My Last $100: Exposed for Excessive Eating

By Katherine Rueger

$8.88, Brazos Tacos: Okay. If you haven’t been to this quaint restaurant yet and are a taco-lover like myself, it’s a must. Always worth it.

$6.25, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream: Salted Caramel Blondie in a waffle cone — a personal favorite.

$11.86, Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream: Okay. I know this looks bad…I went back to back nights…BUT I paid for my significant other for this round — I swear.

$2.15, Starbucks: I used my gift card for this one! Iced coffee, unsweetened with skim milk; you know…if you’re ever doing a coffee run.

$34.67, CVS Pharmacy: Honestly, how I am able to spend more than $20.00 at CVS still blows my mind.

$8.00, Food: For some reason, when tracking I didn’t specify exactly what food I got… hope it was good!

$5.00 — Venmo: Avoiding those IOUs and paid my friend back…thanks Venmo!

$14.95, College Inn Cheesy Bread: I won’t specify what time it was when I bought this…but as always, it was delicious.

$15.00, Hot Yoga Class at Hot Yoga Charlottesville: A nice detox, if you will.

A Grand Total of: $106.76

Over the course of about a week or so, I traced my last $100 and faced the reality of how easy it is to spend that much if you’re not some sort of coupon or discount master or extreme saver. When I was younger, one hundred bucks seemed like a fortune. To be quite honest, a twenty-dollar bill had me feeling on top of the world — that is, until I spent it two days later, most likely on something ridiculous.

I think the debit card has changed the ways of spending dramatically, especially for the younger generations. When we don’t have physical money in our hands, I think people forget or at least aren’t as conscious when they swipe their card or insert their chips into the card reader. Perhaps it’s the fact that when we spend paper money, we lose that bill completely and maybe get some change, but we are aware in that moment just how much we are spending. However, with a card, we hand it to our server or swipe it at the store, and it remains completely in tact, finding its way comfortably back into the safe space of our wallets. Of course, the amount is fluctuating in the digital realm, but even that is just numbers on a screen. Although during the course of tracking I didn’t make much use of my other forms of money, often times I will try to use gift cards or my UVA plus dollars in order to “save” money from my bank account. When I use those other forms to pay, I don’t feel like I am really spending money — but of course, I am.

Seeing how frequently I use my debit card for payments got me thinking about Bill Maurer’s article in which he talks about how new forms of money do not necessarily replace old forms of money, and yet hardly anyone, including myself and especially those of the younger generations, carries cash on them anymore. Has the debit card replaced the use of cash? Of course not. Cash is still relevant, especially for “cash only” places. But what it is that has created the surge of debit card use in the last decade or so? Perhaps it is the convenience of the card in addition to the rising digital age of money. What’s convenient about cards as opposed to cash is that its all in one place and easier to keep track of your money. In a society where time is always of the essence and people want “quick” and “convenient,” the transactions used with debit and credit cards seems to fit the bill as opposed to paper money.

In addition to using my debit card, I also used Starbucks gift card to purchase an iced coffee. I received that gift card from my aunt, and it carried a hefty $15 on it. I was excited because the card made me motivated to get to Starbucks. I am not a frequent coffee drinker, but definitely enjoy a cup every so often. The gift card both limited and connected me to the Starbucks community, seeing as the money on that card would not be transferable anywhere else. In this sense, the gift card can be deemed in Nigel Dodd’s terms as “mana” or gift. Though some people may not view gift cards as “money” based on certain definitions, I would absolutely argue gift cards as a form of money because they carry value and can be used to gain goods and or services. I see my Starbucks gift card as “mana” because in having this card, Starbucks and I now have an “inter-obligation” to each other — I have to use my card there to provide business, and they provide me with coffee. I understand that it might be considered “mana” in the sense that I received that card as a gift in the first place. However, I see how the card creates this binding relationship between the coffee chain and myself, even if it is just temporary. The Starbucks website even has a section explaining the terms and conditions of the “agreement” that is created between the card and the user. What’s also interesting about these gift cards is that they can be reloaded with money after you have them, therefore finding a way to maintain that relationship between the producer and the consumer.

In tracking my own spending, I couldn’t help but think of Wherry’s article in which he describes the four ways that one can be socially categorized based on prices for individuals in a pricing system — the foolish, the frugal, the faithful and the frivolous. He also touches upon the difference between calculating and non-calculating individuals. My spending in particular seems to be a combination of both — depending on the day and the difference between purchasing for need and purchasing goods for desire. I went to Ben and Jerry’s two nights in a row — this is both a reality check for my addiction to ice cream, but it is also an instance where I acted as a non-calculating individual because I was simply buying ice cream to satisfy a sweet tooth and to make myself happy. I accepted the price based on an emotional feeling. As a college student, spending money as a young adult without a constant flux of income on an overly priced treat might put me in the foolish category. While I don’t regret getting that ice cream because it was absolutely delicious and it did make me happy, I understand that it may not have been the best use of my money — especially two nights in a row. There’s nothing wrong with “treating yourself,” but perhaps I could do it in a more calculating way.

I also spent $15.00 on a hot yoga class, which included a student discount. Some people might view this as frivolous or foolish, but I believe I was being faithful in my spending. While I understand that you can always exercise for free and I agree that most exercise classes are absurdly overpriced, to pay for a hot yoga class is worth it for the experience itself. I bring my own mat, towel, and water, so I avoid those additional fees, and spend an hour and a half to enjoy the pure experience that I simply can’t recreate on my own. I find a lot of worth in paying for these classes. That’s why I think Wherry’s social categorizations of price are accurate in a sense, but it all depends on one’s perspective — whether it be social class, economic class, demographic, or culture.

It’s overwhelming to consider just how quickly $100 comes and goes in this society. It was fairly easy for me to spend that much money in such a short amount of time. In fact, my final purchase took me over $100. Whether this is a widely accepted way of living or not, I will admit I am extremely fortunate that my parents supply money for me on my debit card while I am in college. Nevertheless, as I am rapidly approaching graduation in a few short months, it’s essential for me to be more calculating in my purchases, whatever they may be. Perhaps spreading out these moments of “treating myself,” or making better use of meal plans and plus dollars while I can. If I’ve learned anything from this assignment, it’s to be more accountable for my spending — and maybe laying off the ice cream a bit!