Retirement in the Age of the “Experience Economy”

The new trend of valuing experience over “stuff” (and what it means for retirement).

My husband and I live in Denver but spend most of our weekends in the mountains. We’re transplants from Michigan who moved to Colorado nine years ago and quickly developed a desire to stand on as many summits as possible in our new home state.

As we pursue our peak-bagging project, we’ve noticed a distinct trend: On those rare weekends when we stay home, we consistently find that we spend more money than we do when in the mountains. When we’re home for a weekend, we seem to be drawn to activities that involve spending money. We have a sudden desire to undertake some sort of home improvement project, for example. Or we’re compelled to purchase items we had no need or desire for until we found ourselves with an excess of downtime that rekindled our interest in consumerism.

These mini-spending sprees usually leave me feeling empty and consumed with buyer’s remorse. In contrast, I always feel satisfied returning home from the mountains and never regret the money spent on gas, food and other travel-related expenses. Likewise, when I determine it’s necessary to spend money on hiking equipment, I rarely feel guilty because it’s a purchase that is directly linked to a future outdoor experience.

I assumed this tendency was some sort of odd quirk. Then I started seeing articles about the so-called “Experience Economy.” A company called Eventbright coined the phrase based on a study they conducted that found that 76 percent of Millennials would rather spend money on experiences than material goods.1

I sought out more articles on the “Experience Economy” concept and realized that my preferences for spending money on mountain trips versus new clothes or home decor fit right into this phenomenon. It got me thinking—what does this mean from a retirement saving and planning perspective? Could this new trend be just the sort of shift in mindset people need to not only be better prepared financially for retirement, but also psychologically prepared and more likely to achieve contentment after they retire?


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