Yesterday my son asked me for $20 extra in allowance “because I’ve been really stressed lately and I want to buy something.”
Sirens went off in my head as I flashed back to all the emotional spending I’ve done in my lifetime. I’m pretty sure my brain stopped working for a minute. When I finally realized he was waiting for a response, I asked, “Why in the world do you deserve $20 extra when you normally only get $10 a week? I haven’t noticed you washing down the walls or shining my shoes lately.”
“Come on, Mom! It’s only $20!”
Only $20. Just twenty bucks. Can you really even buy stuff for that amount of money anymore? Part of me felt like I should just give it to him because it’s not a big deal. Another part, though, started thinking about all the times $20 felt like a life preserver.
How Far Can $20 Take You?
$20 can be the tipping point for an overdraft fee. Spend $20 when you only have $17.48 in the bank, and you’ll overdraw your account. My bank charges $37 per overdraft, plus $4 a day for every day you’re in the red. So that $20 could easily cost $50 (or more if you have other pending checks or transactions).
$20 can feed you for a week in a pinch. One time I was so broke I couldn’t even come up with enough change to buy a $1 drink at McDonald’s. Luckily, a friend stopped by that day to repay $20 she owed me. I was able to buy enough cheap staples (milk, pasta, bread, etc.) to last until payday that Friday.
$20 can pay the water bill. Ever had a utility cut off for nonpayment? My check for the water bill bounced one time and I had to pay $144 to get it turned back on. Plus the associated fees from my bank (see the part about overdraft fees above). I literally stole a bucketful of water from my neighbor’s hose so I could flush the toilet until my service was reconnected. Pathetic.
$20 can keep you from losing your job. I’ve only called off work one time because I didn’t have enough gas to make it there and back. Actually, I called in sick because I was too embarrassed to tell the truth. I hated lying to my boss, and I was terrified that somehow she would find out. Had that been a regular occurrence, I probably would have been disciplined or fired.
$20 can protect everything you own. If you rent your home, you need renter’s insurance. Period. Without it, a fire or other disaster could destroy your belongings, and your landlord’s policy will only cover the home itself. You can get a decent renter’s insurance policy for around $20 a month.
But it’s ONLY $20!
These days, my spending is under control and I don’t have to deal with close calls like I mentioned above. If I want something that costs $20, I can pretty much just go get it without thinking about it. For many people, that may be a laughable milestone to be proud of – I know people who could spend hundreds without thinking twice. But for me, given my history, being able to spend ANYTHING is amazing.
I could have transferred $20 to Jay’s account in a matter of seconds when he asked for it yesterday. It wouldn’t have prevented me from paying my bills or buying food; I probably wouldn’t have even noticed that it was gone. But I decided I don’t want him to get into the “IT’S ONLY ___” mindset. Thinking “It’s just $10” or “It’s only $35” is what got me into debt in the first place.
Instead, I talked to him about why he feels so stressed (school as usual) and whether buying something new would fix the problem (it wouldn’t). We talked about all the things he already owns that could distract him for awhile or help him feel better. In the long run, that moment will be worth far more than $20 could ever buy.
How much is $20 for you? Could it make a real difference in your life, good or bad? How do you deal when you start thinking in terms of “IT’S ONLY ___”?