pile of books on grass

We’ve all heard the maxim, “The best things in life are free.” It’s true. But what about those great things in life that do cost something? I’ve been thinking about, and making a list of, things that don’t cost much, relatively speaking, but give rich experiences. The twist, however, is I wanted to identify that which a billionaire couldn’t necessarily buy a better experience than me. So here goes:

1) Great Books – I can feel the pages now: textured paper brimming with stone-wedged swords, grinning cats, time wrinkles, and precious rings. We dive into black ink, immersed in imagination and hours that flow like minutes, until the real world beckons. Ah, such an irreplaceable experience. True, this could fall into the “free” category if you utilize the public library, but supply doesn’t always meet demand, not to mention how many times I’ve tried to reserve a book only to learn the sole copy is 5 years overdue. Our taxes pay for the library anyway, so not exactly free. And yes, the billionaire may be able to buy that first edition of Oliver Twist, signed by Charles Dickens himself, but do you think he sits in a cozy chair by the fire at night to read it? Absolutely not. If he wants to recapture the magic of the story, he’d probably eyeball the same umpteenth edition we do. Dive into a book.

2) A Roaring Fire – When gold and crimson-laced flames dance above an open hearth or within a ring of stones, something primal emerges. Stare into those hypnotic flames long enough and you might discover something about yourself. Many of us don’t have true fireplaces anymore—just a closed space where gas logs pretend to roar. There’s something sad about that. But with a small investment in camping gear and the right locale, you can build that timeless fire, watch it burn into the night while it casts sparks into rising thermals until they wink out against the starlit backdrop above. Warm your face by the fire.

3) Life’s Soundtrack – How do you feel when your favorite song spills from the radio speakers? Such is the mood-shifting power of music. Want energy and motivation? Want to feel as if nothing can stop you? Create an iTunes playlist with your favorite, upbeat songs. Cruise through the world with your personal soundtrack playing in the background. Most of the time, we need only an hour worth of songs for whatever we’re doing, say ten. Back in my college days—when the only way to get a song I loved was to buy a CD full of accompanying songs I didn’t care about—I had to spend $200 to own ten of my favorite songs. Now I spend less than $10. In these days of music portability, if you spend a little extra for a good headset, rest assured the billionaire doesn’t have it better than you, that is, unless her musical tastes are superior to yours. Just kidding. I think you’re safe since you are the only judge. Fill your world with song.

4) Excellent Movies – I love movies as much as books. My in-home theater system may not be the dedicated room I’ve seen in some houses, complete with megaplex-like seating, but do you know what? It doesn’t matter. If the movie is exceptional, I could view it on a white sheet slung over a clothesline and I’d lose myself within that imaginary world the same as if it played on the best theater system in the world. Lose yourself in a movie.

5) Nostalgic Scents – Newly mown grass; clothes dried by a spring breeze; Thanksgiving turkey. Most of us have experienced it: a pleasing scent from our past whisks us back and we feel grand. For me, that scent is honeysuckle. I remember discovering the flowering vines along a fence at a friend’s house and she showed me how to slip the stem from the petals to reveal the honeysuckle dewdrops. We slid those translucent droplets onto our tongues and devoured them one by one. Playful days and carefree ways. What scent sweeps you back to a pleasant bygone time? If it’s a certain flower, buy them to fill your kitchen with their scent. Or if it’s a difficult fragrance to find, drop into an aroma shop to splurge for an oil extract, one that fuels your reminiscing. Time travel with a favorite scent.

6) The Internet – You may wonder why I include this after my You Can’t Soar from a Prison Cell post? But the internet really is a wonderful thing, if you use its power wisely. You have the same access to a universe of free information as the insanely wealthy of this world. It’s the connection that costs you, unless you’re somehow the recipient of free wi-fi, but it’s costing someone. Explore the world…wide web, that is.

7) A Pet – Even “free” pets cost something after the vet bill. But do you think the billionaire’s pet loves her any more than yours does you? I doubt it. Even if she does leave the fur-ball her estate. Play with your pet.

8) The Right Mattress – This is one of those “relatively speaking” items I mentioned. And I’m stretching it a bit because the super-wealthy can buy a better sleeping experience than most of us, purchasing mattresses that cost upward of $50,000. But know this: depending on your sleeping habits, you’ll spend approximately a third of your life in bed, 25 years if you live to 75. You owe it to yourself to buy the best mattress you can afford. No skimping here. Dream in comfort.

That’s my list…so far. Please leave a comment on anything I’ve left off, some great experience that doesn’t cost much and the super-rich can’t outspend us to make better. If you can’t think of anything, then let me know which items I included are your favorite things to experience. Also, tell us that one thing for you that really is a best free thing in life. I’ll start:

The Sky – If you’ve visited this site before, you know I’m partial to the sky. But I believe many share my fascination with it. I’m comforted every time I cast my eyes upward to it, even if it holds, as Snoopy would say in the opening of his novel, “… a dark and stormy night.” If I ever feel alone in this world, separated from the universe, one look at the sky evaporates that feeling. Wonderful things come from, or appear in, the sky: the sun, rain, snow, stars-stationary and shooting, cool breezes, sunsets, clouds-especially those we project our imagination on to, fireflies, the moon, fireworks, thunderstorms-nature’s fireworks, rainbows, sunbeams, comets, Venus, hot air balloons, butterflies, and planes that defy gravity. Soothe yourself with the sky.

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