Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Materialism vs Experiences

When I was ten and first started paying attention to my allowance money, I resolved to only spend it on tangible things. A sandwich would disappear once it was eaten, so what was the point? I reasoned. I would keep my money for lasting objects.

Eighteen years later, my philosophy has basically done a complete turnaround.

I still spend plenty of money on things. I cheerfully describe both myself and my spouse David as materialists, because we are clutterrats who accumulate lots of things -- books lead the list, but we also round up souvenirs quite a bit when we travel, and have an assortment of collections. David must have three or four dozen baseball caps lurking in our single closet. Living in a tiny NYC apartment does curb the clutter instinct.

But a much larger percentage of our income now goes to 'experiences,' particularly travel. I bounce around a lot for work, but David and I also spend a pretty hefty sum visiting friends and new places. (Forty states down, ten to go ...) I also routinely drop more money that younger-me would ever have imagined sane to dine out. I like to cook, and do so at least a few times a week, but I also really like eating my way through NYC's abundance of excellent restaurants.

Every so often I mentally wrestle with this mindset. Is it really smart to spend so much of my income on ephemeral experiences? On the other hand, there isn't a lot (beyond books) in the way of material goods that I really covet -- and the experiences I've had shape who I am.

This idle musing was underlined when David presented me with my birthday present last night (6/6 -- I'm a devil baby!): A bottle of Grange, Australia's famed Very Best Wine. I nearly keeled over. On our last trip to David's homeland, we took the Penfolds tour, and for years I'd heard stories from David and other Aussies about the wonders of Grange. Our wine budget is set considerably below the Grange threshold, though, so I never really expected to try it anytime soon.

I drink $20 wines fairly routinely, and I've had occasion to try a few in the low-three-figures range, though almost never when I'm paying. (Ah, the perks of business dinners ...) But I've never before confronted a bottle of wine that costs in the range of what I used to get paid for a week's work when I started my career.

Part of me knows there's absolutely no way to financially justify spending that sort of money on a fleeting extravagance. And part of me says it's an experience I'll always remember.

Financial decisions are funny things. How we choose spend our money really does say a lot about who we are.