Help me adjust the amount of time I spend bargain hunting
June 16, 2021 7:41 PM   Subscribe

So in my youth I inherited a frugal shopping habit from my parents. Our family culture values the bargoon! Saving even a few bucks here and there is seen not only as a financial win but a moral win as well. This habit has yielded great benefits over time and was instrumental in setting a road to financial independence. However. Now that I'm older it's clear that time is much more important than money.

I am going to dial down the bargain hunts. But what's a good rule of thumb to use? I'm a bit nerdy so I started thinking that I should make a guess on how many hours I have left to live(!) and then somehow weight those hours against the potential savings I would get from pursuing a discount. e.g. just recently saw a Google wifi unit on sale for $25 down from $160. I started poking around and thinking about organizing an errand run, when it occurred to me the time might not be worth the $ saved. Or is it?
posted by storybored to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Time spent doing things you enjoy is never time wasted.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:56 PM on June 16, 2021 [5 favorites]

Do you need the wifi unit? If you do, you've saved $135. If not, you've wasted $25 and however much time it took.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:01 PM on June 16, 2021 [19 favorites]

It all depends on your time budget. What else has claims on your time? Is it bumping up against other priorities - work, education, health, partner, kids? Or is it something that has synergy with your other goals - e.g. an "errand hang" with friends can be fun, or shopping trips can be reasons to explore new neighborhoods, maybe even by bicycle, etc. There's nothing inherently wrong with it, unless it's causing harm to your relationships and other goals.
posted by dum spiro spero at 8:53 PM on June 16, 2021

Is that kind of savings worth it? It is if you're already planning to buy a wifi unit. It's not if you're only spending the money because you can save so much. You know what's better than spending $25 on a wifi unit? Spending $0 by not buying it at all because you don't need a new one. That seems to be the bit missing from your approach - spending $0 because you don't need the item is better than any savings you can throw at the equation.

As to how much my time is worth, I took my hourly work pay and rounded up a little. Depending on what I'm gauging, I either use my hourly pay or double my hourly pay. My employer says my hourly pay is how much my time is worth, so it seems like a decent place to start. My free time is especially valuable to me, so I double it if I want to protect my free time, which is normally the case for things I don't really want to do. This means things like if it's going to take me an hour, it better be worth double my pay, however I see "worth" in the particular case.
posted by Meldanthral at 9:03 PM on June 16, 2021 [3 favorites]

I tend to compare the time spent to minimum wage. Will the money saved pay me more than minimum wage per hour for the time spent? If it would take me two hours to go get the thing, but working two hours would allow me to buy the thing full price with change, then it's not worth my time.

That said, I buy a lot second hand and mostly don't apply that metric to the time spent just looking because it serves two purposes - a) it's a social activity I share with my sister, as we like to wander around the charity shops, and b) it's a hobby when I'm tired and a bit brain-dead in the evenings and want to scroll a bit. Those things have a value other than just savings, so if you want to cut down it makes more sense just to put a fixed time limit on that "hobby" time.
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:19 AM on June 17, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was raised similarly but here’s the insight I personally needed: the more you shop, the more you spend. It’s not just because you’re physically/online shopping, but because you’re looking, and looking fuels desires. I’ve made it through the pandemic on one new rain jacket, underwear, 2 shirts, and one new pair of PJs.

What I did was the following (over time, not all at once!)

1. Turned my focus to “growing savings” over “saving money,” so upped retirement $$ etc.

2. Gathered a list of places that generally save me money - a reasonably local scratch and dent/repair shop for appliances, the good thrift shops for clothing and dishes, local nursery for garden plants, etc. What gets me the best deals are relationships - my husband taught meditation to our local optician and now I get glasses close to cost.

3. I do grocery shop for loss leaders, I know my local stores and the sales cycle. Also get our veggies through a CSA and a coop.

4. I have three, that’s it, three, stores where I check sales - Costco, Shoppers Drug Mart on 20 points day, and my local art store. I get emails from 3, that’s it, online clothing stores: MEC, Joe Fresh, and Manitobah Mukluks.

5. Since I have kids they do grow. I decided a while ago that I would shop for them in this order: thrift store, Joe Fresh, sports store for shoes, whatever store they love last. We shop twice a year, more or less, make a list and get it done. I do pick up a few things at Costco too. If there’s a weird thing like “white shirt for school concert” (now I know just to buy this) we just buy it. Doing it this way may not already mean the best bargains but we spend less. (Obviously my kids get say, like if they really want a Raptors shirt we work it out.)
posted by warriorqueen at 4:43 AM on June 17, 2021 [6 favorites]

I am also instinctively frugal, but have trained myself not to overthink spending on boring items that I can afford to pay full price for. (In many cases this first requires remembering that I can in fact afford to buy a utilitarian household item instead of going without or struggling with a shitty old one. It still sometimes takes me a while.)

I only bargain hunt for things that are fun to bargain hunt for. I love going to the fleamarket. I love browsing thrift shops. I love rifling through the bargain tables at my local fabric shops. These are all searches for nice surprises, rather than for things that I have an immediate need for that I want to find more cheaply (unless they're things that I am 100% sure to find at the fleamarket because they're plentiful, like old tools or cutlery or crockery).

If I'm buying a USB adapter or a power strip or a headset from my local Amazon equivalent, I will look at a few options to see if any of them is more "worth" buying right now because it's on sale, but I won't go out of my way.

I avoid buying clothing new for sustainability reasons (but also because I love thrift shops), but that doesn't apply to underwear or pyjamas. Most recently I bought these online from local small companies, and specifically felt completely comfortable paying a higher price because I know that clothing prices are artificially low because of fast fashion industry prices. I'm happy to support a local company making a high-quality product.
posted by confluency at 6:13 AM on June 17, 2021 [1 favorite]

After catching up on comments -- once the pandemic is over I am never going back to grocery shopping in person. I've been getting everything delivered by small local suppliers (except for the occasional batch of items from a catering company or Local Amazon ), and it's great. Not just cheaper, but fresher, and there's a much larger selection. I 100% recommend looking for local fresh produce sources.
posted by confluency at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2021 [2 favorites]

If you don't enjoy the process, then this is a job. Consider how much you would charge someone to do that work. If going to a faraway store rather than the store next door would save you $25, simply ask yourself: If someone offered me $25 to do this errand for them, would I take that job?

However, there is a difference between shopping for yourself and doing it for others. So if you actually enjoy the process, go ahead and enjoy it, even if it's not the strictly rational approach. I enjoy browsing thrift stores. The savings I get aren't worth it in a strict wage sense - e.g., I might on average save $5 for an hour errand - but it's a pleasant process, and yes, part of the pleasure I get is that sense you mention of a "moral" win.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:53 AM on June 17, 2021

Best answer: According to this calculator, I value my free time at an equivalent annual salary of $320k. (I did the quiz again just now and this has gone up since I commented in that thread 4 years ago.) Take this quiz. Where do you value your own time, and is that more or less than the time you spend to save money bargain hunting?

Personally, I've reached a point where I spend almost no time bargain hunting and I have no regrets. I'm not making bank, but I'm solvent and I've structured my life so that I don't have to give a shit about providing for anyone but me (no kids, no spouse, I have a savings account for long term dog care, etc). I also don't have expensive taste or wants in general. I've been living in reckless abandon like this for several years now. Buying things at Costco helped me do this because they 1. limit the choice of stock 2. probably have a pretty decent price on it anyway and 3. have an incredibly permissive return policy. It's low risk to make a bad choice. (I say this but the only thing I've ever returned at Costco is a pair of pants. I've always ended up happy.)

My mom is the kind of person who won't buy a $30 toaster without reading several months of consumer reports and doing massive amounts of research. She's always been like this and I've always thought it was a terrible time/value prospect for her, but it's almost a hobby for her. And now she's retired she's got nothing to stop her. Unfortunately, it does not make her happy. She agonizes over purchases for literally months and then when she finally buys something if she's unhappy with it in any way, she takes it as a crushing blow. Because SHE did the research, so it's HER fault. And because she slapped together like 40 coupons to get the best possible deal, she can't even return it when she's disappointed. I can't live my life like that.
posted by phunniemee at 6:54 AM on June 17, 2021 [9 favorites]

Personally, I am much more willing to spend some time bargain hunting and/or looking for a holy grail item when it's something non-essential, but that'd I'd like to have. Is there a similar metric you could apply to your approach? Maybe something like "I'll only go full bargain hunt for large appliances/a new winter coat/kitchen stuff/etc." That way you save time by not feeling like you have to do it for EVERY purchase, but you still get some of the positive benefits.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:27 AM on June 17, 2021

It’s not a bargain if you don’t need the doo-dad in the first place. Stay out of those places.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:36 AM on June 17, 2021

I'm very frugal, learned from my Depression-era parents. Like warriorqueen, I buy most clothing at thrift shops and occasionally ebay. I don't need furniture, but I love looking at free stuff on craigslist, recently added a nicer chair to the dining table, and got rid of a few that are surplus. That was a night-time trip to a local address, and not work, as I find that fun. I avoid amazon deals and most newsletters/ads, because I don't need more stuff. I do buy things on clearance if I know it's really something I need or will need in the next year. I shop at places like Marshalls, mostly to see what's new, but also to buy tights or underwear. If I like something larger, I usually wait; if I really need it, I'll remember and go back. For anything tech-related, I pretty much just buy it on newegg; it's cheaper to only buy as needed than buy stuff on sale that isn't actually needed. I buy used Thinkpads on ebay when I need a new computer.

I do need to research some stuff for the house, as it will be on the expensive side.

I made myself buy a piece of art jewelry I really wanted, to help me break the habit of serious frugality. It's okay to pay for things you really want that are good quality. I'd recommend you shop less, reduce emails from vendors, and take up a new hobby, using your time to expand ideas rather than shop. People and experiences have greater value than stuff.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on June 17, 2021

I'm very frugal, also I get a major reward feeling from getting great deals so this is something I've worked on.

(I just did a weird jazz hand movement thinking about getting a sweet deal)

I've been trying to adjust my shopping habits to support more real people and less corporations - ie, shopping from small businesses, farms, ranchers, or direct from people who make things when possible. If you buy things on sale from these places, you're hurting the people pretty directly, which takes a lot of the sweetness out of the deal for me - so I almost never buy anything on sale anymore. I just paid full price to replace a safety razor that I dropped and broke, even though they offered to replace it for me for free, because the product is great and I want to support them and it was my fault it broke.

Now, I love a dang bargain, so I let myself buy ANYTHING I WANT at the thrift store or garage sales to fill this need in my brain while I try to shift more and more of my purchasing habits towards a more ethical consumption. Over the past couple years that I've been doing this, I definitely have needed that outlet less and less.
posted by euphoria066 at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2021

Another factor you might want to consider is whether it's worth the gas money to keep doing the garage sale and/or thrift store circuit. (I kinda retired from doing garage sales once gas got close to breaking the $3-a-gallon barrier, especially when I couldn't really justify the time and gas money spent just to return empty-handed. The fact that gas is now over $4 a gallon over here isn't exactly enticing me back).
posted by gtrwolf at 11:12 PM on June 17, 2021

« Older Job offer, but I'm terrified... how do I embrace...   |   What is the the best way to stream the Tokyo... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.