How did Della save her one dollar and eighty-seven cents?

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Della and Jim are dirt-poor, so putting aside any money is virtually impossible. The only way they can swing it is through scrimping and saving, and that's what Della does. She has to scrimp on food and other essentials just to be able to put something by. Della loves Jim deeply, and she wants to express that love in the time-honored fashion of gift-giving. Sacrifice is clearly an important component of that love. Long before she sacrificed some of her beautiful locks to buy Jim a chain for his gold pocket-watch, she sacrificed her well-being to save up as much money as she could. Just like the Magi, the wise men who came to visit the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, Della's journey has been long and arduous, but she gets there in the end.

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The opening of O. Henry's story alludes to Della's frugality with these words:

She had put it aside, one cent and then another and then another, in her careful buying of meat and other food.

Della had amassed the sum of one one dollar and eighty-seven cents by bringing scrupulous awareness of her spending on groceries for herself and Jim. Jim was being paid twenty dollars a week, and their furnished room cost them eight dollars a week. From the remaining twelve dollars a week, it is reasonable to assume that Della was given a food allowance. She clearly stretched it as far as she could, putting aside a cent or two for months and selecting what she bought with great care. Ultimately, she had saved less than two dollars by the day before Christmas and had earmarked that money as her fund to purchase a gift for her husband.

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