I had an interesting discussion in a ridesharing car the other day. The participants included myself (a Millennial, and the only woman), a Gen-Xer who was planning on proposing to his girlfriend very soon, and a Boomer who happened to be a diamond wholesaler.

The Gen-Xer was grilling the diamond seller on rings, asking him about quality, size, style, brand appeal, cut, clarity, whether pink diamonds are still in, and everything else you could possibly think of.

The diamond seller said when it comes to value for money, there's one unlikely place that's actually the best for quality diamonds at reasonable prices: Costco. That's
right--you can, apparently, get a very nice, high-quality diamond ring from Costco.

Everyone laughed, but then the Gen-Xer turned to me a bit uncertainly. "How would you feel, though, if your boyfriend proposed to you with a ring from Costco? Would it affect, you know, how you felt about it?"

I thought about it for a moment.

Then I answered honestly: "No, not particularly."

Since ring budget numbers had already been thrown out, I added, "I'd much rather, for example, that if my man's budget was $15,000, he get an $8,000 diamond from Costco and use the 'extra' $7,000 to take us on an epic backpacking adventure. We'd remember that for the rest of our lives, and if there's no real difference in the ring quality from Costco vs. Tiffany, who cares where it comes from?"

It turns out I'm not alone in this way of seeing things--this kind of perspective is common for Millennials. When ranking what's important to us, we consistently rank one thing highest: experiences.

In terms of spending, Millennials are crystal clear on this. A recent study by Harris Poll (for Eventbrite) showed 78 percent of Millennials would rather spend money on an experience they wanted to have over an item they desired.

Consider that for a moment: nearly 8 in 10 Millennials would rather spend their money on something they wanted to experience rather than something they wanted to have (like a specific car, or a brand-name purse).

This is quite a departure in a culture that has traditionally valued material possessions fairly highly.

Why do Millennials report this? My theory is it's because experiences are where we make memories. Sure, you can own a Porsche, but you're not going to remember that in the same way you'll remember dancing til dawn in front of an art car with newfound friends on the playa at Burning Man, or bellowing "Sweet Caroline" at the top of your lungs with a bunch of friends on an epic camping trip in Big Sky.

Experiences are also what shape us as people. They're where we grow, where we're confronted, where we celebrate. I'd much rather ride an elephant in Thailand with my newlywed husband or have a challenging-yet-ultimately-spiritually-empowering time climbing Machu Picchu than have a bigger rock on my finger.

Millennials are waiting longer to get married. We're not buying cars or houses in nearly the same numbers as previous generations. But 69 percent of us believe attending live events and experiences make us "more connected to other people, the community and the world," and we're willing and eager to invest in them.

Are we going to rent instead of buy, stay unmarried, and Uber around instead of purchasing vehicles forever?

I don't know.

Will we change the fabric of the country with these kinds of choices?

I don't know that either.

But I like the experimental quality of it. I like not knowing where it's all going to lead. And I like that as the report on Millennials and the experience economy noted, "For this group, happiness isn't as focused on possessions or career status. Living a meaningful, happy life is about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through experiences that span the spectrum of life's opportunities."

Whether you're a Millennial or not, here's to living out loud. Things are best when we truly value experiencing all of what life has to offer.

Published on: Sep 21, 2016