If you could turn back time, how much would you be willing to pay for the privilege? A company called Bid On Equipment surveyed 2,000 people to ask how much they would pay to go back in time and experience particular moments.
Most of those snapshots of time were related to music, sports, pop culture, and history. The average prices people were willing to pay for these categories ranged from $639 to $39,334. A few examples:
- $4,991 to attend a Tupac Shakur concert
- $5,114 to watch the 1975 Muhammad Ali-George Frazier fight
- $7,103 to experience the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer
- $11,757 to be at the premiere of ‘Star Wars’
- $26,896 to hear the Gettysburg Address
The final category, “Personal,” listed 10 magic moments such as your first kiss, attending the prom, getting married, or the day your first child was born. Compared to the other four categories, the virtual price tags here started noticeably higher ($2,540) and topped out at $100,622.
People were willing to pay more to attend their high school graduations ($6,246) than to attend concerts by late great musicians like Johnny Cash ($3,102), Prince ($4,072), Elvis Presley ($4,472), or Tupac Shakur ($4,991). They valued the simple joy of reliving their first kiss ($12,630) more than big events like Beyonce’s World Formation Tour ($2,389), the Red Sox breaking the curse ($2,782), or being on the set of the “Friends” series finale ($5,731).
Interestingly, the chance to see historical events rated quite high as well, ranging from $5,340 to $39,334. While some of these happened long ago (the signing of the Declaration of Independence), others occurred within living memory (Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and the 1969 moon landing).
Inattention Can Cost Us
How does this relate to personal finance? While no one is really able to hop into a time machine and revisit the past, plenty of us would be willing to pay for the opportunity if it presented itself – and it’s the personal and history-making moments that we seem to value the most in hindsight.
A couple of decades from now, will you be lamenting all the unboxing videos you could have watched on YouTube, or wishing you’d spent more time with family and friends?
Will you regret not having hung out with your significant other or your kids in a screen-free environment, playing board games or having actual conversations, or will you sigh over the many thousands of additional dollars you could have spent to drink overpriced beer and watch millionaire athletes run a ball back and forth?
Once the kiss has happened and the child has been born, how much of our time do we spend being absent from our own lives? Too often the fear of missing out keeps us racing from Big Thing to Next Big Thing, worried that some important experience might escape us.
And going back to history for a moment: A whole lot of it gets made all around us, with our without our participation. From a local city council race to a divisive national election, from a regional rally for civil rights to millions massing on the National Mall, none of it can happen without citizen involvement. When we let other citizens do all the work, we forget that our voices matter.
Not everyone is cut out to march. But just about anyone can attend a school board meeting or write a letter to the editor – or, better yet, to volunteer in causes that have personal resonance. In that way we not only help build a world we want to live in, we connect with others who have the same hopes and dreams.
In other words, we can be a part of a history that matters and, decades from now, we’ll look back with pride on the parts (however small) that we played.
Bonus: Becoming more aware and active in local civic and cultural matters can actually benefit the bottom line. For more on this, see “How Getting Involved in the Community Can Help Your Finances.”
Focus on What Matters to YOU
A reader of my personal blog said she once entered a restaurant and saw a family arranged around a table, heads bowed in prayer. “How nice,” she thought. “They’re giving thanks for what they have.”
Then she took a closer look. Every person at the table was looking down at a smartphone. If they’re that screen-addicted in public, imagine what “togetherness” must feel like at home.
We can’t go back in time, but we can pay attention to the time we have. Rather than veg out in front of small or large screens, or spend most of our non-work hours occupying ourselves with ever-more-costly experiences, perhaps we can think more about actually living the lives we have.
Nothing wrong with a bit of entertainment. But you don’t have to try every single thing that comes along! Ever find yourself saying, “Well, I guess,” when someone suggests an activity you aren’t really that excited about trying? It’s really OK to say, “Thanks for inviting me! But I think I’ll skip the stained-glass night/laser tag/pub crawl/dodge-ball session/karaoke/ceramic painting/scarf-dyeing/escape room/whatever.”
Might you miss out on a fun time with friends? Could be. Here’s what else you might miss: Being frustrated because you didn’t feel like painting, dodging, or singing, yet here you are spending $50 because someone else decided it would be fun.
When we spend our time keeping up – with the Joneses, the Kardashians, or even just the sibling who has season tickets for everything – then we then we can’t really call our lives our own. We run the risk of winding up overscheduled, overstimulated, and over-budget.
There’s always going to be a new sensation. Just don’t chase it at the literal expense of the things that matter to you. Otherwise, you might find yourself wondering where the time went, and wishing you could get some of it back. That’s the ultimate price we pay for inattention – and until someone builds a Wayback Machine, our hearts will feel as empty as our bank accounts.
Award-winning journalist and veteran personal finance writer Donna Freedman is the author of “Your Playbook for Tough Times: Living Large on Small Change, for the Short Term or the Long Haul” and “Your Playbook for Tough Times, Vol. 2: Needs AND Wants Edition.”
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