One of the most difficult things to balance while tightening down the budget and trying to save money is deciding whether or not to try a money-saving technique that will take a LOT of time. We always hear that “Time is money,” but sometimes, being a SAHM with young children, the days drag on and on and the thought of filling some of those long hours with a money-saving project doesn’t sound like such a bad plan! Spending an hour to make cookies for a party rather than spending $8 at the store? Not a problem! Half an hour to wash the car by hand rather than the automatic carwash? No big deal. Other times, we’re in a busy season of life, and the thought of doing anything other than the bare minimum seems daunting and totally not worth it.
In economics, this is called “opportunity cost” – choosing between several options and taking a loss in one area to make a gain in another.
There tend to be two opposite ends of the opportunity cost spectrum when it comes to raising a family and keeping house.
The “spending is not an option”ers:
We may find ourselves in a valley where we literally don’t have a choice in the matter – we simply don’t have the money to outsource a chore, to buy a premade loaf of bread or a frozen lasagna, to skip the trip to Aldi in lieu of the regular grocery store. We are pinching every last penny and every cent is accounted for, so we have to make large time sacrifices in order to stay afloat. And that’s okay! Most of us find ourselves there at one point or another, whether because of a job loss, an aggressive debt snowball, looming medical debt, or building savings for a specific goal.
If you are there, keep your chin up and push forward. Think creatively and try to lessen your load if possible – if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, can you switch your starch from homemade bread to rice for dinner (typically a huge timesaver)? Can you make more simple meals? Can you think of a way to incentivize your kids to help clean the bathrooms if the housework is overwhelming? Sometimes just planning smarter will help, and it doesn’t mean you have to spend more.
The “Spending is what’s saving me right now!”ers:
The other end of the spectrum is the person with seemingly unlimited disposable income at their fingertips. The hidden side of this side is that most people DON’T have unlimited disposable income – even if they have a LOT of it, they still have to decide which things are most important to them. A housekeeper, cable, and manicures may be at the top of their priority list, but they may be foregoing expensive salon trips and frequent dinners out to make those other things happen. However, people with large incomes typically don’t obsess over whether or not they should send shirts out to be dry-cleaned – they just do it automatically, or they don’t do it, but they are confident and comfortable with their decision and don’t hem and haw over whether the $7/week bill is worth it.
Most of us fall into an in-between category. Should I buy the 5 birthday cards I need this month or make my own? Should I make the initial investment in cloth diapers in order to save money later this year? Should I buy an Audible subscription, or can we just make do with the audiobooks we’ve been getting from the library? Should I buy real maple syrup this time or stick with Hungry Jack? There are hundreds of micro-decisions we have to make on a daily basis. We can not only get decision fatigue, but we also start to lose sight of our time vs. money goals if we don’t refocus occasionally. We take on too much in order to tighten our budget, or we realize that we’ve spent $200 extra on groceries this month and need to rein it in.
So how Do I Determine If Something Is Worth My Time?
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I enjoy doing this (tortilla making, grocery shopping at multiple stores, etc.)?
Be completely honest with yourself about whether or not you enjoy this money-saving activity. If you hate thrift-store shopping (like I do), but don’t mind waiting for great sales at regular stores, skip Goodwill and hit up Carter’s 50% off sale with your 25% off coupon.
- Will this actually save me money?
Is it actually cheaper for you to make an Easter dress for your daughter or a fall wreath for your door rather than buying a pre-made one? A lot of times, it’s not. If it’s something you really enjoy doing, then don’t let money be the reason you don’t do it, but make sure you think about all the costs before jumping in, or you could end up realizing halfway through a project that you spend MORE than if you had just bought the thing off the shelf!
- Will this increase my stress levels?
Are you already feeling overworked and overwhelmed? Even if it is something you legitimately enjoy doing, like quilting, do you actually have time to make a quilt as a wedding gift for your cousin when you have 4 unfinished quilts already? Sometimes, it’s better just to turn down a project in order to keep your sanity.
There is no “right” answer to whether time is more important than money; that will depend on your other obligations and your income. But taking a few seconds to think through a decision can save you loads of stress when you really need to simplify your life (and sometimes, it’ll save you $50 at the craft store!) 😉
How do you determine whether or not to outsource a project or spend a little extra to save time?