Instead of buying a car or saving his money for rent, Frank, who majors in economics and romance languages, spent his money on a trip to Cuba for spring break, tickets to a Beyoncé concert and a backpacking trip around Europe this summer.
Frank said he decided to spend his money on experiences because he could get more out of an experience than he could out of an object.
“Belongings don’t carry a lot of sentimental value for me,” he said. “But if I can look back on a memory or an experience or something of that nature, then that does carry a lot of sentimental value for me.”
According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll and Eventbrite Inc., pursuing experiences rather than buying objects is a generational trend. Seventy-eight percent of millennials said they would rather spend money on desirable experiences over desirable things.
Professor Arne Kalleberg, who teaches the first-year sociology seminar “The Pursuit of Happiness: Social Science Approaches to Well-Being,” said many millennials are focused on relationships and experiences because they can’t guarantee what the economic future holds, and thus want to be in charge of the experiences they can control in present time.
“I think people realize that stuff doesn’t really satisfy those concerns about the future, but having experiences now while you can, enjoying life — especially meaningful relationships with other people — is much more satisfying,” Kalleberg said. “I think that speaks to the uncertainty of our time.”
According to the Harris Poll, 69 percent of millennials experience FOMO — fear of missing out — a feeling often discussed on social media.
Sociology professor Andrew Perrin said this fear of missing out drives many millennials to pursue experiences because they see their friends pursuing experiences, and they don’t want to miss out on the fun.
“From a technology and cultural standpoint, one of the things that we have observed is the ability of people to connect into social networks that are very similar to themselves,” he said. “You look at your 10 friends (on social media) and see they’re all doing fun trips, and then you want to take one.”
Kalleberg said many millennials, particularly college-aged students, are pursuing valuable experiences in preparation for the time when they will enter the workforce.
“Millennials realize that they’re going to be more responsible for their own futures, and so they have to acquire the skills to make it in the labor market — they have to take control of their own lives,” he said. “This also speaks to the issue of having meaningful experiences, which makes you a more well-rounded and skilled person.”
Frank said his hard work in school, his years of savings, and his desire to experience all he can before entering the workforce motivated his spending.
“I’m about to go be a real person, and soon, I won’t be able to take a summer off. I’m at a juncture in my life where I can go and pursue these things,” he said.
“I worked hard for four years — let me lean into the indulgence for a little bit.”