Monday, May 19, 2014

Carrying Costs

By the time this blog is published I will have (hopefully) completed my three-week journey from southern home to northern home. In previous years I have posted online pictures of the stuff we bring back and forth each year. As a published author, I bring my inventory of books. As a reader, I bring my TBR pile (which was especially large this year as it included both Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic books). Since we are on the road for some time, we need traveling clothes for multiple days. Then there are the things that we only have one of and want in both locations. I cart my camera, various lenses, binoculars, and telescope. Jan brings her sewing machine and supplies.

The weeks before our migration we try to eat ourselves out of food. Whatever remains we give away unless we can use it on the trip, or they are staples such as mustard, ketchup, butter sticks, and the like. Those we put in a cooler and cart back and forth along with OJ for Jan’s breakfast, cheese and yogurts for our lunches, and a soda or two.

Waste not; want not. Right?

Well, yes, until we get to the financial concept of carrying costs. To keep those condiments from spoiling, we must ice them down. Bags of ice (they were 10 pounds, now they are 7 or 8 pounds) now cost something over $2. On average we need one a day. Twenty-three days on the road totals over $50—way in excess of the value of the stuff we carted in the cooler.

Why it took me until this trip to apply my MBA to the carrying costs of condiments, I can’t say, but on the third day of this trip it dawned on me that we had not considered the total cost of that ketchup and mustard, etc. when we chose to haul them around with us.

We do things by habit, don’t we? We’ve always packed the condiments for our migrations, but in previous years we took only a few days on the road between places. Using a net present value analysis we probably saved money, although not as much as we likely thought. This year we followed our routine by rote and this time the decision did not make good financial sense.
This got me thinking about how I often run on autopilot without reflecting on the real financial or psychological costs of keeping to an old routine. The unexamined life is like a sea-going ship that is never placed in drydock to have its hull scraped of barnacles. Once we get up north where I will have quiet time, I plan to spend some good porch time considering what other barnacles I need to scrape off in order to make my life-travel less burdened. 

What about you?

~ Jim

(This post originally appeared on Writers Who Kill 5/18/14)