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Why I Overspend Sometimes, On Purpose

Why I Overspend Sometimes, On Purpose

Shannon McNay

Photo by Kerkez/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Kerkez/iStock / Getty Images

I’ll never forget my college days working as a waitress. I took the job for a few reasons: it was close to campus, I could work shifts in between classes, and tips made the pay better than working retail.

Because the restaurant was so close to campus, students would often come in and study during the slow time between lunch and dinner. It was so slow that I could basically sit and study myself. (This was something my manager was fine with, since only a couple of tables would come in between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00.) On the one hand, it was frustrating. Without many tables to earn tips from, I was making only $2.13 per hour. On the other hand, at least I could get some homework done.

But something magical happened during that time. And it taught me a lesson that I haven’t forgotten to this day.

The Power in Small Details

What could be so powerful about that time? It all came down to the small details. You see, many of these students would sit for hours, long after their food was gone. I never blamed them, and it’s not like there was a demand for tables.

But to them, they were taking up tables that could have been used by others. So they tipped accordingly. I never expected it—this is a restaurant where you can get a meal for around $6. So when I found they left a $5 tip, I was surprised and overjoyed.

This was a time in my life when every few dollars made a huge difference. I was living with my parents to save money but I still had to pay for a car and gas to get to and from school, and my student loans didn’t cover necessities like books, which could easily cost hundreds of dollars per semester.

But here’s the thing—these students were in the same boat as me. We went to a commuter college where most people had jobs and supplemented tuition with loans. I’m sure that giving up a few extra dollars to tip me almost 100 percent of the bill put a strain on their budget, but they did it out of kindness and fairness—and it made a huge difference to me.

Why I Overspend, On Purpose

Now that I’m in a better position in life, I think back to that time frequently. I think about it when I’m at a restaurant, I think about it when I’m sitting in a coffee shop, I even think about it when I’m taking a cab.

I’m a strict budgeter, as most personal finance writers tend to be. But the one time I’m more than happy to throw my budget to the wind is when I’m on the receiving end of service from someone else. I know that a couple extra dollars won’t make or break my budget as long as I’m not eating out every meal or spending all my time in coffee shops, but those few extra dollars can really add up in the tip jar.

We should all be conscious of our finances. It’s ridiculously easy to nickel and dime ourselves and suddenly go hundreds of dollars over budget at the end of a month. But, at the same time, it’s just as important to understand how our behavior impacts those in our community.

If you decide you can afford to eat out for a meal, can you spare a little extra for the tip if you receive great service? Is it really that important to stick to the percentages expected in tipping? Sure, over-tipping is not the best financial decision, but it could make a huge difference in the life of someone who just made a difference in yours by treating you well.

Finding Balance in Personal Finance

At the end of the day, no matter how much money you’re making, it’s important to find balance in your finances. Sure, there are rules to live by. Try to stay out of debt or, at the very least, keep your credit utilization below 30 percent. Do your best to save at least 10 percent of your income every month and try not to let housing take more than 25 percent of your income every month. These are simple rules of thumb to know.

But what if you live in a big city? You might struggle to keep your housing from taking all of your budget. And what if you’re focusing on paying down debt? You might not feel that you can spare enough to save 10 percent each month. Just because you know the rules doesn’t mean you have to follow them to a T.

Whether it’s budgeting or tipping or whatever else, find the balance. Find a sweet spot between spending and savings that’s both comfortable and sustainable, and don’t become such a stickler that you have no flexibility for something you might greatly enjoy or something that might improve another life. Know where your lines are so you understand what you can feasibly bend.

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