The Cost of Convenience

Did you know that your behavior can save money or cost you money?  Convenience is usually more expensive.  You pay more for your food if it’s prepared and served to you in a restaurant.  Typically, parking fees are higher the closer you are to a venue.  It’s cheaper, but less convenient to walk further.  These are obvious choices that you’re usually aware of.  But there are other places where you’re paying more that aren’t so obvious.

We stopped putting the cat food outside when we found this well-fed raccoon.

When I lived near downtown Saratoga Springs, there were 3 stores where I could buy milk within a six block radius.  I know this because I had three kids in four years and spent a lot of time pushing a stroller around.  I knew every sidewalk crack and alley shortcut better than most natives.

The closest store was called Five Points and was right at the corner of a five-way intersection.  It was one of those quaint stores where you could buy milk and cheese, order a freshly-made deli sandwich, get lottery tickets, t-shirts, and an endless selection of candy and ice cream.  When I was a kid, every town in the Adirondacks had at least one of these stores, usually with a squeaky front door. The only difference was in tourist season, there were boxes of worms in the cooler for fishing.

I never bought milk at Five Points because they charged $3.49 for a gallon. I’m just using this price for reference.  I honestly don’t remember the real price, just the comparison.  We had a chain of local convenience stores over several counties that were known for their high quality, low-priced milk.  That was one benefit of living near lots of dairy farms in northern New York State.  The chain store sold milk for $2.99 per gallon and they gave you a free one after you’d purchased ten.

To get to the chain store, I only needed to walk an extra two blocks.  With three kids, it was actually easier to walk than strap them all in their car seats and drive.  I just chose sunny days for our strolls, walked to the farthest store for the best price, and bought a few gallons at a time.  We all got some fresh air and exercise, which was my parents’ remedy for everything.

Five Points was a block north of a large complex of low-income housing.  I’d see people from that neighborhood at Five Points but I wouldn’t see them at the chain store.  The people that went to Five Points were still saving money though.  There was a smaller convenience store right across the street from the entrance to their neighborhood.  That store sold the same gallon of milk for $3.99.

What can you do to counter the cost of convenience?

It may seem easier to get your groceries, pet food, and clothes all at one store and I’m sure it is easy.  Compare the price of eggs, bananas, toothpaste, or even milk.  Those common items vary widely by price.  I know one department store that charges per banana rather than by the pound.  If you figure that most bunches have five bananas in them, you’ll see that you usually pay more to get just one banana at a time.

Bob and Mary saving money by picnicking in the 1970s.

My parents went shopping about once a week.  They drove 20 minutes to a bigger town that had several grocery stores.  They’d pack a cooler for refrigerated items and visit at least two stores, sometimes three to get the best prices.  They’d fill the gas tank before they went home because gas was usually a good 10 cents cheaper in that town.  There were more gas stations in the area so they had more competitive prices.

It was their routine and really only cost them an extra hour of time each week.  The money they saved was significantly more than they would make by working one extra hour a week.  When they were retired,  they were still saving that extra money because it was already a habit.

Gas Buddy is just one app to help you find the best prices for gas.  You can search for similar apps for your local stores.

Free Pens and Free Money

Bob enjoying some free time in the Air Force barracks. Sometime around 1950.

“I’ll take a free sample!” was what my dad always replied when you asked if he needed anything while you went out to the bank.  He loved free things.  He and my mom would plan their grocery trips around lunchtime and nibble on all the free samples.  Sometimes it was enough food that they could skip lunch altogether.  Asking for a free sample from the bank was his joke that maybe, someday, they would give out dollars as free samples.

When dad went to the bank, he got the next best thing to free samples, free pens.  He would come home with  5 or 6 from each trip.  When all the pen-holders at his house were filled up, he would hand me a bunch wrapped in a rubber band whenever I visited.  It didn’t matter that they were crappy pens that couldn’t retract the inky point and they ran out of ink quickly.  They were free so he was taking them.

I learned what could get in the way of this mindset when I started my massage business.  A friend hosted a “success workshop” at her business which sounded intriguing.  It had a price of $25 if you bought a ticket in advance or $30 if you paid at the door.  Usually, I took the discount, but not this time.  I couldn’t  decide if I was going or not.  That evening I showed up, paid my $30 and sat in a circle on the floor of a yoga studio.

The teacher put a $20 bill in the middle of the floor, said anyone was welcome to it, and then proceeded to talk about everything except that $20.  After about ten minutes, one man went to the middle, grabbed the money, and sat back down.  Then, the teacher told us the lesson.  When you see or hear of an opportunity, act on it.  If there’s an offer of money to be had, go for it.  Then, he told the man that he could keep the $20.  I was dumbfounded. Teachers use these kind of things to illustrate a point, but that guy was rewarded for acting first!  The teacher didn’t want the money back.  It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

On the way out, the teacher asked me what I did.  I was still working a desk job to pay the bills while I built my massage business. I joked, “Do you want to know what I do to make money or what I really love to do?”  He was dead serious when he replied, “I only want to talk about what you love to do.”

It turns out that he was a business coach.  I was impressed so I worked with him for a few sessions.  He helped me discover that I had trouble marketing my business because I was afraid of being seen which could possibly lead to being rejected.   So, I was really afraid of being rejected, which is a common fear.  Once I knew that, I realized how unreasonable it is to have everyone like your work.  If only a small percentage of people heard of me and became regular clients, that’s all I needed to have a financially successful business.

I also didn’t forget that my fear cost me $5 that night.  Sure, it’s a small amount of money, but wouldn’t you rather learn your lessons on small stuff instead of big stuff?  My fear of being rejected was why I couldn’t commit to going to the class ahead of time.  Subconsciously, I knew that if I went, it would help launch my massage business and then a few people might not want to be my clients.  Now, my rational mind knows that I can handle that rejection.  In fact, I want that rejection.  I couldn’t possibly massage everyone!

I take a free pen here and there from places like a liquor store, a bank, or a hotel.  It’s like that $20 in the middle of the circle.  It’s free for whoever gets it first.  Businesses want you to have their pens.  It’s one way to get the word out about them.  Taking a free pen helps you remember the business name, contact info, and your experience there.  But for me it’s also a way to remember my dad.

Have Fun With It

If you have any anxiety around money or math, you’re not alone.  You’re probably in the majority, yet there is a simple way to ease your fears.   Find out what puts you in a relaxed, happy, receptive mood.  Is there a certain kind of music, a smell, or a place that fills your heart and lets your guard down?  Is there a photo that brings out a wonderful memory?   All you need to do is place triggers to set this kind of mood when and where you’re working on your finances.

Associations are subtle, but powerful.  Sometimes when my head is stuck in a game app on my phone, I’ll remember the sounds on TV the last time I played.  For half the year, it’s usually a Yankees baseball game that my husband is watching.

For example, my dad would always make noises like he was shifting gears in a race car when we were driving in our wood-paneled station wagon.   It always made me laugh so I associate driving with this memory of fun and now I love to drive.

Set up a desk or a small table in your home where you feel safe and loved.  Play music, put photos, diffuse essential oils, sip a deluxe coffee, or look out on a favorite view.  Maybe you have a favorite lamp from a special relative who made you smile.  Put any associations there which bring you joy, comfort, and confidence.

Most of all, have a comfy chair, stool, or big squishy ball to sit on.  Sometimes, I use an extra big inflated exercise therapy ball.  Without thinking, my body is constantly  making little adjustments to stay on the ball.  It strengthens hip muscles that keep my back from hurting, plus it engages my easily-distracted brain just enough to allow my focus to stay on the numbers in front of me.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Do you remember that feeling when you first learned to ride a bike on your own, or learned to whistle?  It took hours, days, and weeks of practice. When I did errands with Dad after school, I’d be creating weird squawks as I pursed my lips and blew while dangling my feet in waiting room chairs, while swishing my arms at his side at a checkout counter, and occasionally for brief stops just hanging out in the front seat of the car.

My parents had friends down the street from our school and we’d go over there some afternoons.  I had been practicing on my bike for weeks and weeks and was so frustrated.  Dad convinced me to try it again as he held onto the back of my bike.  I pedaled earnestly as I felt the sun come and go on my shoulders as I rode under the spotty spring tree leaves.

I was starting to enjoy the slight breeze on my face as I gained speed.  Then, a voice in the distance boomed out, “You’re doing it on your own!”  The rush and tingle came up from my gut into my shoulders as I beamed with pride.  Then, of course, I lost my focus and promptly fell over onto the pavement.

But after that, I could pedal on my own every time I climbed on the bike and I became stronger and more adept.  Nothing could stop me because I kept on trying.  Working with money and numbers doesn’t come easy to most people.  Yet, if you keep practicing, you’ll be able to manage your money as effectively as you ride your bicycle built for two and whistle at the same time.

How This Works

My parents loved flea markets.  You could get things for such a small amount of money and there were a lot of them when I was little.  Each year, one took over a large area in the center of a nearby city.

Being a sucker for sparkly things (ooh, shiny!), I would bring my dollar bill to the sale and fall in love with 10 cent glasses and small dishes.  I usually walked away with more than a dollar worth of merchandise and an IOU to my parents for hours of chores to work off what I borrowed.

That is exactly how credit cards work, except credit card companies charge interest and my parents didn’t (thanks, Dad!).  I was also a kid so I had free time to do the chores to pay off my debt.  If you’re already working full-time, you might not be able to work extra hours to pay for things you bought on credit.

Most money troubles are not due to lack of income.  They’re due to a failure to manage cash flow.  The short explanation is that you’re spending money faster than you’re making it.  With a little bit of planning, you can live comfortably on what you make.  Then, you can choose a few affordable luxuries.

My viewpoint is that if you build a comfortable relationship with your income and expenses you can create a life where you’re not worrying about money.  When you’re free of that anxiety, you have a chance to truly enjoy everything so much more.  That’s what these blog posts are about.

(I’m the one in the yellow coat.  I’m also surprisingly clean in this photo.  I probably rolled in the snow right before my mom took the picture.)