Grandpa’s Penny: “If you never spend it, you’ll never be broke!”
Back in the days when Grandpa\ used to slyly slip us kids a penny or a quarter, he’d always accompany it with this statement: “If you never spend it, you’ll never be broke!” He grew up during the Depression and had to work as a hired hand as a young boy after his family lost their farm, so you could safely assume that Grandpa knew what it was like to be broke and took the statement pretty seriously. As a young girl with a less complete understanding of the value of money, I used to stare at the coin and ponder his statement anew each time. Though I knew I couldn’t buy much for a penny (and today, considering inflation, he’d probably have to slip us a $5 bill to have the same effect), I realized that Grandpa was right—indeed, if I never gave the penny away, I’d always have it. Therefore, I’d always have a little money. The concept is simple but powerful.
Grandpa was also fond of repeating the saying about people whose money would “just burn a hole in their pocket ‘til they could spend it.” I’ve watched cash do similar things to my wallet. Let’s say I pull a twenty out of the ATM and slip it into its spot behind the receipts and credit cards. Then I’m walking down the street past the coffee shop I usually avoid because I don’t want to have to write a check for a latte, and I think, “hey, I have some cash; I want that mocha!” Boom—there goes $4. Who knows what will happen next? Maybe I spring for a discount book at Barnes & Noble while I’m browsing because, again, I have the cash. Maybe today is the day I decide I need a new keychain, or a toy for my dog (who, despite my best efforts, would always prefer chewing the same stuffed animal anyway). The list could go on and on.
I’m giving myself a little challenge this holiday season, and it’s called “What can I resist buying today?” This challenge is not meant to discourage finding good deals, which is definitely a wonderful skill to use when purchasing necessary items; it simply provides another level of thriftiness, which asks, “is the item necessary in the first place?” It forces me to consider what I actually need. Back to Grandpa—he wore the same tattered sweatshirt to do his barn chores as long as I knew him. When he died, we found nice new sweatshirts people had given him hanging unused in the closet. I know the Great Depression inspired people to conserve resources out of necessity, but I was still impressed that my grandparents lived by those same principles in an age of plenty.
I’ve realized that a lot of my buying habits are either social or direct responses to advertisement, and I’ve also realized that the small purchases are the ones that really kill my budget. For example, the day after Thanksgiving, I had breakfast with a few of my closest friends. After breakfast, everybody wanted coffee at our favorite coffee shop. The idea excited me initially because it brought back nostalgic memories of having coffee together in high school. Plus, the coffee shop has been advertising a “Snow Mint Mocha” lately, and the picture of the drink, with its crumbled candy cane topping, looked tantalizing. But when we got to the shop, I realized that a) I already drank coffee at the breakfast, and had enough caffeine, b) I ate French toast, and felt overloaded on sugar anyway, c) I was full, and didn’t feel like putting anything else into my mouth. So, despite the tempting social atmosphere, with my friends huddled around steaming cups and the espresso machine hissing in the background and that Snow Mint Mocha sign gleaming from above, I didn’t buy a coffee. Believe it or not, I survived.
The next day, I bought the darned Snow Mint Mocha; I couldn’t stand the suspense. But I didn’t buy the book that looked so good at Barnes & Noble. I decided to get it from the library instead. I think I’m catching on and keeping my pennies in check; Grandpa would be proud.
What can you resist buying today?
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