Humans have a hard time properly recognizing value. For instance, I have to fill out about an hours worth of paperwork to receive a $100 rebate on my glasses through my health insurance. This seems like a tremendous hassle to me, but on the flip side, if someone walked into my office and offered me $100 to fill out an hour of paperwork, and I could do it whenever I wanted, I would happily do it, thinking to myself “oh, wow, $100 to sit in a robe on a sunday morning and fill out papers, what a deal.” We think we’re rational creatures, but we aren’t, and sometimes we are very, very bad at knowing how much we need to spend to make ourselves happy.
Economics studies prove that the more we spend on something, the more likely we are to enjoy it, to appreciate it, to think it has value, while objects we receive for free, we don’t appreciate. This is one of the constant frustrations of life, where a home cooked meal, no matter how objectively delicious, feels less like a “special evening” than a fancy restaurant, where sitting in the backyard on folding chairs with friends doesn’t feel as glamorous as a night out. But if you are trying to save money, to spend less, to build up retirement accounts, there are going to be times where you have to deny yourself the expensive thing and make due with learning to enjoy those wonderful free things in life we take for granted. A long hike with a friend, snacking on trail mix, instead of a day at a fancy spa.
There are tricks we can employ to remind ourselves to appreciate those free things that are actually so wonderful. One of the best tools that is relevant to the season is gratitude , and that is a valuable in helping you root your feet right on the ground and appreciate where you are. You can make it a conscious choice, instead of feeling like you are denying yourself something (“oh, I can’t afford to go out, so I’ll cook in,”) which feels negative and makes you aware of everything you think you are “missing out on,” you can focus on what it is that you are actually excited about with the free experience in front of you. You can treat yourself to a new spice, or cook things in a new way, to give yourself that feeling of novelty we get when we eat out. Or you can just make a gratitude list, to keep yourself focused on what is wonderful about that particular hike that particular day.The final tool, which isn’t always necessary but is sometimes powerful, is just to remind yourself these moments are precious. At some point, we will look back on these times with memories and only remember the laughs and time we spent, let that guide the things you want to savor.