Do You Know The Value Of A Dollar?

Ah, a dollar.

A few days ago, Jimmy Johns restaurants had lines of customers wrapped around their buildings simply because they were offering subs for only a dollar!  Parents love to give the reason of learning the value of a dollar (aka how much work is required to earn that dollar).  And fast food commercials love to boast about the cornucopia of options you can get “for just a buck” on their value menus.

Anyone who’s worked a job – traded their time and energy for money – probably thinks they understand the value of a dollar.  People don’t just give you money, after all.

We employees aren’t the only ones concerned with dollars though.

You can be certain the company works for knows the value of a dollar.  They know exactly how much money has to be spent to earn $1 in profit.  The buildings, the computers and phones and paper clips in the buildings, and the human resources.  They know exactly how many dollars you contribute to their profits, so they know exactly how much they need to pay you.

That restaurant you ate at for lunch?  They sure as hell know the value of a dollar.  They know which items provide the highest penny profit (the difference between materials and retail price) – they’re placed on the menu where you’re most likely to see them.  Meal upgrades are presented as “deals”, when the soda you paid $3 for cost a few pennies in syrup and carbonated water.

These examples might have you thinking “well that’s what corporations do – they’re greedy!”.

Conscious Spending Vs. Ethical Consumption

Companies depend on us parting with our dollars to make their dollars.  Most of us depend on them to earn our dollars.  In an ideal world, we would all be able to buy products and services only from companies who we choose based on our morals.

Unfortunately, it’s more often the case that the companies that offer the most affordable products are also difficult to morally support.  A lot of people simply can’t afford to make purchases based on their morals – they make them based off the need to survive.

But while true Ethical Consumption is a privilege, Conscious Spending is something that we can all do.  Conscious Spending is about buying what you need when you need it, not what you want when you want it.  It’s wearing the clothes you have until they don’t function as clothes anymore before you buy new ones.  It’s upgrading a product because you’ve completely used up the old one, not because you’re bored with it.

As we get older, we gravitate towards becoming savvy shoppers, finding good deals, and being smart consumers*.  Along the way we seem to forget the original message behind “learning the value of a dollar”.  It’s a transaction – you trade your time, skills, health, energy, and even happiness for money.  Then you trade that money back for time, skills, health, energy, and of course, happiness.

Finally, it’s about respecting our past and future selves.  What are you saying to past-you when you throw away something that they traded their time for because you wanted the “new” version?  What are you saying to future-you when you spend all the money you have now, or even money you don’t have, so there’s none left for tomorrow?

You’re telling both of them that their time is less valuable than your time right now.

If you really valued all the money your past self has made and your future self is going to make, and the sacrifices required for that money, would you consider buying what you want now to be “treating yo self” or “screwing yo self”?

*When did we get to a point where we were more often referred to as consumers instead of citizens?

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4 thoughts on “Do You Know The Value Of A Dollar?

  1. Great points. The issue with conscious spending is that it requires CONSTANT vigilance. The second you let your guard down and say “Oh, I just need to treat myself!” is the exact moment that everything goes to hell.

  2. The issue I see here is most people don’t have the training or wherewithal to conscious spend. We fail society by not teaching people basic Finance from high school. As such we get what we have, a nation of spenders that don’t think about what comes later. It’s human nature to think of today, only education and time to reflect get people to see what happens years down the road.

    1. These are great points, and I agree that we’re exposed to the idea of spending more = happy instead of spending more Thoughtfully = happy. When it’s all added up, we’re exposed to thousands of hours of examples on what most people consider regular spending, which happens to coincide I think for a lot of people with spending at or above their means. Ads on TV, TV shows themselves, adults in our lives all model this behavior – I like to think by the time we’re old enough to have our first grown up jobs and make some serious money, we’re experts (based on the 10,000 hour idea) at spending money in this way.

      As far as education goes, I don’t see society as a whole being the model for more consciousness around spending – savings rates increase slightly during and after recessions but during booms those habits disappear. Advertising and sales and shopping won’t disappear. And I don’t think it’s possible in schools, even though I do think basic personal finance should be taught (things like spending less than you earn, credit, how interest works, investing, etc.). It does take reflection, and going against what you’ve been exposed to your whole life (even if you did have frugal parents).

      I agree that it takes a lot of vigilance and self discipline – it’s hard to break the cycle, and I think a lot of us feel fortunate that we found someone or something that spoke to us so deeply that it made us want to change all that.

      Thanks for your comments!

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