Time is money: How bargain hunting can wear a hole in your pocket

Soon after my wife and I decided to move to the big city, I realized that I would have to leave my beloved washer and dryer behind. On the bright side, though, I discovered one of the wonders of urban living: drop-off service.

For a small amount of money (in my neighborhood, it's $0.65 per pound), someone else will wash, dry, and fold your clothes. Given that my wife, daughter, and I generate between 20 and 30 pounds of laundry per week, this ends up being a fairly cheap luxury.

A few months back, however, I switched to a lower-paying job and began looking for ways to cut fat out of the household budged. One of the first things to go was the drop-off service, as I realized that I could wash my family's clothes for roughly half the price that Lula, the Albanian lady at the drop-off service, charges. Feeling self-righteous and fiscally responsible, I began toting my family's clothes to the local laundromat.

While I enjoyed the extra hours of reading and got a kick out of flirting with the Dominican and Puerto Rican ladies, it soon became apparent that, between washing and drying, I was wasting three or four hours a week. With some quick calculations, I realized that laundry, which used to run me roughly $20 a week was now eating up more than $60 a week.

You see, the time that I spent at the laundromat was time away from my computer, where I can earn somewhere around $20 an hour. What's more, I am not a very good launderer, as I have a tendency to melt fuzzy synthetic fabrics. In fact, were I to calculate the value of the slippers, coats, and various other items that I destroyed, my return to laundering probably ran close to $100 bucks a week, at least before I ran out of clothes to melt.

When I realized this, I quickly returned to the wonderful Lula, who seemed to feel that my wife and I had been cheating on her, but nonetheless welcomed us back with open arms.

As I've mentioned a few times before, I'm a little...frugal. I pride myself on my knowledge of the best stores, willingness to endlessly comparison shop, and general ability to sniff out bargains. Sometimes, though, I have to wonder if my desperate attempts to shave nickels and dimes off my household budget come with a pretty heavy price. For example, when I lived in Southwest Virginia, I discovered that one of my local gas stations consistently charged about five cents less per gallon. For months, I would resolutely drive 10 minutes out of my way to buy gas at the Kroger gas plaza, cackling over my wisdom and the fact that I was such a good consumer. Finally, however, I totaled it up and realized that I was only saving between 50 and 75-cents per fill-up. When I factored in the time and stress involved, it was clear that I was probably costing myself money.

Admittedly, I get a serious thrill out of bargain hunting, so it isn't completely honest to weigh all the time that I spend searching for the best deal against any additional profit that I make. Moreover, my wife also enjoys wandering through stores with me, so this can, officially, count as family time. If you add in the joy we get out of making fun of the clothes that other people are wearing, this also counts as entertainment, which increases the profit that we reap from our bargain excursions. In fact, if I were to take this far enough, I could probably convince myself that my wife and I are, effectively, paying ourselves to shop!

Self-delusion aside, though, there are times when I just want to buy something and get it over with. While it's nice to know the best places to pick up various items, I also need to balance the cost against the savings. My new resolution is to take all the time I need in my search for the perfect leather jacket; on the other hand, the next time I need to buy cough syrup, I'm just going to go to Walgreen's and call it a day!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He once spent six months drooling over an Ed Wood Box Set that came with a fake-angora case. It was totally worth it.
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