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, “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?