With almost every single purchase we answer a question (consciously or subliminally):
“What is the most convenient option?”
It has become second nature.
If our purchasing power doesn’t afford us the luxury of modern conveniences, then what good is it?
“Why am I working f’ing 60 hours a week to buy a less convenient option?!”
Most of the time, the question itself is what prompted the pursuit of the purchase in the first place.
Why wouldn’t we opt for convenience?
- Why ride a bike 2 miles to work and deal with sweat when you could drive in a nice air-conditioned vehicle?
- Why hard boil an egg when you can buy a fancy egg cooker for $30 that will do it in one less minute?
- Why use a hand crank can opener when you can buy an electric that does it without you having to move your fingers?
- Why learn how to cook when you can buy pre-made food from others?
- Why add razor blades to your grocery list when you can get them mailed to you monthly?
- Why refill an ink cartridge when you could just buy a new one?
- Why teach yourself how to drive a manual transmission car when there is automatic version?
- Why look up a recipe on how to unclog a sink with baking soda and vinegar when you could buy a jug of toxic chemicals and just dump it down the drain and be done with it?
- Why patch or sew up the article of clothing when you can buy a new one?
- Why use a push-reel mower that may require you to go over some spots twice when you could buy a gas-powered monster to take care of it in one pass?
- Why car-pool to work when you have your own car and no patience to wait for others?
- Why borrow a tool from a neighbor when you could add it to your buy list?
- Why think or learn of a clever way to solve a problem when you can simply buy something that solves it for you?
- Why make the trip to borrow free cd’s, books, and dvd’s from the library when you could have it shipped directly from Amazon to your doorstep?
- Why learn how to homebrew when you could buy your own beer?
- Why wait for your desired item to show up on Craigslist when you could get it NOW.
- Why learn how to do something on your own when you could have someone else come in and do it for you?
- Why turn off the lights or unplug the vampire appliance, when you could just sit on your ass instead?
… you get the idea.
Is Convenience Really all that Convenient?
A funny thing occurred to me as I was creating the above list of modern “conveniences”. I realized that many were not all that convenient in the first place. Is it really more convenient if we:
- Drive a car to work instead of biking? We have to find a parking spot, pay for that spot, pay for the gas to drive me there, and in many cases, pay for the car itself.
- Get the high-powered gas mower vs. a push reel (or riding mower vs. a push)? We have to pay more again, maintain it more regularly, go out to buy fuel, and find or buy more space to store it.
- Go out to a restaurant vs. cook at home? That requires transportation to and from, the parking space problem again, multiple times the cost, and then the wait for the food.
- Borrow a tool from a neighbor? We simply have to admit, through our act of borrowing, that we don’t like pissing our money away. Isn’t that a redeeming quality?
We’ve been conditioned to think newer, more complex gadgets are more convenient.
But an egg boiler? An electric can opener? You have to go out and buy these items, they often break down, they take up more space, they use up more energy, and they save virtually no time at all. How is that the least bit convenient?
Oh, and the modern “convenience store”? They sell nothing but high margin, overpriced, unhealthy, pre-packaged sugar in liquid and solid forms.
In other cases, the effort (“inconvenience”?) to go the cheaper route will result in fitter health, greater self-reliance, and a cool new skill that you can share with your friends. And every time you make that effort, it becomes a little bit simpler.
So how did we get to this point?
Part clever marketing/advertising, part cognitive overload, part laziness, part herd mentality, part boredom, part approval-seeking.
The Lifetime Cost of Purchasing Convenience
Unfortunately, 99% of the time, the most convenient option is also the most expensive.
Whether it is monthly recurring costs, payment for specialized services, or the thousands of purchases you will make in your lifetime, the cost of going with the perceived most convenient alternative is SIGNIFICANT.
I am willing to bet that for many, that cost, when distributed over the life of the product or service, is easily in the upper hundreds, possibly thousands per month, per person, especially when you add in finance charges for the more convenience homes, vehicles, and credit card purchases.
The REAL expense to pay for all of these conveniences?
- years, possibly decades of your life given to jobs that you probably don’t like
- less free time for your family/friends/self
- general unhappiness when you realize those purchases aren’t actually making you happier
Just remember that the next time you swipe or enter your card.
In fact, maybe we should all tape the question “Convenient?” to the front of our cards as a firm reminder. To build wealth, you must defy status quo. And convenience is status quo.
I am currently in cleanup mode for my convenience driven ways. I am having a garage sale this week to get rid of many of my “conveniences” like the two gas mowers that have failed on me. We are moving out of a house that is over 2000sqft and into a place that is less than 1000sqft. This is a decision that my wife and I have made because of our over consumption and not because of any other factor. We are tired of paying more to really make ourselves lazier.
You are showing wisdom as you age, Trevor.
I currently drive to work in my Hybrid through a city for 6 miles each day. I am contemplating switching to a bike because 1) I am a marathon runner and 2) cost efficiency. However, the girlfriend is against this because my work is not in the safest of locations. On the other hand, I have several tickets against my driving record and we would save alot.
@GE – have your ever done an article on Amex points. I have about 5000 or so, and do not know what is the best use of my points. I don’t earn alot of points monthly, so the gift cards might make the most sense to me.
How do you get pulled over in a Prius, outside of running over children?
Haven’t done an article on Amex pts. yet. I usually just take the cash, but if there is an expenditure you regularly make (i.e. groceries, flights), the points might pay off.
Ironically, a light when on in the car, and I called my girlfriend to find out what it was and I got an improper use of cell phone ticket
Restaurant v. Cooking at home… Eating in restaurants all the time is a huge time sink – I’m always amazed at how long the process takes. I would rather eat out less, but at restaurants with a better experience. This probably won’t cost less than what I pay now…
I’ve found that by buying quality ingredients and learning how to cook a few dishes, I can rarely get the quality when I dine out vs. eating at home. Plus, it’s significantly cheaper, more convenient, and healthier. And I’ve learned a new skill.
Thanks for the kick in the pants! I think my NYE resolution will be to not eat out so much. I work multiple jobs and find it next to impossible to cook at home, let alone prep a meal for the next day’s lunch. I’ll shoot for a month and see how it goes, I know my money is being wasted on eating out. I have also noticed that quality seems to be going down at many restaurants because they are trying to stay competitive and have less customers to cook for. Really no point in paying for mediocre meals out.
I like saving money so I often use coupons when I eat out too, but the negative looks from waiters bother me too.
I often wonder if we have a net gain on time savings with computers. My company has a huge IT department where all things go to die and we have nerd herd guys running around to help save people’s work. It takes 30 minutes to boot up my computer and if it crashes then I need another 30 minute to boot it up and hope that my work over the last few hours was saved. I wish I had more time and passion to explore if we are really more efficient with our time using computers are all.
Computers are really just a fad. :). I see your point, but look at other situations like a person who manages a team of people in another state or another country. Technology has allowed this person to have several conference calls where they can share their desktop and go over information together. Pre-technology, this same person would have had to mail, fax, or fly to the remote location to accomplish the same task.
Related to convenience…it has always boggled my mind on why people step foot into a convenience store. I can understand doing it when you’re on vacation, or just away from home. But when people are going into a 7-11 for an ice cream bar that costs as much as a 6 pack of the same at the grocery store, it boils my blood.
It’s so expensive, and when you think about it…it’s so much more convenient to just go to the fridge instead of getting in the car and driving a block to the 7-11.
That’s an interesting point though, because there’s also the health factor to consider. While it makes a lot more sense financially to buy the 6 pack at the grocery store, you’ll also end up with 6 ice cream bars in your freezer that you’re more likely to eat when you’re bored/watching TV/craving a treat. If you instead go to 7-11 to buy an individual ice cream bar only when your craving gets so intense that the inconvenience of going to the store is worth it, you’ll end up eating much less ice cream. And now that I think about it, maybe not even spending as much money on ice cream in the long run. Think about this – if you get used to keeping ice cream in your freezer, it might become one of those things you replenish every time you go to the store just because you’re used to having it there. Because the ice cream is in your freezer, you might have a bar after dinner every night, which means you’ll need to replenish your stock each week. But if you only have an ice cream bar when you decide it’s worth it to leave the house and go to 7-11, you might only end up having one a week. If the individual costs the same as the 6 pack, you’re spending the same amount of money.
I have also recently gone through a purge of all the convenience items and just extra junk I have acquired over the years. I enjoy the space I live in so much more when I am only surrounded by the things I find useful or sentimental. While I was happy getting rid of all the things I don’t want and refusal to acquire things without a just reason, I am thrilled now that I am moving and I have very little to pack!
I realize probably nobody will read this since this article is over a year old, but, for me, paying for convenience is really about outsourcing the things that I don’t enjoy doing.
For example, I hate cooking, but I enjoy eating, and, specifically, I enjoy the experience of going out to eat with my family and friends. I realize it costs more of my time and money to do this, but those extra costs are worth the extra benefits (not having to cook and being able to focus my time on relationships with people I care about). I also pay someone to mow my lawn because I would rather spend the time it takes to do that doing something I actually enjoy.
Rather than shaming people for paying for convenience, I think this discussion should revolve around priorities. Just because paying for convenience doesn’t make you happy doesn’t mean that it doesn’t make anyone happy. Obviously, if you are thousands of dollars in debt, have no savings, and are generally living beyond your means, then paying for convenience is a bad idea. However, if your needs are more than taken care of, then thoughtfully paying for convenience can make a ton of sense.
Absolutely, I agree 100 percent. It’s all about finding the right balance between frugality, convenience and enjoying life. Skimp on what you don’t care about (it’s more than u think) so you can enjoy what you love, and don’t go overboard. This is easier on a better income.