R1000 to happiness


You don't need oodles of cash to make you happy. These 10 things all cost less than R100 each.  Susan Erasmus can't imagine her life without them.

I am probably just a cheap date, but every now and then I am struck by the huge difference that small ( and inexpensive) things can make in our lives. Next time you're with friends, ask them what the biggest bargain is they ever bought. It makes for fascinating conversations. Mine was a painted antique oak wash stand with a marble top I bought off the back of a horse cart heading for the dump. OK, that was 15 years ago, but it cost me R30.

Not all things that bring us joy need to cost a fortune. We get sucked in by the advertising for fancy electronics, fancy cars, expensive holidays and we tend to forget how revolutionary  - and by now cheap - some of our smaller home comforts are.

There is something called the law of diminishing returns and it goes something like this: remember the fabulous sense of freedom your first car (ancient, secondhand) brought you. You may now have something a lot smoother, newer,  and a lot more expensive. In fact it probably cost 5 or 10 times what your first car cost in real terms. But is the pleasure 5 – 10 times greater?

Here are 10 things, each costing less than R100, without which my life would be a lot poorer.

OTC reading glasses. These reading glasses from the chemist cost R63 and I can read perfectly with them. I have a pair next to my bed, another pair on my desk, and one in my handbag. If they break, they break, and if I lose them I am not going to go into meltdown about my depleted Medical Savings Account on my medical scheme. My prescription reading glasses (R1700) broke, and I am not replacing them.

A warm blanket. At the beginning of winter supermarkets often have fleecy blanket specials. I picked mine up for R79. It has changed my experience of winter. It's light enough to carry around everywhere in the house, it's fabulous to sleep under, or to put over myself when I watch TV. With the price of electricity these days, it's a status symbol to switch on a heater.  Best of all, the blanket washes and dries in about 3 hours, because it has not one natural fibre in its being. What more can I ask for?

A new keyboard. I type all day. My keyboard takes quite a beating day in and day out, and when it started losing its letters and copying and pasting strange things, I knew it was time we parted ways. The new one cost R99 and it's fabulous. I'm typing on it as we speak. Or as you read.

Car sunshield. When summer strikes, getting into your car that has been standing in the blazing sun is no pleasure. In fact, just touching the steering wheel could give you a blister. For a mere R20 you can get one of those shiny car sunshields from your favourite vendor at the nearest traffic light. Now that I call a bargain.

Soap. This might seem odd, but 100 years ago grease-cutting soap for household and personal use was still a dream of the future. In truth, people and their houses were dirty and they must have stunk to high heaven. Have you tried showering without soap or washing greasy dishes without washing up liquid? A bar of soap, without which life would have been a sticky business, comes in at under R10 at your nearest friendly supermarket.

Painkillers. I am lucky – I very seldom need these. A packet of 20 lasts me a year. But boy, when you need them, you need them. Imagine going through post-operative pain or a migraine, or even just something like a painful ankle sprain without these. And for thousands of years, that's just what people had to do.

Salt, pepper and spices. Empires were built on the trade of these condiments. People crossed deserts and oceans, and spent years away from home in search of good spice deals. Now we buy them for a few rands at the supermarket and we don't really give them a second thought. Try cooking any meal without them. You just can't. Not anything anyone would want to eat anyway.

Decent cleaning stuff. Imagine washing floors and stovetops and toilets with nothing more efficient than vinegar water. No amount of scrubbing can really get these things clean. Now you can buy a large bottle of household cleaner for less than R25. In case you think this isn't really important, or a source of happiness, try and live without it for a week.

Pasta, wine and salad. I recently had two friends over for supper 3 days before payday, so options weren't staggering. Thanks to specials at Fruit and Veg City (and no, they are not paying me, but I would be open to offers) we had paninis, salad, veg pasta and a bottle of wine – all for less than R100. It was a lovely evening and we chatted late into the night at my kitchen table. Some things can't be measured in monetary terms.

Raingear. In the past, people simply got wet when it rained. Now, thanks to waterproof raingear we can stay dry and warm. This is not appreciated by people who don't know what it's like to be cold and wet and miserable. I bought a rainproof windbreaker on special at a supermarket for R99.

Right, now that we have done a bit of Oprah-like counting of blessings: here's the good news: the weekend is here. And it's payday for most people. It's time for me to go before I finally lose my cynical outlook on life. Now that would be a tragedy.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, August 2011)

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