Is Bargain Shopping Worthwhile? Part 2: The Cost in Time

The old adage says, “Time is money.”  As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, I’ve lived most of my life without a lot of money, so bargain hunting is ingrained!

I grew up understanding, then, that if you didn’t have the money for something, then you must use your time to acquire it some other way.  Don’t have the money to buy a dress from the store?  Then use your time to sew one.  Can’t afford to eat out?  Then you must take the time to cook a meal at home.  After all, everybody has 24 hours in each day, even if we don’t have any money.


With our current economy, who isn’t trying to save as much money as possible?  So, it’s been logical to use a bit more time if it helps us save money.

But life just seems to be getting faster, so now we don’t have any time to spare!  What do you do, then, when your goal to save money is consuming too much of your time?

I was frustrated by this very conflict until God helped me figure out how to easily determine if I was really saving money when I took extra time to shop around for grocery bargains.  I’m sharing this info with you because I believe I’m not the only one who struggles with this.  You may even find this helpful for shopping needs beyond groceries!

Part 1 shows you how to calculate your gas expense when you drive to multiple stores just to get the lowest sticker prices on items.  Besides the sticker prices for items, your gasoline expenditure is the next easiest cost to see whether you’re saving or wasting, for real dollars are spent every time you fill the tank.  Suddenly, that special deal at the store I don’t usually go to doesn’t seem so special anymore!


But your gasoline cost is not the only extra price tag to add on to the sticker price!  There’s also the cost of your time.  This is especially true for those who work a paying job, but it’s still applicable to those of us who are stay-at-home moms.

The Time-Cost Formula

To figure out your cost in time you need to know how much your time is worth.  If you receive a fixed wage (hourly or salary), simply determine how much you are getting paid per hour at your job.  For those of us who don’t work for direct pay, I’ve assumed we are at least worth $10/hour.  This will be the amount used in my examples.

Now that you know your hourly worth, divide it by 60 minutes.  $10/hr divided by 60 minutes/hr = .1666… (17 cents/minute).

Next, you need to know how long it will take you to drive to each store directly from your house.  If you learned the distance of each store from you home via your smartphone or computer assistant program—as explained in Part 1, you were also told the time it takes to travel that distance.  If a map app doesn’t tell you the travel time, then you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way:  keep track of the time as you actually drive that distance.

Armed with your driving times and the monetary value of your every minute, you can now multiply the two and find out what your bargain-shopping trip is costing you.  Example:  Store A is a 5-minute drive one way, so 5 minutes x 17 cents = 85 cents one way, or $1.70 for a round trip.  Store B is 11 minutes from home, so 11 x .17 = $1.87 one way, or $3.74.

Ah, c’mon.  The math we’re doing here isn’t that hard!  🙂

A Real-Life Scenario

Let’s put all this number-crunching into a real-life scenario.  Every week, I need to buy 3 gallons of milk for my family, and this weekend I also need an avocado.

Normally, I do my twice-monthly grocery shopping at Store B (2.8 miles/11 minutes away) because it has more stuff, including non-food items, than Store A.  B’s milk is cheaper ($1.97 last time I checked), and they’re having a sale on avocados (77 cents each), which usually are $1 or more at any store.

But Store A is closer (1.6 miles & 5 minutes one way), and their milk was $2 last time I was there.  I have no idea what they’re charging for an avocado.

Just driving to and from Store B costs me $4.36 total in gas (2.8 miles x .11/mile =.31 one way or .62 round trip) and time (11 minutes x .17/minute =$1.87 one way or $3.74 round trip).  The drive to Store A costs me only $2.06 (1.6 miles; 5 minutes).

The difference between these 2 stores is $2.30 in just gas and travel time.  Will I truly save that much by going the extra distance and time for the cheaper priced milk and avocado?

What are the chances that Store A’s price for an avocado will be $2.30 more than Store B’s price?  If you guessed slim to none, then you are correct!

avocados-354061_640 edited
WHAT!?!?  Don’t panic; that price sign is not real (my daughter edited this picture).  But this is the price Store A would’ve needed to charge to make going to Store B worthwhile.

Even though Store A’s milk price had gone up to $2.09, it was still cheaper to go the shorter distance.  Their avocado was $1.29, so I paid 52 cents more for the avocado and an extra 12 cents for each gallon of milk—an extra 36 cents total for the milk (assuming Store B’s milk price hadn’t also gone up!).

Instead of paying the extra $2.30 to go to Store B for cheaper sticker prices, I paid only 88 cents more by saving my gas and my time!

Admittedly, the immediate payout of savings or expense based on sticker prices is very obvious, while the gas and time price tags are much less obvious.  (Although, my husband did notice I was home much quicker than usual.  I saved a few minutes and got back to what I really wanted to do quicker!  And that’s going to add up to bigger chunks eventually!)

Clearly, then, it is extremely valuable to take a few minutes to calculate what it’s costing you in time and gas.  I strongly suggest that you write this info down somewhere, so you can easily remember the gas and time price tags that must be added to any sales you’re tempted to chase around after.  Your price tag for every minute you spend crunching these numbers will surely be recouped quickly as you start limiting the number of trips to various stores!

But what about [special circumstance]?  Yes, there are some situations that could make all this a moot point.  We’ll consider those in Part 3: “Mitigating Circumstances,” so be sure to keep reading.

In general, though, being aware of what you are spending on gas and time when bargain shopping is critical to determining whether you’re really saving any money.

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Is Bargain Shopping Worthwhile? Part 2: The Cost in Time

    1. Yes, I hadn’t either prior to this, and now I’m rather blown away by what I’ve discovered! I’m looking forward to getting more of my time back and getting rid of more stress as I “practice what I preach!”

      Liked by 1 person

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