Several years ago, a neighbor friend of mine who knew that my husband and I wanted to get in shape offered us--FREE--a treadmill that had been sitting idle for some time in her basement. We were ecstatic! That treadmill was just what we needed to transform ourselves from couch potatoes to svelte beach bodies by the time bathing suit season rolled around (well okay...give or take 50 pounds). Best of all, the price fit right into our meager (read: nonexistent) budget. We’d have to be crazy to say no to that...right?
While impulse purchases are a real thing, most of us actually do weigh the cost vs. benefit before we acquire something new. Thus, something free + something we want = YES! So why are our closets and garages so crammed full of stuff we never use? Clearly, we are miscalculating something. Perhaps we're leaving something out of the equation. I propose the correct formula should be:
Financial cost + Space cost + Convenience cost + Opportunity cost = True Cost
Most of us don’t see past the money and never even think about the last three components of this equation, probably because they are difficult to quantify. But omitting them from the equation altogether is how we wind up feeling disorganized, frustrated and suffocated by all our stuff. Let’s take a closer look:
This is usually the primary and often the only cost we consider when deciding whether or not to acquire something new. If you want proof, look no further than the ridiculously long checkout lines at your local Dollar Tree. How many times have you bought something just because it was “such a great deal”? And note that I keep using the word "acquire". That's because considering the cost of something applies even to--especially to--items for which we paid no money at all. Interestingly, the more money we pay for something, the less willing we are to part with it once we realize it was a poor purchase. And the longer we keep it in some vain attempt to “get our money’s worth” out of it, the more it ends up costing us...in space, in convenience, and in opportunity. As my husband and I would eventually discover, that $0 treadmill was most certainly not free, after all.
Ah space…the final frontier! Most people completely underestimate the value of empty space. We see it as something to be consumed instead of recognizing the important role it plays in keeping us organized and sane. Every single item you own--from vegetable peeler to king-sized bed--costs you valuable space. Like money (and cake), you cannot keep (have) it and spend (eat) it too. Overspending your space--or cramming as many objects into your empty spaces as you can--leads to clutter, visual noise, stress, and sometimes even guilt. The more spacious your environment, the easier it is to maintain and control. Purging items you no longer need/use makes it infinitely easier to see, access and keep organized the things you do. That “free” treadmill ended up costing us significant space in our small basement.
Life gets really inconvenient when you lack space. If you’ve ever watched one of those hoarder shows, you’ll be struck by how much more effort it takes them just to accomplish everyday tasks like cooking a meal or taking a shower. When your access to the items you need is restricted, it takes more time, energy and effort just to get them out and use them...much less to put them away again when you're done. Pretty soon, you stop bothering to put things away at all. This leads to clutter, chaos, frustration and a sense of defeat as you either lose items or they continually get in your way.
Also, the more stuff you accumulate, the less visible everything becomes. If you can’t see what you have, you’ll either buy it again or you won’t use it at all. So why are you keeping it? And owning too many belongings makes you less nimble...the sheer inconvenience of moving all that excess stuff out of the way in order to make home improvements or repairs can lead to procrastination, sometimes causing or worsening damage and costing even more money in the long run. Before you know it, you’ve increased the financial cost of ownership well beyond your initial investment.
Remember our treadmill? Well, we had to sacrifice some of the space we had been using for sorting and folding laundry just to make room for it. This made doing the laundry an even bigger chore than usual. Laundry baskets often ended up stacked up on the treadmill because there was no place else to put them. Talk about a motivation killer! If you think I’m going to do laundry first just so that I can exercise, think again! In my book, Exercise + Laundry = Forget it! The convenience cost of that treadmill in doing laundry was huge, not to mention that actually being able to use the treadmill itself was so inconvenient, it ended up just sitting there collecting dust for months. So why keep it? Good question!
What are you missing out on because you’ve acquired too much stuff? If you had just said NO to some of those “great deals” would you have had the money to go on a weekend getaway with your sweetie? If you could've just made do with fewer kitchen gadgets, might you have more space to share your love of cooking with your grandchildren? If you cleared all the “some day maybe” stuff you paid good money for out of the guest room closet, would you be more likely to entertain overnight guests?
It was summer when we said yes to that treadmill, so we forgot that the only spot we had available to put it in is where we normally put our Christmas tree...right across from the fireplace, next to the big recliner where my husband reads ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids every Christmas Eve before bed. There was no room for our tree in the basement that year. No enjoying the beautiful lights by the warm glow of the fire. That treadmill ended up costing us a valued family tradition that Christmas, and it was truly a bummer.
The good news is that you can mitigate the costs of the things you own if you just ask yourself a few simple questions before you acquire anything new:
We’ve all made mistakes in saying yes when we should have said no, but that doesn't mean you have to keep paying the price for your error. That treadmill? We gave it back to our neighbor and joined the gym instead. You see, we concluded that the financial cost of a gym membership was worth what we would save in space, convenience and opportunity. Don’t let what you paid (or didn’t pay) for something interfere with righting what's wrong.
With a little honest contemplation about the true costs of ownership, even saying no to a blowout sale can be easy peasy!
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An average American family of four spends between $146 and $289 per week on groceries, according to the USDA. That's an annual investment of at least $7500, and possibly as much as $15,000+!
Where you fall within that range depends, of course, on where you shop and what you buy, but it also has a lot to do with how much food you waste. With a little planning and effort, you can save significant money on your grocery bill each year without ever clipping a coupon or hoarding cans from a warehouse store. I call it my 4S approach: Strategize, Shop, Safeguard, and Substitute.
Strategize - Planning out your meals each week will not only save you time but also money. You'll be less likely to resort to expensive takeout or prepared foods if you've got a strategy in place for what to make for dinner. With minimal effort, you can plan your menu around ingredients you already have on hand and not only reduce waste but shorten your shopping list. Pull double-duty on the items you buy to get even more bang for your buck. For example, if you're buying a head of cabbage to make coleslaw, why not plan to make stir-fry that same week and use up the rest of it before it goes bad?
Shop - Creating a shopping list will save you trips to the store for forgotten items, as well as time in the store once you're there. You'll also avoid over-spending on impulse purchases. Build your list as you plan your weekly menu to be sure you have everything you need on hand, and add only what you need for other meals. Take stock of what's already in your fridge and pantry so that you don't duplicate or overbuy. Nothing breeds waste like buying more produce than you'll be able to use before it goes bad. Don't fall victim to deals that aren't really deals. Regardless of the price, if you weren't already planning to buy it, it's not really a deal!
Safeguard - Preserving your perishables until you are able to use them is one of the best ways to lower your bottom line at the grocery store. Instead of allowing excess meat or produce to spoil, prolong its life so you can use it another day by cooking, freezing, or canning it before it goes bad. Peel and freeze overripe bananas for later use in bread or muffins. Microwave and mash extra sweet potatoes for baking. Cut bread ends into cubes and freeze for later use as croutons or breadcrumbs. Protect your produce from premature spoilage with proper cleaning and storage.
Substitute - Switching up ingredients in your favorite recipes to use up what you already have on hand can also save you bucks at the store. Use up that extra yogurt no one wants in place of milk for your muffin recipe or toss that leftover half bag of frozen green beans into your casserole instead of making a separate green vegetable. Get in the habit of freezing your "throwaways" to use as substitutions later. For example, freeze the juice you drained from your can of tomatoes and use that instead of buying tomato juice for a recipe. Use some crushed up cornflakes to coat your fried chicken instead of buying breading.
Look for more outside-the-box ideas for using up what you already have to save you money.
Whether you spend your savings on a special dinner out or some nice wine to go with your home-cooked gourmet meal, the 4S approach will have you laughing all the way to the bank!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.