A dollar is a dollar, right? My son is learning about money in school, all the ways to add up to a dollar. One hundred pennies, four quarters, ten dimes...you know the routine. He's being taught that money is one of those things that has a finite definition. Except there's more for him to learn--like when the economy stinks or inflation is high and it really isn't worth as much as it used to be.
And then there's another kind of value I've been thinking about--relative value. We might all agree that a dollar is equal to four quarters. But my dollar may be worth more to me than your dollar is to you. That mom over there may shell out handfuls of dollars for her kid to go try to win a rubber duck out of that dumb claw machine, and I may think--what a waste of money! No one ever wins at these things. But then again, I don't know what kind of day she's had, and that may be the best five minutes (okay, three) that she's spent in peace all day long.
Yesterday, I went to Dick's and bought my son a new bat bag for baseball. Because he needed one and the zipper was broken on the old one. But I bought a new backpack-style baseball bag, which was forty smackeroos. I hesitated--but then went ahead and got it because I knew that was the cool new style the other boys had and that he'd like, and he did really need one.
To me, forty dollars was a lot for a bat bag. Then I told my husband I'd coughed up that much for it and he said, "Oh that's not bad at all." We live in different worlds. A bat bag means something different to the two of them than it does to me. However, I did get to be the best mommy in the whole world for about ten seconds, and that has a value of its own, doesn't it?
I also watch The Real Housewives (only when there's nothing else on and I can't find the remote, by the way) and of course for anyone out there who will also admit to watching it, you know a new season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has just started. Every time I flip on that show, and it shows the ladies shopping, or pans across a closet twice the size of my bedroom with an entire wall dedicated to Christian Louboutin shoes, it makes me just a little envious--I mean, ill.
But look at their perception of value. Forty dollars is more than I really wanted to spend on a bat bag, and certainly $1500 is more than I care to spend on a pair of shoes. And these ladies have a wall of them. Does a dollar--ten dimes, one hundred pennies--mean the same thing to those girls as it does to me? And who, in turn, can look at my life and say--wow, she spent forty bucks on a bat bag. I could feed my family for a week on that. I send less than that to World Vision to sponsor a child in India for a month.
I guess a dollar isn't just a dollar. Our sense of value is a living thing--it changes, fed by our environment and bred by our upbringing. What was worth a quarter to me as a kid--that rubber duck in the machine--isn't even worth that to me now. In my twenties I would have thought it was a joke that I would have $1500 available to me at all, much less to spend on a washer and dryer. It was a lot more money then, and new appliances just didn't have the appeal they do now. Even if I didn't get the shiny red front loaders. <sigh>
Every dollar I spend--every moment I spend--needs to be met with a critical eye: What is this worth to me? To the person I'm spending it on? There is value to my money, so sayeth the government (for the moment). And there is value to my time, to my efforts, to my love, even to my thoughts. What am I wasting on things I don't really need or want?
Forty bucks for a bat bag may be more than I wanted to pay. But it was met with a big grin and true appreciation. And it will likely be used for several years--very practical. But the real value of that bat bag isn't the dollar amount--it means I get to watch my little boy play baseball, and even pitch for the first time this week.
And that of course, is priceless.