worth it

I'm sitting at a coffee shop. I don't actually drink coffee, but enjoy a good iced soy chai if I'm needing to get out of my home office to find some inspiration.

Today the inspiration comes from two pigeons squabbling over about two square feet of space on top of a parking lot-marquee (yes, it turns out that inspiration is in the eye of the beholder as well).

These two have been going at it for the duration of 10 people scuffling through line, giving their orders, waiting for their orders, and receiving their orders.

So, give or take 20 minutes of pure nitpicking at one another.

Sure, anyone who watched Planet Earth knows that they might have reasons for doing this that are very primal. Like the winner of this two-foot square of metal might make a certain lady pigeon trip over her claws in pursuit, or perhaps the pigeons are in a fight-to-the-death to secure the best spot for picking up crumbs from unsuspecting customers out on the patio.

But the whole struggle seems so…pointless.

Which leads me to think about how not every financial fight is worth it, either.

Not Every Nickel Saved is Worth it

You might find this an odd statement for the owner, creator, and fervent money-lover behind Frugal Confessions.

But hear me out on this one (I assure you I'm not having some kind of existential crisis, just a natural evolution of my own money journey I'd like to enlighten you with in case it speaks to you as well).

In my own life, I have several examples that shaped this opinion of mine:

  • That Time I Braved Traffic Across Town to Stock Up on $0.20 Cans of Tomato Sauce: After an hour — to get to the store, make my way to the cash register, pay $1.20, and drive home in rush hour traffic — I was able to add 6 more cans of tomato sauce to my already overflowing stash of 20 at home. Ummm…perhaps my time had been better spent, I don't know, defrosting my freezer?
  • Hour-Long Service Call to Amazon.com to get the last $12.72 Charge on a Gift Card: Just the other day I was attempting to make a purchase off of Amazon.com and had to call them about an issue using credit card reward points to pay for a purchase. Through sales, free shipping, and a Christmas gift, I was able to get an order of goodies down to just $12.72. But that wasn't enough; I wanted to use my credit card reward points — which you could now sync with their system — to cover that last bit. The phone call with them ended up lasting an hour. Utterly ridiculous use of my time. In the end they awarded me a $20 credit for that utterly ridiculous use of my time, so it wasn't a complete loss. But I would have enjoyed that hour instead.
  • Bank Offers for less than $150: In my 20s I would have eagerly jumped at every bank offer that came my way, plastering the city of Houston with bank accounts in my name that probably housed just a few hundred dollars each. Now I'm much more picky. The fact is, a bank offer is a great thing. But it also takes time and a little juggling of details to get right.

It's like that one driver who cuts you off, then cuts off the guy in the right lane, then swoops in ahead of the driver in front of you and cuts them off…only to meet up with you at the next red light.

Not every financial fight is worth it, folks. Tweet This! Tweet: Not every financial fight is worth it, folks. http://wp.me/pVwXc-1HM @frugalconfess

And you're talking to someone who took a good deal of her 20s to figure this out (by the way, that is not a statement of regret; having been in a different place at least in my early 20s meant that I was able to squirrel away extra cash that has directly benefitted me today). Of course when you're just starting out and there is not a lot of money foundation to go back on, the small financial fights are a bit more important.

But as things settle down, debts are paid off, emergency funds are flush, and careers are expanded…time and its preciousness become an ever-increasing determination in $0.20-can decision-making.

As for those two pigeons, one is the victor and the other has given up. Except that the victor eventually loses interest (just in the time it took for me to write this conclusion), and has since moved onto cleaner marquee signs.

In the words of Elsa from Frozen (oh man, I can't believe I'm going to reference this), sometimes it's best to just let it go.

17 replies
  1. Money Making
    Money Making says:

    This is a great post! I am constantly discussing this with my wife. I figure my time is worth $20+ an hour. If it will take me 30 minutes to save $3, it probably is not really worth it! I find this mostly with people and gas as you pointed out. Why drive 20 mins out of your way to save 50 cents?!?!?

    Reply
  2. Money Beagle
    Money Beagle says:

    Very true, it’s basically the law of diminishing returns. With personal finance, so many people are focused on the one side of saving money, where they try to reduce or eliminate expenses. While that’s all well and good, the problem is that there’s only so much cutting that you can do, and typically each iteration takes more effort and yields a smaller result, thus the diminishing return. The better strategy is to focus some attention on saving, but also focus the proper amount of attention on making more money. After all, the amount of cutting you can do has a limit, but the amount you can earn theoretically does not!

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Great strategy for sure. I like the powerhouse duo of both — cutting expenses (while still getting what you want, a la Frugal Decadence style) AND earning more income. And of course if you can’t find a way to earn more income and are very well-suited to spend less, then that’s the way to start.

      Reply
  3. Kalie
    Kalie says:

    Before having kids I would shop at multiple grocery stores to get the best sale prices on different items. Now I rarely go to more than one store per week. Sometimes this means spending more on a couple items, though for the most part I save by sticking to the discount store (ALDI). But absolutely, some savings are not with the time involved.

    Reply
    • Amanda L Grossman
      Amanda L Grossman says:

      Kalie — now that we’re pregnant with our first, I think this is going to happen to me more and more! My time will continue to increase in value compared with saving less money (though yes, it was a great strategy in my early-to-mid 20s, allowing me to do some cool stuff with my life so far).

      Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  4. Kurt
    Kurt says:

    This is good for me to read and think about! I’m the stubborn sort, and I have and can go through a lot of hassle and spend a lot of time for the sake of a few dollas or less. WHY?!? Maybe I need to take up Zen Buddhism… 🙂

    Reply
    • Amanda
      Amanda says:

      Good for all of us to think about! I’ve gotten much better about this sort of thing…but it’s a money mental evolution for sure.

      Reply
  5. Tim
    Tim says:

    I still go for the cheap wins a lot of times when it comes to my time… unless I have more productive things to do at that moment… It’s good to be aware of deals when they pop up and if you can attack and nab them and its only costing your time away from doing nothing such as standing in one’s front yard having a few beers or watching TV then go for it…. But if you are ditching out on important things like extra work or something where you could have made $50 just to save $5 well do that math… pass on the $5 and take the bigger win..

    I used to be an avid rebate seeker… but now I don’t mess with them for less than $5 or $10 most of the time… If its a $3 rebate but I can triple it up… well that’s $9 in my pocket.. There are apps out now that take all the mailing for BS paper work in out of the equation which is AWESOME and no more waiting 6-9 weeks… deposit to paypal account and bam..

    but yes.. as your time become more valuable and when you are productive with it don’t bother with saving a few dimes here and there..

    Reply
    • Amanda
      Amanda says:

      Yes, you’re making a great point. If you’ve got nothing else to do with your time (or that you want to do with your time), then perhaps it’s a good idea to go after some of the smaller deals.

      Reply
  6. Inequality Today
    Inequality Today says:

    In economics this is called opportunity cost: what you forego when you take an action. If the opportunity cost is too high then it’s not worth it.

    Reply
  7. Adam @ AdamChudy.com
    Adam @ AdamChudy.com says:

    I agree completely. Everyone needs to recalibrate what level of dollars they obsess about as their income and assets change. We focus on the really big wins so we can ignore the little things.

    Reply
  8. Bill in Houston
    Bill in Houston says:

    The question I would have to ask is, where does one set the slider? When is it not worth it?

    I consider my “time” to be worth my paid salary, broken down by minutes. But say it takes me an hour of negotiation to dispute a $40 charge and win. Is that worth it? That’s an hour of being able to do something else that could be very rewarding, despite getting back $40. Forty dollars is real money, even if it won’t get you a hotel room for the night or a tank of gas. It will buy two people a nice lunch in a real restaurant, or buy a box of 210 Size 2 diapers at Costco. Here’s one… is it worth my time to hand wash cloth diapers instead?

    Break that forty bucks down, though. Would I haggle for six minutes to save four dollars? Three minutes for two dollars? No.

    Since I haven’t had microeconomics since the 90s, I’ll have to look up whether the opportunity cost curve is parabolic.

    Reply
  9. Dee @ Color Me Frugal
    Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    I still sometimes struggle with this one. It’s hard not to try to go for the biggest money savings, and it’s only in recent years that I’ve gotten better about letting some things go. Besides, I’ve also had those wayyyyyyy too long phone calls with customer service reps, and the unfortunate thing about calls like that is that you never know what a huge waste of time it’s going to be until an hour has passed and you’ve only saved $10, lol! But I definitely hear you, and this is something i am working on too!

    Reply

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