The cost of time

The other day I was sprawled out on the couch after a long day of work when I had a startling realization…

I was out of food.

I wanted to stay in “corpse pose” for at least 5 more hours, but I needed groceries. The cupboards contained nothing edible (other than some flour and a few scoops of fairly old basmati rice).

So I did what any responsible person in that same situation would do… I grabbed my iPhone and opened up Instacart.

For those of you who aren’t in ‘the know’, Instacart is a grocery delivery service. You can choose which store you want to purchase food from and they shop for (and deliver) your food.

Anywho… I added all of my usual goodies to my basket (bacon, pineapple, grape tomatoes, 85% dark chocolate, iced coffee…) and proceeded to the checkout screen. What I saw there shocked me out of my couch-ridden daze.

They were “busy” and thus wanted $11.99 for a delivery that evening.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me…”

I was outraged. Usually, delivery only cost $5.99! This was double what I expected to pay.

So I sat there on my couch, like a slug, for a couple of minutes more and pondered my next steps.

I could put some pants on and head out into the cold, dark night… or I could pay six dollars more than I usually do and get someone to do all of that for me.

When put in that light, it seemed like a no-brainer to just use Instacart.

So that’s what I did.

But that situation got me thinking about how silly we can be. You see, I was so focused on saving money that I didn’t think about all of the other costs I would incur if I optimized the situation around the monetary element.

This is something that all of us do. We focus on the obvious, and easily quantifiable, variables in any situation and disregard the less prominent (and less tangible) ones.

I was so obsessed with the delivery price that I didn’t take into account all of the time I’d save by having someone else do my shopping for me (at least an hour of my time). In addition, I would have to take an Uber to and from the store (which would cost 4 or 5 dollars each direction)—that’s not something that I put into my initial calculation. And I would have to put the effort into carrying my groceries from the store to the car, and down all of the steps to my apartment (it’s a surprising distance from the street).

These are all costs I would incur by not using the grocery service… but none of these things came to mind as I laid there on the couch, staring at the menacing “delivery options” screen in the app.

Most of us go out of our way to save money, but this usually causes us to waste time. We wait in line an hour for “free” ice cream which we could have purchased at the corner store for 5 dollars… and I’m sure all of us get paid more than 5 dollars an hour.

We take the bus for $2.50 instead of taking a cab, even though the cab would cut 30-45 minutes off our commute (and cost $15 more).

That’s fine. No judgement here.

But it seems like a good idea to get in the habit of adding less tangible costs to our decision-making process. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gone out of my way to think about the time I’ll save by spending a little extra here, a little extra there. This had made my life immensely richer—even though it might end up making my bank account a little smaller.

Until tomorrow,


Jason Hreha