When I was 17 I turned a plastic pretzel container into a change jar. Every week I would empty my pockets of the pennies, nickels, and occasional quarters that passed through my hands (and the ones I found on the ground, inside sofas, and while doing laundry). Even at that young age I knew I needed a purpose for this change to keep myself motivated, and so I designated the lump sum to go towards my prom gown. Come May of that year, I emptied my change jar into one of the new Coinstar machines at the local grocery store; lo and behold, I had $75.40 to show for my eight months of patience! I bought a beautiful magenta-colored, sateen gown, and had enough money leftover to buy a set of elegant, elbow-length gloves. I remember getting such a kick out of the fact that I had the gown that I wanted, and I didn’t have to figure out where I was going to get the money from.
My patience, self-martyr, or whatever you would like to call it, has continued through to this day. By saving micro amounts of money, like 50¢ on movie tickets, $5.00 at the grocery store, and $10.00 off of oil changes, I have filled my savings account with enough quarters to make a small hill. Success has been slow, but satisfying.
Then the other day something happened to make me rethink my tortoise-like strategy. My boyfriend and I were looking to purchase our first matching set of sofas for our living room; up until now, we have been using leftovers from someone else’s bachelor pad. While the hunter-green love seat and stained-brown laz-y-boy have certainly served their purpose, we were quite happy at the idea of stepping up to more adult-like furniture (and furniture that did not cause back and knee pain). Besides, we could not have any guests over because we would have to sit on the floor, or sit with them at a too-close-for-comfort distance on the love seat. We did our research and heard this horrible rumor that people pay upwards of $1,000 for living room sets (yikes!). Determined to not fall into this same trap (or because of lack of money), we asked around and found that a friend of our friend was selling their set of furniture. The sale was an easy one; after only $400 passing hands, we brought home a beautiful, very adult-like, set of matching sofas less than a year old. Total savings? $1,000.
I have definitely saved thousands of dollars with my methods over the years. Last year from shopping at CVS and Walgreens alone I easily saved $1,000. But that easy savings entailed weekly trips over the course of a year and hours of pouring over coupons and sales flyers. Compared to the $1,000 I saved in one transaction, it now seems like a lot of hard work and forfeited time.
Granted, I don’t make big purchases often. But what if every time I do make a big purchase (like that new car I will need in the next year or so), I make sure to save a few thousands dollars? Saving the few thousand dollars that way could easily offset the few thousand dollars I save on groceries and personal necessities, but with a lot less effort. Or maybe it will take a lot of effort, but only for a short amount of time.
Both approaches will get me my mountain of savings, and I suppose using a strategy of a combination of these methods could yield an even greater lump of cash. But looking at these scenarios again, it appears that the bottom line may be this: do I value my time, or my money, more?
Be on the lookout for upcoming articles related to this topic as I continue to ponder this question over the next week or so.