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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Guest's picture

I LOVED this post! It really hit home and touched upon so many good points. I browsed online all afternoon, and after reading this, I didn't buy a single thing.

Guest's picture

All week long I've been resisting upgrading my Kitchenaid Artisan mixer to a Kitchenaid Professional. There's a great deal on Amazon and everything! But my credit card balances are yelling No no no!

Thanks for the story about your grandpa.

Guest's picture

Grandma was so right. I probably have the worst case of buyers remorse on the planet. Sometimes I will leave a store by the time I get to my car I wish I had not purchased anything.My grandfather and father both instilled these principles in me. When I bought my first car I was so sick I did not want to drive it. I have always been afraid to get back down to that last penny. How do you cope with spending money?

Guest's picture

I'm meticulous about keeping track of purchases made with my checkcard but give me cash and I can spend it before I blink somehow. Part of it is that I don't track cash (too many pennies here pennies there.)

It does drive me a little nutz when people who educate people about getting out of debt are adamant that you get cash and put it in envelopes for each budget item. Or to get cash because you can't spend more than you have. Or to get cash because of debit card fees (again, know your bank or use your debit card like a credit card so you aren't charged fees... and aren't putting your pin in other companies systems.) Or to get cash for spending because you won't overdraft your checking account (the lamest excuse I've heard so far actually ... maybe people should balance their checkbook and know how much they have so they don't get charged overdraft fees.)

Can you tell it's a pet peeve?

Granted for some people budgeted cash in an envelope system does work better but not for everyone.

So what can I resist buying today? How about replace the french fries and soda with the apple walnut side at McDonald's. Actually I did do that yesterday when I was crunched for time to make dinner. Resisting those greasy salty fries is hard! Apples, cheeseburger and a water and by the end of it I wasn't craving the fries (and there was a small amount of money saved there too.) :)

Guest's picture

I love your "What can I resist buying?" challenge. Advertisers make it very hard, don't they? Even if you don't watch TV and get your news programs via podcasts, you're still bombarded by billboards when you walk down the street. It's good to have a little mantra to remember to cut through the mindless consumption we've all become accustomed to.

I wrote a bit about mindless consumption today. Not specifically regarding buying things but more in general.


Guest's picture

Have you ever thought about using Geezeo, a FREE web-based personal finance manager to help you track your money and stay on budget? It's helping me out a lot this holiday season already, and I feel less stressed about my finaces!!

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