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10 Secrets of People Who Buy Experiences, Not Things

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Buying experiences rather than things has lately been touted as a key to happier, greener living. Researchers note that people adapt to owning material things quickly, whereas they can look forward to, and remember, an experience for a long time. Here are 10 ways to orient your lifestyle and spending toward experiences and away from stuff that will just wind up in a landfill.

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A memorable experience may be a better and more eco-friendly purchase than a meat-centric meal or a McMansion, but basic needs such as food and shelter must be fulfilled. Paying off debt and building a financial safety net are also worthwhile goals. Take care of the material things you need before shifting your focus to the experiences you want.

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A paper published in the journal Psychological Science shows that looking forward to an experience such as a ski trip or concert can bring more happiness and excitement than anticipating a material purchase. Imagine planning a trip with a friend as opposed to waiting for an online order to arrive, and it's easy to see why this is true. Get the most for your money by making plans early and reveling in the anticipation.

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It is often hard to get away from work and school for more than a week or two, but can help a trip feel longer. Visiting multiple places or attractions in a single day can make it seem like there was more time for such things. Try to avoid doing the same thing on back-to-back days; they're likely to blend together in your memory. Finally, conclude the trip by doing something especially fun -- the end can leave a lasting impression.

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Every city offers free and cheap attractions, from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to shows in Las Vegas casinos. Spend a weekend, or even a day, exploring all the things to do in a nearby city.

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Traveling abroad may be tempting, but it comes with a large carbon footprint. Instead, embrace America's oddball, and often inexpensive, attractions. The world's tallest, largest, loudest, and plenty of other superlatives are out there for admiration, amusement, and photo opportunities. A road trip to offbeat attractions can be memorable and fun to plan -- and greener than more exotic travel.

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Some U.S. national parks are international travel destinations, yet entrance is often $25 or less for a week and camping is relatively cheap. People who don't own camping gear can rent tents, sleeping bags, and camping stoves from outdoor stores and still come out ahead. For a more uncommon experience, look to the country's many underrated national parks.

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A prix fixe meal at an upscale restaurant can easily cost more than $75 a person, but many of the country's best-known foods are cheap eats. A Chicago hot dog, a New York bagel, and even a Maine lobster roll are all relatively inexpensive. Depending where you live, traveling to another state for a signature treat is easy, but even those who don't live near state borders can venture to nearby towns and cities in search of the best cheap local foods.

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Spending money on experiences should not be limited to noteworthy food or occasional travel. Integrate this philosophy into everyday life simply by organizing a regular social event and spending time with others. This could be a monthly book club, weekly potluck dinner or game night, or participation on a local sports team.

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Experiences don't take up space like a material objects, but you do have to make room for them. Start with your commute: Is it worth taking a lower-paying job close to home, or buying a smaller home close to the office? Either will consume less gas and less valuable time. On a smaller scale, consider hiring someone to clean the house, paying a virtual assistant to do time-consuming computer tasks, or having groceries delivered to buy some time.

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The experience of doing volunteer work typically costs nothing but time. Making a donation may not seem like much of an experience, but studies have shown that this simple act can make people happier. And money spent on others is money you might otherwise have spent on stuff you don't need.