It’s Never “Only” a Few Bucks

On my first date with Launa , when the waitress asked for her drink order she replied, “A glass of water please.” Thirty-six years later whenever we have eaten out her drink orders have always been the same. I don’t think any of our kids even knew restaurants offered soda.

Eating out once with another young family I noticed they ordered sodas for all of their kids. And this was not a wealthy family. I made a friendly comment about the cost and the friend replied, “Ahh, It’s only a few bucks.” Actually it was about $12 but who’s counting.

In my career young people often ask my secret to financial success. If I’m in a lighthearted mood I reply, “It’s easy. Only order water when you go out to eat.” I explain that one of the most dangerous financial expressions begins with “It’s only.” The difference between financial success and failure often comes down to how this expression is used. The person who thinks nothing of spending an extra $10, who quickly places online orders for whatever catches their fancy, who regularly adds sodas and cheesy fries because “It’s only” a few bucks, is likely to the be the same person who always wonders where all the money went.

Conversely, the one who carefully considers even small purchases, or who saves the online order in their cart until tomorrow so they can decide if they really need it, is more likely to find their wealth magically growing over time. Every decision in life as it relates to our use of money, resources and time may be small things individually, but taken over the course of life those small decisions add up to make all the difference.

I worked at a fast food restaurant as a teen and my boss encouraged us to always ask customers if they wanted to add a soda. He taught me that his biggest profit center was sodas and even commented once that if he thought he could get away with it he would drop the burgers and only sell sodas. Little did he know that entrepreneurs in the 21st century would make a fortune selling only sodas to a constant line of customers who I am sure are thinking, “It’s only” a few bucks.

After 36 years of marriage and a big family I have calculated that never buying sodas when we ate out has saved us over $50,000, and it would be triple that if you imputed a modest rate of growth for those funds. Now if we have saved that much on soda, imagine what we might have saved in other areas by applying the same principle.

What is the secret to financial success? Recognizing that it’s never “only” a few bucks. Lifetime habits of wasting money, or lifetime habits of preserving it, will result in huge differences in the end. In short, if you want grow big money, take care of the little money every day.