage” shirt that they paid $200 for and could have got at Mr. Calhoon’s yard sale for 75 cents, slap on a pair of $300 sunglasses and happily pay way too much for the same thing they could have got at the local “packie” (google it – it’s a Boston thing) for 1/10th of the cost.

At first I thought it was the sunglasses.

“Maybe they can’t see the prices. Or how ridiculous they look,” I thought.

That can’t be it. At some point they see the credit card statement.

Then it hit me. They aren’t paying more for “flatbreads” – or “bier.”

They probably aren’t doing it intentionally… but they’re paying for the experience.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be running around one of those “It-costs-HOW-MUCH-to-get-in!” theme parks in Orlando, Florida. Fortunately for my wallet the tickets were a gift.

Even with gifted tickets, a not-so-small part of me would die a little inside every time I saw a price tag.

Last time I went I said – out loud – and several times: “I can get ___ at the local ___ for $__. I’m not going to pay $__ for it here, just because some freakin’ mouse needs to please some freakin’ shareholders (of which I am one…)!”

This time will be different.

Because this year I have a new plan: The Experience Experiment

I will set aside some money every month for experiences.

Starting next month I’m going to spend more money on things I could buy or do at home just for the sake of the experience.

I will fight every urge to be in shock at how much it costs, as long as it’s in the budget.

I will know that it’s OK to spend all the money I set aside – even if it just buys a hamburger and a great memory.

I will even embrace that my money won’t go as far in the gift shop.

Because it will go as far as the eye can see in building memories.

The kids will grow up. I will get old. My wife will (ha! you thought I’d be dumb enough to go there….). My wife will look just the same, year after year.

But the memories will last forever.

When is the last time you spent extra on the same thing for the value of the experience?

Are you intentional about seeking and spending money on experiences?

Maybe this is the year you stop collecting Beanie Babies and start collecting memories.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone January 27, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Can’t put a price on memories! If it is within budget, it is truly a win-win!


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:29 am

I’m learning that! A great exercise is thinking back at all of your memories. None of them are about “that awesome poster I bought.” They’re all time with people.


Mel @ brokeGIRLrich January 27, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Experiences are my favorite thing to spend money on! I think it’s why I’m such a travel whore. On some trips, I think splurging on a pre-packed guided tour is totally worth it – especially for a day or two of a multi-day trip. They’re always more expensive than doing it yourself, but there’s so much less stress and you get a tour guide who actually knows about the area, which is pretty cool.

However, the experience of a night out at the bar vs. a night in with friends, pizza and beer… the latter sounds better to me anyway. I’m getting old. Bars are loud.

Coincidentally, if your Orlando experience theme park is mouse related, you might want to google “Disney discount bloggers.” There are some really… passionate… people out there who know all the best deals for navigating the parks once inside and still getting the best deals (which are still pretty pricey).


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the heads up! I’ll be sure to google that.

I agree on the bars thing, too. I bartended for 6 years and was a bouncer for 2 and a half before that. I got my fix. I’m good at home now. The experience is much better at home w/ friends most of the time.

I love getting guides too. I’m often pretty lazy/overwhelmed planning a trip that we don’t do much. The few times I got a guide it was well worth the money and times savings and really highlighted things about the trip that I would not have otherwise done, known, or seen.


The First Million is the Hardest January 27, 2014 at 6:06 pm

If I’m going to spend a lot of money I’d much rather it be on an experience than a good. You’ll always remember the vacations you took and the sights you saw, the novelty of a new TV or the latest iPad will wear off quickly.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:35 am

Totally! It’s pretty great even older iDevices perform, incidentally, particularly with software updates. I get a lot of fun asking people “is that the new one” who have the old one. You’d think I caught them watching porn or something in the way their responses are a combination of shame, humility, and excuses – like there’s anything wrong with having an older iDevice or even (GASP!) no iDevice…


Tie the Money Knot January 27, 2014 at 7:20 pm

While taking care of needs is vital, we do want to enjoy life, right? So sometimes we need to simply budget and plan for experiences. Actually, some of the best and most memorable times I’ve had have been via experiences that I probably couldn’t have afforded at the time but wouldn’t trade back!


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:54 am

Absolutely! With 2 small kids time will fly by way too fast if I’m not making great memories!


Holly@ClubThrifty January 28, 2014 at 7:58 am

I’m usually willing to pay for “experiences” while we’re traveling. For instance, we like to go out to eat when we’re traveling to another country. Other than that, no. I hate going to bars anyways. Restaurants are ok but only if we’re really busy or celebrating something.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:55 am

I fight it sometimes, but every time I budget an extra few bucks I get priceless memories. I’m all barred out myself, too! 🙂


Marie @ 4HWD January 28, 2014 at 8:00 am

Last week I just had my hair rebonded but I cut it short after making the process. Every year I always rebond my hair to a reputable salon, but I want to make an experiment, this is my first time to cut my hair short after being rebonded.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:56 am

I have no idea what any of that means! 🙂 But I love the new experiment! **goes to Google “hair rebonding” 🙂


jefferson January 28, 2014 at 8:15 am

My wife and I sometimes do get into a bit of a tug of war over the experience vs. material things discussion.. She likes to note that spending money upgrading the house and such is an *investment* whereas taking a vacation leaves you with nothing but memories once it has passed.

The thing is.. to me.. The memories *are* the investment. 🙂


Nick January 29, 2014 at 9:57 am

Here’s the problem. You’re right. You’re investing in your life.

But she’s right, too!

What if she made a list of home upgrades and budget and agreed that if you managed the project and came in under budget without sacrificing the output you could invest the savings in memory building?


Elroy January 29, 2014 at 12:07 am

I spend lot o’ moolah on experiences. Stuff, that boring [….] and a PITA to manage.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 10:03 am

Totally! I’ve said for years that we probably rent(ed) an extra 500 sq. ft. apartment just because of all the “stuff” we need to house!


Jon @ MoneySmartGuides January 29, 2014 at 8:04 am

Nice post. I spend money on some experiences but not others. I find that certain things are worth paying extra for and others, not so much.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 10:06 am

Totally a great way to do it. I’m going to be relatively selective too!


Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life January 29, 2014 at 10:00 am

I like your comparison at the top of the same experience at different price points. While I do appreciate both ends of the spectrum, the frequency with which people gravitate to the higher end (i.e. the flatbreads) never ceases to amaze me.


Nick January 29, 2014 at 10:08 am

Thanks Stefanie! You make a great point. I do, too. And yes, I obviously know about the “flatbreads” from experience. But it drives me crazy sometimes when people “go fancy” for fancy sake – way too often! I’m always like “why you so fancy?!?!” Don’t get me started…. 🙂


Ryan @ Impersonal Finance January 29, 2014 at 11:54 am

Excellent idea here. I realized that I would much rather spend money on experiences than possessions, but you’re totally right about people paying way too much for an experience that isn’t memorable, or paying too much for convenience.


Nick January 30, 2014 at 10:40 am

Thanks Ryan! It’s been so hard a mind shift for me. I’ve been a “want to hold it in my hands” value guy for a while. But thinking back I realize I don’t even know where half the crap is. But I still have all the memories from great experiences!


eemusings January 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm

I do this a lot with food (eating out is our main form of entertainment). I don’t enjoy cooking, I’m not very good at it and a lot of my favourite cuisines are very labour intensive…


Nick January 30, 2014 at 10:42 am

Very cool. Eating out can certainly get expensive. But when you’re doing it intentionally and don’t have other budget busters, it can certainly make for a memorable experience – especially if you maximize the time you have with your dining partner.


Daniel January 30, 2014 at 12:44 am

If you always try and save money, your experiences will be limited. A good question is whether 10 small experiences are better than 2 large vacations. Maybe they’ll stick out in your memory more?


Nick January 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

Great question, Daniel. Certainly something I’m going to keep mindful of. We’re taking a family vacation next month and still saving up for week-long vacations along the way. But our plan now is to forego some of the stuff for more experiences, rather than to give up the vacations for them. It’ll certainly be a challenge to measure the benefits (there’s no “bank account of memories” that I can think of). But hopefully adding small experiences on top of the big ones by sacrificing some “stuff” will add a lot of value in our lives, whether we can measure that or not.


David February 2, 2014 at 7:11 pm

In my opinion, it is better to go on vacations and have memories that last, as opposed to buying tangible things that i the long run do not really matter in the long run.


Grayson @ Debt Roundup February 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

I will spend money on experiences. Since we don’t get a chance to do this often, I think it is more important to enjoy oneself. I won’t go crazy on an experience, but I won’t penny pinch throughout the entire experience either.


Joe February 3, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Wow! What a great article. It always amazes me when I read frugal bloggers talk about how little they spend EVER by doing absolutely nothing. while I’m selective when buying “stuff” I’m all about spending for the memories. A plane ride somewhere with my family and a stay in a nice hotel? Absolutely. Now, if I can make that trip in my $10 shirt from the thrifty store? Bonus.


Poor Student February 5, 2014 at 9:28 am

Experiences don’t have to be expensive but I see where you are coming from. I really like the experiences that I have had but with little money.


Justin @ Root of Good February 16, 2014 at 12:06 am

I guess I’m still mindful of my spending all of the time. We still spend up when it comes to experiences (like the week long cruise we just booked this morning).

But things like blowing $50 in the gift shop for crappy nicknacks that we don’t need and will end up cluttering the house until we throw them out? No thanks. I think the concept of a “gift shop” itself is bizarre. I know I went to the place. I don’t need a shot glass or t-shirt with the name of the place on it.


Shawna @ Money Misfit March 2, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I still try to make my experiences as cheap as possible through things like travel hacking. And, I always travel with my stainless steel water bottle because bottled water can get pretty pricey when you’re traveling!


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