The Little Things That Make You Happy

One of the most constant criticisms leveled against me (and against anyone who talks about frugality regularly) is that, in order to save a few cents, one must abandon the simple pleasures in life. “YOU’LL PRY THIS MOCHA LATTE FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS!” people will write to me in a fit of vengeance.

Here’s the truth: if that mocha latte actually brings significant happiness into your life, the last thing you should ever do is give it up. Giving up something you love in order to save a few cents isn’t frugal, it’s cheap.

Instead, a frugal person would look at it from several different perspectives.

Is it the item itself that is bringing happiness? Quite often, we tie good feelings and memories into a material object that actually aren’t related to the object at all. I talked about this a while back – I realized that my daily visits to the coffee shop weren’t about my joy from drinking coffee. Instead, that twinge of pleasure I got came from memories of trips to the coffee shop when I was in college. The happiness I got was free and not really tied to that day’s coffee order at all.

Is there a equal-quality substitute that can save you some cash? Many people criticized my post about homemade laundry detergent – it only saved me eighteen cents per load, right? What a cheapskate!

Well, I could make 52 batches of that homemade laundry detergent in about fifteen minutes. This saves me $9.36. I’m not reducing the quality of the detergent, either – my homebrew gets my clothes just as clean as the detergent I normally used.

Any time you can find a roughly equal-quality substitute for something you use regularly, you save money. There’s no reason to not check out generics or homemade versions of staple items – if they’re not up to your personal standards, go back to the name brand you were using before. If it does the job in a way satisfactory to you, stick with the less-expensive version.

So, what about that daily latte at the coffee shop? Why not try a smaller size one morning? Why not try a different, less-expensive coffee shop once? Perhaps you can just go to work and drink the coffee there – take a bottle of good creamer with you to add that flavor. There’s no reason at all not to at least try the lower-cost alternatives available to you – and if you find one that clicks, adopt that alternative as your new standard and watch yourself save money each time.

Is this actually a worthwhile use of my time? If I can’t save money at an hourly rate of $20 per hour invested in the frugal task, it’s not worth it to me (unless I’m doing it for other reasons as well, like brewing homemade beer).

Take the laundry detergent, for example. That single batch takes e about fifteen minutes and saves me $9.36. That earns me an after-tax hourly wage on the project of $37.44 – definitely worth fifteen minutes, particularly when I can somewhat multitask with that time (my full concentration doesn’t need to be on the bucket when I’m stirring it).

My time (and your time) is too valuable to waste on nickel-and-dime frugality.

So, how does this apply to the latte in question? Maybe you’ve found a coffee shop that has a good price on lattes – and you just can’t match the quality elsewhere without matching the cost and matching the time invested. If that’s the case, then by all means enjoy your latte at the coffee shop.

Here’s the real story. A cheapskate always chases the bottom line, regardless of quality of the experience. A spendthrift just takes the first offer that comes along and insists that this is the best way of doing things.

On the other hand, a frugal person doesn’t just accept the first offer that comes along. They try to find ways to get that same experience and quality and value for a lower price – or find the best bang for the buck in their lives.

Don’t give up your daily latte. Instead, just look for the best value you can get on that latte, because if you drink one every day, every penny you save on that daily latte really begins to add up. And that same truth applies to almost everything in your life that you do with any repetition, from flipping on a light switch to brushing your teeth.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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