Doing Your Favorite Thing: How to Spend Exactly the Right Amount of Money for an Important Celebration

Last week's post on celebrating quitting my job got me thinking. Have you ever noticed, when you celebrate significant achievements and events in life, how there's often a shockingly low correlation between how much you spend on the celebration and how much value you get from the celebration?

Have you ever thought about the best way to celebrate a truly important occasion, while still spending an appropriate amount of money? And how do you train yourself to spend that "appropriate" amount of money if you're born with a strong frugality gene?

Today's post will seek to answer these questions. I'll start by sharing a solution that helps us make our celebrations more meaningful and has nothing to do with the price of anything:

Instead of focusing on costs, we do our favorite thing.

Here are a few examples, ranging from the trite to the significant: When I want to celebrate something small, I might buy a huge bar of my favorite dark chocolate. For a more substantial celebration, Laura and I might go out to one of our favorite restaurants. And if we want to celebrate something really big, then we might take a vacation to one of our favorite cities.

The costs of each of these things might come up for discussion, but it's rarely the focus of our decision on how celebrate. Instead, the primary focus is on doing our favorite thing. Using this mental framework makes any celebration meaningful regardless of cost, and yet the celebration remains a meaningful reward for a significant accomplishment. Heck, if you're doing your favorite thing, how can you possibly feel like you're skimping on yourself?

Ironically, we usually don't end up spending a significant amount of money using this approach. And if you're a regular reader of this blog, I'm willing to bet that a surprising number of your favorite things are surprisingly inexpensive too.

For example, many of our favorite restaurants aren't that expensive, and of course a home-cooked favorite meal can often be laughably cheap. And it really doesn't cost that much to vacation in Ithaca, NY--one of our favorite places on Earth (uh, during the summer at least).

Of course, I admit that this line of thinking begins to break down somewhat if Laura changes her favorite vacation spot to Tahiti or the Seychelles.

One other important concept: Don't go for the lowest-priced option with your first celebratory instinct. Sure, there's no set rule that says you have to spend more than a certain amount of money before you can have a genuinely meaningful celebration, but don't use the bottom of the barrel as your starting point, unless your favorite thing actually is the lowest-priced option (if this is consistently true for you, please email me; I'd like to adopt you). Remember, always think favorites, not costs.

For example, when I quit my job a few weeks ago, there was no way a couple of glasses of Carlo Rossi would suffice to celebrate something that important. At the same time, however, I didn't hang my head and feel like a loser when I passed on the $350 bottle of Cristal and "only" drank a $75 bottle of Veuve Clicquot. I picked the Veuve Clicquot because it's my favorite champagne.

Similarly, really important occasions (let's say your daughter's wedding or your parents' 50th anniversary), don't need to cost a zillion dollars in order to be enormously sincere and meaningful. And yet adding some important "favorite things" into these celebrations will make them sincere and meaningful regardless of the cost.

Finally, I'll leave you with one more important concept: the "price" of a zillion-dollar wedding or a $350 bottle of champagne is nothing more than a number. It's an arbitrary measure that provides external validation for people don't really trust their internal scales for weighing genuine, heartfelt value.

Try doing your own favorite thing the next time you celebrate something important. When you buy a favorite thing or do a favorite activity, the emotional value of the purchase is typically far greater than its actual dollar cost. Thus using this approach has enormous advantages over using price as a measure of value. And because the primary focus is something other than the cost, what you spend (whether it's a lot or a little) will never detract from the sincerity and meaning of the celebration.

What are some great events you've celebrated in your life, and how did you choose to celebrate?

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KMAYS said...

I recently got married, and our wedding was a combination of our favorite things: Shiner beer, live country band, and BBQ brisket. I didn't want expensive peonies because they weren't my favorite. I wanted a more wildflower look. It ended up being a blast!

Thanks for the entry!

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi kmays,

Now THAT is a wedding I'd have liked to go to. I like your sense of style.

Thanks for your comment!


Amanda said...

One of our favorite things to do is get take-out and go to the drive in for a double-feature. A night out with the hubby for about $20.

I'm curious--why Ithaca? What is there?

Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Amanda,
Twenty bucks can buy a lot of great times. I like your thinking.

And where do I start with Ithaca...? It's something about the relaxed vibe, the lake, the gorges and all the natural beauty there. And of course, they have the very best thick-crust pizza on the entire planet there.

I'll have to share some of the great things about Ithaca in an upcoming post.

Thanks for your comment!