Money Well Spent

by Dan Walsh


I tore up a brand new $100 bill last week.

At the time, I didn’t really know why I did it, but I knew it had to be done. The idea came from a combination of influences. The book I was reading last week included many discussions of personal values and worth. I had an ATM fiasco while trying to make a cash deposit and almost lost $1,100. I had recently determined that $100 was an emotionally impactful amount of money to gain or lose. And that scene from The Dark Knight where Joker burns a mountain of money was playing in my head. These all coalesced into one thought: “What if I tore up a $100 bill?”

Unfortunately, as soon as I had the thought, I was condemned to make a decision. Either I could tear up the bill and prove that I was strong enough to do so, or justify using the bill in a responsible way and feel powerless in the face of money. There was no other way around it. I had to know: do I work for money or does money work for me?

I determined to tear up the bill, but I didn’t know how or when. I thought about making a scene of some kind, maybe on the bus, but that would feel too transactional. I was trying to be rid of the money without spending it, and making a scene on the bus would be like buying attention. I could have given it to a homeless person but that would have also felt like a transaction of some kind. I didn’t want to donate the money in any way. I wanted to make it worthless. Giving it away would have still made me $100 poorer, but the value would simply be passed on to someone else. How should I get rid of this thing?

I was thinking about this dilemma as I walked to the gym. I suddenly realized that there was no one around to witness the execution. Without hesitation, I pulled the bill out and tore it in half. Then I thought half wasn’t good enough because 51% of a bill is still legal tender. I tore it in half two more times for good measure. Mr Franklin was dead and I immediately felt guilty.

I could have used that money to help┬ásomeone! I could have donated it to charity or helped supply a local food pantry for the holidays. Even if I wasn’t feeling as benevolent, I could have treated my friends to dinner or selfishly paid down some of my student loan. There was a lot of good that I could have done with that money. I felt really bad.

I determined that an experience with this much emotional impact must also be attached to a valuable lesson. So I resolved to stew in my turmoil until I learned that lesson. It didn’t take long for the bubbles of wisdom to surface, but it wasn’t until writing this post that they all came together.

From the outside, it looked like I completely wasted the money. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t destroy the value of that bill. Instead, I inadvertently paid myself to feel something I had never felt before: liberation from money. Before I tore that bill, I had worked for money. After it was in shreds, money worked for me.

For better or for worse, I now have something in common with Joker.