Is it Ever Wasteful to Save Money?

Even though we are in the midst of a recession, I’m going to have to say yes.

Last month I bought some neat-looking letter holders from IKEA to maybe serve as our new in boxes upstairs. However, my wife graciously pointed out to me that they simply will not go with our decor.

So I put it on my errands list to return them. One month later, they are still there. I think I am going to have to delete the errand throw away the bins.

IKEA is about 24 miles away from our house. Not too far, but returning them will be an investment of at least an hour round trip, plus an additional 15 minutes of lost time on each side. I think the total cost for the bins was about $12.

If I had other things to do over at IKEA or the Mall of America, it would make sense to group this with those other things, thus making the trip worth it.

But at this point I don’t have other things that will take me to the area. I would argue that making a special trip — taking 1.5 hours out of my life (plus gas) in order to get that $12 back — would actually be the wasteful thing.

Time is scarce, and the true cost of that trip is in the things I wouldn’t be able to do with that 1.5 hours instead. I can think of a whole host of more valuable things to do than spend 1.5 hours to save $12. I’m not saying that $12 is inconsequential; I’m saying that returning them would take away from things of even greater consequence, which are worth more than $12.

More than this, there is simply the sheer complexity of life. It will simplify my life to stop having to pay attention to whether I have a reason to head over to IKEA. That’s worth $12 to me as well. In an age where we are pulled in so many directions, a major guiding principle needs to be: minimize complexity.

So, into the trash can these in boxes will go. Actually, for those who were slightly horrified that I suggested throwing them away, what I’ll actually do is put them into our “to give” box, so that they’ll end up at the local Goodwill.

But I mention the possibility of throwing them away to underscore the importance of minimizing the complexity of life. Reducing complexity in your life is more important than a $12 physical good.

Anyway, they’re off to Goodwill. And next time, I won’t make this mistake. Always learning…

  • Brian Current

    thanks for this post, Matt.

    “Reducing complexity in your life is more important than a $12 physical good.”

    – I’m going to apply that principle the next time I clean out a closet or my garage. I hold on to so much. For years I’ll complain about the clutter, but then not get rid of the stuff because it does have some kind of value. I need to realize that Reducing Complexity is worth *more* than the items themselves! WAY MORE!

  • Dave Hess

    Great point, Matt. It seems counter-intuative because frequently we don’t consider the real value of things like time and a few gallons of gas in the car, but I think your right on.

    If I am not mistaken (as my brain tries to remember back to Into. to Economics in college) I think Economists refer to the time factor of what you are describing as the “opportunity cost”.

  • Steven

    Definitely true, but at some point you’re going to need to empty out the “to give” box of items. That will take energy, time, and some gas as well. Why not leave it in your car and next time you’re down by the Mall stop by IKEA?

    But I see your point — time and mental energy often “cost” more than $12 and putting it in the “to give” box lets you never think about it again.

    One suggestion somewhat unrelated — you could give your kids an “inbox” where you leave notes and treats and surprises.

  • Chris

    Yes, and counter-intuitive for sure. True utility is not measured in dollars!

  • Tom Dodds

    The “Save a few $$ at all costs” mentality is rampant. What you illustrate is a great picture of stewardship.