Essentially all of life is a trade-off: when we say yes to something, we’re saying no to something else. We trade our time and energy 40 hours a week at our jobs in exchange for a paycheck, which means saying no to the myriad of other things we could or would rather be doing during that time.
When we say yes to an evening in reading a book or watching tv, we say no to an evening out somewhere or spending time with friends. And vice versa.
When we stay up late writing blog posts, we say no to getting more sleep. Ahem, I digress.
Time and money aren’t the only motivators behind the trade-offs we make—there are also factors of effort and personal enjoyment/dislike of certain activities. For example, sometimes I’m too impatient to wait for the elevator, and if I’m going down I’ll usually take the stairs. Whether I do the same when going up is a more complicated decision based on weighing time spent waiting vs how many flights I’d have to go up. Sometimes I wait for the elevator. Sometimes I haul myself up some flights of stairs. I don’t mind cleaning at all, but I do seriously dislike vacuuming. Hiring someone to do that for me is tempting sometimes, but I don’t dislike it enough to justify spending the money.
My brother has joked for years that when he’s rich enough he’ll hire someone to de-stem any spinach that he eats (to which the follow-up joke on my end is, uh, pay me more than my job currently is and we have a deal). Apparently spinach stems offend him that badly/make it too hard to eat salads in a dignified manner? I don’t know.
Looking at the trade-offs we make can be an interesting insight into people’s values: what do people feel is worth spending money on in order to save time? What things do they do themselves that other people would hire someone to do for them? What do they prioritize in their life? Sure, a lot of mindless spending isn’t actually aligned with people’s values (and that in itself tells you something). Sometimes we find that we’ve been making trade-offs for years that we no longer want to make. It’s worth taking a look at these.
Here are some of mine:
The big, obvious one when you look at my life? Living in an area with a high cost of living. There are so many places I could move where life would be cheaper, and maybe I will some day. I’m not planning on being in DC forever. But you know how I’ve been waxing poetically lately about my walkable life? That’s much easier in a city! Sure my rent is expensive but it’s actually pretty damn great for where I live. At least that’s what I tell myself on days like today when I send a whole bunch of money over to my landlord for rent.
Although living in a HCOL area and only making an entry-level non-profit salary? Yeah, I know. Look, I already got a part-time job, and one day this damn reorganization at work will actually happen so I can finagle myself into a title change and give myself more options from there. I’m working on it!
I could do workouts at home using the magic of the internet and workout videos. I could somehow turn myself into someone who doesn’t hate running. I could join a basic, no-frills gym. Those would be much cheaper options than what I currently pay for exercise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: barre is the first and only full-body workout I’ve found that I don’t hate (that I’m doing for the sake of working out. Ballet doesn’t fall into this category because I didn’t dedicate 14 years of my life to it for the workout aspect). My health is worth the $105 I spend each month on the only regular exercise I get other than all the walking I do every day. Plus spending that much money is a good motivator to get me to actually show up to classes. The more I go to, the cheaper each one is that month!
And no, buying something on sale just because it’s on sale doesn’t save you money if you don’t need the product, but since we’ve established I like going to barre/will pay for it, there’s also the fact that I’m on a special membership that costs 50% less than the normal unlimited monthly memberships. Everyone shake your head in disbelief at that, because yep, that is WAY too much money.
There’s a proliferation lately of services that deliver your groceries to your door or boxes of ingredients for meals you make. There are services that ship boxes of snacks to you. And you know what? I get the appeal. There are days and weeks where I’m tired and don’t have the mental energy to even figure out what to feed myself, let alone shop for it and prepare it. If you’re a parent and you work full-time and then have to come home and get dinner on the table for everyone? Holy hell, I can absolutely see why you’d want to spend that money to make your life easier!
I save money by doing my own grocery shopping and not paying for those services, but I certainly don’t save time. And that’s okay. I’m only cooking for one, and I don’t mind doing the shopping for one, either. The grocery store isn’t out of my way, and I don’t generally feel that an unreasonable amount of my life is devoted to all the things that go into feeding myself a reasonably healthy variety of food.
Plus there’s freedom in being responsible for my own food choices and no one else’s: if I’m too lazy to cook or not very hungry there’s always the option to have a smoothie for dinner (or a PB&J for lunch, which is about to happen because I’m spending the evening writing instead of cooking food for the rest of the week. I plan badly…) or to skip it altogether. Or I can have frozen pizza because I’m an adult and don’t have to answer to anyone! If I had my groceries or boxed meals delivered, I’d feel a lot more pressure to always cook, even if I don’t need or want to.
Although spending money on a membership in order to save money by buying in bulk at Costco? That’s definitely a trade-off I make. I also do things like make my own hummus using tahini, which is fairly expensive, instead of finding a recipe sans-tahini that costs less per serving. Tahini makes things tasty. Trade-offs, y’all.
Owning a car costs money, full stop. I pay for gas every month and cross my fingers and hope that’s it, but some months I’m not so lucky. I got my front brakes replaced last Christmas to the tune of about $300. I bought a new window and rear windshield to the tune of $500 in July. I just paid $107 a few weeks ago for my annual registration/parking permit renewal. I’m currently paying for insurance annually instead of every month, so it’s easy to forget about that cost, too.
So yeah, I’m paying money to own my car. Sure, I can easily go to Costco or down to NC on a whim or go hiking (or drive to my weekend job when it’s dark out so I don’t have to pay for an Uber to get home. I do a lot of walking at night, but not in that area). Is that freedom worth the money I’m spending on my car? Yes, for now. And only because I don’t have a car payment. If I’d had to actually buy my car, I would still be living a car-free life, not just doing so on weekdays.
Cruise control and music-listening
While on my way home for Christmas last year, I turned my cruise control on. And heard an ominous cracking sound from the plastic, after which the handle got very loose. So I decided to not touch it. When I was getting my brakes cleaned and replaced, I asked the guys to tell me what it would cost to replace my cruise control. Turns out that particular after-market addition is no longer available so I’d have to order the equivalent from Toyota directly. It’s almost a year later and so far I haven’t bothered to call them to figure out how much that would cost.
This presents an interesting opportunity/thought experiment: how much would I be willing to pay to replace my cruise control? $150? $200? No more than $75? I’m not sure. Maybe I just won’t ever replace it: sure, most of the driving I do consists of hours in the car on the highway, but it honestly doesn’t happen that often. I miss it most in that hour stretch of nothing but spindly pine trees on either side of you between Richmond and the NC/VA border, but honestly, I should probably be paying more attention during that than I’d have to if I had cruise control on, especially at night. (I haven’t forgotten that we hit a deer late at night in that very same deserted stretch of I-85 coming home from my grandparents’ place in Leesburg when I was in Kindergarten, aka pre-cell phone era!)
Also, let’s be honest, it seems like no matter what time of day I make the drive from DC to NC and back, there’s horrid traffic on I-95. No cruise control use there.
On the other hand, I bought a Bluetooth-enabled stereo system for about $100 two summers ago and had my dad and brother replace the standard one-CD system that came with my car while we were at the beach. (Them: “uh, you probably don’t want to actually help us do this.” They were right—it was unsettling to see my car come apart like that!) Being able to stream hours-long playlists or podcasts from my phone without having to change the CD all the time? So worth it.
And yes, I pay for Spotify premium. I’ve got my driving playlists downloaded for offline listening so I’m not using data to listen to music. Plus you can’t make a playlist that’s literally three days’ worth of music to listen to on shuffle on a CD!
Replacing my speakers, all of which seem to be crackling and/or not working all of a sudden? Well, we’ll see if I ultimately decide to spend that money.
It’s the most contentious time of the year!
Because ’tis the season and I’m thinking about maybe getting my decorating on this weekend, I’m going to put this out there: in the real Christmas tree vs fake tree debate, real tree wins hands-down for me. That makes me a horrible environmentalist and someone who throws away money every December, but oh my god have you ever had a real tree and gotten to smell it in your living room for a month? It’s heavenly. It’s so worth it. Also blame my parents for spoiling me since we’re a real tree family and always have been. Fake Christmas trees are sad and I’m not here for that this time of year!
I’m sure not everyone would make the same trade-offs that I personally make, which is part of the fun (although your decision to have a fake tree isn’t supported on this blog 😉 ). What about you—what are some of your trade-offs?