I HATE GOING TO GROCERY STORE!!! Last week I was waiting in line at the Express Lane pickup at my local supermarket. I thought to myself “remember when you actually had to go into the store, fill your own cart with groceries, and then wait in line to checkout? Ha! This is so much better!”
Here’s the situation. I order my groceries online, pay a small fee for the merchant to collect and bag them. Then I pick them up at the store’s drive-thru at a pre-selected time slot. This is clearly an exchange of cash for convenience. In this blog post, I’ll take an in-depth look at the trade off. We’ll also answer the age-old question:
Are you better off to spend money to save time?
This is a personal question and response. What’s right for me may not be right for you, Mr. or Ms. Reader. The beauty of this solution is it applies to everyone! In a few short paragraphs, you’ll learn a foolproof method to decide for yourself if something is worth it to spend money to save time.
The inner conflict
When I first learned the grocery stores in Raleigh offered express lane service I thought it was the coolest thing ever. When I looked into it and realized there was a fee involved I immediately became conflicted. We are a one-income household struggling a bit to save wherever we can. This suddenly seemed like a “luxury expense”.
I questioned whether I should use the service at all. If I allowed myself to be pampered with this benefit, how often should I take advantage of it?
Time is money
The value that each of us puts on our time is as varied as our personalities. I first started to think about the monetary value my time is worth when reading Laura Vanderkam’s book 168 hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
The purpose of Vanderkam’s book is to make the reader more aware of how you’re spending time. There’s also a section on actively “creating” more time for yourself through outsourcing. None of us really has the ability to create more time – we are all blessed with the same 168 hours a week. However, each and every one of us has the ability to control what we do with our time. This is Vanderkam’s main point, and her book is definitely worth a read. This insight – that we actually have control over our hours/minutes/seconds – leads into how we’ll determine if we should spend money to save time.
Gather the facts (and do a little the math, but only a little!)
To further aid in our decision we need to collect some facts. In my grocery example, I considered both the cost of service and the amount of time I would save by outsourcing the task.
The grocery merchant offers two options for the express lane fees: $5 per visit or $100 per year for unlimited visits. I first calculated the breakeven point to figure out if it was more worthwhile to pay per visit or for the annual subscription.
Since my family needs groceries about every two weeks that’s 24 times a year. As long as we use the subscription service 20 times or more, we’re better off going that route. (The obvious downside is having to pay the full $100 up front.)
Now let’s estimate how much time can be saved. At the rate of one trip every other week, it takes at least an hour inside the store. This is a pretty conservative estimate, even when I’m shopping from a list. When ordering online my time investment is cut down to about 15 minutes. We’ll round up to 20 just for fun.
Beyond the financials – consider your values
There are certainly more detailed calculations and other methods you could use to decide if it’s to your benefit to spend money to save time. I propose the easiest solution is to take a look at your core values.
This is a prime example of how knowing the priority of your values can help make a sound decision. One that you can feel good about, and forgo any second-guessing. (For more info on prioritizing and planning core values check out this post.)
Whenever contemplating if you should spend hard-earned cash or invest the DIY time you need to consider the opportunity cost. What does this mean?
By paying someone else to get my groceries, I now have an opportunity to spend 20 minutes each week doing something else. Those 20 minutes represents a new freedom! If I’d spent that time getting my own groceries, I’d be giving up the opportunity to do something more worthwhile. That’s opportunity cost in a nutshell.
Here are some alternative things I’d love to do with an extra 20 minutes a week.
- Spend time with John doing something we enjoy.
- Chat on the phone with a friend or family member.
- Read a book.
- Draft blog post.
- Get in a short workout.
- Make a card for someone I love.
The activities listed above are all things that align with my core values. You should create your own list of fun stuff to do, based on what’s important in your life.
Next, let’s take a look at my top 5 values in order of priority. Can you spot where the actions above fit in?
- Spending quality time with John, my family, & friends
- Enlightenment & learning
- Achievement (my blog, insightlopedia.life)
- Physical/mental health & wellness
- Using my creativity
I do value financial security, however, it’s 9th on the list. Saving money is important to me. But the key is, I’d rather find other ways to pinch pennies. An extra 20 minutes each week to do something that better corresponds with my core values is extremely fulfilling. For my grocery example, it’s an easy decision. I choose to spend money to save time.
An alternate scenario
Let’s change the situation a bit. If going to the grocery store somehow also aligned with my top core value of spending time with my husband John, my decision might be different.
Perhaps if we made our bi-weekly trips to the grocery store a bonding experience, the mundane task wouldn’t be so bad. We could make it a date night. After dinner and some cocktails at a romantic restaurant, we could take a stroll through the aisles of the grocery store before heading home. We could laugh and joke around and hold hands while filling our cart. Hmmm, this doesn’t sound half-bad.
In reality, we tried. It worked for awhile, but in the end, it was just a band-aid solution. John and I would rather spend our evenings out doing something much more fun! Again, this choice comes down to what we value the most. It’s all about trade-offs and deciding what is most important to make you feel happy and fulfilled.
Do you value time or money?
Here are some common examples of a time versus money decision.
- Remodeling a room in your house
- Changing the oil in your car
- Making dinner for your family
- Cutting the grass
- Fixing a leaky faucet
- Getting groceries
- Doing the laundry
- Cleaning your house from top to bottom
- Prepping and staging your home for an open house
Would with spend a little extra cash and have someone else perform the task? Or would you invest your time and complete it yourself?
To someone who highly values learning a new skill and saving money, changing your own oil might be a great way to spend a Saturday morning.
To an overworked parent wanting to spend more time with the kids, going to your daughter’s soccer game while paying the neighbor kid to cut the grass is a no-brainer.
To a novice homeowner, remodeling on your own might cause a lot of stress and anxiety. Maybe you pay a contractor to work with you, so you can learn a few things and cut down on installation costs.
Your values, your decision
Many of the household chores above require a certain amount of knowledge and skill. If you don’t currently possess it, your time investment will be even greater than simply completing the task. Consider this in your opportunity cost. Yes, $95/hour for a plumber seems like a lot, but it could save you 8-12 hours of time. Only you can decide if it’s worth it to spend money to save time.
Perhaps you’re currently facing a dilemma where you need to decide between outsourcing and DIY. If not, it’s good to consider hypothetical situations now. That way, when it comes time to decide you already know the process and can move swiftly.
Recap: How to decide if you should spend money to save time
- List your options and gather supporting data.
- Consider your actual costs, in terms of money and your investment of time. Estimate your time saved by outsourcing.
- Know your (prioritized) values.
- Consider your opportunity cost. What more fulfilling ways can you spend your time by getting help?
- Using your values, make a sound decision! Do you spend the time to save money, or spend money to save time?
Share your comments
Please share your thoughts in the comments below. How have you made the decision of whether or not you should do something on your own or outsource to someone else? Did your decision feel good? Did it align with your values? Were you able to spend your time doing something that was good for your personal well-being? Would you make the same decision again?
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