When Not to Save Money

A few days ago, while reading an article in Time about how to lower stress, I was reminded of the words of wisdom that a centimillionaire friend of mine once shared with me. He explained that in the past, when things got tough in one of his businesses, he focused on slashing overhead to the bone.

Nothing was too small to escape his attention – terminating the delivery of bottled water, handing down an edict to his staff to use fewer paperclips, buying lower-quality copying paper, hiring a less-expensive janitorial service… and so on.

The result? Every time he declared war on expenses, the savings he realized had almost no effect on the fortunes of his business. He finally recognized that you don’t make money by cutting overhead. Making money is a direct result of the amount of time you spend creating valuable products and marketing them. Marketing is the engine of every successful company, because it leads to sales – and sales lead to profits.

It all gets down to how you spend your time. Would you rather spend it focusing on problems or opportunities? Any overhead, no matter how small, is a problem if your income isn’t high enough to cover it. And, in theory, no amount of overhead is too high if your income is great enough to cover it – preferably many times over.

The reason this crucial point came to mind as I was reading that Time article is because I truly believe that worrying about nominal expenses is a huge stress generator. I say that because I used to do it to an extreme.

I once knew a woman who would drive 15 miles to save 79 cents on something like a bottle of shampoo. If she bought 10 of them, she might save $7.90. Which sounds good until you factor in the extra hour it might have taken her to get to the store that had the lower price. In addition, there would have been stress involved if she had to fight her way through heavy traffic to get to that store.

Pennies may add up to dollars, but the time required to save those pennies can add up to a lot of stress – and enough stress might just add up to serious illness or premature death.

Early in my career, I began to reassess some of the ways in which I was saving on expenses. I came to realize that in order to make intelligent decisions when it comes to saving money, time and stress should always be factored into the equation.

Following are some examples of "money-saving" habits that I eliminated from my life as a result of this reassessment.

When I lived alone for a while in my twenties, I did a lot of grocery shopping. I bought a lot of fruits and vegetables in those days, and, after I brought them home, often found some spoilage. Instead of throwing out the spoiled items, I would pack them up, take them back to the supermarket, ask to speak with the manager, and return them for a refund. It was a time-consuming undertaking, to say the least.

When I finally thought about what I was doing, I estimated that by getting those refunds, I saved, on average, a couple of dollars a week – or about $100 a year. Without realizing it, what I was telling myself was that the many hours I was investing in returning spoiled fruits and vegetables were worth less than $100 a year! Needless to say, I stopped.

Another example was my habit of carefully reviewing the bill when I ate in restaurants. It took me a long time to recognize two things about restaurant tabs: First, they are seldom incorrect. Second, on those rare occasions when math mistakes are made, the errors are in the customer’s favor as often as in the restaurant’s. In other words, a wash.

But even if you end up on the short end of restaurant-tab mistakes, how much in the hole could you possibly be over a period of 40 or more years if you didn’t take the time to scrutinize every check? $100? $200? $300? I doubt it would be as much as $300, but even if it were, that would average out to only about two cents a day over 40 years. I don’t know about you, but a few minutes of my time is worth a lot more than two cents.

A more recent money saver that I finally backed away from is the dreaded "rebate" game. As you are probably all too painfully aware, it’s a game played relentlessly by computer software companies. All you have to do is read the voluminous instructions, fill out a form that asks you for information that includes everything but birthmarks in private places, cut off the box top from the software package, put it together with your original receipt, and mail it in. Then the software company sends you a rebate of $50 or so – in about eight weeks.

Doh! I finally woke up to the reality that my time and effort is worth far more than the money I was saving by being a rebate addict.

Yes, time is money. How much is your time worth?

Let me make it clear that I don’t believe in profligate spending. But I do believe in factoring in time and stress when it comes to saving insignificant amounts of money. I know that turning your back on saving money flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but the reality is that many so-called savings are nothing more than illusions when juxtaposed against the loss of time and the damaging effects of stress.

[Ed. Note: The more money you make, the less you need to worry about a few dollars here and there. You can increase your income many times over with the treasure chest of proven ideas, strategies, and techniques Robert Ringer has packed into his best-selling dealmaking audio series. Learn how to make penny pinching a thing of the past right here.

And sign up for Robert’s Voice of Sanity e-letter here.]

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and host of the highly acclaimed Liberty Education Interview Series, which features interviews with top political, economic, and social leaders. He has appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, The Tonight Show, Today, The Dennis Miller Show, Good Morning America, The Lars Larson Show, ABC Nightline, and The Charlie Rose Show, and has been the subject of feature articles in such major publications as Time, People, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Barron's, and The New York Times.