Nickels and Dimes
By Special Guest Blogger Sam D’Antonio
There was change in my pocket when I spotted the glass prism filled with colorful gumballs. I pressed a quarter into the shiny metal slot at the base of the tank and twisted the handle until I heard a click and the tap of the coin going into the mechanism. Then, a green gumball slowly started to roll down its track, picking up speed as it went along. It knocked against the silver flap, I grabbed it, and popped it into my mouth. The first chew was amazing, like I had just bitten into a watermelon. Soon after, however, the once flavorful gum turned into a tasteless grey lump, and I spit it into a trashcan. That little bit of satisfaction only cost me a quarter. But the joy lasted fifteen seconds. The cost doesn’t seem important, but it all adds up. This is called nickel and diming. We do it everyday because spending makes us feel good. It’s easy for teens to use their meager money on things that are temporary satisfaction . We want cool clothes, we want tasty fast food, and we want to have fun. You buy a nice outfit to go out: grab food from McDonald’s, pick up your ticket for the latest movie in the theaters, and wash it down with an extra large soda. All these little purchases add up to a big price, especially if you’re doing it frequently. If you nickel and dime yourself you will never be able to save a chunk of money to buy the bigger ticket items you desire like a car or a laptop. We are addicted to the instant gratification of a quick fix – a frappuccino, a burger or a movie ticket… but we pay for that in the long run. There is a way to enjoy those little perks AND save money. You just have to make a few easy changes.
Teenagers spend about $400 on clothes every year. That amounts to 38% of their annual income. According to Piper Jaffray, a financial service company, it is essential for teens to decrease clothing purchases. You can still fill your closet and save money by shopping at a thrift store. “While the exact savings … vary by many factors,” says www.needhelppayingbills.com, “the average savings on (clothes) over major retailers … range from about 50% to 80%.” Shopping at thrift stores used to be viewed as uncool, but it’s popular now as many people have recognized the positive effect that buying second-hand clothing has on our environment. YouTube influencers have increased thrift shopping’s popularity by showing how cool and creative it can be. Don’t worry about not finding stylish clothes. If you look hard enough, you are bound to find name brand clothing. I bought my favorite pair of jeans for $5 at my local thrift store. After looking online I found them new at $49.95; that’s a savings of almost 90%! You don’t want to squander your hard-earned cash on a pair of $90 jeans when you can find a similar pair at a thrift store for under $10. You’ll find a Goodwill or Salvation Army in most cities, but consider researching independent consignment or vintage/thrift stores in your area.
In the same 2016 study by Piper Jaffray, the company found that teens spend 22% of their annual income on food, averaging $350 a year. That’s crazy! Sadly, it is a common sight to see long lines of students waiting outside a Popeye’s or Starbucks after school, or many students roaming the halls in the morning with a large bag of Hot Cheetos and a 24 oz Sprite. Since fast food tends to be cheap, we don’t realize how much money we’re spending. We crave our daily burgers and frappuccinos, but they nickel and dime us, slowly draining our wallets. Preventing this is simple. Instead of going everyday, make it a special treat and go once or twice a week. This will greatly decrease the amount you’re spending and increase the amount you’re saving. All of the money that you would normally spend on unhealthy food, which lasts as long as it takes to eat it, can now be put into a savings account or be used to help buy a computer for school or a car. As a further benefit, you’d be eating more healthily. Buying and making your own food is another technique to decrease excessive fast food spending. Instead of buying a burger identical to the one you ordered last week and the week before, buy ingredients from the store and make your own. If you buy seven Big Macs each week you’d spend $30. However, if you bought 2 lbs of ground beef it would cost around $10. With each pound of beef you can make 4 patties, already more burgers than you could buy at a fast food restaurant at a fraction of the price.
But splurging on food and drinks aren’t the only treats teens love. Entertainment is a big part of our lives. According to The Hollywood Reporter, teenagers spend more time at the movies than any other age group. Of course, this means that teens are spending the most at movie theaters, too. This is incredibly expensive. The average price of a movie ticket is $13. If you’re opposed to sneaking in your own candy, then buying popcorn and a soda can bring the total cost upwards of $25. Buying a Netflix subscription (or any other streaming service) is a great way to spend less money and enjoy a ton of movies. Netflix’s basic plan costs less than a movie ticket. This means you could watch hundreds of dollars’ worth of movies and TV shows for about $9 a month. And at the library, there are hundreds of movies and TV shows that you can check out for no cost at all. So you can’t immediately watch the latest releases from the theater… but you have just saved hundreds of dollars. This doesn’t mean that you can never go to the movies again, especially if you buy in advance online or at Costco. Planning ahead will save you money.
We don’t need to give up buying all the things that give us joy, we just need to change how and where we get them. Giving in to impulse purchases in the form of empty calories and overpriced clothes is a bad habit that we can change. After you stop nickel and diming yourself you will be surprised with how much money you have saved. We can still get joy from buying things, but can do it at a fraction of the cost. Would you rather have a $5,000 wardrobe hanging in your closet, or one that cost you $500 with $4,500 in your bank account?
Great article! There’s so many ways that teens can save money. I turned it into sort of a game, and changed the thrill of shopping into a hunt for the things I want to buy cheaper. There’s even thrift store websites now! Maybe teens could start practicing bugeting to see how much they save?
It’s become more important than ever for teens to save their hard earned money. These tips will go a long way, thank you!
Thanks for the comment! I actually just discovered some thrifting websites myself, which is great for cheap shelter-in-place shopping.
This is wonderful advice, as well as something people really want to start early- like as soon as they start working. As an adult, it’s much harder to try and start getting into the “saving” mindset. You get so used to the convenience of just being able to go out and buy that Starbucks coffee or new jeans. Or if you’re bored, just pick up a movie ticket. And some popcorn. Oh, and some soda and maybe candy? It turns into a slippery slope!
If you start trying to save money early, you’ll be used to finding ways to save and already have some emergency money stashed away.
That’s not to say that you can never do those things, just be smart about it. And make a budget! Budgets are vital to being able to save money.
Going for second-hand clothing is a very smart move. I’m glad Youtubers have made this popular because now more and more people (including teenagers) buy from thrift stores. Most people want to save the planet and save money so it’s a win-win. And you can often find real gems in these stores. You just need to take your time and search through them.
I’m certainly guilty of nickel and diming, I have a Starbucks close to my office and I get a coffee there almost every day. I’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars last year alone! I’ll try to go there just twice a week.
This brings up a very valuable point. A lot of people suffer from shopping addiction, which feels great at first but those spnding habits add up quick, and the good feeling doesn’t last.
Love the bubblegum ball analogy – it’s so true that we spend small amounts of $ on temporary satisfaction and the feeling of happiness is fleeting. I like your practical advice about thrifting and Netflix instead of new clothes and the movie theater…
I think there are some good psychology games you can play with yourself to help you save more. For example, every time you choose to stay home and watch Netflix instead of a planned theatre trip, you can write that money down and watch as it adds up (or even set some aside for a later splurge??).
I think this stuff is harder to do when there’s the social pressure of a group of people going to a movie or the mall – do you have advice on what to say/do for those situations?
Hi Jen, if that situation ever come up for me and I’m trying to save money, I’d try to suggest limiting the activity, like if your group is going to get food to eat and then going to a movie, suggest eating food at someone’s house, and then going to the movie. Of course people will do what they want to do, but it’s always your choice to try and limit your own spending.
With our budget being tighter than ever I’ve been researching articles on saving money and budgeting. Love this article and the tips given to help and made me realize my family is so guilty of just grabbing food when we are out because I just don’t feel like cooking. I’m definitely going to try to cut back on our eating out trips. Going to recommend to my younger sister who is so guilty of buying those expensive drinks.
Great post. It reminds me of how my GF and I have traded barbs about what the other spends money on. For her it’s clothes, for me it’s going out for drinks or coffee. We have a tendency to see how what the other spends adds up, not so much the other way round. I think she doesn’t see the same value in going out places and I don’t see the value in newer clothes.
We’ve found some constructive ways of doing things differently–like your suggestion of thrifting for her. She actually gets higher end clothing through thrifting (stuff coming back on trend), and she feels better about where the clothes are sourced from. I bought a moka-express maker and pour over funnel so I can have nice cups of joe at home. I found that with the money I save on going out (still do, btw, but it’s more of a special occasion kind of thing) I can get high quality coffee beans at home, and save a lot of money. I guess it’s all about finding the quality of life/saving for the future balance?
I think a key component to saving as a teenager is the fact that it sets up good habits. Ability to budget, spend below your means, delay gratification – these are all skills that are important for managing money for the rest of your life. I totally agree that it’s important to keep an eye on the little things so that you can save for big ticket items that have a lasting impact on your life. Being smart with the small stuff will reap rewards for the big stuff. And you’re right about making food at home, even fast food is more expensive! What do you think a good $ savings/year target for a teenager is?
Preparing your own food and snacks is not so popular. Maybe if Youtubers start talking about it like they did about second-hand clothes… But you will undeniably save a lot of money and eat healthier. I think teenagers should do a mix of preparing their own burgers and also go to Starbucks maybe once a week. A mix of both seems easier to manage than completely eliminating any fast food.
“Planning ahead will save you money” this is the best advice right here. If we manage to teach this to kids and teenagers then our whole world will change because people will spend money wisely. They won’t rush in spending money based on their momentary emotional state of mind. No. They will think things ahead of time and plan accordingly. We won’t have as many unnecessary loans and people in debt.