Paycheck Chronicles

How Much Is Convenience Worth?


I've been doing a lot of thinking about convenience, and how we all pay for convenience on a regular basis.  That's not a bad thing, unless your wallet is empty and you're still thinking that it makes sense to pay someone else to mow your yard.  The hardest part is finding the right balance for your life and your budget.  How do you decide?

The reason that I have been thinking about this topic is because of my car.  I drive an eight year old car that has a little glitch that can be a big pain.  The sensor that tells whether one of the doors is shut is not quite properly aligned.  The most obvious symptom is that when driving, the little "door open" light intermittently turns on, then off, then on, whenever it feels like it.  While it isn't ideal, it isn't an actual problem.

What can be an actual problem is when the car is parked, and the same sensor decided that someone is trying to break into the car, setting off the alarm.  It doesn't happen a lot, but enough to be a huge bother.  Invariably, the alarm goes off  at a time when it will draw a lot of attention (like during an event) or at 3 a.m.  I've solved that problem, but at the cost of some convenience.

The solution has been a $8 battery disconnect part that allows me to quickly disconnect the battery any time that having the alarm would be annoying.  When parking the car at night, or at a daytime location where I really don't want to deal with a possible false alarm, I pop the hood and turn the disconnect dial to separate the battery from the car's electrical system.  It takes about 30 seconds, and it solves the random alarm problem.  As a bonus, it also prevents a dead battery if the car isn't driven for a long time, which was super-handy at our last duty station where this was our "spare" car.

Even though this process only takes 30 seconds, some days it feels like a huge imposition.  I can't unlock the passenger doors until I've reconnected the battery, so passengers are left in the rain or cold or hot while I turn the switch.  Sometimes, I think that I'm going back out and then forget, and realize at midnight and have to decide whether to run out or take my chances whether or not the alarm will pick that night to go off.  Also, it seems to make other people uncomfortable that I have to take this extra little step when parking my car.

I've talked to my mechanic, and he reckons that it could be a wild goose chase to try to fix the problem. (Yes, I should probably get a second opinion.  Heck, I've thought of three possible solutions just writing this article, but that isn't actually the point here.)  So, I'm sticking with my current solution for right now.

Some days, though, this minor inconvenience makes me think that maybe it is time to start considering a new car.  That's when the convenience vs. money question comes in.  Distilled to its core, it is a question of whether a minute a day of inconvenience is worth more than the cost of a replacement car.  When asked that simply, the question is clear:  obviously, I can deal with one minute's bother to avoid making a purchase that is likely to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Often, however, the convenience vs. money question isn't so clear.  What about when it will cost you $3 to have your pizza delivered, or 15 minutes to pick it up?  Or 5 minutes to iron a shirt, or $2 to send it to the laundry?  Two hours to mow and trim your yard vs. $50 to the landscaping crew?

There are no right or wrong answers.  Everyone has different preferences, every person's budget is different, and all families have different priorities.  The important thing is that you need to be sure you are making thoughtful decisions and not opting for the most convenient option without thinking about the money involved.

Where do you draw the line?

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