Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cost Per Use

I often want to buy sweater dresses, but when I try them on,
they look like they're wearing me instead of the other way around...
Cost per use is something I try to think about, but often fail to think about despite my trying (which I usually do after the fact).  It's a good idea, in theory, but I don't really know exactly how it works.  It seems like, if we 're looking at something like clothes (my biggest budget FAIL) you'd have to assign values to wearings before shopping--possibly be creating some sort of spreadsheet, and that starts to sound like that hateful meal planning I'm always dissing.

For example, let's say that I decide I'd pay $2 to wear a sweater.  That means I'd have to wear a $25 sweater 12.5 times in order to make it a worthwhile purchase.  That makes sense, but it fails to factor in other unknowns at the time of purchase.

  1. Will this sweater wear well?  I've bought this brand before, and I've examined the weave, but what if it shrinks or pills?  Is it my fault if I didn't consider that?  
  2. Do I have to feel guilty if I fail to reach my allotted useages due to shoddy craftsmanship?
  3. Can I change my mind later and say that this sweater was worth $5/ wear just because I'm sick of putting it on?
  4. Do I have to record somewhere, possibly in another spreadsheet, how many times I've worn this sweater, or am I expected to just remember it?
  5. How can you expect me to remember something like that?
This is what I struggle with when debating the cost per use issue.  

When I was in high school, a friend of mine had a similar technique.  As we were both working menial jobs for meager wages, she would look at a price tag and factor in how many hours of work she would have to do in order to get the sweater.  Is this sweater worth five hours of my time?  This seems much more concrete to me, but harder to do on a professional salary.  Since I make more than minimum wage, I tend to look at items and think--that's only a half hour's work!  I can't pass up a deal like that!  Then I get that red line in mint.com that reminds me my budget doesn't care about how few hours I'd have to work to get something, and I wind up with a closet full of clothes I feel lukewarm about.

Some things that do resonate with me as being poor cost per use include:

Online Coupons.  The amount of money your're saving by using coupons is often probably equivalent to what you're spending on ink and paper.  Sure, paper is cheap, but printer ink is decidedly not, and often if you're printing a single coupon from a manufacturer's site, they fill the rest of the page with an advertisement that uses up even more of your ink. When I was using my home printer to do this, I had a hard time getting the black and white setting to stick as well and wound up with a full-color coupon for trail mix, which I don't think I ever actually used. I print most of my online coupons from sites like redplum or coupons.com because you can fit three on a page and it seems slightly less wasteful.  I also print them off at work--shh!

Driving further to get cheaper gas.  As beautifully and hilariously as this cartoon details, driving further for cheaper gas is often a silly use of your time, BUT it's certainly something I've done and will do in the future.  My thoughts on the matter--I'm not that busy, and it's my choice.  Sometimes it's just a good feeling to fill up the gastank for less than $40.  When I do seek out those cheaper gas stations, I'm often bundling that trip with a visit to the grocery store or Target or something, so I'm not just driving to get gas--I'm running important errands. I also frequently fill out online surveys that take 15 minutes and only pay $3.  Is that a huge waste of my time-- maybe, but I wasn't making any money farting around on facebook either, so I still come out ahead.

Going to five different grocery stores to get all of the deals.  We get two grocery store flyers shoved through the mail slot weekly, and there are many times that I've been super-tempted to do a 2x weekly shop, but thankfully my laziness and hatred of shopping have saved me more than once once.  Unless the deal is AMAZING and the store is near where I'm going to be anyway, I just don't do this.  Unless you're a much stronger person than me, you will most likely see other deals that you want to take advantage of, especially if you're in a store with an unfamiliar layout.  Sure, most grocery stores are pretty similar, but there's always subtle differences that send me down an unfamiliar aisle and then I'm confronted with strange foreign chocolates not available at my usual store that I must take advantage of!  For example: My store of choice is Stop and Shop, BF prefers Shaw's.  Both are pretty much the same except my store shelves P&G Tips tea with the rest of the tea and Shaw's puts it in the British section.  The British section is also where the ultra-expensive imported candies like Aero bar and Digestive Biscuits and Jaffa Cakes are, and I need to avoid remembering how much I would like to eat more Digestive Biscuits--especially at $6 for 15 cookies.

Anyone else have any other Cost Per Use hangups or tips?


  1. Interesting post... I'm of the same mindset. My time is worth more... I'm not big into coupons at all, I'll just buy whatever is on sale at whichever store I'm at. People who spend 20, 30, 40 hours a week clipping coupons to get free crap baffle me! Soo many other things could be done in that time! As for clothes, I'll buy quality over & over again. I do try to buy 2nd and, but will always look for high quality.

  2. Amen...Speaking of pumping gas...there are three gas stations in the little town I live in, and yesterday the one that had gas for a penny less than the other two had a line out the parking lot, while the others had nobody. That was definitely a situation where my time was worth more than the quarter saved at the pump. I also don't get shopping at ten different stores and wasting all of that money driving around, likely because stuff is spread out here. Time is almost always worth more than money, at least in my book.

  3. Good post. I'm always thinking about this.