A Penny Saved Is . . . Not Much

My mother is a little bit obsessed. Apparently now Taco Bell tacos are too expensive for her. Last night, when I called her to ask if she’d like me to bring her a couple of tacos, she couldn’t get past the price. “I used to buy two of them and they were $.39 each.”

I resisted the temptation to say, “Yes, and you earned $12.50 a week working at Sears in 1940.” Instead, I just told her I’d bring my supper to her house and eat.

Once I arrived there, having changed my plan to Subway, she brought up the price of tacos again. Happily, she didn’t care what a meatball sub set me back.

We’ve had discussions of money before. She’ll pick up pennies from the pavement from her walker. Honestly, I think she’s just proving that she still can. Yesterday, I paid $1.14 for something at QuikTrip. Handing the cashier $1.15, I said, “I don’t need the penny.” Please don’t tell my mother. Out in the parking lot, a moment later, I saw a penny on the ground and let it lie. What’s wrong with me?

Of course, I joke about her obsession with small prices, coming up with things she could do if she really wanted to economize. How about getting rid of that car you don’t drive anymore? But I have my own hang-ups. Why in the world does my son drive miles away from his home to buy premium cups of coffee? It’s extravagant in both time and money! Shaking my head, I mutter, “It’s his money.”

I suppose that pennies do add up to make dollars, but what can you do with a single dollar these days? Am I being wasteful and a bad steward? After all, didn’t Jesus say this?

Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much.–Luke 16:10

And didn’t he criticize the guy who took a single talent and buried it to keep it safe? Don’t forget that he had the disciples pick up all the leftovers after feeding 5,000. Maybe my mother is on to something here. Whatever we waste is what we will not have in the future. Whatever we abandon won’t be on our balance sheet going forward. If I waste (or pass up) money, time, or other assets, I’ll not have their use tomorrow. This is the truth behind the Broken Window Fallacy. You can’t build the economy long term by breaking things. Time and possessions represent money, so wasting them is wasting money.

All of this is true, but I think it is an argument built on an unexamined premise. Should all of stewardship be expressible in terms of dollars? Is the bottom line truly a quantity of currency? Let’s say that it’s not. If that’s true, then what is its measurement?

Now my brain hurts. It’s so much easier to turn off unused lights and shop the sales at the grocery. And Taco Bell? Those tacos aren’t $.39 anymore!