Experience People vs. Things People

Experience Enlightenment

In 2004, the two of us moved into a friend’s basement apartment. Our friend prefers to call it a “garden level walk-in”, but it does not meet the legal requirements to be called such. Therefore, we call it a basement apartment. Even today we refer to it as “The Basement”. We make fun, but it was a sweet deal for us financially and we fondly look back on our experience there because it made us who we are today; experience people.

It is an 800 square foot, two bedroom/two bathroom apartment in the heart of Denver’s Capitol Hill area and within walking distance of 25+ restaurants, bars, grocers and retail shops for which we paid $850 a month. We love walking, so the walkability was a great feature for us. Our rent included all utilities, including Internet and satellite TV.

Though we didn’t know it when we moved into The Basement, we quickly realized that this was the answer to our financial problems. At the time, we had $51,000 in credit card debt. Shortly after moving into The Basement, we acknowledged our financial foolishness and devised a plan to climb out of debt, no 1980s music montage included. In about two and half years we paid off our credit card debt and in about four years we started shopping for our own home.

Our Personal Reflection

When we started searching for our home we did a lot of personal reflecting and had many deep discussions. We knew we didn’t want to be house-poor. We had just climbed out of major credit card debt and didn’t want to be constrained by new debt. We eventually realized that what we want most out of our financial life is to travel and be prepared for retirement.

We had traveled together a little in the past and knew at that point we wanted to travel more. We are both in financial services and it’s been seared into our heads that we must save for retirement. Knowing these were our financial goals put everything into perspective for us.

Not only do we not want to be house-poor, we don’t want a gigantic house that costs a lot of money to fix and maintain. We want a home that’s safe when we are travel. We want decent cars, but don’t need anything extravagant. Club hopping and having our closets full of newer and newer designer clothes do not fit into our long-term financial plan and they have since been eliminated.

Our Drive

We eventually bought a 1,008 square foot condominium. It was a fixer-upper that wasn’t expensive, hasn’t cost a lot of money to update, doesn’t cost a lot to maintain and is in a secure building with a building and property manager.

Our condo, also, meets our architectural design aesthetic. This is more from luck than from intention. We are fans of modern design. Our condo was built in 1962 in the Googie or Atomic Age – think The Jetsons – architectural style. We know. It’s shocking that a gay, Mini-Cooper driving couple is into modern design. Since we moved into our condo, we redid the floors, remodeled the kitchen and painted and repainted all of the rooms.

We have done nothing with either bathroom. They both have their original, 1962 tile on the floor and halfway up the wall. One bathroom is blue and the other is what we call “jaundiced-yellow”. Quite unpretty.

It occurred to us the other day that we have traveled extensively over the last eight years, including to England, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and many places within the U.S., yet we have not remodeled either bathroom. When we went to Australia and New Zealand, we spent 30 days “down under” and spent $15,000 for flights, hotel, food, and entertainment and more – yes, with credit that was paid off immediately upon our return to The States. With that money, we could have remodeled both bathrooms and still had $5,000 left over for a nice vacation.

Why are the bathrooms not a priority for us?

Experience People and Things People

We pondered this for a while and came to the conclusion that of the many kinds of people in the world, two include “things people” (TP) and “experience people” (EP). Neither is better than the other. Neither indicates whether one is more educated, sophisticated, intelligent, financially responsible or principled. They just are.

Most people or families, as in our case, cannot “have it all”. As we have said before, that is reality and that’s okay. Trying to live otherwise for most people and families typically results in financial peril.

We are “EPs”. Rarely a week goes by when we don’t talk about a past, future or dream vacation. We love to travel. We love immersing ourselves in a city or town culture, walking all over and stopping in shops, restaurants and bars. We love meeting and spending time with the locals.

We were recently in San Diego celebrating our ten year anniversary. We walked over thirty miles in three days. When we were in Ibiza and Sitges, Spain a few years ago, we walked so much that we lost weight despite drinking sangria like it was the law. To some Spaniards, we suppose, it is the law.

This is what we love to do. We even walk extensively in Denver. We would much rather walk to our neighborhood bar for a beer with friends than spend $50 to $100 on a new toilet seat. Because we held off we finally found one for $20 that matches perfectly.

We “EPs” share the world with “TPs” – not to be confused with the typical TP as it relates to toilet seats.
TPs prefer to have things, such as a home that is likely bigger or nicer than ours. A bathroom remodel doesn’t steal from another goal of theirs. TPs prefer a nicer car and may have more current clothing. TPs may have children or pets. They may have cars that aren’t ten years old each.

As we said, there is nothing wrong with either type of person. The problem for both is the same. If either spends too much money on their experience or “thing” or can’t define their “thing”, they can easily find themselves in credit card debt or not achieving more important short and long-term financial goals.

Your Personal Reflection

  • Which is more important to you? Are you part of the experience people crowd like us or are you a things person?
  • Have you had the heart-to-heart with yourself or your spouse about what you most want to achieve in life, personally and financially?

We understand that we can’t have everything and trying to live otherwise will only set us up for financial failure. Most people can’t have everything. Because of that, if you don’t know what you truly want, in any aspect of life, you may never get it.

Find out what you want most in life and you’ll likely find out that you are either an EP or a TP. Knowing where you fall provides focus to make sound financial decisions that position you for financial success as you define it.

For more help balancing experience versus things, see our video about how to overcome guilty pleasures.

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Comment List

  • Naomi 21 / 06 / 2014 Reply

    I’d like to consider myself as a EP as well. I would prefer to get out and experience things instead of purchasing new/nicer things. To me my computer/smartphone are probably the only possessions I’d frown about if they were broken. These two items allow me to reach out and share/communicate to other like-minded people. And for that I am grateful. But even if they were broken they are easily replaced and I could pick up exactly where I left off.

    My husband and I want to live our fullest life, with no regrets. Do everything our hearts desire & flip over every stone that peaks our interest!

    • John Schneider 21 / 06 / 2014 Reply

      We personally find being EPs now more rewarding than when we were TPs (not THAT TP!). Each of us is different, though, and we need to learn what we want most out of life. As Steve Jobs said, Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

  • Kevin Z 11 / 08 / 2014 Reply

    Great article, guys. I too think of myself as an EP, along with my wife. Yes there are a few ‘toys’ in which I occasionally indulge – a new lens or software for the camera, maybe something else electronic, and that’s about it. But even these things I research exhaustively and buy used to save money. We live in a modest apartment and drive average cars. But we never think twice about trying out a restaurant, going to a movie, drinking good booze (well maybe me more so than her) or otherwise having fun and enjoying ourselves. Our favorite thing is Burning Man, an experience like none other on earth. We sacrifice tremendously in the months prior, both restricting our spending and the countless hours making costumes and preparing, just so at that moment there the experience is that much more rewarding. Sometimes my ‘EP’ borders on hedonism, but I think that’s why we are on Earth, to enjoy it. We made the conscious choice to have careers that allow us to enjoy our lives, and not just dread working.

    • John Schneider 12 / 08 / 2014 Reply

      Great to hear this honest and genuine post. It’s hard to not want it all, and sometimes the "sacrifice," I don’t typically care for that word, I prefer choice, is well worth not having something else. Things can be stolen, lost or thrown away, but memories are forever.

      I think that is why we enjoy travel so much. Getting out and exploring the world, whether that is our own beautiful state of Colorado or going half way around the world.

      Of course I would still like an Audi S4, but that is for another day and when our paychecks have grown. 😉

      Thanks again Kevin.

  • Froogal Stoodent 27 / 08 / 2014 Reply

    I would probably classify myself as a "things person," but not because I prefer things to experiences. It’s because I can create many experiences for free, whereas I can get very few things for free–much less nice, durable things. Not that I spend much on either (I adhere to the Millionaire Mindset that I describe here: http://froogalstoodent.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-millionaire-mindset.html), but I can have a quality experience for free by hanging out with a friend. I probably can’t get a quality computer, house, meal, pair of shoes, etc. without spending some amount of money.

    To be clear, I value both quality experiences AND quality possessions, but I have to choose where to allocate my very limited amount of money. I’d prefer to get a few nice, durable possessions, and spend little money on hanging out with friends for a couple hours. I’d argue that it’s better than spending most of my free money hanging out with friends and then ending up with a bunch of cheap junk. For a grad student like me whose income is technically below the poverty line, I truly do have to make that choice 🙁

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