Thursday, November 29, 2012

$70 saved is $70 earned

One of my pet peeves is, "You have to consider the value of your time when you make something yourself." I'm sure that idea was originally pushed by some marketing executive who wanted to sell something. The simple fact is that unless someone would be paying you right this minute to do something, your time is worth exactly $0. Your time is NOT worth a penny more than what someone is willing to pay you.

It is hard to believe that I have seen people argue that fast food is a good deal financially because it costs less to buy it than to cook a similar meal yourself when you figure in the value of your time. But let's get serious here -- unless you are telling your boss, "I'll be leaving work thirty minutes early today so I can cook dinner for myself, and you can dock my pay," it does not cost you a penny to make dinner. In fact, let's turn this around.

You can easily cook a delicious, healthy dinner for four people for less than $10, whether you want to make homemade pizzas or simply roast a chicken, bake potatoes, and steam some vegetables. To roast a chicken, just put it in a baking pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and if you want to get fancy, use garlic salt and a little rosemary, which will take you less than five minutes. Stick it in the oven. Put the potatoes in a pan and stick them in the oven. Leave the kitchen to do something else for 45 minutes. Come back and check on the potatoes and chicken. If they are done or almost done, put the vegetables in a steamer. Frozen vegetables are often less expensive than fresh, and if you really don't have the two minutes it takes to rinse and chop up broccoli, take 30 seconds to rip open a bag of frozen. Set the table while the vegetables are steaming. If you want some gravy, you can make that from scratch in about five minutes.

It will take you fifteen to twenty minutes to cook this meal. Clean up will take you less than another fifteen minutes, totaling thirty or thirty-five minutes of your time. If you had gone out to dinner at a restaurant, four chicken entrees would have been about $15 each for a total of $60. After you add in drinks and a tip, the check is pushing $80. By cooking at home, you have just saved $70 for 30 minutes of your time, which comes out to $140 an hour.  What else could you have done in 30 minutes to earn $70? And if you had gone to a restaurant, you would have probably spent more than a total of thirty minutes driving to the restaurant, waiting to get seated, waiting to order, waiting for your food, then waiting for the check, and then driving home -- and no one would have paid you for all that time you were driving and waiting!

Ten years ago, we spent $14,000 on food in one year for our family of five! A year later that number had fallen to only $6,000 because we almost completely stopped going out to eat when we were at home. In other words, we would only eat out if we were in the midst of running errands or traveling. If we were home, we didn't all pile into the car to go somewhere for dinner. That was also when it hit me that eating out also takes a lot of time! From the time we left until the time we walked back into the door, it was usually two hours or more. We can cook, eat, and clean up at home in far less time. And yes, we do still go out to eat to celebrate a special occasion sometimes, but it is usually coupled with errands or a trip to the theater in Chicago.

And this can be extended well beyond food. My biggest coup was when we were building our house. I sat down with a kitchen designer at a national chain home improvement store, and kitchen cabinets would have totaled $9,000. After I recovered from the sticker shock, I recalled seeing a factory outlet for kitchen cabinets in Arthur, IL. My daughter and I took measurements of our kitchen and went to the store, which was a huge warehouse with cabinets organized by finish and color. We spent about four hours going through the stacks of cabinets, and finally found a style that had every size that we needed. The total bill was less than $3,000, saving us $6,000 for four hours of work!

So, the next time you catch yourself thinking that something is not worth your time to do, stop and do the math. You will probably discover that you will actually save quite a bit of money by doing it yourself!

This post has been shared at the Prairie Homestead and the Healthy Home Economist.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's NOT all or nothing

A couple of weeks ago I was being interviewed on a radio talk show, and after I said that people could save a lot of money by making their own coffee at home instead of buying it at a coffee shop, the interviewer seemed to suddenly panic and was quick to interrupt and say, "But we're not telling people to stop going to coffee shops! Sometimes you have to go out and have a cup of coffee with friends ..." and he went on for a few more sentences, chuckling nervously. My first thought was that there must be a coffee shop that advertises on his show and he was worried about losing their ad money, but I think that a lot of people have the misconception that you have to go into an ecothrifty lifestyle a hundred percent or not at all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. You don't have to toss out your electric clothes dryer or stop buying a latte on the run. The most important part of an ecothrifty lifestyle is to simply start thinking about how you're spending your money.

We drink organic, shade grown, fair trade coffee, and it costs us 80 cents to make a 12-cup pot, which is far less than it would cost to get a single cup at any coffee shop, restaurant, or fast food establishment. Some people don't make coffee at home ever. If you fall into that camp, just start thinking about how much money you could save every day if you made your morning cup o' joe yourself. You can even get a coffee maker with a timer, and it will be ready for you when you wake up. And if you are the only coffee drinker in your house, you can get one of the single-cup coffee makers.

Owning a coffee maker and using it does not make it illegal for you to ever stop at a Starbucks and have a cappuccino. When I'm traveling, I often get a cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon, especially if I'm in the middle of a long drive. If I were more organized, I might think ahead enough to put some coffee in a thermos for one of my long drives, but believe me when I say (sadly) that I'm not that organized.

And I'm not just talking about coffee here. We own a clothes dryer and a clothes line. I shop at thrift stores, garage sales, and department stores, and I've had a friend make some of my clothes for me. We cook meals at home when we're here, but I eat out when I travel or am spending the day running errands. Again, I wish I were organized enough to pack a lunch, but alas, I'm not -- at least not yet! And the list goes on.

I'm absolutely certain that the reason a lot of people won't even try to live a more ecothrifty lifestyle is because they think it's all or nothing. I've often heard people say that they're not going to give up their _________. Well, you don't have to! You can have the best of both worlds. Save money by making your own coffee and using a clothesline when you can, and go the more expensive route when you need to. If you happen to be driving through a nice neighborhood and you see a garage sale, pull over and have a look. There is nothing like the adrenaline rush of finding beautiful, like-new clothes for a buck or two each!

I can understand why people avoid making positive lifestyle changes if they think that they have to be committed one hundred percent. I can't imagine that very many people actually succeed if they try to do that. I've been on this path for more than two decades. It's all about baby steps and gradually changing your life. Small doable changes become habits, whereas you are much more likely to fail if you try to make drastic changes overnight. No one is living the perfect ecothrifty life. We're all on the same path, doing what we can to save money and live a greener life.

This post was shared at Tasty Traditions, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Homestead RevivalThe Healthy Home Economist, New Life on a Homestead, and The Prairie Homestead.
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