We live in a world where convenience is king. Sometimes we buy products purely for the convenience aspect without even giving them a second thought. If you are struggling with your budget or just wondering whether a particular purchase was wise, perhaps it is time to rethink the balance of cost vs. convenience.
There is no single answer for cost versus convenience — it is an individual decision based on many factors. Your income level, available free time, stress levels, where you live and even your particular stage in life all come into play. Your decisions may be different when you are young and single compared to when you are a parent with multiple toddlers, or past retirement age and into your twilight years.
Spend Time or Spend Money
If you are questioning some of your cost-versus-convenience decisions, consider the following examples below and some of the tradeoffs involved. Which philosophy do you agree with?
- Dishwashers – You have a dishwasher because dishwashers save time — but do they? Are you one of the people who pre-washes their dishes to the point that putting them in the dishwasher is superfluous? Do you overload your dishwasher or make such messes that dishes do not come out sufficiently clean? In either case, why did you spend $300 to $500 on a dishwasher?
- Disposable Diapers – For many parents, disposable diapers are a godsend. Any parent who has dealt with a diaper emergency two minutes before they have to leave for work understands its appeal. However, not only are they expensive compared to cloth diapers, they are unquestionably worse for the planet. Your decision here involves social costs as well as economic costs.
- Convenience Foods – From frozen dinners and pre-packaged small bags of lettuce to 100-calorie snack packs, specially packaged foods are likely the most often-used convenience items in your home. Yet with time, most of them could be easily replaced for half the money or less. It may take a lot of time and effort to prepare a fresh dinner compared to a frozen one, but how hard is it to buy snacks in bulk and package them into 100-calorie portions yourself?
Another consideration with convenience foods is whether the packaged portions fit your needs for perishable items. If you are eating solo, it may be cheaper to buy a head of lettuce and throw away half of it, compared to buying a small prepared bag that is twice as expensive — but is it responsible to do so?
- Robotic Room Cleaners – These sound so simple — just turn them on and let them go. For $400, you can have something that automatically vacuums your house while you are at work. The tradeoff depends on how much time you spend sweeping/vacuuming your house, and whether the robotic cleaner is reliable enough to meet your needs. There have been tales of robot vacuums meeting animal waste that resulted in more mess, not less!
- Microwave Ovens – Today these seem like a necessity, but for years people got along just fine without them. Just for fun, write down every use of your microwave for a month. Could you have used your oven or other appliances to create the same meal? Most of us would consider a microwave a necessity now, but it ties in with the concept of convenience foods listed above. How much time do you save, and is the microwaved dish equivalent to one cooked a different way?
In most of these cases, the question is how to place a cost value on your time. If you were a business, you could assign yourself the cost of a salary and make a decision from a purely economic standpoint. While that analysis is possible, let's face it — most of these decisions have little to do with economic tradeoffs. They usually boil down to likes and dislikes ("I hate cleaning the floors or chopping vegetables"). That is why convenience items exist, and often sell briskly. If you want more credit for that "must-have" convenience item, check out MoneyTips' list of credit card offers.
If there is one direction modern society has been moving in during the last 100 years, it is convenience. We are living in an era of conveniences, but at what price? Let's not forget that the first syllable of convenience is "con."
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