Maximizing the Free (or Nearly Free) Things That Make You Feel Good

On my recent flight home from the west coast, I spent most of my time thinking about my family – my wife and two children that I couldn’t wait to see. I thought about embracing my wife and holding her close. I thought about playing with my toddler son, a game we play where I play “possum” on the floor and he runs across the room to leap on my back in order to “wake me up.” I thought about sitting in my favorite chair in the house, just holding my daughter on my lap as she smiled and made cooing noises. Since I had basically stayed up all night the night before, I hadn’t taken a shower, so I was also imagining a long, hot shower at my home, in that comfortable place that I always take showers.

What I started to realize is that all of the things I was looking forward to were essentially free. The embrace, the wrestling, and the baby holding were all free, and the cost of the shower is negligible. As this thought wormed around in my head, I took out a notebook and started listing all of the things that I truly enjoy doing that are either completely free or have a negligible cost (less than a dime per hour, let’s say).

I actually got quite into this activity. I wound up filling six pages of notebook paper with these ideas, with the list, in the end, numbering about 170 distinct ideas (I had repeated a few). I could easily make up a few entries just out of this list, because, from my perspective, this is frugality at its best.

The interesting part, though, wasn’t the items on the list. It was the list itself. As I began to look through that list, I realized I had enough activities on it to fill years – literally. So, why would I engage in activities that weren’t on this list? Obviously, sometimes there are things that happen that do cost money, like traveling and so forth, but for most day to day things, there’s really no reason not to just grab one of the things on that list and do it.

I kept that list. Right now, it’s taped up on the wall at my desk, all 170 items. Whenever I feel an urge to do something, particularly something that costs money, and I don’t have any better alternatives, I’ll go look at that list – and perhaps get inspired.

Why don’t you give it a shot? Just take out a piece of paper – or a Word document – and start listing all of the stuff you do that’s free or has a very small cost. Taking a long, hot bath. Reading a book from the library. Playing in the yard with your kid. Making something interesting in the kitchen out of whatever you have on hand. Going through all of your clothes and rediscovering old outfits. Whatever these things are that excite you and don’t cost anything, write them down. Then save that list and use it when you get bored.

Over time, it can save you a lot of money.

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