Cheap Eats and Tracking Time
Care with Spending
Last night, I seasoned my vegetables with extra virgin olive oil seasoned with organic ruby grapefruit . The recommended retail price is $18, but I paid just $2.75 at my local bent-and-dent grocery. Ooh-la-la!
When I first heard of bent-and-dent grocery stores, as frugal as I am, I just wasn't interested. What on earth would I do with dozens of dented cans of vegetables and piles of day-old white bread? I just didn't expect to find good flavor and excellent nutrition at a bent-and-dent grocery! I was wrong.
Real mayonnaise, 25 cents a quart. (And I've seen that price with "buy one, get one free" attached. Twelve and a half cents for a quart of real mayo.) Real, organic mayonnaise, 75 cents a quart. Unrefined coconut oil (a very healthy fat), $2 a quart. Organic whipping cream, 50 cents a pint. At Christmas, organic eggnog was 75 cents a quart.
And so it goes. If you have a bent-and-dent grocery in your area, be sure to check expiration dates, most especially on nuts and grain products (which really do expire near their dates), and carry a price book with you. Pricing on some items is better than on others, and very often the deepest discounts are in the gourmet and specialty foods that most of us would normally avoid.
Care with Investing
Many of us have found secondary sources of income on eBay, Craigslist, and other sales venues, especially as a way to dispose of extra things that we purchased for our families that are not quite right for our needs.
I've been selling online for 17 years, and I've learned that there are more and less profitable ways to do this. Initially, my attempts at income production were driven by the stack-of-stuff that I happened to have on hand--and guilt. "I should have known better. I should have had Kate try on those leather shoes before paying $3 at the thrift store. I can't return them, so I had better list them on eBay."
I'd think, "I spent $x.xx for that. I don't need it any more, so now I need to make that money back." But I've learned that my profit is much better if instead of focusing on my stack-of-stuff, I focus on my far more valuable, irreplaceable time. There will always be more stuff, but an hour that's gone is gone.
I'm a bibliophile from infancy. Love books. Love to have them around me. I own thousands. I used to let the stack-of-unwanted-books rule me when it came to listing on eBay. I thought, "I bought it, and read it. I don't need to keep it, so I should resell it and get my money back." And sometimes I thought, "Ugh.... I should have looked this one over more carefully! This isn't all that great! Another 50 cents down the drain!" And so, I would resell those books, making some money from my buying mistakes.
And then one day I realized that with the exact same process, I could either sell 25 books that I bought for us and no longer wanted--or I could sell one recent college textbook that never would have appealed to me for our use. With a very small fraction of time invested, I could donate my stack-of-books to some good charity, sell the textbook, and come away from the equation with both more money and more time.
Economists talk about "sunk costs." Sunk costs are investments of any kind, which have already been made, and which can't be undone without further cost of some kind. A sunk cost is the money we've invested in things we no longer need--the books we won't read again, the cute boots that were 90% off but haven't ever fit well. But a sunk cost is not always a thing, or a monetary amount. A sunk cost is the eight hours that you've already put into repairing your own plumbing, with no end in sight. A sunk cost is the fabric that's already been purchased for that quilt that you had planned to make. It's the emotional investment in a project that may no longer have the future that we initially hoped.
Sunk costs love to be chased. The human tendency is to throw more money, time, and resources at something that isn't very profitable, or even something that's looking more and more like a failure. It's human nature, and we all tend to do it. (The federal government does it continually.) Whenever my heart has begun an investment, it tends to want to keep that up, affirming my first choices with more and more resources even when it should be clear that this project is no longer the very best use of my time, talents, and opportunities right now.
Humans naturally let sunk costs rule our thinking, but since sunk costs can't be changed, there is a real sense in which yesterday's costs shouldn't rule today's decisions. Yesterday's decision is gone; it's unchangeable. We can always find another stack-of-stuff, and we can always make more money, in some way, but we can't in any way replace today's time. Our time is our most valuable commodity. We can either spend it at a low profit trying to undo yesterday's bad decision, or we can spend it at higher profit making a better decision with all of our resources today.
Sunk costs do matter, in the sense that we can learn from our bad decisions to make better ones, but we need not use them to punish ourselves by investing a lot of time at a low return. We can learn from our buyng mistakes, or from our stack-of-stuff, without being driven by regret, or remorse. We can learn that we are not perfect. Sometimes, we will buy a wrong size or miss a flaw, but trying to undo history by squeezing things to make the most money that we can from them can sometimes be counter-productive. As wise as it may seem, that principle can tend to move us toward poverty and not away from it, if it's applied indiscriminately.
Better to stop squeezing things and start squeezing hours. There are two ways to break free from the tyranny of sunk costs. The first is to think in terms of making the most of the full combination time, talents, opportunities, and things that I have before me right now. The stack-of-stuff is only a small part of what I have in my hand, and I can't let it keep me from pursuing more productive opportunities.
The second is to consider that there is a trust and faith issue here. At its heart, this subject involves our worship. Do we trust that God directs, ordains, and rules all of our affairs in the way that brings Him the greatest glory and that works the greatest good in the souls of all those who love Him? Sometimes, when we get trapped in a fever of trying to recover sunk costs, to squeeze all that we can from a stack-of-stuff, we are forgetting that, as human, we have to make mistakes. It's our nature to do so. We will all make the less-wise purchase sometimes, and that's a time to relax and trust, remembering that our histories are not being written to display us as great, and wise, and good--but rather to display God as great, and wise, and good. When I'm making a mistake, and yet I'm trusting, honoring, and loving God in my mistake, that's when I'm fulfilling my purpose.
And I have to write things like this, to help me remember: history has one writer, and it's not me. I can't fix or perfect my past. I can only work with what I have in my present, and my future. If I let the stack-of-stuff control me, I might be forgetting that. Sometimes it's better to take my stack-of-stuff to Goodwill and invest a little in one nice item that will be more easily sold, for more money.
It's easy to work 37 hours putting on a $120.00 rummage sale. But if that's the very end of the equation, it may be that there were better uses for those hours. I know people who make $20 dollars an hour planning and holding a rummage sale, so I'm not suggesting any rule for things, themselves. What I'm suggesting is a principle for time. It's just good to know where we stand by calculating the real profit of the things that feel economical and productive.
So, keep a record, at least a mental record of what your time is producing--what it's producing for the Kingdom, what it's producing in the hearts of your family members, what it's producing in your checkbook. An honest record lets the inefficiencies and less productive options become apparent. It's a little like making a price book with your time.
Look over your record, and you'll know what you make, in an average hour, pursuing economy and productivity. Then, consider deleting the least productive tasks, adding more tasks like the most profitable ones, and so increasing the value of an average hour.