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Valuing Your Time: When *Not* To Pinch Pennies

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for January, 2004

This is kind of a strange column for a "frugality expert" to write--but I'm used to being considered a heretic. And the beginning of a new year tends to be a time when I do a column about the philosophy of frugal fun, rather than the hard-and-fast practical tips that fill most of these columns.

I've always focused my frugality consulting and writing on easy steps that result in big accomplishments--rather than in the little minutia of life that chews up the most valuable, irreplaceable resource of all: your time.

So, keeping that in mind, I'd much rather tell you how to have a fabulous holiday in another part of the world, and spend $500 instead of $5000 to do it--as opposed to telling you, for instance, that you can cut a thick rubber band in two, lengthwise, and get two rubber bands.

There's a well-known frugality expert who actually wrote about that once. But from my perspective, considering you can buy a one-pound box--and that's a *lot* of rubber bands--for $2.49 at Quill.com, it isn't worth the time. I do save used rubber bands in a cookie jar, especially those nice thick ones from broccoli or from large batches of mail. But I have better things to do with my time than cutting rubber bands in half to save approximately 1/100th of a cent! I hope you do also. (And while I'm digressing about rubber bands, they're the best tool I've found for keeping chips, crackers, and cereals fresh--just wrap them around the opening so that the air is sealed out--see, you get some practical advice today, after all.)

Similarly, I don't recommend driving to half a dozen stores all over town in order to take advantage of the sale specials--but it *might* be worth your while to find out if your favorite store will match competitors' sale prices. You'll save an hour and still get the low price.

This philosophy means that sometimes, instead of volunteering at a concert or play, I actually buy a ticket. That I don't spend six hours tracking down the absolute rock bottom price on an airfare or computer, but spend 30-60 minutes getting a pretty good idea of my options, and then making a decision. Yes, perhaps I could save another $30 if I kept going--but that time is gone forever. I don't have it to play with my kids, take a walk with Dina, read a book, or earn a living.

And it's not only about time, but also about my core values. Thus, I often shop at locally owned stores, even though they may be more expensive than chains or online bargain shops--because supporting businesses that keep dollars in my own community is a higher value to me than getting the absolute best price. And that I don't shop at Wal-Mart *at all,* because after researching the company, I've come to believe that it's predatory: exploiting workers, suppliers, and customers, and driving competitors out of business through various practices that I consider unethical. (In my life, the only thing I've bought at Wal-Mart was a dollar's worth of bottled water, before driving out into the Wyoming desert several years ago; I didn't see any place else to buy it.)

Ultimately, I believe that having those community-focused, owner-operated, local stores available and open is crucial to the economic and spiritual health of my community--so I sacrifice a few dollars and consider it part of my charity giving. I don't do this every time; if it's going to cost me $100 more to do business locally, the local one loses out. But if it's going to cost me a dollar or two on a small purchase, or, say, 10-15 percent more on a more expensive item, I'll typically go ahead and support my neighbors with my wallet.

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