A friend recently emailed me to communicate the buyer’s remorse he was experiencing after purchasing an expensive watch. Even though he’s a successful entrepreneur who can afford to drop $10,000 on shiny wrist-ornamentation, he expressed pangs of post-purchase grief, sorrow, and regret.
He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt this way, so he emailed me for advice. This is how I responded…
I know where you’re coming from—as a guy who has owned several expensive watches (I owned more than one fancy watch during my lotus-eating twenties, although I don’t own one now), I understand the allure. I could, of course, recite a dozen platitudes here—an expensive watch can’t give you more time, a puppet who enjoys his strings still isn’t free, you are not the sum of your material possessions, our possessions possess us, etc.—but it comes down to two things: Value and Quality of Life.
In terms of Value, does the watch actually add value to your life, or does it drain value? I’m not talking about monetary value (price is an arbitrary measurement); I’m talking real, intrinsic value. Is that watch worth $10,000 of your freedom? Is it worth the emotional stress you’re going through while thinking about it?
I know these questions sound rhetorical, but they’re not. I’m currently wearing a $100 pair of jeans, and, yes, they are worth $100 of my freedom to me. They are also my only pair of jeans, therefore I get immense value from them since I wear them almost every day. Does the watch do the same for you? If so, wear it with pride. If it doesn’t, then ask yourself why you still own it—not why you bought it, but why you still own it. Is it a status thing? Is it part of your identity? Is it just an expensive personal logo?
At this point, the purchase is over—you needn’t beat yourself up over it because you can’t change it: it’s a sunk cost. But you can change what you do going forward if you’re not getting value from the purchase. If you get value from the watch—if it truly enhances your life—then why not keep it?
And when it comes to Quality of Life, you need to consider how the watch adds to the quality of your life. I used to earn about $200,000 a year at the peak of my corporate days, but I was miserable. My Quality of Life was poor.
Last year, however, at age 31, I made $27,000, which is actually less than I earned at eighteen. But with that $27,000 I still saved more than I’ve ever saved, paid off the rest of my debt, traveled more than I’ve ever traveled, and experienced life—real life—more than ever before. Though I make a multiplicity of millions less than the corporate big wigs I once aspired to be, and though I bring home roughly 1/8 of what I used to bring home at my pinnacle, I have an appreciably higher Quality of Life than most CEOs and my former self. Very few material possessions could enhance that Quality of Life; in fact, most would take away from it.
I obviously cannot and will not tell you what to do with your shiny timepiece. What I can tell you is I’m much happier without my expensive watches. Who needs to know the time all the time anyway?
Note: We originally published a different version of this essay a few years ago under the title “A Rolex Won’t Give You More Time,” but, with the release of the new Apple Watch, this missive seems as relevant as ever.