Stephanie at The Empowered Dollar wrote a post called Why Life is Worth a Quarter (and Other Lessons from the Arcade).
It got me nostalgic for my own days at the arcade with my mom, and it made me realize that some of my frugal education came from our visits there.
Lesson # 1: You enjoy it more if it’s a treat
It’s not as though the arcade was only an annual pilgrimage, but visits were spaced out just enough to make it special.
Usually, we went at most once a month. I know there were a handful of times that we went twice in a single month because I remember being shocked at the indulgence.
And that’s the point: I never took it for granted.
Lesson #2: Pinch your pennies — er, quarters
We had three change jars around the house: one for nickels and dimes, one for pennies (those were rolled up and deposited in my bank account), and one for quarters.
We only went to the arcade when we had enough quarters. Sometimes there weren’t enough quarters to make a trip worthwhile, so we didn’t go.
So I learned patience — and that small savings will add up eventually.
Lesson # 3: Stay on budget
I never expected us to spend more than the quarters we arrived with. Yes, sometimes my mom did add $10, but I knew better than to expect it.
It taught me to spend what I have, not just what I think it takes to have fun. That said, it taught me that it’s okay to spend a little extra once in awhile — as long as it’s the exception to the rule.
Lesson #4: Take advantage of freebies but not generosity
The arcade offered quarters for your report card grades. It was a limited time offer, so we had to be vigilant about taking advantage of the special.
But I was taught not to take advantage of the special — not the store.
The arcade offered actual quarters, not tokens. So you could, conceivably, just walk out with a profit. But, as my mom pointed out, that too many people doing that would mean the store would stop offering it. In short, too many selfish individuals would ruin it for everyone else.
Lesson # 5: Save for the good stuff
Like all kids, I was easily distracted by the more affordable items in the redemption center: huge pixie sticks, light-up headbands, whistles, badges, and so on. But inevitably those toys were really cheaply made and disappointing.
Like all kids, I eyeballed the nicer items. But the number of tickets needed seemed impossible.
My mom coaxed me to set my goal on a specific item and save my tickets for that. Minus the occasional piece of candy, of course.
As we left the arcade, I’d deposit the tickets in a bag. Each time, we’d figure out how many more I needed to get to my goal. And the progress encouraged me.
As a result, I learned that delaying gratification can pay off big time. Even when it took a lot of visits.
So, all in all, I’d say I got quite the frugal education at the arcade. I also got some great stuffed animals and plenty of sugar highs. Good times, all around.