The moment you realize you’re officially getting old? It happened to me a few weeks ago.
I was not happy.
I was having a conversation with someone, I don’t remember who (yes, this is also a sign of my impending aging), about going to the movies. We were discussing how expensive it is to go, particularly if we take our kids and they want to go to a 3D movie. We joked that we needed second mortgages to do so, especially when we factor in the cost of babysitting, and then I said this:
“I remember when I could take $10, buy a movie ticket, a snack, and still have money left over for the next week.”
Um, what? When did I reach the age that I could lament how cheap things were in “my day” (and it be acceptable)? But sadly, it’s true (both the fact that I am old enough to do so and the fact that things are exponentially more expensive. AAHH…Grandma! Get off my blog!). Anyway…
A few days after that, I received a search term referral to DMS, “what to do with $25”. It’s a really good question and one that I feel compelled to answer (because, you know, I do that). It’s interesting, reflecting on my movie ticket conversation, how differently I would have responded 20 years ago than I will now. Twenty years ago, I would have said: buy a concert ticket, buy CDs (the music kind, not the money kind), buy clothes…pretty much all superficial stuff. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have the same answers now, particularly if the person asking the question needs new clothes or the concert ticket is a really good deal. But I’d probably offer some practical advice, too:
- Start an emergency fund. As I’m a big proponent of the $20 emergency fund, coming into a random $25 is a great place to start that, particularly if you have no emergency fund to speak of. Many people complain that it’s difficult to find money to save, but if you have found money, why not use it for that?
- Buy some groceries. $25 can buy a week’s worth of groceries at a discount grocery store like Aldi (for a single person or small family, not necessarily a family of 4 or more). It can also serve as money to stockpile necessities like pasta, beans, frozen vegetables, baking ingredients like flour and butter, and canned tomatoes. With those items on hand, you can make a number of meals and what better way to create a stockpile than with unexpected money?
- Use it as a “snowflake”. If you’re paying off debt, you know how much it sucks to watch your hard earned money disappear to pay for past expenses. However, when you receive some unplanned cash, your knee jerk reaction might be to use it on a splurge but the practical side of you should prevail and say “hey, you know what? Let’s put this on some debt. It’s only $25 but it still puts us $25 closer to our goal of being debt free”. Remember, every little bit counts.
- Put it into savings. It doesn’t matter what kind of savings account: holiday shopping, your dream trip savings account, back-to-school shopping, birthday presents…whatever. Just save the money somewhere that it can a) earn a tiny bit of interest and b) provide you with the funds you need to purchase gifts, wants or necessities later on. Or just put it into your regular savings account, and watch it sit there. That’s fun, too.
- Purchase something practical that you’ve been putting off. Do you need new sheets or towels? Do you need to go to the eye doctor but haven’t had the co-pay? Do you need to rent a carpet cleaner for steam cleaning your carpets? Is there anything you’ve been putting off because you’ve just been a bit short on cash? Use this money for that. If you do, don’t beat yourself up that you could have done something else with it. These are important to take care of, just as much as beefing up your savings or snowflaking your debt.
- Splurge. I certainly don’t recommend using all of the money on a splurge (well, in some instances I might but for the purpose of giving practical advice, I don’t) but taking a few dollars to treat yourself to a RedBox movie and a box of candy from the dollar store is fine. Taking a few dollars to go to happy hour with friends is fine. Getting an inexpensive manicure is fine. Even buying a new app or songs from iTunes or a bargain book is acceptable. I believe it’s okay to treat yourself now and again, to prevent both frugal burnout and going on a shopping binge. However, splurge with this money in moderation and promise that you will also do something practical with it.
Twenty-five dollars might not stretch as far as it once it (oh, to be 15 again and have $25 in my wallet) but it can still be a decent sum of money as long as your careful and have a plan.
Readers, what would you do with $25?