Thursday, October 23, 2008

The other day I had to stop for gas before heading home from several hours away. I had already driven 3 hours that day to present at a seminar. I had not really yet eaten anything substantive that day.

At the gas pump, I swiped my credit card and let the gas flow (at $2.27 a gallon! Yay!). Then one of the women in the car on the other side of the pump approached me and asked me for a few dollars to buy gas. Of course she had a story of woe, how her car's gas gauge was broken so she'd had no way of realizing how close to out of gas she was, how she was trying to get home to her babies. I always hate that part of the encounter when they try really hard to sell me on the reality of their need. The truth is I don't really need to be sold; I'm the sort that will try to give someone a few bucks if I can. I didn't really care why she'd run out of gas or had no money or credit card to buy a few dollars worth of gas. I had no reason to doubt her that she really was out of gas. Her friend or sister was in the car, clearly trying to call someone to come help them out.

Here's where my real dilemma came in: I had a 10, a 20, and about 2 bucks in quarters. I also had the credit card I had just used on my own pump still in my pocket. So how much should I give this woman? My first thought was that I wished I still had that 5 dollar bill that I had just used to pay the parking garage. Obviously I didn't want to give her 20. I may be nice and all, but that seemed too much. But the $2 in quarters didn't seem like enough. I think it was actually $2.25, so it was enough to buy her almost exactly one gallon. If they were within about a 25 or 30 mile radius, that would get them home.

This has been bugging me for a few days. Should I have given the 10? Why was I so reluctant to use my credit card to put about 6 or 7 dollars worth of gas in their car? In the end, I gave them the quarters and felt bad as I drove away. They were still there even after I pulled out of the neighboring fast food restaurant where I stopped to get a drink for the ride home. $2.25 doesn't buy as much gas as it used to. So what would you have done? Is it silly that it's still bugging me whether I was too stingy?


Stacy said...

My husband won some contest at work and recieved $40. He gave it to me for the trip we were about to take. On my way to his office the next day, I was stopped at a red light and a woman approached the car. She told me they were collecting money for the local women's shelter, did I have any spare change? I gave her one of the $20s and asked for like $15 back or something.

This is a test I failed. That $40 was nothing to me. It wasn't part of our normal income, it wasn't going to go buy clothes and it wasn't needed to pay bills. But it would have meant a lot to the woman's shelter that day.

But I will remember this next time.

The other time had to do with gas as well. We had friends staying with us who were moving to the area. They were tight on cash because moving is expensive and this was right when gas was $4 a gallon. They didn't have enough money to make it to work. But they had been spending money on fast food and beer so I was a little gun shy at helping them when they asked me for money.

In the end, I took them to the gas station and filled up their car with gas. It wasn't that great an act of anything. But when I was there filling up their tank (it was like 10PM or something) a woman came up to me and asked me what the zip code was in this area. She had stolen a credit card and was trying to get gas. If I had it to do over again, I would probably have said I can put $10 in your tank if you cut up that credit card.

I feel really bad about the women's shelter thing though.

Dan said...

I always say all I have is a credit card. And that is usually always true, I never have more than 5-10 dollars in my wallet (with an "emergency 20" hidden in my car to be forgotten about until I'm in a real jam.), and I put everything, even piddly stuff, on plastic.

If they were parked on the other side of the pump like I think you described it, I would have offered to pump them $5 on my credit card. I don't give cash.

S said...

I really should have just put something on my credit card, but I am trying to be really strict on how I use my cards now. And I had this random thought, "What if I have to pay for car repairs or something and can't pay off the whole balance and wind up paying interest?"

I should probably just be satisfied that I bought them a gallon of gas and get over it. I really don't think I'm stingy. I just tend to give in really small amounts so that I can always give to everyone. At least, that's what I tell myself.

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