One Dollar, Two Dollars, Three Dollars, Four

What would happen if we really made every dollar count?I heard a radio ad that started out in a very serious-sounding tone with, “In these economic times, every dollar counts.”

I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Doesn’t every dollar always count!?”

Now, of course I knew what they meant: Times are tough, use your money wisely, buy our stuff.

But that isn’t the point. The point is, we often don’t use every dollar wisely. Often this is unconscious.

Spending varies by supply

For most of us, how much each dollar “counts” is relative to how many dollars we have. A pretty typical scenario is that when we feel like we have plenty of money, we spend more freely. And when we feel like we’re about to run out, we’re much more careful with our spending choices.

It’s the same reason that the very last third of the tube of toothpaste lasts so much longer than the first third: We realize we’re about to run out, and try to make it last longer.

What if we made every dollar count?

But what if we did make every dollar count, even when we have plenty of them? I don’t mean never splurging and cutting out all fun, but what if we always made sure to use our dollars wisely? Because they all have value.

That would mean getting the basics down on a regular basis first: saving, investing, insuring, and planning ahead. Once that was covered, it would mean making sure we’re also doing enjoyable things with our remaining money — things that line up with our values and goals. (Which should definitely include some having fun too if you ask me.)

Making it happen

In fact, that’s pretty much what zero-based budgeting is all about. It’s about spending intentionally — where “spending” also equals things like savings, investments, and debt repayment.

Assuming you aren’t struggling in actual poverty, when you make every dollar count, chances are you’ll end up with a whole lot more money to do whatever you like with because your money will go where YOU want it to. (And if you are in poverty, I’m sure you’re way more familiar with making every little bit count already.)

What do you think? Have you experienced the same kind of thing?


  • You are exactly right. I still tend to operate on a cash basis, so go to the ATM once in a while to withdraw say $300 in spending money. There’s no question I spend faster when I have a $300 bankroll in my pocket than when my pocket money has shrunk to $40. Perhaps I should never withdraw more than $80 or so at a time?

  • Great write up! I think you totally hit the nail on the head with when we are on the edge of financial meltdown we track better than we do regularly. Exactly like the toothpaste example!

  • This is interesting Jackie! I’d never really thought about it before, but I think the toothpaste is a good analogy here. For me, the times in my life when I’ve been super broke have been when I’ve been most cognizant of every single penny, whereas during times that I’ve been feeling more flush I’ve spent a little more freely. I think the key is to work toward creating that sense of scarcity by paying yourself first when you get paid (which for us knocks the balance of our checking account by a lot and creates the sense that we have less than we actually have). Anyway, great post!