When is it worth it to spend money to save time?
During my fiance’s first year in medical school, we ordered our groceries from Instacart at least every two weeks. I really hated going to the crappy downtown Publix that we live closest to, and I was usually too tired to go by the time I got home from work. The membership fee and constantly tipping our various shoppers and drivers was expensive, but in my mind, it was worth it. Our lack of food in the house was often frustrating and started more than a few arguments about what the hell we could possibly cook without going to the grocery store first. We wanted our time back, and we wanted the stress - both about the store and between us - to stop. Plus I was saving multiple hours of my life every week by paying a little extra on top of my usual grocery bill, and I wasn’t tempted to throw any random junk food into my cart. At least on those fronts, it was a win-win.
This year (my fiance’s second year in med school) we decided not to renew our membership. He was a little more flexible with his time, so we tried to make grocery shopping into something fun we could do as a couple. We started going to Lucky’s Market instead of Publix. For those of you who have not discovered the magic of Lucky’s, let me just tell you this: the carts have cup holders for the cheap beer and wine you can buy while you shop. It’s like a date night and an errand in one. Besides having more fun doing the actual shopping, we also talked more about our meals and made more of an effort to eat together.
Thinking about our own shift from paying for saved time to taking the time to pay less made me wonder how we draw the line. When is it worth it to spend money to save time, and when should you just do something yourself?
To help you find your own answer, I came up with a few questions you should ask yourself before deciding to drop cash that will spare you a few hours’ work:
1. How much of a priority is the task in question?
Groceries, housecleaning, and laundry can all seem like very pressing matters when you’re caught up in a stressful moment. Before you pay someone else to lift some of that weight off your shoulders, think about how much of a priority it really is. Can the laundry usually wait a day or two? Do you really have no groceries in the house, or are you just stumped about what to do with the ingredients you have?
Prioritizing also gives you a clearer idea of how much money you are willing to spend on something. If it’s a small task, but it will cost you $50 to get someone else to do it, do you feel that that $50 is better spent elsewhere?
2. How long does the task actually take you?
I have to be honest, I have totally thought about hiring someone to clean our one-bedroom apartment. What’s stopped me every time has been thinking to myself, how long will cleaning this dinky, 750-square-foot apartment really take you? The answer is usually just a couple of hours on the weekend. Thinking about how long something really takes helps you put in perspective whether you actually need help or if you’re just being a little lazy.
3. Will not doing the task significantly lower your stress levels?
Some people have one or two chores that they just absolutely hate. For me, it was going to the grocery store. Until I found a way to do it on my own terms, it was so much less stressful to just get my groceries delivered. If you’re living with a roommate or partner, you should also think about how hiring someone else to do the task will affect your relationship. If deep-cleaning the bathroom has caused a couple yelling-matches, it may be worth it to pay for that task to get taken off your plate.
Next time you feel like you’d rather be doing anything than whatever chore or errand you’re stuck on, run through these questions. You could have a busy-year-in-med-school, Publix-is-horrible kind of situation, or you could have the opportunity to make something into your Lucky’s.