When I was a kid, I loved cardboard. Shoe boxes… shipping boxes…and oh nelly…that rare occasion when a large refrigerator box would come my way. You better believe the clouds would part and the Hallelujah chorus would start playing. They made for ENDLESS building opportunities; I would spend hours and hours crafting castles and dollhouses and…ATM machines. (I was an odd kid; I guess my interest in money began early.)
The fact is, kids love to play with everyday junk. We’ve all seen it…a child sitting among the post-Christmas carnage of wrapping paper and toys…playing with…a button. Never mind the $100’s (or sometimes $1,000’s…ack!) worth of toys surrounding them, they are enamored with the simplest of things…and, above all else, HAPPY. HAPPY. AS. A .CLAM.
Which leads me to ask, why are we satisfied with getting only minimal pleasure from expensive things/experiences? While some financial bloggers out there would crucify us for splurging on Starbucks, or dining on a high-priced, high-quality meal at a renowned restaurant, that’s actually not where I’m going with this. I see things a little differently. I like to think about it in terms of “Pleasure-per-Dollar”.
Example: One of my favorite things to do is enjoy a “coffee shop date” with my husband. Hot beverages. Conversation. Some quiet, cozy book reading in plush leather chairs way in the back. To me, this is divine. And it costs a whopping $6 for the two of us. (Mocha Frap for him, house coffee for me. You know you were wondering.) Now I can already hear the cries from the crowd of extreme frugalists ringing loudly…”NOOOOO!!!! You paid WHAT for a cup of coffee? You could have made your own at home for a nickel!!! YOU WASTEFUL GLUTTON!!!”
But making my own cup of coffee at home would be missing the point completely. It’s not about the coffee; it’s about the experience. The pleasure factor for me on these coffee shop dates is high. So…let’s go ahead and have some fun with it, and assign it a somewhat-arbitrary “pleasure score” of 80 out of 100. With zero being minimally pleasurable things like watching paint dry, and 100 being something off the charts like eating a fresh wood-fired thin-crust Neapolitan pizza at the top of Mount Everest. (Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds out-of-this-world amazing.)
So let’s have some fun with this, shall we? We’ll take the pleasure factor of the coffee shop date of “80”, divided by $6, which gives me a “Pleasure-Per-Dollar” ratio of 13 pleasure points per dollar spent. Did I lose you already? Stay with me here.
Now for comparison, let’s look at a recent trip to Outback Steakhouse that Randy and I had last week. The total bill with tip came to $54.40, for two entrees and two iced teas (we really live it up when we go out). This is a fairly typical cost, maybe even on the lower end, for 2 people at a chain steakhouse.
The food was decent, the ambience was typical (crying babies, clinking of utensils and shouts of “CORNER!” emanating from the kitchen staff), and in less than an hour, we were out of there and moving on with life. I’ll give that dinner a pleasure score of 40. Now let’s do my favorite part…the math! Pleasure factor of 40, divided by $54.40 spent, gives us a ratio of 0.7 pleasure points per dollar spent….that’s less than 1! Ack!
Outback Steakhouse = 0.7 Pleasure Points per Dollar
Coffee Shop Date = 13 Pleasure Points per Dollar —- WINNER WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER!
By now you’re thinking, “Yeah, yeah, yeah…enough math, get to the point already, lady.” It’s this…I’m getting FAR MORE pleasure-per-dollar-spent from the $6 coffee date than I am from the dinner at Outback. We’re spending large amounts of money on things/experiences with low pleasure factors. Don’t get me wrong…it’s not about denying yourself of every luxury in the name of frugality either. It’s about getting smart. Smart with our money and what we do with it. If you find true happiness in painting, then gosh-darn-it, buy only the painting supplies you need, but buy the best quality supplies you can find. Then trim back on the things that don’t make your soul smile. It’s give-and-take, spend a little more here, a little less there.
The key is to find what really makes you HAPPY, what gives you the most PLEASURE, and spend more loosely in those areas. Randy and I occasionally enjoy a luxurious dinner at a place called Hawks (it’s the same place we had our celebratory debt-free dinner, by the way). For us, it’s a place that is worth every dollar, but we only go every once in a while. We spend money on the things that COUNT. New cars? Nope. Big fancy house? Not. Designer stuff? Ha! We spend money on the things we LOVE. Travel…coffee dates…and good food. These things make our soul smile, and when you maximize your own Pleasure-Per-Dollar, your soul will smile too.