Monday, October 18, 2010

Time Saved? Money Wasted--The Cost of Convenience

From the Dollar Stretcher.

"Today, in the produce section of my local supermarket, I saw something that dropped my jaw nearly to the floor, individually shrink-wrapped potatoes and individually shrink-wrapped onions. Price? The cost was 99 cents per potato and $1.99 per onion!

When the shock passed, I checked the price of bagged potatoes and onions, then did some calculating. The result? These shrink-wrapped versions cost 70 cents to $1 more each than ordinary potatoes and onions. Why would anyone pay that much extra?

I asked the cashier. The packaged potatoes, it seems, were "prewashed." The cashier was enthusiastic about this. "Lots of people buy these. It saves them time. And," she continued happily, "the onions are prepeeled. Isn't that convenient?"

It took all my self-control to keep from shrieking "Are you nuts?!" Instead, I went home, pulled a large potato out of the ten pound bag I keep in a cupboard (potatoes keep a long, long time in a cool, dark, dry place), and scrubbed it with my hands, using my thumbnail to scrape away eyes and dark spots. It took me 30 seconds. I grabbed an onion and a knife, chopped off the top, and peeled the onion. Another 30 seconds.

In both cases, I'm paying 70 cents to $1 to save myself 30 seconds. Put another way, I'm buying time at the cost of $84 to $120 an hour! How did I figure this out? I took 60 minutes, divided it by the amount of time the "convenience" item would save me (in this case, 30 seconds), and multiplied that by the extra money it costs. (60 divided by .5 or half a minute is 120, times 70 cents is $84. Times $1 is $120.) You can use the same formula to check the real cost of any time you save using any "convenience" product."

I’d like to add to her list of food lunacy, and some for different reasons:

• “Baby” carrots—you know, those stubby little finger-sized carrot pieces all in a bag, ready for snacking? They’re not really French at all—just picked early. I’ve seen French carrots, and they don’t differ from our carrots.

• Bagged salads—c’mon, when did cutting up lettuces get to be so daunting a task?

• Pre-cut fruits in plastic trays—again, when did cutting up your own fruit become such a chore?

• Individual packets of oatmeal—what, a scoop out of the big round Quaker box isn’t good enough for ya? Don't have your own cinnamon, sugar, blueberries, or brown sugar?

• Containerized ramen in all forms—this stuff is suicide for sodium content anyway, so why not make REAL soup?

• Hamburger Helper—you can buy a pound of ground beef, a can of tomato sauce, and a cup of pasta and STILL come out with more food than these boxes make, and be a lot healthier to boot!

• Chicken wings, legs, and necks—unless you purposely buy these cuts for soup-making, they are not the best bargain per serving when it comes to meat cost.

• Boxed cake mixes and frostings—you can’t bring yourself to measure out some flour, sugar, and a few wet ingredients? As for the frosting, it couldn’t be easier—powdered sugar, water, and some vanilla flavoring.

• The worst offender—Campbell’s Soup to Go. Apparently opening a can and heating it up are now beyond the skill level of modern humans.

The list goes on, but I’m making myself nauseous just looking at it. If you have THAT kind of time crunch, then maybe you need to go on a doctor-supervised all-liquid diet (a feeding tube). Those cans of Boost and Ensure are even quicker yet to peel open and drink. If you insist on wasting your money in the name of convenience, I’d rather you did it in a semi-healthful and less lunatic way.

Don’t forget that this all creates that wonderful “cha-ching” sound at the cash registers, too. How much money are YOU trading for time?


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