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Would You Feel Guilty About a Wasted $3?

How would you feel if you wasted $3? Guilty? Like a squanderer? Would you take measures to ensure it didn’t happen again? Or could you care less? Let us know in a comment. Meanwhile, here’s how I recently changed my mindset own thinking on this very issue:

Last weekend, my fiancé and I rented a DVD from one of those dollar-a-day kiosks.

It was a total guy movie that I didn’t really want to watch, but I had to compromise because I made him endure scenes from Dirty Dancing at least three times in the past month. (In my defense, a particular network plays it constantly).

Anyway, we rented it, got busy with errands, and never got around to watching it!

When the next day came and went and we didn’t make time to watch the movie yet again, I grew panicky. I actually started devising a rule list for when we should rent movies. That’s right, an “Are we really going to watch this?” mental checklist. It went something like this:

  • We had to be sure we would have time to watch the movie that night.
  • Our schedule had to be clear in order for us to rent a movie.
  • All other errands/plans had to be complete before we rented the movie.

Sometimes, you have to let go…

Any sane person can see that creating a checklist of requirements for renting a one dollar DVD is taking the money-saving game a bit too far. Even I realized how silly it sounded. This was literally the first time we hadn’t gotten around to watching a rented movie and I was already feeling the guilt and entering full-on Emergency Budget Saving mode.

Maintaining your finances is serious business. But sometimes, when you really get into it, you start to obsess a bit. Trust me; it happens to the best of us.

A little obsessing is probably a good thing, it’s what keeps our savings accounts healthy. But there comes a point when it goes too far. The fun in life goes out the door when you start brooding over every dollar that you can’t control. As I’ve written before, it’s about balance.

I’m just happy I stopped myself before someone organized an intervention.

Expect bumps in the road

After you work so hard to create and stick to a budget, save for the future, and curb your unnecessary spending, a little bump in the road can be frustrating. But there are always going to be hiccups in our financial plans and sometimes we just have to go with the flow.

Little bumps for just a couple dollars here and there will not derail your entire financial plan (as much as it might seem like they could). The little bumps are a given; you’ll never be able to prevent every wasted dollar…no matter how hard you plan. If you’re sticking to a budget and planning ahead, you’re probably already avoiding most big money-wasters and budget-busters as it is.

Don’t drive yourself and others crazy

I’m pretty relieved that my DVD rental checklist never made it past the rough draft and into my fiancé’s hands before I realized how ridiculous it was. By now, he’s pretty used to my obsession with saving money, but I’m not quite sure that this latest idea would have been well received.

Worrying yourself (and your loved ones) about every little penny just isn’t healthy.

In the end, we were able to watch the movie – and return it – by the third rental day. I was only three bucks out, but I learned a valuable lesson about not obsessing in the process.

What’s your take? Do you obsess over pennies (or dollars) here and there? Either way, what’s your justification?

Published or updated on September 16, 2010

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


We invite readers to respond with questions or comments. Comments may be held for moderation and will be published according to our comment policy. Comments are the opinions of their authors; they do not represent the views or opinions of Money Under 30.

  1. shirley says:

    I was so obsessed with spending $1.45 on an iced coffee the other day, so I DID NOT!!!! Filed my water bottle instead. Put $1.50
    in a savings jar….FEEL GREAT!!!!

  2. Davis says:

    I know I would care about wasting $3 on a movie I didn’t watch. I guess its just how I’ve been brought up. Not a fan of waste, especially after spending so much time in countries where $3 means a lot.

  3. A thought-provoking and well-written post.

    I’ll defend your frugality: obsessing about every dollar beats the alternative. You’re obviously not a crazy woman who hoards soap remnants and wears the same clothes every day, so revel in your chosen level of “penny-pinching obsession”, if you want to call it that. There are plenty of people who rationalize bigger wastes of money than yours (“firefighter’s salary” is a pretty creative one.)

  4. Mike says:

    Lol, psycho. Funny story though.

  5. LB says:

    Good article. Pinching every penny can sometimes make yourself and those around you miserable. Remember that life is short and a one-time $3 mess-up isn’t worth stressing over.

  6. Bishnu says:

    I would totally be upset at this situation. I would have made time to watch the movie. I think you did not contribute to the cause since it was not something you were interested in doing hence you caused your husband to loose $3. Its no big deal, I don’t expect anyone to take blame. Since we are on the topic of small expenses I would like to ask a question. Why do people that are splurgers and in poverty who is on public assistance without a dime to our name look down at people like myself that likes to sacrifice luxuries for money in my savings account? Not that I care but I overheard some neighbors who are all on some sort of public assistance and probably messed up their credit a long time ago brag about being able to buy whatever they want and not care about money. They even started commenting on people they work for being cheap and looks to save every penny as if it was a bad thing. In my opinion if these kinds of people adapt a bit of saving to their lives they can help us all out by getting off the system. These people live on my tax dollars and then calls me cheap because I want to save money for my future.

  7. Sandy X says:

    I obsess about money a bit more than I’d like to admit to. My price point? $2.26. It’s the cost of a small coffee and a donut at the Dunkin’ near my office. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked down the staircase in my parking garage contemplating whether or not I will make a pit stop before heading in to work. Sometimes, my mental back-and-forth is more about the health decision I’d be making (“do you REALLY need the 5,000 calories in a donut and coffee?”) More often than not, it’s about the habit I’d be forming by making a singular insignificant, yet cumulatively damaging financial decision. I think about how all of the little things add up and what I would do with the lump sum. If I went to Dunkin’ twice a week for a month, I could get half a tank of gas! (For you PF nerds, that’s $18.08 ;>) I sometimes feel guilty and restricted by my budget, but I have learned to build a little “wiggle room” into my budget for these little indulgences. It keeps my stress and blood pressure down. Why do I do it? I have an endless desire to make sure I am financial stable and independent, and I am thoroughly convinced that these things can only be achieved by me continually making healthy financial decisions. Besides, I don’t want to be 50 years old and wondering how I will be able to pay for my kids’ college education, my parents’ long-term care needs or my own retirement.

  8. Johanna says:

    In this case, rather than be mad at myself about the movie rental costing 3 times as much as I’d anticipated, I’d ask myself if the two of us got $3 worth of enjoyment out of the movie. I’ll be you did.

  9. David Weliver says:

    I’ve never been a penny pincher like some people I know…my philosophy is to save on the big things and, as long as the debt’s gone and there’s money left to savings, enjoy the small things.

    For me, part of “enjoying the small things” is enjoying the peace of mind I don’t have to sweat small losses.

    I used to become furious (mostly at myself), if I got a $15 parking ticket…not all that uncommon because I live in a city and park on the street 24/7.

    I’ve since taken a more zen-like approach to them, however. I figure parking in a garage would cost more than the occasional ticket. Then I treat the $15 fine as a contribution to my cash-strapped city; perhaps it helps keep a teacher or firefighter on the job.

    So my wallet takes a hit, but it’s better for my blood pressure. I figure I would probably rationalize most small financial losses this way, too.

  10. Stephanie says:

    In a past financial life, I would normally feel guilty about losing $3, but I’ve now been able to reassess any small-dollar losses by identifying the cause:

    1. Was it the fault of the seller? If so, I can’t be mad at myself (unless I should have avoided the seller in the first place).

    2. Did I do my research and think about the purchase, only then to realize it was a mistake? If so, I can’t be mad at myself either.

    3. Was it my own fault because of poor planning, laziness, etc.? I can’t be TOO mad at myself, because it’s only $3 :) But I take a mental note to learn a lesson from the situation and avoid this kind of mistake next time.

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