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.

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.)