When you’re poor for any length of time, you learn creative ways to have fun without spending much money. I would like to share my thought process behind the frugal choices I make, and how these choices give me more spending money.
I think everyone wants to be happy and I think it’s natural to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When seeking entertainment and recreation, if we have a choice between two equals, why not always choose the less expensive of the options? That’s my philosophy- I don’t consider it being cheap, I consider it smart.
For example, I enjoy riding motocross bikes, but I also like riding mountain bikes. Motocross riding probably costs 100 times as much as mountain bikes. There’s gas to travel to a riding area, gas for the motorcycle, track entrance fees, vehicle licensing fees (where applicable), oil, parts, and maintenence. Mountain biking is much simplier, they last longer and don’t have any ‘variable costs’ to ride it. Once you have a bike, considering you don’t wreck it, it should be mostly cost-free. You don’t have to drive as far to ride it either- bicycles are allowed almost everywhere. On a scale of 1 to 10 of pleasure, motocross is about a 9 and mountain biking is about an 8. It’s close enough where I have nearly as much fun for very little or no cost at all.
I have other hobbies which rate similarly in terms of the amount of fun it brings. I have a choice between wind surfing, skydiving, scuba diving, swimming, running, hiking, horseback, rock climbing, volleyball, tennis, raquetball, horseshoes, bowling, ice skating and more.
If all are fairly equal, why not choose tennis? Tennis has no re-occurring costs and are usually free in any city park- I enjoy that just as much as a sport like bowling or rock climbing that cost money, so I have decided to do that hobby as much as I can. Running is always free and I also enjoy that nearly as much. Hiking is free and feels great to be outdoors breathing fresh air among beautiful surroundings. So, when all things are equal, save the money and spend it on something more important. Because the difference in fun between the sports is negligible.
The same applies to many other decisions throughout your day. I have no extra pleasure in drinking a fountain drink for my meals vs water. Soda pop usually costs at least $1, where as water is always free. If I eat 3 meals a day 365 days a year, that’s a maximum potential of spending $1,096 per year on carbonated, colored, sugar water. Drinking water will also save you more $ on medication and doctor bills from the mildly adverse health effects of drinking that fake beverage. I am now so used to drinking water, even if I were given soda pop for free, I still would only have water. It’s healthier and I enjoy having an extra $1,096 to spend on something more important.
I try to avoid getting caught up in the psychological impact of pricing. Just because something is priced higher, does not mean it is better. Pricing is merely a marketing decision and, for higher priced items, the pricing level may be set to communicate a perception about the item’s value.
But I like to wipe the slate clean, and ask myself if I had a choice between two items, regardless of cost, which would I prefer. Sometimes it’s the less expensive item that is better- even better quality.
For example, I recently ate at a restaurant that cost $25 per person. The portions were small, the food tasted only average and was undercooked, and the service was slow. I later had indigestion from the food, as well. Now, if I were given a choice between that meal and a $5.65 burrito at Chipotle, I would have preferred the burrito. The $5 item tasted better and was healthier.
For travelling, one of the cheapest options for spending the night is camping (usually free, or a small $10-20 camping fee). Hostels are also an affordable option, which allows for meeting interesting people. It’s far easier to meet new and interesting people there than in the lobby of a fancy hotel. For example, if you ever visit New York City, you can stay at a hostel for $35 or less a few blocks from Times Square, or spend $200+/night at a regular hotel- with some of the cheaper ones farther away from the popular areas. A newer option worth noting is couchsurfing.com- which is a network of people worldwide offering you to crash on their ‘couch’ for free when you are travelling. The host may even offer to be your personal tour guide and you could make a new friend. You can’t put a price on that.
The takeaway here is examine your daily routine and see what buying decisions you make and see if the choices actually reflect your amount of fun/pleasure you get out of it. A higher price doesn’t always mean better, and in the cases where it isn’t, you’re better off saving the money.