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We spend money on what we value

Published February 06. 2010 09:00AM

When it comes to money, I'm not quite sure if I'm thrifty, a spendthrift, or, just plain silly.

Maybe the answer is "all of the above," depending on the financial decision.

The one place where I'm "just plane silly" is at the gas station. Yesterday, for example, I was going on assignment and noticed my fuel gauge light came on.

I pulled into one gas station and noticed the gas was priced at $2.77 a gallon. "I'm not getting gas here," I told my friend, Jeanne, as I went a few more miles until I found gas at $2.75.

When I filled my tank, it took 13 gallons. Hey, that means I saved 26 cents.

"Oh, congratulations!" said Jeanne. "What will you do with the money you saved?"

She said the other day her husband was in a bad mood when he had to get gas while they were traveling because the gas was more than it was at home. Since he has a small compact car, that meant he paid 30 cents more to fill up than he would have at home.

"Why are people so strange when it comes to spending money for gas?" she asked.

I told her what my mother taught me: If we consciously work to save money on the small things in life, we will have money for the big things.

That's what I told myself when I walked away from Wal-Mart without buying the envelopes I went there to buy. They were $1.99 a box but I knew I could buy them at the dollar store for half that price. So I waited until I was near the dollar store, even though I needed them right away.

But at the same time, when I was selecting a bag of flavored coffee, I abandoned that thrift. I picked up a bag of coffee with enticing exotic flavors I wanted to try. I hesitated because it was priced at almost $3 more than my regular brand.

I told myself I could splurge on that pound of coffee because it will last me a long time. I pacified myself with the thought that I can afford to splurge on coffee because I don't spend money on drinks when I'm out. David says we both are good at justifying whatever we want, and he's right. But I'm quite disciplined and rather conservative when it comes to spending and so is he.

The bottom line for most of us is that we spend money on what we value or think is important. Then we can always justify our financial decisions, even when they are contradictory at times.

I have one acquaintance who staunchly refuses to move her car unless it is absolutely necessary because gas is too expensive. She saves all her errands for one day and does them all in one weekly trip. If she runs out of bread, she says she "makes do without it."

But she also buys a new car every other year, claiming that a woman who lives alone needs to have a good car. When I add up the money she loses in depreciation when she drives the car out of the dealer's lot, I figure she could buy a lot of gas for that money.

But hey, like I said, most of us spend money for what we value or on what is important to us.

Ever since the economy took a major hit, almost everyone I know has cut back dramatically on spending money. Some buy only necessities because it's hard to just pay the mortgage and buy food.

But others who could well afford to spend more freely have stopped making big purchases. "It seems obscene to spend money on something frivolous like a big screen TV when so many people are hurting," said one friend.

I know what she means. It does seem obscene.

On the other hand, there are those who never notice the basic needs of the poor and struggling. That's because they live in a rarified environment where there are no poor people.

As most of you know, I've been writing columns about the plight of many people who lose jobs then lose their homes. They become part of what one woman calls "the couch culture." They sleep on sofas of friends, staying as long as they can before moving on to the sofa of another person.

The other day when I went to a business meeting, one woman approached me about those stories. "Oh, come on," she said. "There aren't any homeless people in our town, are there?"

Well, not in her neighborhood. Not in her crowd. She and her friends just came back from a trip to China and are planning another big trip for next month. In their crowd, they don't encounter poor, struggling families.

But to her credit, when I mentioned the dire situation at several agencies that struggle to feed the poor, she opened her checkbook.

When it comes to spending money, there is one place where many people I know have greatly increased spending - that's on giving to the poor.

I am happy and proud to see so many people with generous hearts, especially when many of them have their own serious money problems.

Last Sunday, in just one local church, members and visitors gave generously when the priest announced a spontaneous collection for the people in Haiti. He announced that people contributed a whopping $32,800 in just one week.

"What is especially gratifying," he said, "is that many of those who contributed the most were those who were on the receiving end when they lost their homes to Hurricane Charlie. Now, they are giving back." Another pastor told me that times might be tough, but he has never seen so many people giving money to help others.

It's true. How we spend money depends on our values.

And one of the good things that has come out of this economic depression is that more people are valuing helping those who can't help themselves.

At times, I may be conflicted about how I spend money. But I'm never conflicted about that.

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