Time, Frugality, and Values

A few days ago, I wrote about the dilemma of whether it’s worth spending twenty minutes arguing to earn $10, a post that I hoped would generate some good discussion (and it certainly did). For me, I wouldn’t engage in the argument – it’s not worth it to me to spend twenty minutes engaged in confrontation for $10.

Some astute readers made the point that I’m quite willing to engage in frugal projects for a much smaller return than that – and that’s true. I’ll work on frugal projects all the time that earn significantly less than that $30 an hour rate that I would have earned from the argument.

What’s the difference? Why would I work on a frugal project for less than $30 an hour, but not engage in waiting at a store for the same amount?

There are a lot of reasons, actually.

I get more from most of my frugal projects than just some savings. I enjoy making my own laundry detergent. I enjoy brewing my own beer. I enjoy finding ways to improve the energy efficiency of my home. I enjoy finding free activities in the community.

For me, things like this are a lot of fun. I view it as a very enjoyable challenge to find interesting projects that save money.

I don’t enjoy engaging in activities that interfere with the lives of others. I don’t enjoy arguing or public confrontation. I don’t enjoy dragging other people into my personal desire to save money. I especially don’t enjoy making my kids sit in a checkout line – or leave them sitting at home waiting for me.

It takes a lot of money to put me in a situation where I’m thoroughly uncomfortable. Public confrontation is one of those situations. I don’t like witnessing such confrontations, either. So, unless there’s a lot of money at stake, I simply won’t engage in it. If it’s a confrontation with a business, I will very directly take my business elsewhere.

I prefer doing things that I can involve my family in. When I make a meal, the kids can often help with it. When I make homemade laundry detergent, I’ll let my son stir the mixture. When I replace light bulbs or do other home tasks, I’ll have my kids tag along and help in some way (like holding a bulb or a small sack).

This turns frugality into family moments. They learn something from this – not only is it normal to find ways to save money in your life, but it’s also normal to try new things. They also learn that it’s fun to do things for yourself and make things for yourself. For me, the value of such moments and lessons is quite high.

My free time has more value than my work time. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I earn $10 an hour for each hour I work. Even given that, I won’t take $30 an hour to interfere with my personal time.

Each and every day, I set aside a number of hours for me and for my family. That time is what I work for – it’s what I put up with frustrations for. That time – which generally falls between 4 PM and about 9 PM each weekday – is sacred to me, and I won’t interrupt it unless I have to. Those times are such because of the schedule of my wife (who gets off work at about 3:30 PM each day) and my children (who go to bed around 8 PM each day).

If I were single (since many people think that I “dog” on single people), that equation would change somewhat. My personal time would be more flexible because I wouldn’t be working around the 5 PM soccer match and the 8 PM bed time of my children. I might be anxious to get home to play World of Warcraft or something, but that could wait while I was engaged in an opportunity to put $10 in my pocket. I might have plenty of things to do, but many of those things have more flexibility because they don’t affect the schedules and needs of others as much.

The value of my time is more than just dollars and cents. What I’m doing at the moment affects that value greatly. If I’m being made to do something unenjoyable, there needs to be a much larger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than if I’m doing something fun.

For me, at least, $30 an hour isn’t enough to convince me to argue in public, but $5 an hour is more than enough to engage in a fun frugality project with my kids and wife in tow. If it’s hard work by myself, $20 an hour might do it. All time is not created equal, after all.

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