Small Is the New Big – Why Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The other day I went to my cardiologist for a routine follow-up visit (if cardio issues can ever be routine that is) after my recent required stress test. As they usually do when I visit, I got weighed and they also measured my height. To my surprise, I discovered I am shrinking! I have always thought and told people that I am 5’10” whenever my height was asked or required to be put down on a form. For Pete’s sake, it says I’m 5’10” on my driver’s license, so it must be true. But last week I discovered that I am actually getting smaller. I measured 5’9½” and I had to face the reality of it. I am the incredible shrinking man! After that surprise, I wondered…is it possible that small is the new big?

While we like to think that "bigger is better", small is the new big. Downsizing helps us to live healthier, wealthier, happier lives.It gave me pause to think about the concept of smaller versus bigger. I know I’m a little weird, but I digress. I have to admit, I can’t think of any reason why shrinking at my age is a good thing but it made me wonder exactly why we are seemingly obsessed with the concept of “bigger is always better”. I have been guilty of that thinking on more than a rare occasion for sure, but now that I practice the concept of being “older and wiser” I do see things in a little (pardon my pun) different way.

As a retailer, I often used the phrase “the more you buy, the more you save”. Like in the case of buy one for $10, but buy 2 for $15! You see those kinds of things in ads all the time and we start to believe that we really need 2 or more of that thing and besides, we’re actually saving money!  That phrase is really “the more you buy, the more you spend”! When you buy a huge 3 liter bottle of soda that is “on sale” instead of the 1.5 liter bottle, it’s bigger and better isn’t it? Who of us is thinking that it just may be extra dose of poison that may put an end to us just a little quicker because we wanted to save $0.19?

So today I have put together a list of things that are small but powerful ways to save yourself, your time, and your money (and it might even save the planet too).

Things That Are Smaller and Just Might Be Better

1. The Small Soda

I have never quite gotten used to those who insist on buying a large, extra-large, or humongous sized soft drink in a fast food restaurant when you can buy the small size ones and simply refill it when that’s available. The McDonalds around here always offers it and any time I go there I spend no more than the cost of the children’s size drink and fill it twice if I want more. I save money and I get about 11 seconds of exercise walking to the machine and using it. It’s a win-win for me.

2. The Small Package of, Whatever!

I have written about this one before but it bears repeating. It isn’t always true that larger packages are cheaper then the smaller versions of the identical item. In many cases smaller sizes are put on sale and when you do the unit cost math thing you may find that the per unit price is less for those items. Certainly it can be very true when you use a coupon even more so if that coupon is doubled at your local store. You will be shocked sometimes at the huge percentage differences that those kind of purchases save for you.

Think also about buying only what you actually need and not because it’s cheaper for a lot more of it. Do you really need that 48 oz. size of taco sauce when you can do perfectly well with the 16 oz. size that will take you 3 months to use? Waste multiplies when you buy the big sizes of stuff that you may eventually have to toss out because it just went bad over time. Add the storage issures and you can see why it just may not make good sense for you.

3. Traveling Smaller

You probably have noticed that taking “big luggage” on any airplane trips you make is costing more and more all the time. The days of free bags are history. I have learned to travel using a carry-on and/or a backpack for my airplane trips and so far it has worked wonders saving money.  Besides my over packing bad habits of the past (I simply found I didn’t wear or use many items that I was taking), when I plan properly I want for very little and I can always buy what I might be missing if I have to do so. I take travel sized everything with me and in most hotels I have found if you’re missing some basic item like shampoo or hair dryer, you can get it complimentary. If only I could convince my wife…well, enough said.

4. Use a Smaller Airport

Speaking of travel, we have always thought that it’s cheaper to fly from the big city hubs and it certainly may be most convenient to do that. But, like everything else, convenience can cost you big time. If you are fortunate to live in an area that has some other smaller airports you may be able to save a lot of money. Instead of using JFK or LaGuardia in NYC, or even Newark here in NJ, I have been flying to places from Trenton Mercer airport which is just 25 minutes from my home. This airport is so easy to travel from and is serviced by discount airline Frontier as well as Delta, so the travel is reliable and easy. Airlines are shifting their services from hub cities because of the cost to them to make the connecting flights. Now I can fly from NJ to Florida for less money and less hassle than ever before. I don’t have to go to the big airports if I do need to connect. I can fly to such places as Atlanta from Trenton which is the busiest airport in the country and connect to anywhere I choose. I also save on the parking and I am literally just a few steps from my car to the terminal (yes, there’s just one terminal!) so I really do love it.

5. Small Business

I can actually remember the days when small local business was the dominant retail place to shop. I used to buy my shoes at Al’s Bootery, and Sam the Barber cut my hair when I was young. Bernie and Bertha’s, the local luncheonette in my neighborhood, was the best place to get a pizza and, well I wax nostalgic to some degree here. The point is that small business people were and still are your neighbors and friends if you want them to be. Despite the demise of the downtown and the rise of the super malls, chain stores, and online shopping, you will always get better and more personal service from a small business. Plus, you deal with the owners and the people that make all the decisions and don’t have those “corporate rules”. They can only offer you a deal if you are loyal and are keeping them in business, plus they know you and your needs and can actually provide the kind of service you love and really want. In November we have Small Business Saturday to help support local businesses and I try to use these stores as much as I can. I spent too many years at the mall when I was working, so the idea of simple and easy and friendly really appeals to me. Try it, you won’t regret it.

6. Smaller Portions

This one goes to the wallet and your waistline. If you are like most people, you want to try to eat healthy and a big part of that is portion control. Many restaurants these days are altering their menus just because the public is demanding it. Smaller portions of your favorite cuisine can be had in lots of restaurants, even the chains that you dine at and of course those dreaded fast food places too. It may be on the menu or you just may have to ask them, but in almost every case they can accommodate you with a half portion or lunch-sized portion for dinner. Even sharing a meal with someone can be had (with permission) and all of those are cheaper and probably better for your health.

7. Smaller Shipping Costs

When you’re buying a gift for someone or simply shopping online, smaller means cheaper. It’s just a simple rule of math: when it takes less space and weighs less it will cost less to ship. In fact, last year, Amazon began a new free shipping program for any items that weigh ½ pound or less. Free, my favorite word. I can always find a gift for someone that is both thoughtful and light. If I try. And besides, less cardboard and recycling waste as well.

Need bigger items? Look out for Cyber Monday free shipping deals.

8. Small Colleges

If you or your kids (or your grandkids) are going to college, think small. There are plenty of reasons to do so and here are two. Small colleges give the student a much closer relationship with their instructors who are more often than not, full professors. That provides more interaction and attention to the work. I went for 2 years to Temple University in my hometown of Philadelphia and sat in lecture halls with 250 students for some classes. The teacher used a microphone and I sat way in the back falling asleep on occasion. Not good. Secondly, there are programs offered at small colleges that may be unavailable at large universities. The curriculum at small schools may be designed for a local area like in agricultural or marine studies because of location. That’s a big advantage for some students.

9. Small Cars

This is really a no brainer. Small cars are usually less expensive, period. As long as you’re not buying some fancy Italian sports car you will save money. Not only the cost of the car, but you’ll save on gasoline as well because smaller lighter cars get better mileage that larger ones. Besides, a Hummer may be suited for war in the Middle East but here in NJ? While safety for your family is a concern of course, think about the kind of choices that you have and leave the status and label off the table and you’ll save.

10. Smaller Living Spaces

Here’s that subject once again. Downsizing makes sense for an awful lot of people who are both young and old. If for no other reason, consider the cost of living large. First, the cost of all of your utilities, maintenance, and upkeep. The initial cost of buying a large home can be a huge burden and the long term debt is scary for some of us. If you don’t have the family need for it, why do it? Renting an apartment is a smarter choice when you are in the stage of your life when you are more transient, prefer the city to suburbia, or are just tight on funds and cannot buy. Buying a home for its “investment value” isn’t as wise as it used to be and if you don’t believe me ask those who are still underwater from the great recession of 2008.

The idea that we have to have everything be the biggest is an idea that most Americans have grown up with. But in the world we actually live in, bigger hasn’t always meant better. Reducing our carbon footprint is now the mantra of many and its current out of proportion size is more than likely due to our over consumption and priority of pursuing the “Big” rather than the necessary.

So here’s the point. What are you doing to help our planet, keep yourself and your family healthy, safe, and happy and of course taking care of your wallet too? We all have only a limited time and chance to do something about all of those things. What ways do you “go small”? Are there any items that you can add to this list?


  1. Hope all is well with you doctors visit Gary. A lol post, but does make you think in a lot of cases smaller is better. Just the old marketing machine trying to trick us, conditions us into thinking we always need bigger.

    We are big fans of traveling from a small airports. We have a local one near us and would even pay a little extra to fly from it, no hassle in parking, check in, etc.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Your 11 seconds of exercise had me snorting my coffee. Personally, the little cokes in the glass bottles always tasted better anyway, I guess because they were the perfect size and were never flat. And, there are times when a half pint of beer is really all I want. We’ve learned that we don’t really need to buy in bulk (we’re a family of 3). We live in a smaller house (and who’d want to clean a big one?)

    The only issue is the car one. Jon’s pretty insistent that we drive at least mid-sized SUVs for the safety factor. And, though I went to a small school (Wake Forest) and loved it, I hope Little Bit will attend a big state school someday (or get a heck of scholarship).

    1. I wasn’t even thinking of the networking aspect, which can make a big difference in the opportunities that are open to you. As for the beverages, I forgot to mention getting it to go, then getting a larger size might make more sense. Have you ever seen convenience stores promote any size cup of coffee for 99 cents? I never understood why anyone would get the small if it’s all the same price.

  3. I definitely subscribe to smaller food portions. Most people don’t realize a normal restaurant serving is around 4 portions. Yikes! Without the sauce that’s 60 to 70% of my daily calories! And the unit price is really a funny subject to me. Often you don’t even have to do the math because the unit price is right on the label and shows the small package is cheaper.

    Great tip about using a smaller airport. We get dinged in Charlotte for being a major hub.

  4. Jack

    Smaller is often better.

    Of course, as a 6’5″ wide-receiver type, there is nothing small about me personally, which lends itself to big cars, big clothes, big meals, and big just about everything. As such, I’ve always appreciated smallness more than most.

    Size matters, but not in the way popular culture insists. Small is often better. There’s a reason all the best gymnasts in the world are tiny.

  5. Amanda @ centsiblyrich

    Wow, Gary! I was at the doctor yesterday and I was 3/4 inch shorter than I thought I was!? What? I even asked the nurse how accurate the measuring device was and she said she has checked it with a tape measure.

    I didn’t realize how much I tend toward the small things until I read this post. The only things that didn’t fit for me is the smaller soda (I don’t drink it) and the smaller house (in the future). I loved the small university I attended. And yes to smaller packages – checking cost per unit is important here.

  6. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank

    I agree with small colleges. I think it’s advantageous to have 1:30 teacher to students ratio. The interaction is important in learning, and it secures that students are able to raise their questions for answer before they get out of the classroom.

    1. I would agree, Vickie, when you’re spending your own money, you start to think more carefully about what you spend. The earlier that someone can learn that, the better off they’ll be in their lifetime. The ability to go to a small campus that’s nearby is definitely a money saver. If that works for some people that would be a plus. Thanks so much for your comments.

  7. ChooseBetterLife

    Another benefit of a smaller suitcase is being able to carry it! We have some massive ones I could fit inside if I ever wanted to check myself for a flight, but if I were to fill them with clothes and toiletries I could never lift them.
    Sticking to a smaller bag makes the whole process more convenient and more pleasant.

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