All the Small Things

A little hard work can go a long way.

A little hard work can go a long way.

First post!  To commemorate my maiden voyage onto this blog, I thought I’d put together a quick list of Things I Don’t Get Right.  Or easy mistakes that I make.  These might not necessarily apply to anyone else, but I found it useful as a mental exercise; finding and admitting my missteps to myself.  Nothing terribly large; there’s no spur-of-the-moment sports car here.  However, little things can add up over time.  So if I manage to do a little better, over a year or two some small changes could add up.  Let’s start with a couple quick examples.

Not Planning Ahead:

The other day I ran out of razor blades.  Not a big deal, you can buy them online fairly cheaply…but if I had thought to check ahead of time, I could have bought them on sale.  Things like that are small and easy to store, don’t expire, and you can reliably figure out ahead of time when you’ll be needing to restock.  Toothpaste is another great example; you can always find deals or coupons for toothpaste, so why pay full price?  Well, you don’t, unless you’re like me and don’t plan ahead.  Then you feel shame.  Shame from paying full price at 11 pm at the pharmacy.  Or the gritty-teeth, two-day stubble type of shame from failing basic hygiene.  You (I) can do better than that!

Another great example: it’s Tuesday afternoon and I’m a little on the tired side.    Stayed up a little late the night before and the morning coffee didn’t quite cut it.  So it’s off to pick up another, or possibly an ice-cold coke.  Except if I had bothered to plan ahead I could’ve paid say four dollars for eight bottles of Coke instead of two dollars per.  So once again, my lack of foresight puts me another dollar down.  Not a big deal, except there are ~260 workdays a year.

Impulse:

chipsThey say that you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach.  When I do, I usually end up coming back with a couple ‘extra’ items, like chocolate milk or chips.  Now, I can do math, so I buy the wavy chips instead of the rippled kind (the price per ounce is less for several different brands, believe it or not).  I steer clear of the ‘party size’, since it’s actually more expensive per ounce as well.  But then I see that Stax are on sale so I throw a few in the cart.  They’re delicious, easy to eat at work, and did I mention delicious?  But they usually work out to $0.53 per ounce, compared to a regular bag of chips at $0.20 per ounce.  So all my clever calculations were thrown out the window with a last-second purchase.  I’m not advocating buying potatoes (at $0.03 per ounce!) or forgoing chips altogether to save a few dollars.  But controlling an impulse or two would go a long way toward a smarter, leaner grocery bill.

Grand Plans:

The opposite occurs when I make grand plans.  Not so much with groceries; this is usually when I find myself at the Local Hardware Superstore.  I have a quick DIY project to finish, and I could buy that $7 tub of drywall compound since it’s more than enough.  But there’s an enormous $14 dollar vat right beside it, and if you work it out, the price per ounce is so much cheaper.  I could definitely fix up a couple other spots around the house, and who knows what else?  So I go for it, filled with grand plans and high hopes.  Of course I probably won’t end up using it before it dries out into an unusable crumble in the basement, so that’ll be another $7 gone to waste.  Not a big deal, but if you start totaling up the other odds and ends I’ve bought with similar ideas in mind, that’s when it starts to add up.  Boxes of nails (for projects!), sandpaper (grit!) and other tools end up lying unused in the basement, and the dollar count gets a little larger.  I definitely need to scale back and decide whether I really need that extra can of paint in the cart, or if the one I have at home is enough for now.

Motivation Deprivation:

ledI was thinking about buying a couple new dress shirts for work; my rotation’s been a little lean lately.  I ripped one shirt and lost a couple buttons on another.  So the shirts went to the back of the closet to be forgotten.  Replacing a couple buttons is out of my comfort zone, but when I finally buckled down and figured out how to sew them on it wasn’t that bad.  It took me a couple YouTube videos, a dollar for a spool of thread, an hour of work in front of the TV and a few off-color words (for when the needle met my finger.  The needle won.).  The ripped shirt was a little harder, and it doesn’t look 100% like it used to, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Another example is the distinct lack of LED light bulbs in the house.  There are a few, but I’ve only replaced a bulb here or there as they burnt out.  I’ve told myself that I’m waiting for the tech to improve, or that I may as well just wait so that I don’t throw perfectly good bulbs out.  In reality those are excuses, not facts.  The truth is that I just haven’t bothered to a) find the LED bulbs for us and b) work out the math.  Why?  Because I’ll get to it, errr, tomorrow.  Oh all right, let’s see:

The kitchen light is on for let’s say an average of 3 hours a night.  Electricity is sold by the kWh (1000 W, used for an hour), costing roughly 15 cents per unit.  So a 100 W light bulb on for 3 hours is 0.3 kWh, or 4.5 cents per night.  Over the course of a year, that light will cost 1642.5 cents to operate.  There are some decent LED 100 W-equivalent bulbs available at around $10 per bulb, which only use 14 W for the same light output.  Running one of these for a year would only cost $2.05.  Which means that if I went out and replaced that light bulb right now it would pay for itself, including the opportunity cost, in about a year.  And the next year, well that’s just more money freed up for chips!  I guess I have some work to do next weekend.

Add It Up

Really, none of these things are that big of a deal.  Even taken together, my foibles probably cost us a few hundred dollars a year.  But I bet that if I thought a little harder, I could come up with a few more things to improve upon.  And a few hundred dollars a year could buy me not one, but several nice bottles of whiskey, and they would look a whole lot nicer in the dining room than that crumbling vat of drywall compound.  Now there’s some motivation for me.

 

 

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