A Superior, Yet Less Expensive, Solution

I had an email discussion with a reader recently about seeking a less expensive substitute for a $5 daily frappuccino habit. It really got me thinking.

Let's start by looking at the specific needs that this $5 frappuccino habit satisfied. They included:

* A need for a daily treat, a daily pick-me-up
* A need to get out of the office briefly
* A need for something sweet, something good-tasting

The question then, for those of us interested in escaping the work-spend cycle, is this: Can we find another way to satisfy these needs that's not only superior but costs far less too?

A quick sidenote. Once you grasp the astonishing profitability metrics of companies like Starbucks and other consumer products companies, these $5 pick-me-ups ought to make you feel like a sucker. In fact, it makes you want to be an investor, so the company pays you rather than the other way around.

But back to our original topic: finding a superior solution that costs far less. As I thought about this, I was able to arrive at a few intriguing examples from my own life. Here are some of the low-cost things we do at home that are far better than any purchased, high-cost product:

1) Sangria: We make our own homemade Sangria that beats the absolute crap out of any sangria I've ever spent money on. Bar and restaurant sangrias are over-sweetened and can cost $7-8 a glass. And the glass is half-filled with ice! We make it at home for $7-8 a half-gallon. That’s right, a half-gallon. A far superior product at one-eighth the cost.

2) Homemade soups: I have yet to find any store-bought or even restaurant-bought soup that is in remotely the same league as anything I can make at home. Soup in cans, soup ordered in restaurants, it all tastes like salted brine to me. In contrast, the soups I make at home taste like soup, and I know for sure they don't contain any preservatives, additives, masking agents, and so on. Why pay $3 for a lousy can of soup (or worse, $7-10 for a bowl of soup in a restaurant) when my homemade soups are superior in every way at a tiny fraction of the cost?

3) Beverages: Our reader above solved her own challenge. She began making a homemade “chocolate enhanced coffee” concoction that in her opinion tastes light years better than anything at Starbucks. Her solution didn't contain thousands of annual excess calories from sugar, and it didn't cost $5 a cup. Instead, it cost just pennies per cup. Something that both tastes better and is much healthier--yet costs one fiftieth as much? One fiftieth? Sign me up.

Admittedly, these are just a few small--even trivial--examples. And obviously there may be exceptions where you prefer the ease, comfort and mindless consumerism of a purchased, high-cost solution. But, readers, what I'm trying to illustrate here is that the very decision to seek low-cost yet superior solutions is a lens. It's a self-fulfilling way to look at reality. If you decide that there exists a lower-cost and superior solution, and that it is within your power to find it, you will be right. It is self-fulfilling. By using this lens, you'll both build a lot of interesting skills and save a ton of money. And I'll bet you'll enjoy life a lot more.

However, if you conclude a priori that spending money to buy branded and advertised products to meet your "needs" is the best (or worse, the only) solution, you'll also be right, despite the fact that you've chosen a passive, costly and economically disempowering lens to look through. Worse, you'll be filling some company's pockets rather than your own. That lens is self-fulfilling too, and you'll be the poorer for using it.

Readers, what ideas do you have here? Where in your life do you use homemade solutions that are superior to anything you can buy in the consumer marketplace? Share your ideas below!

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