Today I had a teaching assignment canceled and in addition to the disappointment of not seeing kids I knew, I realized (briefly) that it would represent a loss of approximately $50. This realization allowed me to reflect on $50 and what that amount of money represented then and now.

The first thought I had was about my first full-time, permanent position. It was in a big Chicago bank that is now out of business, but I remember clearly that I was earning $400 per month. In this case, the $50 would be one-eighth of my month’s earnings. That takes on greater significance when I remember having to make a choice between eating dinner and having bus fare to get to work the next day.

When I needed a full-time babysitter for my children, $50 was one day’s pay for her. These days, daycare or preschool are considerably more expensive. In the days gone by, $50 bought a big dinner at a relatively classy restaurant. Today, that $50 covers most of a date-night dinner (without dessert) at a casual restaurant.

What’s the reason for scrutiny about $50? It frightens me to believe that we have become cavalier about $5 or $50 or $500. Indeed, a previously loyal client who has chosen to disregard money owed since March of 2015 has effectively dismissed $50. It makes me wonder if money has taken on less and less significance according to what we earn or have accumulated.

At no time do I want to suggest that $50 means nothing. To many people in more countries than I would like to consider, $50 is more than a month’s earnings. To a starving child, $50 would represent many meals for a large family. To a senior on a fixed income, $50 may be the difference between a prescription and a utility bill. Consequently, I have gained greater respect for the value of money as I accumulate some, rather than the opposite.

In the case of the teaching assignment, I won’t suffer from my income being reduced by $50. But the occasion reminds me not to waste that money, minimize its significance or assume its meaning to someone else. Another client has owed half that amount, and in this case, I believe that she hasn’t paid simply because she can’t afford to do so. Whenever I can, I will continue my pro bono work. When that’s not possible, I will always remember the choice between eating and having bus fare. Shalom.


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