awareness, calculations, small potatoes

Small Potatoes (and How They Add Up)

Small Potatoes

So when it comes to adding money to your bank account, there are big potatoes and small potatoes. The paycheck from your full-time job, no matter how much you make, is big potatoes. The $20 bill you found on the ground and the $10 you made from selling an old coffee table on Craigslist are small potatoes.

It’s funny, though, the reactions we can sometimes have about these two different types of potatoes. I actually did find a $20 bill on the ground about a month ago and was SO EXCITED ABOUT IT, whereas when I got an email later the same week letting me know that my paycheck had been direct deposited, my reaction was more like, meh. And my weekly paycheck, small as it may be, is still lot more than $20.

Why is it that we get so excited about small potatoes? Is it because they are often unexpected? Is it because they feel like gifts from the universe – something extra?

I don’t know the answer to this. But I do know that small potatoes are still potatoes! Below is a complete tabulation of the small potatoes I’ve collected since the beginning of 2015. There are actually two separate lists: small potatoes I’ve earned (or found on the ground!), and small potatoes I’ve saved on items I would have bought anyway.

~Small Potatoes I’ve Earned (i.e., incoming cash)~

1. Research studies.
Living in the Boston area in close proximity to a gazillion research labs means there are always studies going on that I can participate in. This is true for a lot of cities. The amount of money you can make through a study depends heavily on what type of study it is, as well as other semi-arbitrary factors like how much they think is a fair amount to pay participants. Technically if you participate you’re “volunteering” to help out, and the money is just to compensate you for your time. Nobody is going to get rich from participating in research, but it can be a fun extra way to earn small amounts of extra cash and learn more about some of the topics being researched these days. Plus, you’re helping to advance science. If you want to see what kinds of studies are going on in your area, go to Craigslist, click on “volunteers”, and search for “research”.
Amount made through participating in research studies since 1/1/2015: $210.00

2. Selling stuff.
I’ve been in a simplifying/de-cluttering mindset for the past nine months or so, and, as a result, I’ve sold quite a few items that I didn’t need anymore. A good chunk of this came from selling my old textbooks on Amazon Marketplace (for those sales, I’m listing the net gain, since Amazon takes a commission and you often have to pay for some of the postage out of pocket). I also sold some clothes at Buffalo Exchange, and I sold my skis, boots, and poles on Craigslist since I haven’t used them in about six years and skiing is too expensive for me to even consider these days.
Amount made from selling stuff since 1/1/2015: $295.53

3. Finding money on the ground.
This happens! Sometimes! A good friend of mine who lives in New York City likes to text me whenever she finds money (i.e. bills) on the ground, which seems to happen to her pretty frequently. Maybe I’m not very observant, or maybe people in Boston just don’t drop money on the ground as much. It does happen occasionally for me though.
Amount found on the ground since 1/1/2015: $25.00

4. Poker.
Ok, yes, I realize this is kind of ridiculous, but I’m putting it on here anyway because I want to be precise. I sometimes play poker with a group of friends. It’s a $10 buy-in, so worst-case scenario I’m paying $10 to have a fun evening with friends – which, by the way, is cheaper than going to a movie. The amount below is my net earnings this year thus far. Yup, I’m basically breaking even. Plus one dollar.
Amount made playing poker since 1/1/2015: $1.00


~Small Potatoes I’ve Saved (i.e., true reductions on outgoing cash)~

Note: Items only appear on this list if they’re a reduction on something I definitely would have bought anyway, even without the discount. If I’m not planning to buy a sweater but see an ad saying that sweaters are 30% off this week, and I buy one because it seems like a good deal, the price “reduction” is not a reduction at all – it’s just a gimmick that got me to pay 70% of the regular price of a sweater when otherwise I wouldn’t have spent any money at all.

1. Buying Kind bars with my Amazon points.
I’ve been eating a Kind bar for my mid-morning snack literally every morning for the past three months or so, and I feel confident in saying that I would do this with or without any type of discount or gift card, because I’m addicted. Luckily, however, my credit card lets me earn Amazon points, and I use these points in part to buy boxes of Kind bars. There aren’t a lot of food items I’d buy on Amazon, but these bars are an exception. I realize this calculation is a little questionable because if I weren’t using the points on Kind bars I’d probably be using them on something else, but I’m going to go ahead and count it up here.
Amount saved on Kind bars since 1/1/2015: $41.96

2. Points and Rewards.
Besides Amazon points, I think the only other types of points or rewards I use are through CVS and LevelUp. With CVS, I’m definitely only using the rewards to buy things I would have bought anyway: shampoo, deodorant, that kind of thing. With LevelUp (which is an app that serves as a centralized rewards system for various businesses, mostly restaurants), it’s a little more difficult to say, but I think I’m pretty much just using it when I eat at places I would have eaten at anyway. This mostly consists of getting cheap takeout at Boloco or Uno Due Go occasionally. Also, some businesses offer free first-visit points through LevelUp, so I will often go to a place once just to get the free $5.00 they’re offering to new customers.
Amount saved through points and rewards since 1/1/2015: $122.76

3. Underwear at Victoria’s Secret.
So for those of us who purchase women’s underwear, here is a tip worth knowing about: if you sign up to be on the mailing list at Victoria’s Secret, they will send you a coupon for a free pair of underwear every month. Yes. It’s usually some specific style that they’re trying to promote (or get rid of), but whatever: it’s free underwear. And I happen to like Victoria’s Secret underwear, so I would buy it anyway. Now, the question of how many pairs of underwear a person needs can be calculated using a complicated algorithm involving how often they are willing to do laundry, how much it costs to do laundry, how much one pair of underwear costs, and how many washes that same pair of underwear can withstand before it completely wears out. Since I don’t actually know this algorithm, I just try to have a lot of underwear. (Side note: I need to do a post in the future about laundry, which is a very curious expense.)
Amount saved by getting free underwear since 1/1/2015: $88.00 (approximately)

So, my grand total for small potatoes in 2015 thus far is: $779.25. Not bad, not bad at all. I will keep collecting these potatoes for sure.

That being said, it’s striking to realize how much this amount pales in comparison to the amount of money that I, or you, or anyone working legally in the United States, would make at any type of full-time job in the same nine-month period.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will be about…you guessed it: big potatoes!

Do you have any thoughts on why we get so excited about small potatoes? Or do you have any other small potatoes recommendations to share?

Feel free to leave a comment below!

3 Comments on “Small Potatoes (and How They Add Up)

    1. Thanks, Jef! Yeah, it definitely doesn’t make a ton of logical sense to focus on these small wins…but nevertheless they are exciting! 🙂

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