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Sunday, May 18, 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


E. B. Davis said...

You've hit on a good topic, Jim. I think everyone has a problem with doing things by rote without thinking what it is they are actually doing. It's a rut. Even when we do good things for ourselves by rote, we eventually get less and less from them and have to change our approach or learn new techniques.

For example, Sue Grafton changed her approach in, perhaps "S," by writing some chapters not only in third POV, but also by taking the reader back in time to give the history of the victim without telling. She'd always written every book in first person. This new approach was exciting.

What you are suggesting is the examined life--too much--you're studying your navel--too little--you're unconscious. Good advice for us all.

KM Rockwood said...

Your story reminds me of the old one of the woodcutter who is frantically chopping wood for the winter, but it's taking him a long time because his ax has become dull. When asked why he doesn't stop and sharpen it, he replies that he doesn't have time.

I think a lot of us have an area or two where we operate like that, and thinking it through would help considerably.

Meanwhile, get some of those small individual packages of ketchup & mustard, and get soem juice packs. And if you can't easily find a grocery store, pay the outrageous convenience store prices for a small carton of OJ and yogurt.

I got a Kindle precisely because I liked the alternative to carting around a suitcase of books when I traveled. Although I prefer print books, this works very well under the circumstances.

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- You probably said it more clearly than I did.

KM -- I heard the same story except the implement involved was a rusty saw, with, of course, the same result.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

I think because I was born as the Great Recession was winding down, but my parents had lived through it, I hate to throw things away that still might have some us if not for me for someone else. Starving children of China was always mentioned if we didn't want to eat our lima beans. Of course, I know that throwing out the beans won't save hungry children, deep in my subconscious I hate to throw things away, but now it's the environment. Landfills don't need any more plastic. Thank goodness for recycling. Now I don't feel guilt about throwing things away.

As for the same routine, in many ways it makes things easier. I don't have to think about what I'm going to fix for breakfast because it's the same every morning.

However, as one who has always tried new things; painting, piano, guitar lessons, clogging,spinning, backpacking and too many other things to mention here, I don't think I can be considered to be one who always sticks to a comfortable routine.

Warren Bull said...

Habits are hard to break. One reason is, they work most of the time under most situations. One idea from psychology that I like is Thoughtfulness, staying in the present and not allowing concerns about twelve other ideas distract you from the task at hand.

Shari Randall said...

Good food for thought, Jim. Today I am cleaning out closets - probably a good time to clean out the mental closet as well.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria -- since we would have given the condiments away, the food would not have been wasted. (We did that with a half-dozen chicken breasts we had left over.)

Warren -- psychology or Buddhism, the practice of Thoughtfulness or Mindfulness is a wonderful concept that my partially ADD brain often finds difficult to apply.

~ Jim

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim, I think it's easy to make a decision that's the right decision and then not revisit as it slowly becomes the wrong decision over the time, simply because we don't notice the incremental changes. Thanks for the reminder.

Kara Cerise said...

I'm a conversational partner with a woman from China who is learning English. Sometimes she asks why things are done the way they are in the U.S. I have to stop and think because I'm so used to the way we do things (vote, celebrate birthdays, exercise etc.) that I don't always question why or the process.