The Most Expensive Thing You Own: A Thought Experiment

by Randy Murray on October 3, 2011

Here’s a simple thought experiment that anyone can do. It’s especially interesting and useful for players of the Spend Nothing Game.

It’s just this: take a moment and think of the most expensive thing that you own, something that you have personally bought and paid for. Exclude your home and your vehicles. Now, what is it? How much did you spend on it?

And what does this say about you, your interests, where you spend you time, your attention, and your money?

Did you set out to spend a significant amount of money of this thing or did it “just happen that way”? Does this thing do for you what you had hoped? Are you pleased with this thing and what it does for you (or allows you to do)?

This experiment is just for you. Think about it and see if you’re happy or uncomfortable about the results of this experiment. Some people talk about collections, but I think this experiment works best if you settle on a single object. Your object might not be that expensive at all, but compared to your other possessions it costs the most.

Be clear and ruthlessly honest. If you have to, go online and see what the current value of the thing is, but what counts is what you paid for it.

What does your thing, what you spent on it, make you think and feel about the expense? Was it worth it?

I’ll even share my own experiment with you. It’s a piano.

I play the piano and have always enjoyed doing it. I won’t play in public and my skills are rusty. But I missed having a piano easily available in college and when I was newly married and in grad school I bought a beat up old piano for fifty bucks, just so I’d have something to play. I kept it as we moved, even thought about eventually having it restored, but I knew it wasn’t worth doing. Then when my first daughter was born I knew what my first action would be. My wife took her maternity leave and then I scheduled a few weeks myself to have some time with my daughter on my own. And the first thing we did together, my infant daughter and I, was to go shopping for a new piano.

We bought a decent quality new studio piano. They delivered it and hauled the old monster away. And I played the new one with her in a backpack. When the time came, she learned to play it, too.

A second daughter came along, and she played too. I also took the opportunity to trade the studio piano in and bought a new baby grand piano. It’s a beautiful instrument and is a joy to play, to hear, and to look at.

It’s the most expensive thing I own. It’s something that I hope will stay in the family for generations.

I’m very happy with my most expensive thing. I don’t have to go too far down on the list of “next most expensive things” to come up with things that I’m less happy about, though. Doing this thought experiment from time to time helps keep me grounded, makes me think about the value of money, and, I hope, might make me hesitate a bit when spending money and buying things.

Good luck with your experiment.


As a postscript, when I ran this thought experiment on twitter a few weeks ago, more than one person responded, jokingly (I hope), that the most expensive thing that they owned were their children. I pointed out to them, as I do to you, that you do not own your children.

The The Most Expensive Thing You Own: A Thought Experiment by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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