What is your time worth?

February 23, 2017

This morning I stopped at a gas station to fill up my tank and found that the gas pump would not allow me to buy the grade of gas that I wanted. I was forced to pump gas that was 10 cents more expensive.

I have a mild fixation on gas prices, so my first reaction was to reset the pump and try my transaction again. No go — only the more expensive gas was available.

Fine, I said to myself, I’ll just buy a few gallons here, and fill up the rest of my tank later, at a station that will allow me to buy cheaper gas. But then it occurred to me, all of this thought and effort would only save me 10 cents a gallon.

10 cents x 15 gallons = $1.50

A fairly absurd conversation to have with oneself when you live where gas costs nearly $3 a gallon and the minimum wage is $10.50 an hour.

I have similar feelings in a different environment, where time and effort do not come with an easily defined dollar value. The average parking lot in Southern California often presents an opportunity to place a value on your time.

Parking spots can be difficult to find in my part of the world, and finding one can take on a life of its own. Many times when parking at a local store, I find people idling in their cars, waiting for a spot to open up.

But just as often there are open spaces a little bit further from the store. Being somebody who is not afraid to walk up a flight of stairs if an elevator is full, or to walk an extra block to save $5 at a parking lot, I often find myself parking at one of those more distant parking spaces, then walking past those idling cars to enter the store. I sometimes wonder that if I shop fast enough, might I be able to leave the store and still find the idling driver waiting for a close parking spot to open up.

It’s absurd to think that a person would rather wait for 10 minutes than walk for 5, but to those drivers the inconvenience of walking is worth the wasted 5 minutes. But I also wonder if we aren’t all guilty of falling into the same trap, of following our established routines (such as seeking out the cheapest gas possible) without truly considering the value of what we gain or lose when we do so.