I just booked my flight to South Africa for World Cup 2010. I’m going with my friends Andy and Katie and we have tickets for all three USA group stage games, plus a the Spain vs. Switzerland group stage match. Everyone I talk to says something along the lines of “oh wow, you must be rich to be able to go to the World Cup.” When I talk about some of the other places I’ve been, people are even more shocked.
Although I am very lucky that I do not have any student loan debt and had a business where I made some money, I am not rich. The reason I can afford to travel is that I value experiences over physical things. Let me explain.
I value experiences like traveling, going to sporting events, eating good food and learning new skills. I don’t value physical things like the latest tech gadgets, new cars, expensive houses, fashion and other material things. That’s why I’ve traveled to Europe multiple times and am going to South Africa this summer.
I’m able to travel because I drive a scratched and dented ’95 Toyota Carolla (link isn’t my car, its too clean). It is one of the cheapest cars to drive and maintain and my insurance is cheap because I don’t have comprehensive insurance, just collision. I get 30 MPG and live close to my office, so I rarely drive.
I could afford to upgrade to a “better” car, but what’s the use? I view a car as a way to get from point A to point B. As long as the car is safe and reliable, why change? I look at it this way: I could have a new car or a trip to Europe each year. The average US car payment is $400, or $4800 per year. I’ll choose driving a “crappy” car every single day of the week if it means I can go to Europe once per year.
I also don’t need luxury living. I pay $400/month to rent a room in a house that I share with 4 friends. We have an entire house here in Madison and have plenty of space. We have a great location, close to the Capitol, restaurants and bars. I could live on my own for $700 or live with a roommate in a nicer apartment for anywhere between 600-1200/month. That $200/month minimum difference in rent, or $2400, will more than pay for my flight to South Africa this summer. It could also pay for my groceries, since I cook most days of the week.
I also have had the same cell phone for the past 6 years. It’s functional, makes calls and I’ve had fewer than 10 dropped calls in that time period, unless I’m in an elevator. Since I’ve had the phone for so long, I don’t have a long term contract and my rates are low. I recently got an iPhone for business and the price difference is stunning. My old phone costs about $40/month. If this weren’t for business, a new iPhone can cost up to $100/month.
I don’t care about fashion. Obviously, I want to look good, just like everyone else, but I don’t need to be on the cutting edge. If I find something that fits and looks decent, I’ll wear it until its worn out. I own (and wear) shoes from 2004, 2008 and 2009 that still are comfortable and look decent. If you see me around Madison, you’ll probably see me in one of 5-6 different clothing combos. I spent under $200 on new clothes in 2009. I have friends who spend $200 on a single pair of jeans. That savings will pay for my match tickets to 4 world cup games and my food while I’m there.
I also try to pack a lunch instead of going out to lunch. A nice sandwich, salad and piece of fruit costs about $2 at most. The average lunch at a sandwich shop costs $7. That $5 per day difference goes toward eating dinners at interesting restaurants and trying new cuisines.
I don’t impulse buy. I never buy cheap, plastic things that will only be used once. I was talking with my friend Andy about buying things when we were on our way back from visiting our friends Mike and Pat in Chicago.
Andy said he remembered sitting in an intro Finance class sophomore year of college where the professor said “we all buy things everyday.” She was trying to give an introduction to finance, but Andy couldn’t stop thinking to himself “No, I don’t buy things everyday. Sometimes i even go 3-4 days without buying anything.” I’m in the same boat.
In the US, you can say “we buy things everyday” and for most people, it is true. I know when my parents were growing up, their families did not buy things everyday. They bought a weeks worth of groceries at the store and cooked meals at home. Eating at restaurants was rare and fast food places like Qdoba, Potbelly, Subway and others were nonexistent. Going out was considered a special treat. They wouldn’t buy candy from vending machines, cheap plastic junk from stores or close to 75% of the inventory in your typical Walmart. It’s amazing that there can be stores in the US that only sell cheap plastic junk that will only be used once. At least Walmart sells groceries and other necessities. People buy all sorts of things without even thinking about them and many times, rarely use them more than once, if at all.
I think there are three subsets of people. People who value experiences over things, people who value experiences over things, but get sucked into buying lots of material things and people who value things over experiences. I don’t think there is a “right” way to live, although I personally can’t imagine being happy based on purchasing electronics, cars and clothes; everyone can be happy in any of the three categories. The point of this post is not to chastise people who value things over experiences, but to point out that people in the middle group can get out of the “things” trap. Instead of spending money on things to “keep up with the Joneses” they could save the money and actually do the things they’ve always wanted to.
What do you think? Which category to you fit into? What experiences would you like to be able to do in your life?