My Personal Finance Journey

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The Cost of Being Frugal

Contributed by mm | July 29, 2004 3:42 PM PST

Is there a cost of being frugal? Yes, the cost is your time invested to get the next better deal, and squeeze another dollar out of your living expenses. Without such bean-counting, your can spare more time with the family, explore personal interests, or, put in a formal way, discover the meaning of life.

So, what's the balance between saving more or living more? My rule is simple: if I need to spend time to save, I want my time to yield at least $25/hour. (For comparison, I am paid at about $55/hour but with no overtime.)

To showcase my stand, it's helpful to calculate the per-hour rate of some of my saving initiatives:

- Refinancing: I refinanced my 7/23 balloon mortgage at 4.25% downto 5/1 3.25% ARM. This should land in a net after-tax saving of $1,670 if I stay in the house for three years, and $3,467 if I stay for five years. I estimated I spent no more than 10 hours on it by keeping tracking of the rate, submit the application, prepare all the paperwork and sign the deal. Return: $167/hour at least.

- Citiฎ Dividend Platinum Selectฎ Card: I expect to receive $200+ from the card every year after spending one hour in research, application and activation. Return: >$200/hour.

- 0% Balance Transfer: Another one hour of research and paperwork should land me a happy $100 or more. Return: >$100/hour.

Some smaller examples:

- Buying Generic: If the generic item on the next shelf costs $0.20 less and it takes me 10 seconds to get it, the return is $72/hour. What if the generic item is $0.50 or $2.00 less?

- Filling Rebate Forms: I always fill form if the rebate is more than $10 (and I never buy something if mail-in rebate is less than that). At most it will take me 10 minutes to read the fineprints, complete the form and put into mailbox. Even assuming you cannot get 50% of the rebate, the return is still more than $30/hour. (I only track status in my personal finance software if the rebate is more than $30, and will make calls to track rebates that large.)

Some of my no-goes:

- Drive more than five miles for cheaper gas: $0.20 difference in gas price can bring me $3 more for my Camry tank, but if it takes 15 minutes, the return is only $12/hour.

- Grocery comparison shopping: Saving $2 for the same item in the grocery store at the next block is only worth $10/hour if it takes 10 minutes. (For me I know most of the time where to go for most groceries, and I combine trips.)

Found the math interesting?

What inspired me to write this blog is the recent Dueling Cheapskates series at In this idea exchange, Roger Friedman represents the type of person that will clip all coupons and make all phone calls to get the absolute best deal while Dayana Yochim advocates that time or living standard should be put to the equation too.

By now you all know I side with Dayana: I believe money is there for helping us live a better life. Saving is important -- even it means a small sacrifice of joy in the short run -- but it is all about having more fun in the future. The tag line of this blog made it clear that I plan to save till 40, and hope by doing all the dirty work before 40, I can live a happy life thereafter thanks to all the efforts I have been making. From now to then, I will walk the fine balance between immediate gratification and more savings.

(If you don't enjoy my writing, at least Dueling Cheapskates is still a good pastime reading.)

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