To prepare for my current column at Get Rich Slowly, “25 ways to give (without breaking the bank),” I counted my found money collection. From last December through yesterday, I’ve picked up $13.24 in singles and coins.
Here’s the surprising part: $5.60 of that amount was in dimes. As many as 56 people didn’t bother picking up the 10-cent pieces they dropped. I routinely see dimes in those “need a penny, take a penny” cups at cash registers, too.
Maybe some shoppers added the dimes by mistake, and maybe those who dropped coins didn’t always realize it.
Maybe they just didn’t consider it a big deal — or maybe they were too embarrassed to pick the money back up.
Some people are ashamed to be seen picking up coins. I’ve heard from them; in fact, some have told me I ought to be ashamed, too. Apparently such behavior is unseemly. Too nickel-and-dime, so to speak.
When used as an adjective, two of the definitions of nickel-and-dime are “low-paid” and “small-scale or of little importance.” How much does it pay you, really, to bend down and pick it up?
One-tenth of a dollar for a few seconds’ work, in my book. Is it small-scale? Yes. Of little importance? Depends on where you are in life.
According to Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest), $1 will buy the ingredients for eight meals. Thus a dime is almost somebody’s dinner.
When used as a verb, nickel-and-dime means “to impoverish through small expenses.” Sound familiar?
We sweat the big-ticket items – illness, auto repair, mortgage – but the small expenses are the ones that drain our wallets on a daily basis. Bus fare, school field trips, a gallon of milk, cough medicine, annual auto tags and other individual expenses add up distressingly fast.
It’s frustrating when you feel that you haven’t been a spendthrift yet it seems hard to get ahead. That’s because you’re being nickel-and-dimed. More specifically, you’re nickel-and-diming yourself.
But it’s just coffee and a bagel with a co-worker! Just some popcorn and soda at the Cineplex, just the latest issue of The Atlantic….just a minute, why is my debit card being declined?
Maybe dropped dimes, or all dropped coins, are a symptom of how detached we’ve become from our money. Coins somehow aren’t as valuable as folding green, dollar bills get handed to our kids for treats at the mini-mart, and larger bills seem to bleed from our budgets.
Sure, it’s “only” a dime. But dimes add up to dollars, and dollars dissolve into dimes.
That’s not to say you can’t have a magazine, or order a strategic pizza from time to time. But if you do these things automatically vs. mindfully, your money just evaporates into purchases you can’t really remember.
Try this: For the next week chronicle every dime. Seriously: Write down everything you spend on every purchase, from apples to Zantac. An online money-management tool like Mint.com or PowerWallet will help you keep track of the debit and credit purchases, but carry a piece of paper in your wallet to scribble down where the actual cash went, too.
The final tally – and the most top-heavy categories – might surprise you. They might also help you look at spending in a different way.
Dude, where’s my money?
That doesn’t mean giving up everything that makes life good. It does mean questioning money habits that have become so rote you no longer notice them.
Every dollar does matter, and so does every dime. Again, that’s not to say you’re not allowed to spend your own money. Just be aware of how you’re spending it, and question whether your habits are supporting your values and/or your eventual goals.
Think I’m being nitpicky? Read John Scalzi’s simple yet powerful essay, “Being poor.” One way you know you’re poor is if you pick “the 10-cent ramen instead of the 12-cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.”
Obviously this was written a while back (2005). The best ramen deal I’ve seen lately outside a warehouse club was 12.5 cents a package. But if all you had were a few pennies, you’d be praying for the chance to find a dime.