Saturday, June 6, 2009

Twenty Cents for Your Thoughts

This is a chance for all of you out there to roll your eyes at me, because I am about to write about saving 20 cents. Yes that's right, this is a post about saving two thin dimes. However, what interested me in what I am about to write about wasn't the money involved, it was the thought processes. I believe that smaller actions are signs of larger ones, so what this post is actually about is how to make our money really work for us.

Here's the basic story - since I am on my No Spending Challenge for June, I've been trying to cook with items from the pantry. The other night I made some pasta, which ended up with quite a bit of garlic in it. (I love garlic.) It tasted wonderful, but it was fairly potent. I had to work a shift over at the part time job that night, so naturally before leaving the house I brushed my teeth and used mouthwash. It didn't quite cut it though, and driving along, I knew I needed some mints.* Now here's where the 20 cents came in - I knew that there is a concessions at the part time job where they sell mints for $1.00. All the money from it goes to a scholarship fund. I also knew I was going to have to stop at the gas station on my way to work. Maybe I am just old fashioned, but I assumed (incorrectly) that mints would be cheaper at the gas station. Now, here was the slight conundrum - buy mints at the part time job, but have the money go to a good cause, or buy mints at the gas station and save money. It turned out not to be much of a conundrum at all, the least expensive mints I could find at the gas station were $1.20! But here is the interesting thing...

I'm standing at the huge display of candy and gum and looking at my options, and at first, not even looking at the prices. I pick out what I want and then realized it was $1.89. That seemed absolutely ridiculous, so then I concentrated on prices, rather than flavor and brand, and as I said, the least expensive item was the one I knew I could get at the part time job. It was $1.20. The idiotic thing was that I almost bought it anyway! Why?

1. Convenience - It was right there in front of me and easy to purchase. I had money in hand.

2. Embarrassment - I had bought my gas at a pre-pay pump, so to not buy it meant I would have walked in, looked over all the candy, then left without buying anything. There was a moment of "what will people think? " and the gas station had quite a few people at it at the time.

Now let's look at these in a little broader form:
Convenience - how often do we make up our minds to buy something, go to the store to purchase it, have it in hand, then realize it isn't as good of a deal as we thought it was, but buy it anyway? I know I've done it. I've bought items at grocery stores because when I walked in I thought it was on sale, only to find out the sale has ended. Instead of waiting for it to go back on sale or find a coupon, I buy it anyway, just because I am there. It has even happened with larger purchases - rather than going down the road and looking for a better deal, I buy something because I am right there in front of it.

You know, there was a time not that long ago that I had a hard time walking out of a store with nothing in my hand. If I went shopping for clothes, I would usually find something. Don't get me wrong, I would usually be pretty frugal about it, whatever I bought would be on sale or clearance and a good deal, but still, I always had something in my hand when I left, even if it was just one small thing. I have a friend of mine who shops completely differently. He shops only a handful of small clothing stores and he watches the merchandise there, knows what he likes and knows when it goes on sale. The first time we went shopping together he looked around, tried on a few things, found things he liked but then... left. I was totally thrown. It turned out he was figuring out what worked so that when it went on sale, he knew right what to get. I'll be honest, I have never been that kind of shopper.

Buying something out of embarrassment is the worst, though. I mean really, how silly can I get? And yet... it happens. I can think of several times when I have made unexpected purchases out of some weird form of guilt and embarrassment - at a restaurant that was more expensive than expected, when I've been cornered by a very savvy salesman, or felt rushed and didn't feel I could take time to really make up my mind. It has been hard for me when buying feels "expected." Of course, the truth is, no one cares! Would all the people in the gas station think I was odd for going in, looking the candy over and then leaving? Would they know that I thought $1.20 mints were too expensive? Of course not! More likely they would think I was looking for a particular brand or flavor and didn't see it. And let's face it, even if they did think I was a complete loon - what is the likelihood I will run into them again?? They aren't friends!

Of course, all of this is easy to think about afterward. In the heat of the moment, it is hard. Emotions are weird, powerful things.

As it turns out, I did leave the gas station and bought the mints at my part time job. I saved money and I knew that $1.00 went to a scholarship fund - not some gas conglomerate. I actually felt good about my purchase. Why can't most of our purchases be that way? I'm not saying that every dollar we spend needs to go to benefit a charity, but why can every time we write a check or hand over that bit of plastic, we know that we are making a smart purchase and feel confident about it? And that is the concept that has been running through my head for the last week - working to make sure that I feel good about my spending. Not just making sure it fits my budget so I can get my nine hundred dollars, but also knowing that I am spending wisely. When I pay my electric bill I want to know I've been working on keeping it down. When I buy groceries I want to make sure that if I am in the store, I am using coupons or looking for sales, and if I am at the Farmer's Market, I am buying from vendors I know and trust. Ideally, I want to look at every single place I lay down my hard earned money and feel good about it.

It's a big thought, using money wisely ...and worth every penny of that 20 cents!

* Normally of course, mints would be off limits during a No Spending Challenge, but seriously, the garlic was wicked! It was an emergency in that I could not jeopardize my job with greeting the public like that!! Otherwise candy is not part of my spending at all.

Photo by: olliehigh


Anonymous said...

Awesome post. And entirely true. I have done the same things when I have been shopping. You work hard for your money, being confident you spent it wisely is important.

Thanks for the inspiration!

April said...

There is a great tax court decision case in which the judge rejected the IRS's claim that the taxpayer's expenses weren't significant enough to claim a certain corporate status. The judge responded "$50,000 here, $50,000 there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." (The IRS lost.)

So,Dawn, I say 20 cents here, 20 cents there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money! Never underestimate the power of pennies!

Sharon said...

I think mints would be okay on your no spend challenge!

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

I don't think anyone would really roll their eyes at you because, as you said, it was more about the process then the $.20. I liked this post because it's reminded me of the times I've payed for things out of convenience...which happens a lot unfortunately. I've never made a purchase out of embarrassment because I don't really care when strangers think about me. There's been plenty of times I've walked into a store and left with nothing in hand. Yes, I've gotten the weird looks, but it's like water on a duck's back to me.

I think feeling good about where you spend your money is important. Nine times out of ten I will buy something that may be more expensive simply because of the cause it supports. For example, I use a local pet store because a percentage of sales goes to SPCA...I like that. But, they're prices are $2-3 more than other places. I'm ok with that because it's a cause I support.

Great post!

Dawn said...

Frugal Dreamer - You are most welcome! And you have it right - we work hard for that money, I think we need to get the most from it we can.

April - I agree completely! "From pennies, dollars are made!" Great little story, by the way!

Sharon - actually, they wouldn't ordinarily. My no spending challenge tries to cut out all frivolous spending, and in normal circumstances, mints would totally be frivolous, but in this case they were an emergency! That garlic was strong!!

Kristy - There is a thought in there that I am still kind of wrapping my head around - there are times when I will pay a higher price for something, if it supports a cause I agree with. Shopping at and supporting some of my favorite local stores and restaurants, for example. Other times, if I am buying something mundane, I want to get the best deal I can - buying it when it on sale, with coupons or both. There is a mindset in there of using every dollar wisely that I really want to find and bring into practice in my own life.

Mrs. Money said...

Hi! I found your blog today and I really like it! I am glad you made this post; I have done something like this numerous times! :)

Dawn said...

Welcome Mrs. Money! It is nice to know I am not alone. I hope you enjoy the blog, it is always great to have new readers.