My Two Cents on Money

Kimberly TanDecember 30, 2016Money and ValueAwesome Moments

A few days ago, I embarked on a mission — not to explore a new frontier or to finally overcome my deathly fear of heights, but to go just one week without spending any money.

To many this may seem like a simple or even trivial task, but to me it was unexplored territory.

In the suburb of San Jose, California, where I live, it’s not unheard of for people to spend money on a daily, even an hourly, basis. Because most adults in the area have full- or part-time jobs, they hardly ever have time to cook and pack their own lunches and often go out to eat at a local fast food chain instead. Furthermore, almost no large businesses and companies are within walking distance from the residential neighborhoods, so purchasing gas for the half-an-hour to an hour commute to work is a requirement in most households.

Though I’ve personally never had a tendency to spend money excessively, I have also never previously made a conscious effort to not spend any at all. Since my school is next to a shopping plaza, it’s become almost second nature for me to stop by a coffee shop every time I pass or to grab a sandwich from a local deli at a whim, a habit that was only exacerbated when I earned my driver’s license a couple of months ago. And since I live exactly 10 minutes away by car from school, I constantly find myself at a gas station to replenish my rapidly emptying gas tank. Thus, not spending money for one week was not only an interesting new experience, but also a challenge to see whether I could carry through.

When I started this challenge on a Saturday afternoon, I kept a journal to detail my experiences and fully intended to make it through without trouble; after all, since I always had a supply of snacks at home, I believed that it would be easy to resist the lure of outside food. And for the first two days of my challenge, this was true. I had nothing scheduled for my weekend besides completing my homework, so I had no opportunity to leave the house and spend money.

The first real test of this moneyless challenge was the Monday afterwards, which happened to also be the first day back from spring break. Naturally, my friends and I all greeted each other after our week apart, and a couple of them suggested that we go for coffee after school to talk about our vacation. When I told them that I couldn’t go, they all urged me anyway, saying that they would pay for it and that one Frappuccino couldn’t make a huge difference. Though tempted, I nevertheless still refused and instructed them to leave without me.

The next day, Tuesday, my friends once again invited me out, this time to get smoothies and have an AP US History study session at the smoothie shop. Though I once again had to reject their offer, I remembered something I had completely forgotten when taking on this challenge: AP testing was looming around the corner, a realization that only caused me to be more desperate for my usual study sessions and caffeine intake, which I considered necessary to keep me focused. These desires were so potent that I almost quit the moneyless challenge for the week and was going to resume the week after, but the thought of failing what should be an easy task hardened my resolve to continue. Upset that I couldn’t participate in the study session, however, I scribbled in my journal: “Couldn’t go out to study today for APUSH because of the challenge. If I fail my test tomorrow, it’ll be because of this!”

When I began studying by myself at home that day, however, I discovered that I was actually a far better worker alone than I was with others. Instead of wasting time chatting with my friends and losing focus on studying, I was instead able to sit comfortably at my own desk, with a glass of chilled orange juice, and absorb the information in a quiet, educational atmosphere. After this surprising realization, this challenge became far easier and I grew more eager to continue and see what else I would find out.

Wednesday and Thursday passed without incident, and it was soon the final day of the challenge: Friday. On that day, after school concluded for the week, my friends invited me to the movies as a break from our relentless AP studying. When I told them that my moneyless challenge was still ongoing, I expected them to leave to watch the movie anyway. To my surprise, though, they told me that they admired my commitment to this challenge and wanted to support me through it. Thus, they abandoned their original plans watching their movie in the theaters and stayed back with me, brainstorming a list of activities we could do that didn’t cost anything; this support was incredibly reassuring and made the final day of this challenge far more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. Though we didn’t go out and spend $10 on movie tickets and popcorn, we were still able to enjoy ourselves at my friend’s house, playing board games and watching re-runs of our favorite TV shows. After they left that day, my journal entry read far more optimistically than it did on Tuesday: “I actually had a great time today! It’s strangely exciting to stay indoors and just unwind after such a busy week instead of having to use more energy going out. I should definitely do this more often.”

When the week ended and the challenge finally concluded, I was once again allowed to spend money on anything I liked; strangely, though, I had no urge to do so. Despite the fact that in the earlier half of the week, I had eagerly anticipated returning to my different coffee shops and fast-food hangouts, by the end, I was more interested in continuing the new activities that I had been forced to adopt because of the challenge. Restricting myself from money compelled me to concentrate harder on my upcoming AP tests and allowed me to experiment with different, more effective study habits. Moreover, even though I occasionally missed opportunities to be with friends, I found it thoroughly refreshing to spend a little time to myself. Yet even if I did want to be with others, staying in on Friday with just my friends in a small setting rather than in a huge theater was actually far more enjoyable because we were able to bond and interact more than we could’ve done sitting silently in a theater for hours.

Money has an enormous impact on our present-day society. As we go through our daily routines and are focused on our education, work, and personal lives, it can become difficult to notice just how often we are spending money, especially when it only takes a swipe of a card. More than once, I’ve seen my parents or my friends’ parents open their credit card bills to be surprised at just how much they spent that month. Furthermore, our subconscious dependence on money has led to the decline of more personal interactions as money-centric ones flourish instead. Staying home and playing board games with friends has been replaced by shopping sprees and expensive outings. But as I experienced firsthand, it is the former that is ultimately more valuable.

I’m now far more conscious and less excessive in the money I spend, not out of guilt or shame, but because I actually enjoy the activities I engage in when I’m not spending money. Though I have reverted back to hanging out with friends occasionally and still going out to movies at times, I’ve seen the value of not overindulging in these activities but instead, sometimes, just hanging back to have some time by myself or with a few close friends.

Kimberly Tan is a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California. As the President of her school’s 200-member speech and debate team, she loves researching societal issues and traveling the nation attending debate tournaments. She is a staff writer for her school’s literary magazine and founded Overture Literary Magazine, a creative writing program at her local middle school. Writing is one of her greatest passions, and she has published numerous articles both online and in print. KidSpirit’s Ethics and Morality issue was her first opportunity to write for a greater global audience, and she is very grateful for that.