Look-at-Me Purchases

Takeaway: Material purchases that scream “look at me” are usually a waste of money and don’t make you any happier.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 12s.

As a total nerd, one of the things I love reading each year is Warren Buffet’s annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. In 2022’s letter (PDF), he offhandedly mentioned a phrase I’ve been thinking about since reading it.

I’ve bolded the bit that got me thinking, and here’s also the rest of the paragraph for context:

The disposition of money unmasks humans. Charlie [Munger] and I watch with pleasure the vast flow of Berkshire-generated funds to public needs and, alongside, the infrequency with which our shareholders opt for look-at-me assets and dynasty-building.

The phrase “look-at-me assets” crystalizes a lot of what bugs me about the consumption-driven habits that drive so many people. I’ve written in the past about avoiding hedonic purchases—material purchases that are “associated with fun, pleasure, and excitement,” like perfume, luxury watches, and nice cars. Research shows that once we get used to the stuff we buy—which doesn’t take much time—we inevitably settle back down into our previous level of happiness.1

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with nice things—there are far too many Apple products in my field of view right now to throw stones. (Plus, imagine all that shattered glass!) But it’s worth remembering, especially as far as our happiness is concerned, that we extract more lasting happiness out of spending money on experiences—not out of consuming things that we will inevitably get used to. We get used to nice things—especially the ones that call out “hey, look at me!” The things, in other words, that we buy for the purpose of status projection.

Once the initial novelty of a new thing wears off—and we settle back down after buying the oversized house, overpriced car, or ridiculous watch—we’re left with whatever tangible difference it makes in our lives.

When money is a finite resource, we’re best off pouring it into experiences with others or things that serve a function or purpose in our lives.

Once you begin to see all the “look at me” purchases people make, it can be hard to unsee it all.

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