Updated on 06.28.07

Musings On Spending $3 On A Candy Bar

Trent Hamm

candyI spent $3 on a raspberry chocolate bar the other day. The three of us sat in the parking lot in the rain, breaking off little pieces, giggling, singing along to Gnarls Barkley on the radio, and watching the rain drops bounce on the hood.

Was that $3 an effective use of money? Of course not. A $3 candy bar? It was very good chocolate, but it was $3 that basically disappeared in a few minutes. That $3 could have helped with the grocery bill or any number of other things; instead, we giggled and munched and the money was gone.

The $3 alone isn’t that big of a deal, but repeated over time, it really does add up. Let’s say I bought that same candy bar once a week – that adds up to $156 a year, enough to make a double payment once a year on my student loan and get it paid off years earlier.

The real value of the situation, though, wasn’t in the routine of it – it was a spontaneous moment of enjoyment with my family. It is those little moments, simple things like sitting in a car in the rain and sharing a candy bar and singing to music and laughing, that will be the things I remember in the future about this time, where the three of us were living together in that tiny apartment and he was in his toddler years, just discovering the world.

Was it worth $3? The chocolate bar wasn’t worth it, but the memory of it will be. Even now, I can close my eyes and see the raindrops bouncing on the hood, my bad falsetto singing along on the radio, a bit of chocolate on my son’s lips as he smiles enormously, and my wife just grabbing my hand and squeezing it. Those things were free, but they’re so great that they’re worth any price.

The value was in the uniqueness of the moment. By simply doing that – or something like it – every week, it goes from being a great, fun memory I’ll have of my wife and my son to something ordinary and plain. Trying to recreate that moment is really futile – I just enjoy them as they come along.

So what’s really important here? Those little special moments that cost a few dollars are fine – they are truly the spice of life. The trouble comes in when these special times start becoming routine – not only does the cost become regular, but it ceases to be special and becomes ordinary.

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  1. MissGoldBug says:

    I have battles with this all the time. (See the blog!) There’s always something… a candy bar, a dress, a new pair of shoes, an iPod.

    I think you’re right, though. Balance is key–and sometimes just letting things go. I save a lot of my income and I should savor a reward or two along the way, as you should as well. (And not feel too badly about it!)

  2. Conner Downey says:

    I would have made a comment say you other think things and make things boring in life, but then I finished the post. I was thinking about how I buy a slurpee once a week, and that’s 1.75, but I like it too much to do the math and make me feel guilty.

    I think that seeing how much stuff adds up in the future puts too much stress on me just enjoying things, so I won’t be doing that.

  3. sunny says:

    I think this is why it is good to have some blow money in the budget. It makes it possible to enjoy these simple pleasures, without breaking the budget. The balance is in planning for the splurge.

  4. Cat's Staff says:

    I just found a deal on ramen noodles for 10 for a dollar….$3 would buy a months worth of dinners. But it was probably still worth it.

  5. Stephanie says:

    I also have trouble going back and forth between wanting to spend money and wanting to save it. I hear things like “a dollar saved is two dollars earned” from “The Wealthy Barber”, and so I should save my money. But I also like to stop and get ice cream or go out to eat every once in a while…and many times the money I spend is spent along with friends or family, so I am building memories, too. I guess it is just that as long as you only try “splurge” on an ice cream sundae or a fancy dinner or concert or something every once in a while, it’s a little bit more okay to do.

  6. Kevin says:

    This is an awesome post and really hits the nail on the head! The little splurge is special because it really is a splurge — not just a daily routine waste of money. You put it all very well!

  7. Farley says:

    How do you stop it from becoming routine? That is what I struggle with. If an activity is fun we tend to do it more, and more then at some point it is no longer special. I just don’t seem to be able to find the magic point it crosses the line.

  8. kim says:

    I love this post! Being frugal isn’t about self denial, its about making deliberate decisions with money. Earlier this year I took my family on a wonderful vacation to Disney World. We are already planning our next vacation. Travel is not sensible or frugal. We have structured our lives so that we can afford the luxeries that are important to us: 1) saving 15% of my husbands income for retirement, 2) me staying home with our three children, and 3) travel. In exchange for these luxuries, we live in a small inexpensive home, drive inexpensive used cars, buy clothing at thrift sores and make most of our meals from scratch. I have lots of family members with big homes and designer homes that spend money like sprinklers – a lots of small streams going everywhere. They are all shake their heads when we travel. I know they think we can’t afford it based on our standard of living. I love to shock them by telling them that we pay cash for our trips!

  9. Brian says:

    I think it’s important to have a category set aside in the budget for expenses such as these, so you don’t feel guilty for any one small purchase. That way, you get to enjoy the experiences at the same time as being financially responsible.

  10. Elaine says:

    It’s true. When I buy chocolate bars (I just balk at saying candy bar; it’s a purely American term and my fellow Canadians would make fun of me, and it makes me think of KitKats and other inferior forms of chocolate byproducts) – it’s usually $2.50 to $4.00. Several reasons. 1, I am a chocolate snob and can’t abide lesser forms of chocolate (and mostly can’t eat it anyway, being dairy-free and all) so it’s only good quality dark chocolate for this girl! and 2, I try to buy fair-trade wherever it’s possible. I don’t mind forking out a bit extra so that the Guatemalan lady from whom it originated can feed her kids a bit better.

  11. Brip Blap says:

    I think you’re exactly right in this post and exactly wrong. You could probably have had the same experience with a $1 candy bar, or a homemade cookie, right? But at the same time, if the moment seizes you, go with it. If it isn’t a pattern, you can forgive yourself. Life is made of plenty of precious moments when you have a toddler, and I don’t think you’ll regret that $3, ever.

  12. I have that same battle internally with whether to splurge or not on ice cream. or pastries. I was in a different neighborhood this month and came across a specialty ice cream store – it was a constant battle in my head whether or not to buy a scoop. It’s local and made organically with the most unique flavors – salted caramel. So I went ahead and got myself a scoop. It was more than worth the $3 for a large scoop of fresh ice cream.

  13. Pam says:

    What is frugality all about? I think it is turning off lights, setting the thermostat a little lower (or higher as the case may be), cooking your own food instead of eating out all the time and using the money you save to build personal wealth.

    If you can’t enjoy an indulgence, then I consider that being a cheapskate, rather than frugal.

  14. Beth says:

    This morning I bought some chocolate from the company vending machine, which is not something I normally do (twice in four years, I think). But there was an amusement factor in it, and it was relatively cheap amusement.

  15. Thanks for sharing a special family moment. It really is impossible to put a price on those moments, and you never know when they are going to happen. But I think overall, you really got your $3 worth! My wife is working on teaching me about that – making sure we splurge on little things occasionally to see what happens.

  16. Tim says:

    budgeting is so you can spend money. i’m beginning to think people believe that saving and budgeting means you can’t spend. there’s no frivolty in spending money when you have it. of course, there are always opportunity costs. sometimes you have to just eat a $3 candy bar.

  17. jana says:

    good post, i agree that sometimes an “expensive” little thing can be really worth it – when you savour it, of course.

    what i do these days is that i am pretty much frugal “normally” and then – when travelling or something – go and enjoy things like this (so i went abroad this month where i bought some costume jwelery (which i have spent about 6 pounds sterling on) knowing it will be a “souvenirů and every time i wear that pendant i will know it is “a pendat from the nice place i have visited). (also had a latte at starbucks several times, and enjoyed every sip of it!)

  18. Sabrina's Money Matters says:

    I love those moments, I read your article on the Nintendo Wii, and having never been a gamer previously, even I have to say that the Wii is awesome for creating family fun.

    The time spent doing happy dances and getting pep talks are all worth it for the memories.

  19. Seasongs says:

    My husband is a wonderful person. He is optimistic and kind, yet knows the value of debt-free living. Balance is the key. When we consider spending money on something “extra” (anything from a chocolate bar, a ridiculously cheap cruise, or a meal out), and I say “We can’t afford to do this” he will consider everything and then often say, “We can’t afford NOT to.” And he’s right. My fondest memories are of walking a teak deck at sea; not adding $500 more to our savings account.

  20. Suzanne says:

    Exactly! These small moments are the really important ones.

    I like how you stressed the emotional and logical parts of this story. If you had been driven by negative emotion and made your family unhappy while sharing it, this would be a whole ‘nother story/memory. For example, being upset if someone chewed it instead of savoring, taking big pieces, etc.

    Realizing that it is OK to spend a high amount like $3 for a little bit of chocolate also appeased the logical side. You are aware of things enough to realize that you are not making a habit of this…which, as you highlighted, reduces your enjoyment factor, not increases it.

  21. WilliamB says:

    Hi. I’m WilliamB and I’m a chocoholic.

    As a chocoholic, I’ve tried a lot of different chocolates and chocolate bars (dark, always dark). Chocolove makes a superb product. Since the only excuse for chocolate is it tastes good, I go for the good stuff. Interestingly, I noticed that the better the chocolate, the less I eat of it. I don’t know if it balances out financially but it’s certainly better for my health.

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