What I Learned From a Roll of Toilet Paper

I was at the Motor Vehicle Department recently and happened to use their restroom. That’s when I discovered that their toilet paper roll only (easily) dispensed two squares at a time.

That’s right, two squares.

I’d pull on the roll, it’d flip over, and two little squares would tear off. Now you can’t do much of anything with two squares of toilet paper, so of course I pulled on it again.

And again.

I ended up pulling on it a few more times just because it didn’t seem like much. Then I realized I actually had a lot more toilet paper than I would have if I’d been using a non-stingy roll.

Where’s the financial lesson in all of this, you ask?

It’s this: Sometimes when we deprive ourselves, we end up in worse shape than if we hadn’t tried to deprive ourselves in the first place.

For example, have you ever decided to cut back on spending, and then gone too far? What usually happens is that suddenly there are temptations everywhere you look. But you’re being good, and limiting yourself, so you make sure that you don’t spend very much when you buy something.

The problem is that you spend that small amount on a whole bunch of little items instead, not realizing how much it all adds up to. When the end of the week comes, you’re surprised to discover that you’ve spent even more than you used to when you weren’t trying to cut back.

Look at the big picture

It’s hard to judge how much you’re really spending when you’re doling it out in little amounts. You don’t give it the same kind of thought that you would if you planned to buy something pricey. But if you pay attention, and look at the big picture, you can both get the things you want and make sure that you’re not depriving yourself.

In other words, think about what makes you feel good and continue some of the spending on that. If you do need to cut back, keep a running total of the amount you’ve been spending so that you don’t cross the line, but remember that crash money diets don’t work long term, either. So don’t be too extreme.

Be reasonable in coming up with your spending plan, and make sure it includes the things that really matter to you.


  • That’s a really good analogy. I’ve seen those 2 square dispensers myself and it totally is easy to end up taking more than if the restriction wasn’t there! Finding the right balance in spending and budgeting can take some trial and error but makes a big difference in the long run.

  • This is an awesome point! I am one of those people! Thank you for sharing some great insight. I’ll try thinking more about toilet paper when I am out spending!

  • lol! Great analogy! I never knew such a toilet paper dispenser existed. I wonder if the venue saw their toilet paper expenses increase after installing the “conservative” dispensers??

  • LOL, the two-sheet TP made me remember my last office job. We had a similar TP dispenser, so I would just go into the supply closet and get out my own roll, which I’d tote with me to and from the restroom. My coworkers thought I was nuts, and I probably was :)

  • Great analogy. It is so interesting how this works. I’ve noticed the same thing happen with me and my wife when we try to cut costs and create a “smart” budget plan. After a month or two on the plan we start “binge” spending on little things, since we decided not to splurge on the bigger purchases. Of course we never are able to get the big more expensive items because we ultimately sabotaged our budget with what we thought were harmless small purchases a first. Talk about being damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    After such frustating attempts, I fortunately learned from David Bach I believe, that it is actually okay to spend…and that we should carve out a nice healthy spending expense in our budgets.

  • Such very good insights. It takes enough knowledge and skills to be able to spend wisely at all times. Temptations are everywhere, and if we are not disciplined enough, chances are we spend more than what we earn.