Cheaper and Better

“Let’s play catch, Daddy!”

“Sure!” I said as I put away the final bits of our family’s picnic. Joe picked up the little football and ran out into the grassy field, ball in one hand, with his arms stretched out to the sides, catching the wind as he ran. The late summer sunlight made his hair shine and as he turned around, ready to toss the ball back at me, he had a grin of pure boyish joy on his face.

The family was on a four hour road trip to visit his grandparents and it was time for dinner, so instead of stopping at a restaurant or a fast food place and dropping $20 and a good portion of an hour on a likely-unhealthy meal there, we stopped at a rest stop along the interstate, pulled a pre-packed picnic basket out of the back, enjoyed a healthy hand-prepared meal at the picnic table in the outdoors, then stretched and ran around a bit playing with our kids.

Certainly, the picnic meal was cheaper. Many of the ingredients were leftovers from meals earlier in the week – a couple pieces of roast chicken made into chicken salad sandwiches, carrot sticks from a few leftover carrots, and so on. Our beverages were water bottles, packed before we left from our own faucet.

It was better in other ways, though. Eating in the outdoors on a nice late summer day. Eating immediately instead of waiting for food with impatient and energetic children. Running around in the grass and playing touch football for a bit before loading back in the car. These are aspects of life that you simply can’t get from a restaurant stop.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about frugality over the last few years is that the cheaper option is often the better option regardless of money. When I step back and evaluate some of the experiences I’ve had while digging into frugality, I realize that these were great experiences, never mind the dollars and cents. I spent quality time with my children. I tried many fun new things that I would have never tried otherwise. I learned countless new ideas and skills. And along the way, I grew significantly as a person.

Choosing to be frugal means looking for new ways of doing things – and trying these new ways to see how they work for you. It doesn’t just mean seeking the cheapest way of doing things. Instead, it’s all about maximizing value and always being willing to try new things.

In fact, I’d argue that the opposite of frugality isn’t spending more than you should, but refusing to consider a new way of doing things. The opposite of frugality is being stuck in your ways, refusing to try new things, and criticizing those things that are different than what you expect.

Sure, sometimes those new ways are failures. They don’t work as well as you expect or hope that they will, or they just feel like a waste of time once you’ve tried them. That’s fine – chalk it up to experience.

At times, though, the successes go far, far beyond saving a few dollars. They’re simply a better way of doing things. Packing picnic baskets before long road trips falls into this category, as does making my own laundry detergent. I initially tried these things because they save money, but now? I’d still do things this way even if it didn’t save money because they’re enjoyable in other ways.

My “better way” might not be your better way, but the principle still holds: trying new ways of doing things will always reveal your better way of doing things. You might not get a level of personal enjoyment out of doing things like going on family picnics that I do, but stepping outside your comfort zone on a regular basis and trying new things will always lead you to a better place over time.

Try a new way today – it might save you money and enrich your life. Here’s a good place to start.

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