Posted: 09 Sep 2011 01:00 PM PDT
Saving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.
Matt said, I’d like to see your take on changing oil at home versus having it done at a shop. I’ve done my own calculations on the matter but I think it might be worth exploring on your blog.
Oil changes are pretty simple to do at home. If you’re changing the oil, you literally just slide under the car with a pan, remove the plug so that the oil runs into the pan, then go do something else. A while later, you put the plug back in place, open the top, and add oil until full. Done. If you’re changing the filter, you also just pull out a filter in the middle and insert a clean one in the middle of this process.
The actual labor for this is five or ten minutes (once you’re used to it), and you can save the old oil in a jug in your garage until you have a chance to drop it off somewhere when you’re out and about on errands.
On the other hand, if you go get your oil filled for you, it takes at least that long to interact with the people there, plus there’s the dreaded waiting. Ideally, you have the ability to do something else while there, but that’s not always a guarantee.
My local Jiffy Lube will change the oil in your car for about $30. For roughly another $20, they’ll also change your oil filter.
I can acquire a quart of the high-quality synthetic motor oil I like to use in our car for $6 (shipped to our house for free), and it takes four quarts to fill it. I can also get an oil filter that fits for $11.
Thus, our materials cost for a single oil change is $24. If we couple that with an oil filter change, it’s $35. This compares to an oil change cost of $30 and $50, respectively.
In short, I save about $15 doing it myself. (The exact math will vary depending on your make and model of car, of course, but it will be along this order of magnitude.)
Now, here’s the tricky question: how much is it worth it to you to avoid having to climb underneath your vehicle twice? For some, it’s just a job that they don’t want to do and it’s worth the $15.
For others, there’s extra value in doing it yourself because you can be sure it’s done correctly and with oil and filters that are of your own selection and not of the dealership. What do I mean by “done correctly”? Many oil change places do not let the oil drain for a sufficiently long period of time. A few minutes of draining means there’s oil still inside, while an hour or so of draining will get rid of much more dirty oil. However, oil change businesses usually won’t let your car drain for an hour.
For still others, it comes down to the value of their time. Whenever I get my oil changed, I choose to do it simply so I can drop off my car while running other errands. I’ll walk to a nearby grocery store, choose to drive up to get my groceries, walk back to the oil change station, get my car, then drive back for the groceries. Doing this allows me to effectively multitask.
On the other hand, if it’s a Saturday afternoon and there’s nothing special going on, one might as well change the oil in one’s car and save $15.
Changing your own oil saves dollars, not pennies, but there may be other factors that convince you to hire someone to change it for you.
Dinner With My Family won’t be posted this week because, frankly, I spent most of the last week traveling or at other social events. It should resume next week.
Posted: 09 Sep 2011 07:00 AM PDT
Last night, we had a small birthday party for just a couple of our daughter’s friends to celebrate her birthday. We held the party at a park and had a simple treasure hunt and a couple of party games – a very simple and pleasant birthday party.
At the party, she only received two presents. In comparison to that, we had given her five (or so) presents at home earlier in the week, along with a gift from her grandparents.
When she opened just the two presents, she really enjoyed opening them and within just a little while had played with both gifts (one was a ring toss game and the other was an art kit).
When she opened the six presents at home, she really enjoyed opening the first two or three of them, but after that it was pure diminishing returns. Even more interesting, she has more or less chosen two preferred presents (a doll and a game) and has scarcely looked at the other ones.
The experiences for these two situations were very different, but the biggest change was simply the number of presents. Two gifts worked out far better than six.
Here are a few thoughts on that experience (that go beyond just a girl’s birthday party).
No one needs a giant pile of presents. In the end, we’re drawn to just a few of them. This is obviously true for my daughter, but it’s also true for my other children – and, frankly, true for me, too. At Christmas, I usually end up really enjoying just one or two of the gifts I receive, even if I receive several and even if they each might appeal to me greatly if I received them alone.
You only have so much time and attention. I have tons of different hobbies that I’m interested in, but in reality I simply don’t have time for all of them. I only have so much time and attention, and convincing myself that I have more than I have is simply a mistake.
Figure out how you’re going to use that time and attention. At this point, I really have two hobbies: reading (when I’m alone) and board and card games (with friends and family). I participate in online forums related to both hobbies and I engage in them as often as I can. Given the free time that I have, these two things fill it up quite quickly.
Don’t waste a dime on other areas. I’d love to have time to take up golf again, but I realize that I actually have the time for golf roughly once a year. Thus, it would be completely nonsensical to invest in a bag of golf clubs. I’ve really walked away from many hobbies over the past several years, both to save money and to give myself adequate time to enjoy hobbies that are more important to me.
Give something besides presents. When I think of Christmas, I don’t think of gifts. I think of sitting around and talking to my family and enjoying their company. When I asked my daughter this morning what she remembered about her party, she didn’t remember the presents. She remembered the scavenger hunt and riding on the merry-go-round with her best friend. The best things we receive in life are rarely wrapped up with a pretty bow.
Instead of giving your child or your spouse several presents, get them one or two that are really well thought out. They don’t have to be expensive. They simply have to be something that truly appeals to the recipient. They’ll get far more value and joy out of one gift that really matches their interests than multiple gifts that do not.
In a few months, my son turns six. Rather than giving him several presents, we’re going to instead think carefully about what he’s passionate about and get him just two or three that match those interests well. This allows us to think more about the ones he does receive, allows him to enjoy all of his presents instead of just selecting a few favorites, and saves our pocketbooks as well.
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