The Ordinary and the Special

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A few days ago, I went to a local coffee shop. I hadn’t been to one in months. I ordered a beverage and a small pastry and sat down at a back table with a copy of a local newspaper to wait on a friend, who joined me a few minutes later.

I remember the aroma of the place. I remember the smile on my friend’s face when we first spotted each other. I remember the conversation. I remember the flavor of the drink.

It was a special experience, one that I recall with clarity days after the fact.

I spent about $11 during that stop. I don’t ordinarily drink coffee, but let’s say I stopped at a coffee shop each day and spent just $3 on a cup of good coffee.

The cost of my “special” visit blows away the cost of a low-end cup there. I splurged.

But, as I mentioned, I go to a coffee shop less than once a month. If I stopped by each weekday morning and bought a cheap cup, it would add up to $60 over the course of that month.

I’m not trying to make a “latte factor” point here. It’s fairly obvious that if you cut something inessential out of your spending routine, you’re going to have more money at the end of the month.

My point is a bit different.

That stop at the coffee shop was a special experience because it’s one that I rarely repeat. It stands out and sticks in my memory so well because it’s so distinct from what I do every day.

If I started each day with a stop at that coffee shop, it would no longer feel like a special experience. It would quickly begin to feel routine.

What was once special would quickly cease to be special.

A special experience is one I can look forward to with anticipation for a while. A special experience is one that provides the kind of enjoyment that I can carry with me for a while.

A special experience repeated with enough regularity loses those aspects and thus loses a great deal of the value that you get from the experience.

I love books. When I was young, a trip to a bookstore was a rare experience to savor. As I grew older, I visited bookstores more and more often and I found that with increasing visits, the magic of a visit to a bookstore slipped away from me. It became routine – a cold way to acquire books. It wasn’t until I backed off from this routine and returned bookstore visits to an occasional experience that the magic returned for me.

If you strive to fill in the gaps of your “ordinary” life with special treats, you quickly lose the anticipation of that speical thing and the memory of the joy it brought you. The treats just become ordinary … and if the treats are ordinary, they become just another expense.

When you step back and look at it, so many of our expenses are just treats that have become ordinary. Cable television? It’s just a “treat” to have a hundred channels when we can get ten or so over the air for free. A cell phone? It’s just a “treat” to be able to talk or send messages at instant convenience. A shiny car? An expensive meal?

My approach is to preserve the ordinary. Not only does this let the special things truly stand out and be well worth savoring, it also ensures that my day-to-day life is as inexpensive as possible.

That approach leaves me remembering an hour at the local coffee shop when I would have otherwise forgotten all about it, and it keeps me from spending quite a bit of money each month on forgettable coffee shop visits.

By applying the same idea to as many other aspects of life as I can, I have all the special moments I could want, I deeply appreciate them, and I keep an awful lot of money in my pocket to preserve those special moments for the future, too.

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