8 Ways Convenience is Screwing Your Finances

By David Ning on 17 November 2010 (Updated 11 November 2011) 36 comments
Photo: .Bala

Our collective hunger for more is great, motivating us to keep pushing the limits and never settling for the status quo. Because of this desire, we've found ways to make everything from finding the nearest gas station to staying in touch with a distant relative easier and easier, but all that convenience comes at a cost too.

The U.S. median income in 1900 was $438 a year, and it shot up to $23,602 by 1999. You might look at this 5389% increase and say "WOW. Life has got to be good." Yet, life isn't all that great right now. We are barely recovering from a recession (most say we are still in it), and everybody from the government to our schools to our neighbors are having a tough time making ends meet.

I know there was inflation, but that's hardly the whole problem. Here are a few reasons why we can't seem to keep our budgets in check even though we keep getting huge raises. (See also: If Budgeting Isn't Fun, You're Doing It Wrong)

House Services

I'm guilty of this one, because I love my house cleaner. She comes every three weeks, and she makes everything sparkling clean. There's nothing I couldn't do myself of course, but if I can spend time sitting on the couch watching TV and doing nothing, why should I actually exercise and work?

Cell Phones

I have an eight-month-old daughter named Sara, and I can't wait for the day when I have to deny her request for a cell phone. My excuse will be "But you don't need a cell phone..." I wonder what her response will be when she realizes that I have one, and I actually don't need it either.

Extra TVs

It's common nowadays for a household to have two, three, or even four TVs in the house. Of course, each one has got to be hooked up to paid TV service too, right? Oh, I need to watch TV when I take a bath, for god's sake. What else would I be doing when my house cleaners are cleaning? (See also: 8 Alternatives to Cable TV That Will Keep You Entertained)

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Cars

We love brand new cars, especially with all those options that signifiicantly add to the cost. Premium sound, a sun roof, a navigation system, heated and electronic seats, V6 turbo, and performance packages are all necessary, because you know, how else will we be able to get to work? 

Eating Out

I love eating out, and I'm a good tipper too. If I cook at home, how will all those waiters/waitresses survive? Not paying for the markup of the dining service is only good for my own family's budget. 

Diapers

Why would I need to wash anything when I can just replace it? Wipe and throw them away. The trash man will collect them, and I'm saving money because I'm sure my house cleaner would want to be paid extra if I asked her to wash diapers too. 

Post-it Notes

It's not like I can use anything reuseable, like my computer, to remember appointments. 

Credit Cards

I can see why a small population of people won't like credit cards, but I bet most people won't spend more with that convenience. I mean, why would anyone buy more things when they always have money available? Why would anyone buy more when credit card companies send countless marketing materials to get us to buy more, travel more, and do more? 

Back in the 1900, a pound of butter might have set you back a quarter. Nowadays, it probably costs $3 for the same thing. That's inflation, but our income more than made up for that. On the other hand, people washed their clothes by hand back then, costing almost nothing. Nowadays, a washer costs $600 dollars and a dryer costs another $600, not to mention that many of us end up all going to the dry cleaners anyway.

Convenience is great, but watch your wallets before you conveniently lose your fortune.

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Guest's picture
Guest

While I agree with most of your advice, I have to take exception with the idea that cell phones are not needed. What is not needed is their more expensive and outdated cousin, the land line.

Guest's picture
Jeff

Agreed, but the majority of people with smart phone data plans don't need them for work. A data plan at $30 bucks a month sets you back a pretty penny.

Guest's picture
Desco

Prepaid. I spend roughly $100 for 1000 minutes which lasts me on average 9 months. Sure, I don't have all the cool conveniences of iphones-- I do have a "smart" phone, but since I don't have a data plan, I don't get to download apps and update my twitter/facebook while I'm driving, but I don't NEED that. If I had it, I would surely use it, but all I NEED is to be able to make and receive phone calls.

Guest's picture
Eric

I pay $38 a month per phone for my cell phones, one for me and one for my wife. We share a Sprint family plan with multiple friends.

Guest's picture
Guest

You're basically talking about taking all of the pleasure out of life. What good is money saved if we can't spend it on things that make our lives pleasant? Personally I do NOT want to go back to the days of spending hours scrubbing and drying laundry. And the great thing about TVs is that they're cheap enough that many people can afford to have them in each room. What's not to love about that? And I can't even count the number of ways a cell phone has saved me. I've used it to call into work and my insurance company after getting into a car accident, I've looked up maps when I'm lost on the road with my 3G data plan and I've been able to write friends emails when I'm waiting for a doctor's appointment, saving me time later from doing it at home. Everyone's different, but I bet most of us benefit by far from data plans more than we don't.

Guest's picture
Guesto

"You're basically talking about taking all of the pleasure out of life."

If these things seriously constitute ALL the pleasure in your life, I feel quite sorry for you.

Guest's picture
Guest

Apparently this article is written by a man. Only a man would say that diapers are a convenience that screws your finance. When I was a little girl, to save on money, my mom used cloth diapers on my younger twin sisters. (Yes, TWICE the diapers.) I don't remember it, but my older sister does. According to her, it was terrible because you have to empty the diapers in the toilet then wash them. She also didn't have a house service and hardly ever had a clean house, since she had 4 little girls running around the house. Imagine how much stress that put on her. Anyways--->
How much time you save on using disposable diapers is totally worth the cost. Especially with how often you have to change a diaper. And since time IS money. You are saving a lot of money by not having to spend the extra hour or so a week washing and taking care of cloth diapers. Especially since you can now buy them in large bulk to save on price.

Guest's picture
Roger

I have to agree. As a man who stays home with 3 kids, 2 in diapers, and having tried both disposable and reusable diapers, disposable diapers are worth the extra cost and there are some now which are a little easier on the landfill.

Anyhow, the diaper part reads like 'his wife' uses disposable diapers. Go girl. Also, diapers are not relevant to everyone...

Also, his daughter will have a great argument to get a cellphone and when he realizes the convenience of contacting her in an emergency, it's a no-brainer.

Guest's picture
Guest

I second that! Why have any technological advances if we still have to wash diapers, one of the nastiest household chores.

Clearly written by a man who has never lived with a diaper pail or washed a diaper.

As for cell phones, we didn't allow our kids to have one until high school when they would frequently be away from home or school. For anyone younger, they're not necessary and can cause many problems from high bills to sexting.

Guest's picture
Guest

Post-It Notes? Did he actually just rail on about Post-It Notes as one of his "reasons why we can't seem to keep our budgets in check"? Sticky notes are destroying my finances? What? The single snarky sentence that follows completely fails to explain why this belongs on a list next to multi-hundred and multi-thousand dollar items like extra televisions, superfluous cell phones, and premium car features. Am I somehow the only one using post-it notes to keep track of things other than appointments or who would like a visual reminder without having to turn on a computer (or while I'm away from it)?

Guest's picture
Guest

Do you really need to BUY post-it notes to write your self a note? Just re-use a piece of paper & then recycle it.

I just took it as being an example of where convenience is being lazy - not that it would wreck your finances.

Guest's picture
Guest

I love Wise Bread. But this is one of the more content free articles I have read in along time. - Post-it Notes are the root of our financial problems? I can think of a hundred other things I do to screw up my finances before I would consider Post It notes.

Guest's picture
Guest

I save money with my card, but only because I have online banking and can track my card online as well. I always pay the card off once I can get home in full and never buy stuff I don't already have money for. I was actually losing more money without it because of ATM fees.

Guest's picture
MossyPossy

Awesome; spendthrift advice from someone who'll never have to worry about money ever again.

I do need a cell phone, but I'm not dumb enough to ALSO spend money on a land line.

You're absolutely right; you don't need ten TV's. I have one. I save much more money than the cost of another set by not paying for cable. It's a ridiculous waste of money to get crap piped into your house. Pay for internet, watch via hulu or cable channel websites. That's $1500 a year (or more) saved.

Cars: No one needs a new car. Sorry. Get a nice used Honda or Subaru, and deal.

Diapers? I wonder if you have kids.

Guest's picture
Guest

Someone needs to have bought the car new for it to be sold used later on.

Guest's picture
Guest

There is by far no shortage of used cars....

Guest's picture
Insanegrey

Thank you! I have been trying to figure out where all my money goes, and now I realize it's been the Post It notes all along. Damn you, 3M!

Guest's picture
Jillian

This guy is seriously questioning disposable diapers? REALLY? Dude, clearly you have NO children, and if you do, you probably sat around while your wife did the diapers. Also, are you insane about WASHING MACHINES being a convenience? Have you ever DONE laundry by hand? I thought not. And, btw, you can also get a washer/dryer for $300 if you get them second hand (Ours are, and they work fine)

Let me remind you that there are things in life NOT worth doing because the money saved is less than the time spent. I'm a career professional working mom. If I waste more than two hours weekly doing menial household tasks that save me less than $20, then it's not worth it. I'm better off investing that time in work, or building my professional image. Tasks like scrubbing diapers, or washing clothes by hand, I am better off NOT doing so I can invest the time in my career, which, in the long run, makes me more money. If I was a stay at home mom, this might be practical advice. I'm not.

On the other hand, it IS worth it to pack lunches and cook dinners. Ten hours weekly of shopping and cooking saves my family over $200 in food costs, plus the priceless health benefits of eating healthy. That's worth it. But seriously...this article is way out of whack. And its ridiculous. There's no mention of the cost/time ratio, or time management issues, that cause people to choose convenience to start with.

Guest's picture
Guest

I have a young one, (6 months) and I'm using cloth, and I do deal with the diapers (and yet am male), but we do have a diaper service. It's still cheaper than disposables, and produces less waste.

I'm not certain how common diaper services are any more (fortunately there's one in our city). I think that's the scam of the disposables: when they put the diaper services out of business, then the cloth does look more problematic.

Guest's picture
Kristen

I'm not sure why everyone is so negative about cloth diapering. The cloth diapers that exist now are not the same kind that your mother used- no rubber covers or pins required.

I use pocket diapers for both of my kids, and it's not any harder than disposable diapering. Yes, cloth diapering requires that the parent drops the solid wastes in the toilet (which your supposed to to do with disposables also), but really how much effort does it take to throw 8-16 diapers in the wash?

I've been cloth diapering for almost 2 years, and there's no way I'd go back to spending $40-80 a month on diapers for each child.

Guest's picture
Guest

Prediction: No one is going to change their behavior based on this article.

It'll make people feel guilty, sure, but guilt doesn't inspire lifestyle change. It makes you feel bad for a few minutes, and go on living your life the same way.

Plus, it's ludicrous to talk about the money you can save on post-its and dinners when most people can save thousands of dollars on their mortgage/cars by taking simple care of their credit scores.

Guest's picture
Guest

Spend more with the credit card? Not me.. it is, however, super-convenient when travelling abroad since I can withdraw money everywhere at top rates with no cost and the card gives ME interest and costs nothing.. Why would I spend more money on stuff I don't need just because I have it?? (I guess I'll never get it..)

Guest's picture
Stephen

Someone who is clearly in the upper income bracket is talking about how to save money..
Here are some Conveniences that Many could do without to safe a some money and recapture some self pride.

1: Coffee Stores (Starbucks/Tim Hortons/McCafe etc)
$1-$5 for a 10oz -20oz cup of Coffee, when Costs of Making it at home in a percolator costs a fraction of the costs, AND the CONVENIENCE that is worth paying for is the timer on said percolator, though the upfront cost might be $20-$30 more the return on investment is only an added week or 2.
Make your daily cup of coffee, and use a thermos to transport some to work and you'll save Time waiting in Lines, and Money on the heavily inflated cost of a hot papercup of coffee.

2: House Hold Cleaners, many house hold cleaners if one really wants to cut out conveniences and save money can be replaced with multi use cleaners, or products such as vinegar, and baking soda. replacing paper towels with washable rags, or Old tshirts, repurposing products from their primary use to a secondary use. I'm sure many websites are dying to have you visit them and find out ways to use things you throw out.

3: Debit Cards, Debit or Bank Cards usually charge you a fee to use, with no payback, a Credit Card allows you to track online, set daily spending limits, and can pay rewards back, I EARN approximately $1500 per year off of my Credit Card because of dedicated usage and finding the Card that best met my purchasing patterns, Debit Cards Rarely offer anything more than a convenient way to spend money with no returns no extra warranty, and added costs. dump the Debit Card get a Credit Card.

4:Drive Through Windows, the time spent idling in a drive through waiting for food, banking, drycleaning, uses more fuel than parking, or Not using those services, that is a convenience all but single parents, and disabled can really do without. In doing so you save money/ environment and get some exercise walking into buildings.

I heavily DO NOT agree with saying do without a Cellphone, I do without a proper land line, but my cellphone provides far more in terms of services and information than it's actual costs are.

I do not agree with buying a Barebones vehicle, depending on your work life, I'll use an Average Toronto, On. commuter, they spend 88minutes each day each WAY driving to and from work,
that equates to 14h 40 minutes a week Driving, or 29days 8hs a year sitting in 1 SEAT! the importance of good comfort being a properly positioned seat, and support that a premium car can offer far out weighs the cost of time and discomfort recovering from a drive each day because you saved $10000 on a car you'll keep for 5 years, or basically breaking that down $2.84 per hour of sitting in the car, my comfort is easily broken down into $2.84 per hour.

Television has become a very affordable means of entertainment and relaxation, a TV can be had for little more than $300, and use little more than $100/year in energy costs, this can provide more affordable entertainment than buying books when breaking to down over a 7 year life of TV's
What IS an added expense that doesn't NEED to be there is Premium cable services, TV is not the expense, it is paying for Content that is the expense.

Guest's picture
Gusto

I'm curious about how much of your annual income is consumed by post-it notes.

Guest's picture
Guest

Next up on finance tips for the already wealthy: Saving money by replacing your platinum-plated yacht with a more efficient gold-plated model!

Seriously, housekeepers, fancy cars, multiple TVs... sounds to me like your finances are just fine already.

Guest's picture
Jennifer

It's sad that our world is becoming a place where you do need a cell phone though. It's become social suicide if you don't have one by age 9 now, all plans are made by text messaging.
Blame the parents who get their kids cell phones.

Guest's picture
Guest

Don't completely agree with your extra TV idea.

At least not, if the extra TVs are discarded older TVs which you'd otherwise dump. If you hook up a DVD player, media player or free-to-air digital TV box to them you can get a lot of fun out of them.

I love my 70s black and white 11" portable TV in my kitchen and spent $120 to connect a media server to it, so that I can "watch" late night talk shows while I'm cooking or cleaning the kitchen.

Guest's picture
Guest

This list is, by and large, foolish. How can you compare luxury items, like housekeeping services and new cars, with diapers and post-it notes? Were you just bored and facing a deadline to get this pile out?

Guest's picture
Kashif

I second your thoughts on eating out. Considering the circumstances, it should be reduced to once a week, at least.

Rest of the items in your list have their pros and cons. For example, while you pay for house-keeping (though the costs are comparatively nothing, in this part of the world), it may give you extra hours to concentrate on your business, and things that you enjoy more in life, than dusting and wiping around.

The credit cards are not evil, if you can keep a tab on your desires. Almost every card has some sort of reward/redemption associated which, if you pay your dues under the markup cycle and do not exceed the limits, can turn up as a bonus for you, something paper currency can not offer.

By the way, just came across your blog and browsing through it now.

Guest's picture
Guest

you know what? austria is one of the richest countries in europe and we are NOT used to credit cards. i don't own one. the only people i know who own credit cards, are those who travel - and they only use credit cards when not in austria.

by the way, travelling is a very good source of knowledge - when you come home you realise, how much you don't need.

i don't like the fact that the credit card is very popular in many european countries, as in the uk and in scandiavia.

Guest's picture
Howard

Good advice. But we already run a tight-ship, so actually I don't do any of these things anyway.
Oh. Except the mobile phone.

I'll still bookmark this though, as a reminder.

Guest's picture
Matt

This entire article is ridiculous. I'm not going to take someone seriously when they suggest that I could save money by not buying a washer/dryer. You're saying the opportunity costs of me spending [at least] an entire day on laundry is less than the one-time investment and ongoing operating costs of a washer and dryer? I'd really like you to explain this one, please.

And I have to agree with other commenters, you have a house cleaning service and you're worried about Post-It notes? Do you know how cheap those are? Besides, it seems like you can get free Post-It-like products from people trying to sell you stuff all the time. I bet there's a bank in your town giving away free post-it pads with their branch name on them right now :)

Savings fail

Guest's picture
Guest

I feel the need to touch on these.

House Cleaning: Depending on how much you get paid and how much your time is worth it might be cheaper and better for your life to have someone else clean. A house cleaner is cheaper then a stay at home parent but if one of the parents have a low income they should stay at home since their money is over taxed and adds expences vs. having the lower incoem earner stay home. Do the math either way.

Cell Phones: If you get a family plan with multiple people on this it can not be that bad of a price. Honestly you don't need home phone service so get rid of that and try to keep your cell bill as low as you can. You can easily get cell phones for $20 to $50 per phone which is comparable to a home line and a lot more useful.

Extra TVs: Are they being used? Did you buy the ruight priced TV for it's use? One Over priced TV could cost you more then a house full of the right TVs. If your house has kids you will likely have 2 or 3 TVs anyways. Also pay TV does not normally cost more per TV unless you need to rent boxes or need DVR service in multiple rooms. If it costs you more you are doing it wrong. Multiple TVs should lower your cost per hour for pay TV sicne you as a group can watch more without having to share one TV. It really depends on your usage. If you barely watch TV you should get rid of pay TV and not buy new TVs often.

Cars: Self Control. Unless you have a job that requires you to have a very expencive car then you shouldn't. You can buy a good car for under $10k. hell you can get a Vette for under $10k. And I can find rare sports cars for under $20k. You can turn a lot of heads with those vs paying $40k for a common car.

Eating Out: Honestly I can eat out for less then I can eat at home. And normally it is similar cost. But I also don't eat anywhere that costs me more then $10 per person. It's all about self control. Spend what you want but eating at home vs. eating out is not the problem. If you eat out right and figure in your time it should always be cheaper to eat out vs. home unless you eat really cheap at home.

Diapers: LMAO seriously if you want cloth diapers have at it.

Post-It Notes: It amazes me how many people over use these. Use you cell phone as a PDA and get organized.

Credit Cards: self control. Loads of us carry no balance. But thanks to those that do for paying for our usage.

Washer/Dryer: Time, clothes lasting longer, etc, etc. Seriously over time they should save you money vs. washing by hand. As I said before your time is worth money. You should know how much it is worth.

Guest's picture
Guest

"Use you cell phone as a PDA and get organized."

What? No. See, that would require shelling out money for a phone that can actually function as a PDA. I guarantee you the combined annual cost of my voice-and-text-only Tracfone, plus the annual cost of any Post-It notes I may need to buy if I ever get through the stock of all the Post-It pads I've gotten for free, comes nowhere near the cost of a cell phone I could use as a PDA (and the contract that goes with it). Perspective, try it.

Guest's picture
Guest

"If you eat out right and figure in your time it should always be cheaper to eat out vs. home unless you eat really cheap at home."

No, you can't eat out for less than you eat at home. $10 per person is an incredibly expensive meal (and we eat mostly meat and fresh veggies). The taxes alone put eating out always over the top of grocery store food in most locations. (7-10% tax vs. 0-3%)

And it's not faster, either, even if you live 5 minutes from the restaurant. I can cook a 1/2 decent meal and have it on the table in 30 minutes. (And that's fancy for me - simple meals are 15 minutes.) It takes 30 minutes to make it to the McDee's 2 miles down the road, order, get food and come back. Dishes afterward take me 15 minutes with a dishwasher. I'd say 15 minutes nightly of easy labor is well worth the savings , even for fast food meal. Obviously, the whole process is much faster than a sit down restaurant meal, which will easily top an 1 and 1/2 when including commute time.

Seriously, post your math on any of it (time and money) and I'll point out what you need to do differently because it's totally new math moment to come the conclusion you can eat out cheaper. It *never* happens when comparing apples to apples. (McDee's burgers/fries vs homemade burgers/store bought fries or Prime Rib at home vs in a fancy restaurant.)

Out of all the "little" habits middle-class American have, eating out stops the scale as the most biggest drain on it's wallet and it's time. And what's sad is so many people rationalize it as "cheaper" and "faster" when a few simple measurements/calculations would force them into the opposite conclusion. (I'm thinking they just don't want to go there..)

Guest's picture
Lacey

I can see why the house services would be a money waster. My aunt, who I live with, has a full-time job, my uncle is always busy with work, umpiring, softball, and helping my dad mow yards, so he's not home to help clean. They also have a 8 month baby, yet she still finds time to clean the house spotless. So, even if you have children, it's not entirely impossible to clean the house on your own. Cell phone are a necessity these days. Now, the extras that are optional are probably where your money is being wasted. You don't need texting, a data plan, etc. I pay $45 a month for unlimited internet and texting and for my shared minutes with my dad and step-mom for over 1,000 minutes that we never seem to run out of. Plus, if you talk to people who have your service (which all but like, 5 people I know don't) it's free to talk to them. Which is worth it. My mom pays about $20 or so for her minutes for a pre-paid phone and texting, because she just needs it to call people. I don't see the point of extra TVs, so I agree there. It just wastes more electricity, which costs you. I'm fine with my one TV. I've never had multiples. And you don't NEED cable or anything, really. Watch your TV on Hulu or the station's website. Or spend $10 on Netflix and watch movies online as well. That is a good investment. Honestly with a car, all I ask for is power locks and windows, and maybe a CD player. If not, I have my ipod I can plug in, or just listen to the radio. I don't need anything super-fancy on my car. Especially stuff that's just going to do nothing but distract me. Eating out is a big money waster. It does save a LOT of money to make your own food for lunches and cook your dinner at home. Plus it tastes better usually, and like someone mentioned up there in the earlier comments, it'll save from future health concerns later on because you'd been eating out all the time. As for diapers, I've only changed a diaper twice in my life, and I don't have children, but I do know they make disposables in environment friendly versions to reduce on waste. But, the only thing I can think of other than being a pain in the butt to change and wash all the time, is the amount of extra things you'd have to wash. It might even make an extra load of laundry you'd have to end up doing, which again, if you have an older washer and dryer, it'll use up more electricity and water. I'd rather just buy the environmentally friendly disposables, and do it that way. But what do I know, I'm not a parent. The mention of the Post-Its was just plain stupid, really. Just get a piece of paper, write what you need to remember on it, then bam! Recycle it. Or, another instance when that handy dandy cell phone comes in handy. Most phones (smart-phone or otherwise) all have a notes app on it, or an alarm to set to remind you of an appointment, or whatever you need to remember anyways. I won't ever get a credit card. Mainly because I know how my spending habits are, and I'd be in debt so fast. As for the washer and dryers being $600 a piece, where the hell are you getting your washer and dryers? You don't HAVE to have a brand spankin' new set, you can find ones in the classifieds for as low as $50 which are sometimes newer models. There's flaws to a lot of what you mentioned, basically is what a lot of, if not all, the commenters have obviously pointed out.