On a warm Friday evening last month, I was happily prepping my road bike for a 75 mile ride around the Isle of Wight.
I was leaving the following morning, and had to take the chain off to get to a part that had worn out and needed replacing. I whipped out the tool designed for the job (a chain breaker – my example was a £2 eBay special which had taken the slow boat here from China) and got to work.
Less than 30 seconds later my chain breaker was in two pieces, my right hand was bloody, and words were being shouted that my Mum wouldn’t be very pleased about. Suddenly, on a Friday night less than 12 hours before the off, I was in the market for a new chain breaker.
I jumped in my car and got down to Halfords, hoping they had this reasonably specialised tool in stock. They did, and in fact they had two kinds – a cheap one and an expensive one. The cheap one looked an awful lot like the one that was still partially embedded in my hand, so I picked up the expensive one. But then I paused.
It occurred to me that I didn’t really know how much one of these should cost. My bleeding hand indicated that £2 wasn’t enough, clearly - but this one was £13, and that felt like a lot. So I did what any savvy consumer would, and compared prices elsewhere using my phone. As it turned out, I could buy the same tool on the Halfords website and collect it from the store I was standing in for £10. It would take an hour, but I could save £3 – that’s nearly a pint!
I stood there for at least five minutes, silently agonising over the potential to save £3 in exchange for an hour of waiting around. I must have looked tortured, because two different staff members came and asked me if I was OK. It was a testing period of my purchase journey.
That is, until I realised that wasting an hour to save £3 was not that different to working an hour to earn £3. That’s less than half of the hourly UK minimum wage. I promptly took the £13 chain breaker to the till, went home, got my bike ready and had a great cycle the next day.
The time it took me to come to that realisation is something I’ve thought about quite a lot recently. Many of my mates will go considerably out of their way to visit petrol stations selling cheaper fuel. My darling fiancée routinely goes to supermarkets miles away from our nearest one just to pick up a single item she knows is on offer there.
I’ve started to think about whether or not it’s worth it. Sure, I could save a couple of quid filling my car up at a petrol station where the fuel’s 5p a litre less than my local one. However, if it takes me any more than 20 minutes longer to do I’ve unconsciously made the decision that my time is worth less than Her Majesty’s Government says it should be.
It’s amazing how much power small savings can have over us. Yes, they mount up and it’s a no-brainer to save money when you can, but next time you’re tempted to drive half an hour down the road to save a few quid, maybe think about what you’d rather be doing instead.