Pinch a Penny, Blow a Buck

Monday, May 14, 2018

Over at Inc., business columnist Suzanne Lucas considers advice she unexpectedly received after sharing an anecdote online. The elastic band in a garment gave up the ghost after twenty-three years, and several people said she should sew in a new band, in the name of thrift. She had wisely trashed the old garment and ordered a new one. Here is part of her analysis of that advice:

Image of symbol extolling the waste of time as a virtue, via Pixabay.
Then, I have to measure the elastic, cut it, pin it to the slip, and sew it in. I do know how to sew, but I don't do it often. All in all, if I worked quickly, and had no problems with the cloth or sewing machine, I'd guess the whole process would take about an hour. You may be able to do it faster. You may have extra elastic in your sewing box, but I don't.

So, all in all, it would take me about 1 hour and 30 minutes to put new elastic into cloth that would be old enough to drink. To save what? $15?

Is my time worth $10 an hour? Or is it worth more?

It's absolutely worth more. In fact, using the time I saved by buying the new slip, I can write this article, for which Inc will pay me.
Lucas even discusses other possible benefits from doing the repair, anyway, and found them wanting. For example, as a chance to teach her son some sewing, this case was wanting because elastic would have made for too tricky a lesson for a beginner.

To people who have had penny-pinching -- or worse, recycling -- drummed into their skulls from Day One, it might sound like Lucas over-thought this. I would beg to differ. While considering value propositions thoughtfully does take more effort than blindly applying a rule about saving money, it isn't that hard once one has made it a habit, and it leads to better productivity (and often, ultimately more money since making money is often an alternative to saving less of it).

The lesson here is that if one cares about maximizing value in life, it is an error to fixate on the dollar cost of one or a few things. Many things are more valuable, dollar-wise, and some things one should consider cannot even be quantified in terms of money. See also Ayn Rand's teleological measurement of values.

-- CAV


Dinwar said...

One thing that this article brought up, and which I feel silly for not realizing earlier, was that you have to factor in the value of other things you could (reasonably) be doing with your time when doing these cost analyses. I'm used to the fairly simple analysis of "It will take X hours, I make $Y/hour, is it worth my time?" But that assumes that the options are to do X or not do it. In reality--as this post demonstrates--the options aren't binary, but rather a range of options. I can repair a rip in my shirt, or I can care for my garden, or I can do an hour or two of work (for which I'll be paid), or I can play with my kids, or.... The question then becomes "What is the most valuable thing I can do with that time?" Put in that perspective sorting recycling, repairing worn-out clothing, and other such penny-pinching tasks aren't very attractive.

Gus Van Horn said...

Yes. That was a great point on Lucas's part. It was interesting that her example could have gone either way in one respect that way, as a possible sewing lesson.

Jennifer Snow said...

This is also why I won't even bother trying to return busted or otherwise messed up items unless they're over a certain dollar value.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's generally my policy, although I might bring the item with me the next time I go to the store I bought it from and return/exchange it before or after my shopping -- if the line is short.

Jennifer Snow said...

Returns for me are almost always of items that I bought online, so the return entails a special trip and also dealing with customer service to arrange the return.

Gus Van Horn said...

That makes sense.