Things are so darn easy these days – in fact, now more than ever can we humans be ultra productive with our time. Take this bread maker for instance, which my girlfriend and I bought for her mother for Christmas.
Your first reaction might be: “Holy f***! A $400 bread maker?!” Rest assured, there was aggressive couponing involved and a strong sentiment behind the gift. My girlfriend’s mother is now alone since the passing of her husband, loves to make bread, and can now make 10 loaves in the time it would have taken her to make 2 loaves. She gets to pursue her passion with the top of the line device while my girlfriend and I get more bread. Win-win, right?
However, while some purchases can make our lives more efficient and help us pursue our interests, there is a disconnect happening between what our time is truly worth. Take for instance, my colleague Ms. X.
Ms. X is comfortably employed in the public sector, taking home roughy $108,000 a year. I think she’s earning every penny based on her skills. One day over lunch, we were chatting about our plans over the weekend where she informed me she’d be taking her husband and two kids to the Toronto Zoo.
“Oh cool! The Toronto Zoo is great! Did you know you can get a family pass for free at the Toronto Library? All you have to do is line up around 40 minutes before the library opens on Saturday and you’re gold,” I proclaimed.
“40 minutes? On a Saturday? My time is worth more than that.”
At first glance, perhaps she’s right. Perhaps 40 minutes of her time plus a 20 minute drive to the library might not be worth it. But the math disagrees.
Anyone in Ontario making $108,000 takes home roughly $80,000 after tax. Sub in those 10 statutory holidays for us government employees and across 50 weeks of employment and a 40 hour work week, and she’s taking home $40 an hour in after tax dollars. The math looks like this:
$80,000 after tax / (52 weeks – 2 weeks of holidays) = $1600 a week
$1600 a week / 40 hours = $40 per hour
That’s not chump change. Her time is certainly valuable, however, to take herself, her husband and two children to the zoo would cost her $74, which equates to just under 2 hours of work!
When I commented that an hour of her time would save her roughly $80, her comment back was “You make a good point, but I think I’m just too lazy.”
And with that, she defined the hump that holds all of us back from being our best selves, and our best frugal selves.
For the record: I am by no means immune to laziness. Laziness is what holds me back from going to the gym more than once a week and from cooking my own food on some nights.
However, I firmly believe there are two forms of laziness: good laziness and bad laziness.
Good laziness the kind of laziness that’s made Amazon so successful. Why commute any distance and get lost in a massive Wal Mart Supercentre when you can find exactly what you want and have it shipped to you? Or if we want to go further back in time, why drive to the local Blockbuster for a DVD that either might not be in stock or not work when you can just browse an HD library of content from the comfort of your own pajamas?
These services and technologies have freed us of previously menial time spent in transit or browsing for things in vast warehouses. The desire to reduce this menial time is smart. It’s smart lazy. And we should all strive to trim that menial time in favour of better experiences. We can always make more money. We can’t always make more time.
But sometimes, we take that menial time that’s been freed up for granted. Which leads me to…
This is the kind that has you watch six hours of Netflix in one sitting versus the originally planned 30 minutes. Or the kind that tells you that you’d feel much better paying for some service when you can learn to do it yourself.
We interact with this bad type of laziness every day. For example, this morning it’s -6 outside and I’m seriously dwelling foregoing visiting my family in favour of not having to deal with the cold. But that would be bad and I would feel like a terrible person for being so selfish. Plus, I am certain my parents would provide me with a fantastic home-cooked meal.
So how do we overcome bad laziness?
We have to start ascribing opportunity costs to the benefits we forego when we become lazy.
For example, in the Toronto Zoo scenario, if someone told me I could take home $74 tax-free for 20 minutes of driving and 40 minutes of waiting, I’d do it in a heartbeat.
For us frugal folk, this process is easy whenever we start to bring math in – in my case, if I go to the gym only once a month, it’s $65 for that one visit. Now, I can’t reasonably go to the gym every single day to make it just over $2 a visit, but I can settle for a midpoint of what I think the cost of a gym visit ought to be. In my case, if I want $10 a visit, that’s six visits for this month.
The bad news? I just realized we’re halfway through November and I haven’t even gone to the gym yet.
Laziness is costing all of us money. We can do better. And I could stand to exercise more.