While doing my holiday shopping this year, I realized that people don't necessarily overspend with their cash. Where they really get loose...

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While doing my holiday shopping this year, I realized that people don’t necessarily overspend with their cash. Where they really get loose with their finances is when it comes to their “only money.”

At least, that’s what I heard people calling it — and what I realized I call it sometimes myself — in virtually every store I went into.

“Only money” represents the extra dollars that are spent in conjunction with the following phrases: “It’s only [fill in the amount] more to get this one [or to buy the upgraded version, larger size, etc.] or “It’s a bit more expensive but it’s only money.”

I not only heard that phrase time and again, I used it a few times myself.

It also comes into play walking the fine line between thrift and waste, between stocking up on items that you use and need and stocking a closet full of more stuff than you can foresee using. And then there’s the free-spending side, when you don’t need another thing, yet find that item you “can’t live without.”

That being the case, I started to calculate the value of “only money.”

In the course of an ordinary day, it thus far has added up to a few dollars.

Taken individually, the extra little bit of spending — say 40 cents to buy the larger-size drink at the drive-through or the extra two bucks for the T-shirt with “cool venting” (which might be useful if it were to be worn where such a thing is needed, but which isn’t particularly important in makeshift pajamas) — is no big deal.

And that excludes my next purchase of a sweater or necktie when what I already have is sufficient, not to mention big-ticket items, where the difference in “spending up” will be more than a few pennies.

If every spending decision goes against thrift, it’s “only” going to add up to about $1,500 a year. Given the average household income, that’s “only” about a week’s worth of income. That’s only a big slug of the annual deposit in an individual retirement account.

The next time you are deciding whether to buy something and it’s your “only money” at stake, decide if you truly want or need to spend it; if you get thrifty, set aside the savings in a special account for your future. After all, it’s not like you needed that cash for something; it’s only money.

Speaking of “only money,” with oil prices so high, some analysts were saying the national average price for a gallon of gas could hit $4 by the end of next month.

That increase would represent an increase of up to 33 percent from current levels, depending on where you live now.

The one silver lining for consumers is that they have time now to plan for it. Unless you can afford to throw up your hands and say “It’s only money,” check to see if there is something you can do to offset the increased cost. Maybe it’s more car pooling, public transportation, or better car care (leading to better gas mileage).

But unless you want to see your “only money” pumped straight into your gas tank, act as if the price jump is coming and look for ways to cover the cost without blowing your budget.

Chuck Jaffe is senior columnist at MarketWatch. He can be reached at cjaffe@marketwatch.com or Box 70, Cohasset, MA 02025-0070.