Mad Money


I remember learning about mad money when I was in college.  I came home from college my freshman year and enjoyed a weekend at home relaxing.  When it was time to go back to school, my dad hugged me and slipped something in the back pocket of my jeans.  I pulled it out and it was a $100 bill!  I was shocked and delighted.  He said it was “mad money.”  It was to be used on something frivolous that you really wanted.  Something you would never buy for yourself on a normal occasion and most definitely not to be used on pizzas, groceries, beer, tshirts, etc.

Officially, the definition of mad money ( is a small sum of money carried or kept in reserve for minor expenses, emergencies, or impulse purchases. 2. a small sum of money carried by a woman on a date to enable her to reach home alone in case she and her escort quarrel and separate.

I prefer my dad’s definition: money kept in reserve for a special purchase that is desired so greatly that reason and price are disregarded. (He did not give me this definition- I made it up, but I think he would agree.)

Over the next few years, my father gave me mad money occasionally and I hoarded it.  I tucked it in a safe place waiting for that one special object/experience to call out my name. The day did come when I whipped out my bills to pay for that frivolous, ridiculously priced thing (that I can’t remember now what it was.) It was very exciting and I was hooked.

As the years floated by, the mad money still came from my dad.  Sometimes for Christmas he would give larger sums of money and declare it “mad money.”  By this time, I knew all the rules of the gift.  It was not to be used for that new vacuum, washer, or mattress.  An addendum was later added to the mad money process: you can’t hoard it for too long and you had to share with him what you bought.   He wanted to see what it was that I coveted. What an incentive that was!!

Mad money became a sort of tradition in our house but one you never relied on. I loved the fact that my dad wanted to know what I purchased and wanted to see it. In this way, he got to understand my personality and whims. We bonded over the unnecessary and superfluous.

Now that I have two college age children, the tradition is being passed on.   As I hugged my freshman daughter and sent her off to college, I gave her the $100 bill. (I couldn’t slip it in her pocket because she had on yoga pants.) I explained the rules and she just smiled and nodded her head. I could tell she was hooked.

Then politely she said that dad had done the same thing earlier! Oh well. Now I just wait to see what she blows it on.

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