Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I Am Who I Should Have Thought I Would Be

Big Red gum is one of the remaining non-sugar-free gum brandsIn high school I brought Trident to chew after lunch—it was that fourth dentist that sold me over the then-competitor Carefree. My friends leveraged this knowledge and preyed on my gum. I responded by bringing only one piece every day, leading to their disappointment and stereotype jokes. My decision had nothing to do with money since my dad bought (and continues to buy) me an unending supply. It was a matter of efficiency. I should have known then the type of grown-up I would become…

I bought a 12-quart pot so I can boil 40 pieces of chicken at once. Boiled chicken is dry and tasteless, but it is worth the time saved cooking dinner each night or work lunches on the weekend. I also cook two pounds of beans at once for work lunches. At least I don’t have to worry about coworkers stealing my beans and boiled chicken. I had thought girls would appreciate this efficiency when I shared it with them, but it disgusts them. Hopefully no prospects are reading this now.

I bought custom-fit dress shirts from an online Vietnamese retailer for about $25 each. The perfect fit alone made them worth more than the $60 per shirt I used to spend at Brooks Brothers. I accepted the shirts’ flaws, like uncut button openings and loose strings. I also tried not to consider the average labor age that went into the shirts.

I also bought a custom-fit wool suit for $140, which would have cost $1,000 at many U.S. retailers. The tailor used the wrong leg measurements and the suit pants were baggy. I fussed and got a partial refund. The Vietnamese company then stopped taking my orders. I should have accepted the defective suit pants as a sunk cost—my short-term efficiency clouded my long-term one.

I’m living rent-free so people assume I spend money I otherwise wouldn’t have, like how business travelers who get a per diem eat out at fancy restaurants. That is not how I think, which is always in terms of opportunity cost. I will still take the Metro instead of a cab, for example. My rent savings is unrelated.

Opportunity cost drives most of my monetary decisions. An example: my friends and I want to go out to dinner where the assumed requirements are waiting service, alcoholic beverages and a calm atmosphere. My instinct is to select a restaurant from Groupon or Scoutmob because those will provide less expensive alternatives for the same thing. If only I could do that on dates. Something tells me my “it’s the same thing for less money!” plea would not go over well.

People assume I am cheap. Actually, based on my Accept All Social Invitations Because You Never Know What You'll Miss rule, money almost never decides my behavior. I don’t think twice spending on activities and experiences. But if my goal is simply a vacation, for example, then I’m going rock-climbing for free. It’s the same thing for less money!

I get pleasure from shedding unnecessary possessions and body fat, and try to prevent accumulation in the first place. No wonder one of my few academic passions was the environment and sustainability.

Sometimes I’m not so efficient. I love the cold weather but hate feeling cold, so I keep my thermostat high which wastes energy. Finding monetary efficiencies like I do at supermarkets leads to inefficient use of other resources, like time. And buying clothes that use material as efficiently as possible, and then washing them, can lead to shrinking disasters like this:

men's tight t-shirt fashion style

I happily share my gum now, which my high school friends would resent me for. But I switched from Trident to Big Red, which doesn’t get many takers. That combination of offering my kindness and remaining efficient is like the 12-gallon pot of chicken boiling.