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I noticed a discrepancy on the restaurant bill after my credit card had been charged and the slip signed.  The owner came over and asked if I could be reimbursed with cash in order to not have to pay the fee for an additional transaction.  No problem; in fact, it would help me because I had little cash in my wallet and it would save me the trip to the bank.  I was owed $8.50, and the waiter returned with $8 in cash and wished me a nice day.

I didn’t say anything because (1) we frequent this restaurant a lot and I wanted to keep the atmosphere comfortable and (2) I am sometimes a pussy when it comes to these things.

I walked out to the car talking to myself: It’s just 50 cents, not a big deal.  But it was the restaurant’s mistake, and it cost me 50 cents whereas they gained 50 cents by messing up.  I wonder why he rounded down instead of up.  For the love, Melissa, you need to let this go.  It was just 50 cents.  But if I lost 50 cents every day for a year, it would add up to $182.50.  That’s a lot of money.  Enough to buy a Kindle (I think).  But I didn’t lose $182.50, I lost 50 cents.  It’s 50-fucking-cents!

Welcome to my internal monologue.


I fell into a conversation with a woman on the Metro.  She had a baby who was sleeping in his stroller.  She was a stay-at-home mum, not working in her career field for the moment.  Her husband had fully supported this change months earlier, but he had grown resentful when her stay-at-home motherhood didn’t match what he envisioned.  He was angry every time she dropped off the child with her mother so she could attend an exercise class and he was pissed the times when he came home and dinner wasn’t made.

“He said that he asks so little of me, I should be able to have dinner made.”

But there is not a marriage or partnership in the world where the person doesn’t ask an enormous amount from the other person.  Is loyalty a small thing to ask for?  Constant support?  A promise to make decisions together?  To love each other?  To never break your vows?

I don’t ask that from many people.  In fact, I don’t ask that from anyone other than Josh because they’re all enormous things to ask for.  When this husband said that he didn’t ask for a lot from this woman, I’m not sure he was seeing just how much he was asking of her; that we all ask of our partner if we have one.  Making meals?  Doing stuff with the baby?  Those are small things.  It would be like asking someone for $20,000.32 and focusing on the 32 cents.  She gives him the $20,000 daily by being a loyal partner.  By loving him.  By not breaking her vows (yes, I am making a lot of assumptions about their marriage).  All that he can claim he’s not getting is the 32 cents.


My second favourite song in A New Brain is “Change” (my favourite is “And They’re Off” — how can you not cry when he switches to “and he’s off!”).  The homeless woman sings:

People walk by me with glee.
I am what they’ll never be.
I don’t ask you to tip your hat.
I don’t ask that you notice what I’m wearing.
I could care less for things like that.
All I’m asking for is change!

The change, of course, that she’s asking for is both the monetary kind as well as a change in her life.  The smallest thing — pennies — and the largest thing — a different existence.

Most people don’t hold their change that tightly.  We drop it in tip cups, we round up to the nearest dollar (except for that restaurant!), we toss it into fountains and make wishes.  The character points out how little she is asking for — just the spare change that is jingling around in your pocket, probably annoying you due to its weight.

I wonder why we care enough about people to passionately argue about political ideas, to get involved in that manner, but then when it comes to actual people, we give them what we don’t personally consider of high worth.  The woman doesn’t ask for dollars, knowing probably that most will balk at hearing that word.  She asks for change, something she knows people will give her because they don’t value it.  If you really dissect this, the way we show care is to give someone something we don’t value?  Isn’t that bizarre, when you think about in those terms?

But that’s not the point.

Who sets that line of worth; where change is fine to pass along to another person, but a dollar is the line?  There are plenty of individuals who will give another person a ten-dollar bill without a second thought when they see someone in need, but the vast majority of people give coins, change, the money that doesn’t equal up to a dollar.

I think nothing of giving away my spare change, but when it’s taken from me in the case of the restaurant, I can fixate on that exact same 50 cents that I would have given someone freely, believing that it cost me close to nothing, even if I added up that I give up $182.50 over the course of a year if I do that every day.

I have plenty of invisible lines of worth.  I’m trying to figure out why I set them at a certain level; whether it’s possible to erase them.


Those invisible lines of worth pop up in various places.  With the woman on the Metro, her husband devalued the most sacred parts of a partnership and focused only on valuing the minutiae of daily tasks.  With the homeless, it’s apparently the difference between 99 cents and a dollar.  I’ve heard people devalue their friendships because they didn’t think they had enough of them or devalue their blog because it doesn’t cross the threshold of an invisible value line for readership.

Isn’t the $20,000 of blogging the peace of heart that comes from finding the words to explain how you feel; even if no one reads those words, as they often don’t in my case because I only publish half the posts I write.  Isn’t it that one good friend you would have never met otherwise if not for your blog?  Isn’t it the day when you felt so alone and disconnected in the face-to-face world, but five people confirmed your thoughts in the blogging world and it was what made the difference?  Isn’t everything else that may or may not come with blogging the 32 cents?

It’s interesting to look at all the spaces in life where we draw these invisible lines of worth and devalue everything that falls underneath it.  I know I’ve done it before in the number of friends I have or in the house I have.  I’m just not sure why I do it, especially once I recognize that I’m doing it.


So which is it?  Should the change be the focus or should it be the point where we let go?  Should I care if the restaurant keeps 50 cents or should I let it go, knowing that I’ve had many delicious meals there and would miss it terribly if it closed.  Does it have to be an either/or?

If we’re getting the major things in a marriage — unconditional love, emotional support, someone who always has our back when the rest of the world is kicking us down — should we allow the spare change of a relationship (the dishes left in the sink or the meals not made) to determine its worth?

And how can we both look at change as something to toss aside and hold up the same word in such high regard when it comes to bettering ourselves?


Driving home from yoga, I thought of one more place where I do this.  I’ve lost 14 pounds in the last few two months… and I still keep reminding myself that regardless of that, I still have more to lose.  I keep focusing on the 32 cents — the number on the scale — instead of the $20,000 which is the fact that I’ve taken control of my completely out-of-control eating.  The number on the scale is fairly meaningless, especially without the control.  I could get myself down to the magical invisible line, but without the control, I’ll never maintain it.  So the control is the more important thing, but I never congratulate myself on that.  I just remind myself over and over again that I have weight I need to lose, that I’m carrying too many pounds on this frame.


1 It Is What It Is { 03.26.12 at 10:49 am }

I think the point about the restaurant is in them doing the right thing in cleaning up their mistake. It is not about .50 (or $50), the point is you were due $8.50 and that is what they should have reimbursed you. I’m sorry, but we don’t live in a ’rounding down’ consumer economy. Can you imagine if this was their practice? To routinely overcharge customers, admit the mistake, and reimburse them to the lowest dollar? What a scheme! And, this after you graciously said you’d be happy to take the cash and save them the transaction fee! It is NOT about it being .50, it is about them getting over on you.

I bet that every time you eat or order from them from now on you will think about the .50 so, by not getting it and not saying anything to ‘keep the peace’, the opposite has been done. That .50 is their Scarlet letter. I would want to know why. Why did you not pay me exactly what I was due especially since you made the mistake and you offered to correct it and I chose to allow you to do so in a manner more convenient for you? I’m just wondering.

2 gwinne { 03.26.12 at 10:53 am }

I don’t have anything profound to say…but this is a post that will stick with me for a long time. Need to think through my own spare change…

3 geochick { 03.26.12 at 11:01 am }

I think the 50 cents is more about the restaurant either pulling a fast one, or maybe you being frustrated that you didn’t say something when you noticed. At least that’s what would have upset me the most. Not mentioning it. Who knows, maybe the server had the change and simply forgot to give it to you only to find it later? Great post…I’m presently sifting thru my own spare change and reasons why I react the way I do.

4 HereWeGoAJen { 03.26.12 at 11:06 am }

The reason things like that $.50 bother me is because if I owed it to them, they would have made sure they got it. Just like if I owe the gas company money, I have 14 days to pay, but if they owe me a refund, I can expect it in 10-12 weeks.

5 Esperanza { 03.26.12 at 11:10 am }

I noticed you used the word “pussy” to imply that you aren’t forceful enough to stand up for yourself in certain situations (at least that is how I read your use of the word). It’s interesting to me that we use a derogatory word that refers to women to imply weakness or avoidance of conflict. I know “pussy” is used that way all the time but I wonder if it reinforces the stereotype that women are weaker and less willing to stand up for themselves. Just a thought…

6 tara { 03.26.12 at 11:11 am }

great post- I consider my ability to fixate on the pennies a good thing in some situations, such as being detailed enough to worry about what happens to the meals not consumed at conference that I planned and so finding a home for them. However it’s not a good ability in other situations- where generosity of money, spirit, with mistakes- both mine and other’s, would be a much better policy. In other words, it’s difficult to be a detailed oriented perfectionist and be open, loving, and accepting at the same time. I think about this all the time when I teach and parent and when I’m beating myself up for eating a cupcake this weekend instead of exercising.

7 anon reader { 03.26.12 at 11:34 am }

being able to let go of the .50-cent’s, and not focusing on the .32 cents that your not getting, that is the key to a happy life, i think! just like rounding up or down, eventually it evens out, and you don’t have to live in oblivion about it- you keep a small place in your mind that tallies the rounding ups and downs, and it there is ever a point where it isn’t about cents any more, it is about dollars or hundreds or dollars, then you take action.

aka, don’t sweat the small stuff. we’d all be much more content.

8 loribeth { 03.26.12 at 11:35 am }

This is really interesting, because it’s an argument dh & I have all the time — about fixating on pennies/small things vs the dollars & the big picture. I actually save all my spare change at the end of the day, & occasionally roll it up & take it to the bank. It adds up very fast (especially here in Canada, with $1 and $2 coins). But dh constantly dips into it for coffee money, which drives me nuts. ; )

I would question that 50 cents from the restaurant too. If it was deliberate on their part, I agree that it’s kind of presumptuous of them to think you will overlook the 50 cents.

I don’t mind tipping for good service at a restaurant or the hairdresser’s, etc. –but the tip jar at the local Starbucks or other coffee shops does irk me sometimes. If my tea once a day costs $1.75, I give them $2 and I toss in that quarter change every time, that’s a 10+% tip every day, $1.25 a week, $5 a month, & so on. It sure adds up fast. (And all they do is put a teabag in a cup & pour hot water over it).

This post also reminded me of a story that was in the papers a few years ago. A couple of college girls, as an experiment, panhandled on the corner of King & Bay (in the heart of the financial district, Canada’s Wall Street) — & then on a street corner in Parkdale, one of the more rundown areas of the city. They said they got more change & were treated more kindly in Parkdale than in the cold-hearted financial district. There was an interesting response in the letters to the editor page a few days later from a woman who pointed out that not everyone who works on Bay Street is worth a gazillion bucks. She asked, “Do you know how long and hard I work for my money? Do you know how many people personally depend on my salary? Do you know how many outstretched hands I walk by every day on my way to & from the office? Do you know how quickly my savings would be depleted if I gave money to every person who asked for it?” I thought she had some good points. It’s the cumulative effect of too many hands reaching for your wallet. :p Kind of like, I can take the sight of the odd pregnant woman or listen to one birth story — but if I’m at a shower where all six women around the table start telling theirs, I very quickly start to tune out (& plot my escape, lol).

9 Denver Laura { 03.26.12 at 11:56 am }

The server may have intended to get .50 but forgot especially if she had to wait for the register to open or break some larger bills to get it.

If I was expecting $8.50, I would have said something to the effect. Otherwise it’s my fault for not saying something.

My husband is a SAHD. We have had the discussion about housework and dinner. I sat down and shared my expectations. I said that I didn’t expect the entire house to be spick and span but it would be nice to have a clean kitchen when I came home. He said he gets exhausted looking after a whiny baby all day so when I come home I take over to give him a break. I also give him all day Saturday. I cook on the weekends, he cooks on weeknights. I still do laundry and clean bathrooms, etc.

Because I spoke up, my needs are now being met. Otherwise it served me right to be upset that the kitchen wasn’t clean (or the .50 wasn’t brought to my table).

10 Peg { 03.26.12 at 12:04 pm }

Another great thoughtful post. I started thinking about the change in my life. I focus on what i didnt get done instead of the loads I did accomplish both practically and intangibly. I probably focus more on what my husband doesnt do instead of all that he does do. In both those cases I think it’s my current glass half empty mentality. Hmmm something to work on I think. Thanks for making my look for my “change.” I’m curious to see how other readets will react.

11 Ellie { 03.26.12 at 1:01 pm }

Wonderful post. I need to do this for myself because my inner monologue is so similar to your own. Thank you very much!

12 Chickenpig { 03.26.12 at 2:38 pm }

I’m not sure why, but the 50 cents is bugging me. If you CHOSE to give away the 50 cents, that would be one thing, but the restaurant basically took it from you. Stealing is stealing, and that unfairness gets under your skin.

I’m a SAHM, and if my husband started going on about me making him dinner he’d be terribly sorry. Long, long ago when we were still yet to be married, we broke up our household chores according to what we felt most comfortable with. My husband likes to cook and go to the grocery store, so those were his biggest responsibilities. Since I stopped working outside the home, I’ve taken on the grocery shopping, but I draw the line at making dinner. I have already taken on all of the laundry, cleaning, shopping, and most of the responsibilities regarding the kids, he can cook one meal a day. Geez.

13 Lollipopgoldstein { 03.26.12 at 2:43 pm }

Here’s devil’s advocate about the restaurant. Suppose I went there and noticed the portions were a little bigger this time. They gave me more soup than usual. Should I give them 50 cents since they gave me more food? Or do we accept it when people inadvertently give us something extra but not accept it when we inadvertently give someone else something extra? I do think it needs to balance with what I get out of the place too. There has to be times when I’ve gotten an extra 50 cents of broccoli here and there without knowing it.

14 Denver Laura { 03.26.12 at 5:52 pm }

It’s not negotiable. You select the item based upon a set price and the restaurant will provide it to you based on what they feel is a standard amount based on their supply. Unless you pay by the pound, there will be some wastage on occasion. You could have also gotten extra broccoli because it was about to go bad and they were trying to get rid of it.

15 anon reader { 03.26.12 at 6:39 pm }

as long as people are so focused on what happened at the restaurant…
i think it was just a miscommunication between the management and the server. totally no big deal. the restaurant is not going to rip you off intentionally for fifty cents. its not worth the risk of bad press or customers not returning. it was an accident! a mistake! let it go. i am sure they would be moritfied if they knew that you were so bothered by their mistake.

16 Jo { 03.26.12 at 6:59 pm }

I am guilty of focusing on the change, particularly in my own marriage. Great food for thought. I need to (re: want to) spend more time focusing on the 98% of things that are right with my life, and less on the 2% that are not.

17 Her Royal Fabulousness { 03.26.12 at 7:05 pm }

Welcome to my life. If I had to estimate, I would say I spend about 40% of my time in an inner negotiation about what things I am currently upset about that actually deserve that kind of energy. I am CONSTANTLY questioning myself about whether the issue (an argument with a co-worker, a small diss from a friend, a criticism I got from a student) is minor or major. Whether I should dismiss it or whether I should take it to the next level. DH constantly tells me that my brain is not a place anyone would want to live for this reason. He is so easily able to let anything roll off his back. Probably a good man to be married to for that reason. Although, we actually had to get some counseling to learn not to focus on the $.32 with each other. Time and practice has helped a lot with that.

I love this post, just so you know.

18 a { 03.26.12 at 7:34 pm }

Valuation is a key part of my life. 90% of my purchases involve an inner debate regarding the worth of the item vs the asking price. Probably more than half the time, I decide the worth is not worth the asking price. My husband, on the other hand, determines the price he wants to pay and then negotiates to get it.

Regarding the restaurant, I would either have gotten it back from the waiter or I would have let it go and never thought of it again. It would depend on the service – if it was decent, I would have just called it extra tip. But the value would have been on how much I felt like calling the waiter back and enduring his/her embarrassment over 50 cents.

I often feel undervalued at home. So does my husband. We should have reasonable discussions about it, but that’s not our forte. 🙂

19 Crystal Theresa { 03.26.12 at 8:26 pm }

i think “focus on the 2000” will be my new version of “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

i wouldn’t have said anything about the 0.50, either, because i’m non-confrontational like that… although i did tell the lady at the restaurant last night that we didn’t get our slice of pie, so i guess i am getting better.

your point about stuff we don’t care about being used to help others really got me thinking. it’s kind of like when there are food drives and people pick out the stuff they haven’t eaten or don’t want… in church, they always remind people during the Christmas/Thanksgiving drives not to give expired food; though donating expired food i think is several steps below “spare” change.

20 Barb { 03.26.12 at 10:04 pm }


21 Jessie { 03.26.12 at 11:12 pm }

Wow, I’m not sure I have an *articulated* response beyond that, but I have the feeling I’m going to be thinking about this and about what I focus on for a while now!

22 Deathstar { 03.27.12 at 1:19 am }

For some strange reason, I really needed this read this post today. Like really needed it. Thank you.

23 Cristy { 03.27.12 at 1:38 am }

Isn’t this post the definition of failure to see the forest for the trees? The idea of focusing so much on small details that one misses the bigger picture? Grey uses another idiom with me: “penny wise, dollar dumb.”

I think your post illustrates our need to focus on negative as a way to motivate. For the husband of the woman on the subway, he may view his statements as a way to motivate her to do more and meet a perceived standard. Nevermind he is probably undervaluing his wife and their relationship. The problem is that focusing on the good aspects is completely contrary to our culture. Resting and balance is seen as weak. So we focus on the pennies, be it complaining to our significant other that they aren’t doing enough, whining about small annoyances from work or focusing on $0.50. I know this is something I struggle with.

24 Lollipopgoldstein { 03.27.12 at 8:11 am }

I think it may come down to that if you feel something is being taken away from you or you’re missing out on things others are getting (or come easily to them) you focus on the 32 cents. And if you perceive that you are doing well, getting ahead, getting something for free, you focus on the $20,000. It all comes down to which glasses you’re using to look at a situation.


25 Justine { 03.27.12 at 10:00 am }

Just read your last update, and that’s more or less what I was going to say … it’s about your freedom. If you feel that you’re giving something away because you WANT to, the change is less upsetting. If the change is being taken from you by force (or if that’s your perception), or if it’s difficult to control, it becomes important.

Great post. My partner and I disagree about change all the time … I suspect that sometimes it’s symptomatic of the larger stuff, and it’s also easier to talk about the small stuff than to go deep.

26 Kate { 03.27.12 at 11:50 am }

To me, the message here is clearly, Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff! A mantra I try to live by all the time… Especially where my marriage is concerned! You have to pick your battles, and that 50c or a sink full of dishes now and then are not hills I would choose to die on, so to speak. Though I get your internal dialogue re your lack of response to the restaurant’s mistake. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I enjoyed reading it. 🙂

27 Emily @ablanket2keep { 03.27.12 at 2:29 pm }

This post really hit me. I have been slacking with all the things that “need” to be done in life. Cleaning, dishes, laundry, cooking and other things like that due to the stress of doing cycles. I broke down during dinner recently, apologizing to my Hubby about all this stuff. I told him how I was taking little steps to get back on track. He told me he noticed and is proud of me. He doesn’t complain when things don’t get done. He gently pushes me into a better place and lets me take the time I need. I am so blessed.

28 luna { 03.29.12 at 11:41 am }

first, congrats on getting the eating under control. I’ve been having a really hard time with that, especially with baking. like I’m a fiend now that I’m home much more often. so kudos. for that, and for the lbs lost too, though the number is not as important as how you feel.

29 kasey { 03.29.12 at 12:29 pm }

This post has been in my head for days, but just reading the comments for the first time I had an interesting realization. I have a relationship where I focus on the change because that 32 cents is the good part and the 20,000 is fucked. And only seeing the change allows me to keep on going with him. I need to think that through.

Your follow-up comment is spot on. We look at whichever aspects fit our view or construct or hopes and beliefs. And sometimes I will unintentionally focus on something that isn’t my problem at all – I’m frustrated at work, but instead of being upset about that I get upset about a 50 cents thing.

30 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.31.12 at 4:53 pm }

I have sat with this post for a almost a week now. So many thoughts are provoked within me, more so with the woman on the Metro than the 50 cents at the restaurant.

I am examining where my lines are and how well they serve me: “Should we allow the spare change of a relationship (the dishes left in the sink or the meals not made) to determine its worth?”

This also struck me because it’s so huge: “Isn’t it that one good friend you would have never met otherwise if not for your blog?”

And I think your comment #24 is spot on. When we feel small we focus on the small. When we feel expansive, we are more rooted in abundance and bigness.

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