Less or Cheaper?
It's always worth investigating cheaper alternatives, but sometimes it's even better to just use a little less of your first choice. (See also: Frugalize Any Recipe)
Back when I used to work as a software engineer, my wife and I invented a drink. It's just like a Cuba Libre, except instead of rum it has bourbon and instead of Coke it has Mountain Dew. We named it a Cubicle Libre, as I drank one most weekdays to celebrate each day's escape from my cubicle. Oh, and it has ice cubes. A Cubicle Libre has to have ice cubes.
In those days, I had plenty of money. I saved a lot, which is how I can now work as a writer and still make ends meet, but I also indulged myself in certain luxuries. In particular, I bought a moderately expensive bourbon for my Cubicle Libres.
The past few years money is a bit tighter, and I've experimented with cheap bourbon. The thing is, cheap bourbon isn't as good. So another experiment I did was using less.
We have some small highball glasses (perhaps more the size of an old fashioned glass). I also have a small shot glass that I bought during a trip to Germany many years ago. It has a line indicating 2 centiliters (which turns out to be 0.68 ounces — a bit less than half a jigger).
If I make a drink in one of those glasses with two ice cubes, that much bourbon, and enough Mountain Dew to comfortably fill the glass, I get a drink that's perfectly proportioned.
Now, perhaps this seems like a rather long way around to suggesting that a half-sized drink can be made for half the cost. But I offer it as an example of some more general principles. These smaller drinks are not just cheaper, they're better. That's because:
- They're made with superior ingredients
- They follow a thoughtful design
- The tools I use to make them are meaningful — they have their own history
- The construction of each drink is a small ritual
The first two points are where I thought I was headed when I started this post: Superior ingredients make for superior results, and taking a bit of care with the design of the drink let me make the most of the smaller quantities.
But upon reflection, I think it's really the latter two points that have real applicability to living large on a small budget.
Anyone can save money by using less, and saving money on quantity can enable spending on quality. But living large has little to do with the size of your portions. Living large has to do with meaning, and meaning comes from these other things — from care, from mindfulness, from ritual, from history, from companionship in both the work of making and the pleasure of consuming.
When you want to live large, put meaning ahead of either quantity or quality.