I’ve used this line before, but it deserves repeating, because things that are $20 and under are so. easy. to. buy. They are like the silent killer of your bank account or credit card bill, IF you’re not paying attention.
Photo: Whipping Post
I ran a booth once for dignify at a big Christmas market, and right across from us was a candle seller. Here I was, with these beautiful, hand-crafted items that were colorful and rich with an amazing story behind them. “People online love our blankets!” I thought to myself. “So many people purchase them as gifts; selling them here is going to be fun & easy!”
While I was setting up our booth, I glanced over at the candle shop. Jars of candles. Candles shaped like a banana loaf with 3 wicks. No special scent. No interesting story. Just simple, $15 candles. “Will people buy these things?” I wondered.
The answer, it became clear, was a resounding YES.
Over the next 9 days (over 3 weekends) as I twiddled my thumbs and re-folded blankets and talked about our story, I saw LINE-UPS across the hall of people buying candles.
What I realized is that $20 is very, very easy to spend. It wasn’t that these items were extraordinary; exactly the contrary: many people were looking for a simple, decent, ordinary gift that they could give to a co-worker, mother-in-law, host, or include in a gift exchange. And, at the very ordinary price of $15, it was a very low barrier for buy-in.
But what do all of those $15-$20 purchases add up to?
You may have had this experience when you’ve looked at a month’s credit card bill; the total has your eyes bulging, but the detailed list doesn’t seem to show anything very notable. As a young married gal, I would look at our bill and think, “I don’t even have anything in the triple digits – how does this all total to $2000?!”
But, imagine a fairly regular day: you treat a friend or your daughter (& yourself) to drinks & pastries at a coffee shop in the morning. After you part, you swing by the mall where you pick up your latest book club read at the bookstore, grab some organizational containers that you’ve meant to pick up, then see a darling bowl on the sale table at West Elm before you go. Tonight, your family’s activities go a bit late, so while you’re waiting for piano lessons to wrap up, you pop in and buy a prepared meal from the grocery store.
Boom! That was a $100 day!
Nothing expensive, nothing too extraordinary, and certainly could all be worthy ways to spend money (books are edifying; house needs arranging, sanity-saving meal shortcut, etc.).
Maybe in your life, the $20 at Starbucks is no big deal. Your version could be $80 at IKEA or The Container Store, or $200 at Costco. But, any time that money seems to disappear without any satisfaction to show for it… these are the places that we need to re-examine and think about. What else might you get with the disappearing $20, $100, $200? A framed art print? A date night out? An upgrade at a hotel? A gift to a person or organization in need?
When you begin to ask these questions, the answer may be that you wouldn’t change a thing. If so: Great! What matters is that you begin to ask, look, think, and make more informed decisions.
Then, you will have the confidence to purchase when a great opportunity arises. You will feel the satisfaction of money well spent, instead of bewilderment over the disappearing act of money seeming to fly out of your wallet.
The Enneagram is super popular right now as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. I am familiar with the Enneagram and while it hasn’t been a particularly impactful tool for me personally, I value the depth of the insight and the common language it provides.
Similarly, Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework provides definition and a vernacular to what is already present in ourselves. For me, this one has resounded like a deafening gong in my ears & in my life!
Over the last year or so, I've made a conscious priority to read books written by — or written from the perspective of — people different than me. As a white, rich person (and I have a job, a bachelor's degree, a house, 2 cars, and 3 computers, so that sounds pretty rich to me; maybe not in the 1%, but high enough), I have a pretty limited perspective. Also, our culture is essentially designed for me to thrive, so it's easy to take that all for granted.
Books, both non-fiction and creative stories, have a way of landing you right in the viewpoint of an other, and I am so grateful for that gift; it's one of the best things about reading.
Conversations about money can be awkward, but having uncomfortable talks, at age appropriate times, will set up our children's essential, lifelong skill in handling money well. Allowance is a key tool to teaching these money management skills.
Money, along with politics and religion, is often considered impolite conversation to have outside of yourself & maybe (hopefully?) your spouse. How much do we spend on groceries, gas bill, or date nights? Is this car payment normal? We are often afraid, or at least reluctant, to compare any of these details… R. Paul Stevens said the proverbial fig leaf from the Garden of Eden has moved from our naked bodies to our bank accounts!
Add kids into these conversations, and there is an additional layer of hesitancy: kids can be notorious loud-mouths!