Are You Saving Money or Wasting Time? - Christine Kane

I was in line at the post office recently. I watched as a man haggled with the postal clerk to see how many brochures he could put in his envelope before the postage price jumped to the next level. When he realized that the next level was only 17 cents higher, he tried to see how many brochures he could fit in the envelope until the next next level. At some point, he decided the cost was too expensive. He then pulled out brochures until the envelope was just at the edge of the price that he deemed to be too high. After ten minutes of this, he paid the postmaster and left.

This is not a rant about how long I had to wait in line. Nor is it a rant about a random man at the post office.

This man is all of us. Especially if we’re self-employed, or artists, or business owners. Maybe we don’t obsess over a postage meter in order to save a dollar. But many of us have money-saving habits that ultimately waste money.

The value of time

Let’s say that the man at the post office is an artisan selling a product. Let’s say that he was sending his brochures to an exclusive crafts conference for display on a small table. Let’s say it took him 15 minutes to drive to the post office, and 15 minutes to drive back to his studio. If we include his haggling time, that’s 40 minutes. Add in the extra time it takes to shift focus and do a task like this – 10 minutes on either end. This brings his time expenditure to one hour.

So, let’s look at this like a junior high math problem:

A man crafts beautiful wood walking sticks that sell for $750 – $1500 each. It takes him five to ten hours to make each stick. How much is his time worth per hour?

If you said, “$75 to $150 per hour,” then you’re correct.

Let’s continue.

A man’s time is worth $75 – $150 per hour. He spends one hour going to the post office so that he can save $1 on postage because he believes in being frugal. How much money did his trip to the post office save him?

If you said, “One dollar,” you’re wrong.

It actually cost him $74. (Plus gas.)

Let’s say the man decides instead to stay home and spend the morning working on a new design of one of his walking sticks. Let’s say he gets lost in the creativity and focus. Let’s say he enjoys the day and almost finishes a new walking stick. At 3pm, he looks up at the clock and remembers the brochures he has to mail. His mailman usually comes at 3:30. The man, unsure of how much postage the envelope will require, stuffs a bunch of brochures into it, and puts $4 in postage on the envelope just so he can be sure it’ll make it to its destination. How much money did he just waste?

If you said, “Three dollars,” you’re wrong.

He actually saved $71 because he spent his time doing what makes him the most money. (Plus the added bonus of being happier and meditative, which contributes massively to his overall health.)

The lesson is this: A penny saved is not always a penny earned. Suze Orman is not always right in her techniques for squeezing every last dollar out of a day. The equation of your finances has to take into account how much your time is worth, and how much you value what you do with your time.

Have you ever stopped to figure that out?

  • bradford stewart

    This is the best thing I have ever read. What a wonderful and direct observation of how I spend my day.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks glenda!

    hi bev – i’m actually going to be in dc that weekend with my parents, so I can’t join you. thanks so much for the offer. it sounds like great fun!

  • Bev Brand

    Dear Cristine,
    Please look at your calendar and see if you can make it to Peace Valley Campground with the Sisters on The Fly June 28 to July 1st. We can make room for you.
    Murphy, NC. The campground is sold out for that weekend but we are making room for tents with our vintage campers. Wish you could check us out.

  • Glenda Watson Hyatt

    Great post, Christine. Definitely made me stop to think.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks tony! you’re absolutely right.

    hi angie, i look at it a little differently. i think it’s tempting for artists (myself included) to play down our value per hour. if the man even sells one stick at $750, then that’s how I would encourage him to spend his time – making more sticks. that’s where the money is coming. (of course, this would assume he loves doing that work, too.) this isn’t to say he shouldn’t engage in business-y stuff – but it is to say that spending time haggling over a few dollars isn’t worth his time. at some point, artists have to take the risk to DECIDE what they’re worth. and sometimes that’s a leap of faith. i also try to avoid language like “few craftspeople are in this enviable position.” That sounds like every letter my parents wrote to me when I first started playing music for a living! some of what this post is about is that the decision to BE in this enviable position comes – surprisingly – BEFORE the enviable position!

    thanks karenlim! you always add a good dose of law of attraction to the conversation. (and of course, that is what this post is about when it comes down to it!)

  • karenlim

    Christine, are you a singer or financial person?

    You really never fail to amaze me with your perspective in life

    I am an accountant trained person. For accountant, it is easier to fall in the trap of spending time to squeeze/ save money.

    You are absolutely right to point out that it does not necessarily make all the senses. But it definitely take experience to appreciate this perspective of money.

    Everything is relative. I remembered I hate loan so much that at one point I wanted to convince my hubby to allow me to use all our savings to pay our mortgage loan.

    He convinced me not to on the basis that we are earning 15% return on the funds and we are incurring 2.8% interest on the loan. So it is a matter of relative. Loans could be good too if you can put the money into a better use.

    The same thing applies here. If you can spend the time on better yield generating activities, then it is good to outsource to a courier person to take charge of delivery.

    One thing that truely transforms my own personal financials is to not think about debt. But focus my thoughts on prosperity. I am not sure if law of attraction is a little off topic here, but it is certainly something which transforms my life and I thought it may be a interesting perspective for the readers.

    Not to make the comment too long, here is the link on how I use thoughts to earn me the 15% yield versus focusing on getting rid of 2.8% interest:-

    Cheers, karen

  • Angie Hartford

    I have been given much to think about from both the posts, and the comments. Another scenario: What if this man is going to do a similar mailing each week for the next several months? In that case, his trip to the post office would be research for an ongoing project that would help him to keep his overhead to a minimum.

    Another thing to ponder: Is this man capable of selling all the walking sticks he can produce? If so, I applaud him; few artists/craftspeople are in that enviable position. If not, doing his own errands can help support his business. If he truly can be making $75/hr (and, like Judy, I’m not convinced this would be the “real” number), then he’s better off hiring an assistant to not only go to the post office, but to handle any reasonable task he’s not inclined to perform.

    I love this scenario, because it’s getting so much dialogue going, and because it helps us to remember that we never know the whole story behind any situation.

  • Tony D. Clark

    Wonderful insights as always, Christine.

    I always tell clients that there are two types of currency – money and time. Only one of those can be replenished.

    No matter how hard you work, you can’t make more time 🙂

  • Christine Kane

    hi caren – thanks for your hard-earned wisdom!

    thanks stacey! i read that book too. it sounds like you really got lots out of it!

  • Stacey

    Great post! And I love how much response it has generated – have you noticed that the posts on money tend to get the most response? Just curious.

    I read Your Money or Your Life about 15 years ago and it changed my life. I spent the next 10 years “working” more than I wanted to, and perhaps more than was healthy, but I saw that when I decided to have a child I would be ready to “work” less and “live” more. I remember when I told my parents that I would only work one 24 hour shift a week doing a job I love and my husband wouldn’t work for money at all because he wasn’t able to find a paying job he loved (we felt his time was best spent doing the unpaid work he loves – political/community organizing and creative writing). They were incredulous – “You can’t do that!” – but 4 years later they see that we are still doing it and have enough money (although we do budget carefully!), and as my dad says, “You can’t argue with success.”

  • Caren

    I was thinking something along these lines when you wrote your post about gas prices. I used to be really hyper aware of which station had the cheapest prices — “There’s one! Wow! Four cents less!” — until one day, I realized at *most* that’s going to save me 48 cents when I filled up. I drove as little as I could get away with (now my car is broken, so not at all! But when I still drove), so I filled up maybe once every week and a half, sometimes less, sometimes more. Over the course of a year, I might save around $25. And HOW much time was I spending looking for/driving to the cheaper station? Not worth it.

    A big shift occurred for me, too, when I determined I wouldn’t take a job for less than $11 an hour. I love being with my boys, but being a single homeschooling mom, my first thought was to take any job that came along and be grateful (gotta pay those bills!) — until I realized my time at home was worth a lot. You can’t put a dollar amount on it, the peace that comes from connection, the way our days flow better when I’m not rushing off to work. Shortly after I made that decision, I got the job I have now — working from home (for more than $11 an hour) at a meaningful job that helps people out.

  • Christine Kane

    hi dean – of course you’ve painted other very valid options here. (i have so many artists and creative people who read this blog – they love to see the myriad possibilities for a scenario. it’s kind of cute!) i have often been one of those “people who like to follow that model” that you describe. i think that the model is outdated, and i’ve learned so much from questioning those old assumptions about how to do business…

    hi deb – great point. it reminds me of something a friend said to me when i was about to hire an assistant for my office, “just because you CAN do it, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.”

  • Deb

    Another issue is whether the person has a concept of being valuable and their time being valuable. Adjunct to that is whether they believe there is any more money in the pipeline to replace what they are spending. The subtle messages of childhood don’t die just because you got a check in the mail this week.

    Also someone mentioned the “have time vs. have money” equation. I heard this a lot not only as a child but as a young wife: “There are people to whom God gave time and those to whom he gave money. Those to whom he gave money hire others to do their stuff, and those to whom he gave time do it themselves.” Taken to an extreme it is a prison sentence.

  • Dean

    A couple of other ways to look at this.

    – One alternative is that haggling with the postman over the multitude of options on posting is one form of relaxation and this allows him to clear his mind so to speak after spending a tough day at his true work. His brain and creativity are at low ebb and he needs a diversion to re-group. Yes this is a strange way to get there but it happens.

    – Another is that he is following the “way of business,” or more to the point, he is pinching pennies that he can clearly see in a way that matches how one is to do business. People like to follow this model, notwithstanding your fine analysis, which calls for more focus than haggling at the post office requires.

    As always I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks.

  • Christine Kane

    hi joy! and thanks – but i, too, go on automatic pilot at times! (next post is going to be about how i catch myself doing things just like this man at the post office!)

    thanks sylvia! i’m about to release a brand new song for a free download next week. so now you get to have another one!

    hi susanne – i, too, have learned a lot from suze orman. But a songwriter friend and i were realizing recently that we over-do it at times – and that suze doesn’t always take into account the idea of time vs. money.

    hi microman – yes, i simplified my example and didn’t take into account a wife and baby etc. but even with those things, the idea of using an hour of your time to save a dollar or two is still the point. sitting with his wife and talking would have probably been more valuable than going to the post office to save that dollar!

    hi april – obviously, this is a personal decision, and i understand the cost of making a website. i needed to have webguy do my site so that i could do things like go on the road, teach workshops, write songs, blogs, etc! (plus, i’m just terrible at code!) still, it’s tempting to say “hey, i could learn this myself, coudn’t i? you’ll probably gain a lot by doing your own site. that’s pretty valuable too!

    hi judy – i hear you. you’re not nitpicking. musicians laugh at how the occasional naive person will say “wow! you made a few thousand bucks just to perform for an hour!” all the while, you think to yourself “AND to pack all my bags, get on a plane, rent a car, record the CDs, hire the musicians, etc.” There are always those hidden things we don’t see. HOWEVER, the truth remains for me that I will almost always benefit by prioritizing my time in terms of my craft and my writing. this post wasn’t written to say “look how much money those artisans make!” it was to say “when it comes down to it, isn’t your time more valuable than haggling over a dollar or two?”

  • Judy

    As a craftsperson, I only have to quibble with your calculation of his hourly rate….it does not take into account his costs of being in business; the overhead and selling expenses which do cost time and money. For instance, getting those brochures designed and printed. And paying postage. In reality, this artisan is probably only making about $12.50 to $25.00 per hour for his labor rate.
    I am being picky about this because so many people do not understand these costs of being a professional artist or craftsperson when they evaluate the price of a handcrafted object. There are miles and miles between $12.50 per hour and $75.00 per hour. And the artist who calculates their prices without taking these things into account may soon wonder why they can’t seem to make ends meet when they should be making $75. per hour.

    I hate to be picky about this, with a post I truly agree with in every other respect. Thank you for the intention. And I apologize for nitpicking!

  • April Groves

    You are so right!

    I use this evaluation when I consider different activities – do I have more time or more money? I wouldn’t haggle at the post office because in that case, I have more money. I am learning to build my own website (much larger expense) because in that instance, I have more time.

  • microman

    I really like your analysis. I love doing such back of the envelope calcs(BOTEC) myself though I’ve never blogged one. I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind in your scenario. 1) This guy may actually be sending out hundreds of pieces each month so that $0.17 becomes $17/month for each 100 pieces mailed. 2) He may not be able to make that $75 or $150 with the same hour he used going to the post office. Maybe he’s limited by raw materials or by demand at his price point or maybe his wife doesn’t like him spending more than 4 hours a day making walking sticks because the baby’s crying all day and she needs relief from that!

    For me, I know this line of reasoning would probably just end up with me spending more money with the goal, but not necessarily the result, of making more money. All in all, nice job, I’m inspired to do some BOTEC blogs myself.

  • Susanne

    Yes, I have. Though I still struggle with the fact that I don’t get paid for most of my work but in a way all that work still is necessary for the work I get paid for. I don’t believe in haggling. I believe in money flowing back and forth. I rather pay a little more instead of spending half an hour more to go to a place where the same thing is a little cheaper.

    On the other hand I do have a lesson to learn from Suze Orman, and so I am a little more careful with my money nowadays. I’m actually budgeting! Who would have thought…

  • Sylvia C.


    Wow! What a blog you have here. And, I love this post.

    I just downloaded your free song, and I am now on your mailing list. I can’t wait to read through more of your past posts (I already enjoyed the one about 21 ways to creativity.).

    I hope you had a great weekend!

    Sylvia C.

  • Joy

    christine, you are truly amazing! i know you have written about a “duh” here and i, also, know most people never think about these things. they just go on automatic pilot. automatic pilot is the opposite of being concious. you are one of the most concious people i’ve ever known.