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A question about the proper usage of the word "to invest".

The dictionary definitions for the verb "invest" that I have found all mention the idea of gaining a financial return from the investment. For example, you can invest in real estate or invest in the stock market.

Is it possible to invest in a luxury item because you think it will bring you happiness even though you know it will always depreciate in value? For example, can you "invest in an expensive coat" or "invest in a good pair of hiking boots"?

I hear people say things like this but I don't believe it is a correct usage. The phrase for something you invest in which drops in value is bad investment. I believe it is possible to say something like "I invested in an expensive set of dining room chairs" but a very valid response to this sentence is, "Then you made a very bad investment".

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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

One dictionary has a supplementary definition:

[no object] (invest in) informal
buy (a relatively expensive product) whose usefulness will repay the cost

While their usage example is faintly ridiculous, that definition fits your hiking boots or dining suite admirably. An expensive pair of boots which lasts for several thousand miles is a far better investment than a pair at half the price which breaks at the end of the street.

That is, although what you have invested in will almost certainly depreciate, it depreciates at a far lower rate than other possible investment objects.

And of course, if you had invested in an E-type Jaguar in 1962, you would now be vindicated against the nay-sayers!

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I marked this as correct because of the reference. –  Jen S. Jun 10 '13 at 7:17
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Also, it looks like my wife just won our argument. –  Jen S. Jun 10 '13 at 7:51
    
+1; I might also add in the particular case of luxury items you can get a positive return on your investment, but the return is in social prestige rather than money (e.g., you expensive coat or fancy decor impresses an important person, thereby giving you access to privilege that you might not otherwise enjoy). If you're prepared to place some exchange rate on money to prestige, you might come out ahead on your investment. –  apsillers Jun 10 '13 at 14:11
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When one invests in an item, such as in your examples, one expects a return on that investment- It doesn't have to be monetary.

Investing in a good pair of hiking boots will save your feet from blistering on long hikes. After coming back from such a hike, one might well say, "Wow, those boots were a good investment."

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I would think that a bad investment, even a known bad investment, is still an investment.

Even a bad investment can be better than the alternative of making no investment at all, when one's options are limited. In this case the investor is simply trying to mitigate his or her losses. For example, it may be the case that investing in a car will not actually produce any profit, but it will be a lot less expensive than relying on alternative means of transportation.

Furthermore, in the example of luxury goods, one is most likely investing in more than simple monetary gain. An expensive coat may bring status and / or happiness that would be harder to obtain otherwise.

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Thanks for the answer. However, I marked the other answer as "accepted" because it had a reference to the OED. Your example is a good though. Clearly a car depreciates but it is still a capital investment. –  Jen S. Jun 10 '13 at 7:19
    
@HamletD'Arcy No problem. Glad I could help –  p.s.w.g Jun 10 '13 at 7:38
    
Yes - the idea is one of attempting to make a net gain, when all relevant factors have been weighed. One person's good investment may be one another would do well to avoid (I never buy suits of armour or tanks). –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 10 '13 at 10:38
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