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.

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.