Help make economic and financial literacy a priority in our schools! All donations received by June 30th will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $75,500. Give now!

Grade 9-12

Are the Best Things in Life Free?

Updated: June 26 2017,


The Best Things in Life are Free is a song written by B.G. DeSylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson for the musical "Good News" which opened on September 6, 1927 in the 46th Street Theater in New York City. It played for 557 performances. A movie version was produced in 1930 and remade in 1947. A movie musical, "The Best Things in Life Are Free," based on the careers of the songwriters, was made in 1956.

The song’s lyrics imply that love and marriage are costless:

flowerThe moon belongs to everyone
The best things in life are free,
The stars belong to everyone
They gleam there for you and me.
The flowers in Spring,
The robins that sing,
The sunbeams that shine
They’re yours,
They’re mine!
And love can come to everyone,
The best things in life are free.

This idea is widely expressed as a maxim by people who know nothing of its origin. They know it’s true through intuition and common sense. In this lesson students analyze choices that married couples make in order to understand that, contrary to expectations, these choices do have costs.

Task List

  • Use economic reasoning to analyze the costs and consequences of marital choice.
  • Determine the cost of choice.
  • Analyze alternatives.


  1. Re-read the lyrics of The Best Things in Life are Free. Do you agree with the song's sentiments? Are the best things in life free?
  2. Consider the costs of any choice that a married couple makes to be the choices that each partner would have made if he or she were not married. These costs are called 'opportunity costs.'
  3. Read the Handy Dandy Guide below; it will help you analyze the choices in the 'Marriage Decisions' Activity.

Handy Dandy Guide

People choose. People choose the alternative which seems best to them because it involves the best combination of costs and benefits.

People's choices involve cost. Costs are the choice people give up when they make their best choice.

People respond to incentives in predictable ways. Incentives are actions or rewards that encourage people to act. When incentives change, people's behavior changes in predictable ways.

People gain when they trade voluntarily. People can produce more in less time by concentrating on what they do best. The surplus goods or services they produce can be traded to obtain other valuable goods or services.

People's choices have consequences which lie in the future. The important costs and benefits in economic decision making are those which will appear in the future. Economic reasoning stresses making decisions about the future because it is only the future that we can influence. We cannot influence things that have happened in the past.

Select three of the following decision situations which you think are important. For each decision situation, list three choices that a married couple might make. For each of these choices, list an opportunity cost and tell who will bear the cost. What incentives are there for the couple to make this choice? What are some possible consequences of this choice? Which choice would you make and why?

You may have the opportunity to compare your analysis with that of another student. Keep in mind that the value and preferences of one married couple may be different from those of another married couple, and that the courtship period allows individuals to seek partners with compatible values and preferences.

Marriage Decisions

Decision Situations

Questions to Consider

1. Wedding

When? Where? Type of ceremony and reception? Which guests? Honeymoon?

2. Home

Location? Rent, buy, or live with relatives?

3. Home maintenance

Who cleans? Fixes up? Supervises the plumber?

4. Careers

Who will work? At what jobs?

5. Budget

What to buy? How much to save? Who manages household finances?

6. Food

Eat at home or eat out? Who cooks? Who shops? What menus?

7. Recreation

Spectator vs. participant activities? Together or individually?

8. Holidays

How to celebrate? Stay at home? Visit relatives? Travel?

9. Vacations

Stay at home or travel? What activities? How much to spend?

10. Children

Will you have children? How many? Timing? Child care?

11. Disciplining children

What methods? Whose responsibility?

12. Children's education

Public or private? Financing? Parents' roles?

13. Children's activities

Which ones: sports, clubs, arts? Transportation? Supervision? Financing?

14. Promotion or job transfer

Impact on spouse? Adjust household responsibilities? Accept or reject?

15. Community activities

Which ones: church, service clubs, artistic, athletic, political, school groups, and so on. Degree of involvement? Shared or individual?

16. Retirement

When? Where? Activities? Finances?

17. Care of elderly parents

Live independently? Live with you? Nursing home? Hospital? Finances? Impact on you, your spouse, your children?

18. Care of chronically ill spouse

At home? Outside help? Nursing home? Hospital? Finances?

Think about the following questions:

  1. Based on your consideration of the costs of choices, how are married persons' choices different from those of unmarried persons?
  2. How can married persons reduce the costs of their choices?
  3. What is wrong with applying the statement, "The best things in life are free" to the topics of love and marriage?

Extension Activity

Visit the website Cool Freebie Links and select three items which interest you most. Try to list any costs associated with each (e.g., postage, have your name added to mailing list, etc.) and determine whether or not they really are free.

*Watson, George G. and Carlyjane D."Are the Best Things in Life Free?" Senior Economist. Volume 9, No. 3, February 1994. Council for Economic Education: New York.