Is The Value of Money All About Perspective?

by Katy on October 8, 2009 · 15 comments

Three Dollars

My 11-year-old son is not a big fan of frugality. He lives in an imaginary world where my Compact membership stands in the way of untold riches. A land where every child’s whim is met with an open wallet and willing mini-van.

“Oh honey, you want the newest and biggest lego set? Let’s go to Target and buy three of them right. This. Instant!”

This son mentioned to me the other day that his best friend Will didn’t think that three dollars was a lot of money. I found it very interesting that he would feel the need to share this observation with me. After all . . . this is the kid who I thought shared that very same opinion.

I took some time to come up with my response, which was this:

Whether or not three dollars is a lot of money depends on your perspective. If you are someone who knows how to buy a whole outfit for that amount, then three dollars is a lot of money. However, if you buy everything new, then three dollars won’t even buy you half of a T-shirt, and then no, it’s not a lot of money.

I don’t recall what his specific response was, (and for all I know he wasn’t even listening to my reply) but the idea that the worth of money is dependent on a person’s perspective intrigued me.

For a regular person, (Yes — in this example I am an irregular person) dropping three dollars here or there is no big deal. But for me, I think about what else that money could have bought. (a pair of  nice jeans, a coat, a stack of books.) My perspective is skewed, but in a good way.

Of course, I still spend the same amount of money on my set expenses such as my mortgage, utilities and grocery bills.

I’d like to think that the perspective that small amounts of money can buy something significant will get through to my kids. Because we all know how easy it is to go broke three dollars at a time.

Do you feel that the value of money varies depending on your perspective? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@The Frugal Girl October 9, 2009 at 4:12 am

Yeah, I think perspective has a lot to do with it. Some friends I know feel like $100 is a drop in the bucket, whereas I think it’s a lot of money!

My son isn’t a big fan of frugality either. Maybe it’s a male thing? lol My girls are all fine with it, and my oldest daughter is a born saver.


FB @ October 9, 2009 at 5:28 am

Yes I totally agree that value of money depends on perspective.

$7k to my brother is not a lot of cash.

$7k to me is a fortune.

But we earn about the same amount of money (if I worked as much as he did during the year)..

We just have different values, lifestyles and therefore, perspectives on money.

To me, even $5 is a lot of money, depending on what I’m buying. If it’s $5 for a trinket.. OUCH!

But $5 for a useful tool on sale at a garage sale? Why not? 🙂

Great post.


Meg October 9, 2009 at 7:14 am

I’ve tried to take “It’s only $X” out of my vocabulary.

And as I like to say, anyone who says “it’s only $1” has never been a dollar short.

I can’t say I’ve ever been in quite that position, but now that we’ve cut back on many of the big things in our budget the “small” expenses don’t seem so small because it’s still something. And goodness knows, I’ve seen how “bargain” shopping can add up. I can’t believe how much cheap crap I bought over the years!


Amanda October 9, 2009 at 7:53 am

I lost my job last Tuesday. I have always been very frugal, but losing your job really puts everything into perspective. $3 is a huge amount of money to me. My husband asked me today if he could spend $10 on lunch. I just looked at him and though about all the things I could buy for $10. Although $10 is nothing to him, it’s like a million dollars to me. Think of all the wonderful things you can get at a garage sale for $10!


Shannon October 9, 2009 at 9:41 am

I think kids don’t get the value of money because often they aren’t part of the process. Even though my boys are young (6 and almost-4) we always try to include them in all aspects of how the money flows through the house. Like that daddy’s work puts the money in the ATM, how much money comes in to the house, how much is available, how much things cost and so forth. My older son now gets that if he blows his meager allowance every week, he’ll have a pile of plastic junk he didn’t want anyway (a happy meal with a junky toy) but if he saves he can get something he really wants (the sweet 50 marker set.) What seems to be happening more and more is that by the time he gets to his goal, he doesn’t want the thing anymore and throws the cash in the old piggy bank. (I’m lucky because the only things he wants anymore are art supplies anyway.) Now, if only I could get my own perspective in better order!


Lisa October 9, 2009 at 11:03 am

Money’s value definitely depends on a person’s perspective. There’s an old saying that goes something like this…” Take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” I try to spend consciously even on small items. As a result, I have a higher quality of living and less debt even though I live on a small, fixed income. Some of my relatives earn hefty paychecks, spend without thinking, and have accumulated mountains of debt. They are burdened, generally dissatisfied, and losing health and sleep over their situations. I’d rather live on less and have peace of mind.


WilliamB October 9, 2009 at 8:21 pm

To me it’s about whether the $3 got me a good deal. $3 for lunch out is (probably) a good value, $3 for a pencil is not.


marianne October 10, 2009 at 4:25 am

when one door closes another opens Amanda. i lost my job 3 years ago and took the opportunity to start my own business where i am much happier and make more than double what i made before. of course, i still live frugally which makes my savings account happy. =) stay strong!


marianne October 10, 2009 at 4:27 am

an obscure reference…a while back burger king was running a commercial where people would say an amount of money and someone else would say “thats 99 jr whoppers!” it showed the value of a buck.


Jeanne October 10, 2009 at 5:16 am

It’s definitely all about perspective. When I worked in Manhattan, friends thought nothing of dropping $10 for a coffee and $200 on a new handbag. I ounce found a gorgeous designer pant suit that fit like a dream at a local thrift shop. I paid $8 for it. I got many compliments from the $200 handbag crowd who assumed I had also paid hundreds of dollars for it. If I had told them where I found it and how much I paid, they would have changed their minds and found it un-chic. It’s amazing how money alters perspective. Oh, and $3 to someone living in the developing world is three day’s wages…


Karen October 10, 2009 at 7:32 am

In 1972, when I was a young wife with 2 kids under 7, we didn’t choose voluntary simplicity. We were just poor. After our fixed monthly expenses like food $90/mo. rent $200/mo., heating oil etc $80/mo. I had $7.45 left from my paycheck for “discretionary” spending which included doctors, dentist, clothing, gifts, school supplies etc. I used to dream of someday being able to buy pickles because they were an unimaginable luxury.

You are SO right. From that day’s perspective, $3.00 was a fortune. Today I have TWO bottles of pickles in the fridge. And when they are empty I will get more. And I DO remember.

Karen In Denver


Magdalena October 10, 2009 at 10:46 am

Mmm, pickles…but people give us hand-canned pickles, so I don’t have to buy them. But, yes! Three dollars! I count every penny. There was a time I didn’t have to, and so I didn’t, but now…and I don’t think I’m going back to the old way even if the ship comes in.


Klara Le Vine October 10, 2009 at 1:20 pm

Ages ago I’d bought my husband a huge coca cola bottle that was a “piggy bank.” He dropped his small change from his pockets into it, not thinking much about it. When we had to move, it was too much to deal with, so he gave it to my dad to give over for charity. Turned out to be a few hundred dollars!!!! Lisa is right on with that quote of pennies and dollars.

I liked Shannon’s comment about how after waiting a while, the goal may not be as appealing as at first. Another way to save money, wait a bit.


Kris-ND October 10, 2009 at 5:05 pm

My son has his first job, and his first car. A buck here and a buck there when it was *my* money didn’t seem like much of anything(like not really understanding why there was no way, no how I would buy him a 1.59 Monster energy drink).

Now that it is *his* money, and he has to pay for his own gas, he counts every single penny…literally lol

Once he started seeing that money in a different light, he is more helpful to me when it comes to saving money. As we go through a store, he will ask if we really need everything in the basket.

He has become my best financial check.


Erin October 10, 2009 at 6:23 pm

The value of money absolutely depends on perspective. I try to be frugal in many ways. But there are certain things that – as a working mother of two little kids – I find worth the money. The two that spring to mind are a cleaning person and drycleaning, but I’m sure I could think of more. Of course I could easily do those things themselves, and would, if I worked less or not at all. But I do have a full-time job I love, and the last thing I want to do is add MORE tasks to do once we all get home. So – money well spent when Mommy can sit down and read with the kids.


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