What’s $1 Worth To You?

It was one of those cold, rainy days where winter couldn’t decide if it was coming or going. The freezing rain felt like it could turn to snow any minute, and the ground was one giant slush puddle.

Despite the weather and my lack of owning proper winter boots, my husband and I were out running a few errands.

While we were out, we decided at the last minute to pick up a few groceries from the discount grocery store in the strip mall. We were already there, and this way we could hibernate for the rest of the miserable (weather-wise) weekend.

Inside the grocery store, the mood was no better. We were cold and wet, and it seemed like everyone around us was just as grumpy as we were. The glaring fluorescent lights and bright yellow colour scheme within the store only made things worse. We were not having a good time.

Because we weren’t originally planning to go to the grocery store, I was not parked anywhere near the doors, either.

Pushing a full shopping cart across the un-plowed, slush-filled parking lot got our blood – and our blood pressure – pumping.

We weren’t quite fighting, but tensions were high. We both just wanted to get home and into dry clothes.

After we unloaded the groceries into the car in the freezing rain, my husband wanted to just abandon the shopping cart in the parking lot, instead of returning it into the store to get our $1 back.

But me?

I wasn’t willing to just give up $1 like that.

So I continued to brave the elements a little longer, and slugged the cart back through all the slush and puddles, and back into the store.

You see, the value of $1 has drastically changed for me over the last few years.

In 2015, I made the least amount of money I’ve made in my adult life.

Yes – I was better off financially as a full-time University student working only part-time and summer jobs than I was 6 years after graduation, educated and with years of experience under my belt.

Making another $1 wasn’t as easy as it used to be.

At the time, $1 was almost 10% of my hourly wage. And because I was only working part-time (15 – 30 hours per week) the math worked out even less in my favour.

If I had been working full time and still making almost $30 an hour, I probably would have just left that $1 behind. I could have easily made another $1 within 2 minutes of working.

Since being laid off in 2014, however, making a decent, consistent income has been a real struggle for me.

Even now, 5 years later, I’m in a job that I love – but only on a temporary, contract basis. Meaning in 6 weeks from now, I could be laid off and unemployed, yet again. (Please cross your fingers for me that this doesn’t happen, and that my contract is renewed instead!)

$1 means a lot more to me than it used to.

When I was first unemployed, I spent hours answering online surveys for 10¢ a piece, because that was the only income source I had.

So pushing the cart back into the store was worth the $1 to me.  I’ve worked a lot harder and a lot longer for less.

We didn’t really need that $1. We would have survived just fine without it. And to be honest, we probably wouldn’t have even noticed if it had just disappeared.

But I wasn’t going to just hand my hard-earned $1 over to a discount grocery store (that we only shop at to save 50¢) simply because I was cold and grumpy.

I know that $1 doesn’t really go far these days, especially when $1 CAD is only currently worth about 75¢ USD. But that was beside the point.

If I’ve learned anything from being unemployed and underemployed, it’s that $1 can be very valuable, depending on how you look at it.

YOUR TURN: So what’s $1 worth to you? Let me know in the comments!

Photo by Clark Young on Unsplash

Note: A version of this post was originally published in March 2016. 

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

22 thoughts on “What’s $1 Worth To You?”

  1. $1 doesn’t mean very much to me at the moment since I’m currently employed. But I recently came back from a trip to Cuba. The average daily wage for workers in that country is $1. So to them, a single dollar represents an honest day’s worth of labour. 😕

  2. I would maybe leave 25c in a cart – but a $1 ??? No way!!!! Too much can be done with it otherwise – and groceries understand this which is why they now require a loonie instead of 25c in your cart.

  3. Right now I’m working so much that I feel like I don’t even have time to think about $1. We aren’t paid over time but we are in a secure place financially. I say this not to brag but it is interesting how the value of certain amounts of money changes as you make more. This is going to sound ultra nerdy but it’s basically the concept of materiality in auditing. I’m happy to see you’re writing again, missed you!

  4. I’m actually finding this cart return thing very interesting! We don’t do that here in SoCal. I’ve never heard of it. I remember the days when to spend $1 for coffee at 7-11 was a huge luxury (I wouldn’t dare step foot in a Starbucks-ever) and I was so stressed about spending it that I couldn’t even enjoy my coffee as much as I should have. It’s all relative and I totally understand why you’d go back.

    • Haha, I find it interesting that no one does it where you live! Maybe that’s because you have a $1 bill opposed to us having coins in Canada? Around here, I’d say 90% of grocery stores have coin-releases on them (either 25 cents or $1). I get why they do it (so that people return the carts themselves instead of having to pay a staff person to collect them), but still… I try to avoid these stores!

  5. My mom always taught me to value money no matter what point we were in life. Even being so financially secure with my boyfriend at this point in time, I can’t help but clip coupons and continue wearing shoes that are truly past their prime. My bf thinks at times I’m a bit ridiculous, but he’s always surprised by how much money has been saved on my end. It’s almost like a muscle that I’ve been working for decades that it’s ingrained in me and I can’t escape it.

    • Absolutely! It’s better to save your money when you don’t really need to. I’m not one to clip coupons, but I do take/use them if the store has them next to the product or on a big display board near the entrance. Maybe this is something I need to explore a little more to save even more $1. 🙂

  6. Life taught me the value of a dollar. I would return the cart too, even if I am fully employed and making a decent salary….$1 here, $1 there…it adds up to a lot of $ at some point.

  7. I have a good job, and both my boyfriend and I make very decent salaries, however I would have returned the cart even if it was $0.25. Money is money, and we work really hard for it to be just left behind!

  8. I like micro-anecdotes like this, gives such insight into how different we all are. I don’t ever use coin-release shopping carts. I rarely use shopping carts at all. I buy what I can carry home in the bags I bring or my purse if I forget bags – works great! And I would (hypothetically) definitely, definitely go back for that $1. That falls into the category of ‘things I will not throw my money away on’ alongside library fines and ATM bank fees. Mostly, I would hate recording that $1 in my monthly spending spreadsheet – good enough motivation for me to trudge through the weather.

    • I strongly dislike places with the coin-release shopping carts, almost as much as I dislike the places that charge for plastic bags, too. I do my best to avoid shopping there, but this was one of those few exceptions. I totally agree about the bank fees! Thanks for commenting.

  9. “If it you’d bend over and pick it up off the ground, it’s worth the effort.”
    If I saw $1 lying on the ground, I would bend over and pick it up, therefore, it is worth my effort to slog back to the grocery store to return the cart. 25 cents, maybe not though.

  10. I’ve been thinking a lot about this (not $1, specifically – we don’t even have this pay for trolleys thing here so this would never happen! but at what point does a dollar amount matter to me?)

    $1 would not matter to me at all. Like I’d pick up a loose coin on the ground but I wouldn’t mind giving one up either.

    Heck, the other day we went to buy a kennel for the dog. Nice surprise: that brand was meant to be 30% off – would have been like $50-60 discount. At the counter they said the sale was finished (geez, take your signs down then!) I was annoyed but honestly didn’t bat an eye, I had gone in planning to pay full price anyway.

  11. Unbelievable, there are actually stores that make you leave a deposit on a grocery cart! That’s crazy, doesn’t exist in our state anywhere. But when I’m working a dollar is fourteen seconds of my time but when I’m on my own time, it’s like a whole dollar! Certainly if I had to shop at a crazy place with cart deposits I’d push it back, I mean it is a whole dollar. My first job of throwing newspapers for my slave driver brother I got one dollar a day, so it still sounds like a lot to me.

  12. I commented when this first came up, and I will do it again! I would not leave a dollar around, anywhere. The groceries use the $1 method, and even the hospital that my building is attached to also uses this. I have definitely returned carts for the $1, if people leave them lying around. People manage to find ways around actually using the $ however, there is a little gadget that you put it, similarly sized to a loonie or .25c coin that lets you use the cart without spending the $.

  13. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize the worth of $1. But now that I am working, I value every cents of my hard work!!


Leave a Comment