Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What snacks really cost

It's 3:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. You glance gingerly at the clock at work, wondering why the day is dragging on, and decide it's time for your daily Mountain Dew and Twinkie, compliments of your company's vending machines. It's a good reason to step away from your desk and stretch your legs -- you've already finished most of your work in the morning, after all. Plus, you've always been one to snack here and there whenever you get a little bored. You scrounge for some change at the bottom of your purse and strut over to the vending machine. Now that you think about it, though, this is becoming somewhat of a daily habit ... and you are trying to save money. You turn away to trek back to your desk, but you're not even an arm's length away from the snack machine before you think "It's only a buck and some change ... it's really not that big of a deal if I just bought something today."

Unfortunately, my dear, that kind of thinking wastes more than just change on a monthly or even yearly basis. There's nothing wrong with snacking here and there at work, but those nickels, dimes and dollars really do add up over time if the vending machine is a usual stop at least once throughout your work day. Luckily my company keeps a stocked fridge in our kitchen area, so drinks and snacks (like hummus, pretzels and bananas) are always free for my co-workers and I. But what about for those of you who aren't provided such amenities? At my last job (I was an editor at a Bay Area newspaper), the snack room was vending machine city and nothing was free. If any of us in the newsroom were too lazy to make coffee (that we'd buy and bring in), we'd just buy coffee for some change at the snack machine, or make a quick Peet's Coffee run. Looking back on it now, I was a fool to fritter away so much of my cash on snacks just because it was an impulsively convenient thing to do. Don't believe me? Check out how the numbers speak for themselves.

Say you worked five days a week, and bought a packaged cookie ($0.65) and can of soda ($0.75) every day for a daily total of $1.40, which isn't bad at all. Yearly, though? It becomes a $364 annual habit! And that's for the cheap stuff. If you want to munch on the more expensive toodies on a daily basis, say a bag of Doritos ($1.25) and a bottle of soda ($1.25), that comes out to $650 per year!! And that money doesn't even include eating out for lunch, which even the staunchest brown bagger ends up doing sporadically. So what's the solution? Well, you could either go cold turkey and not snack at all, but let's face it, that's probably not realistically going to happen. Or you could (obviously) bring your own snacks to work. Yes, the latter will still cost you some money, but if you grocery shop smartly (which is a whole other article unto itself), you typically end up saving a lot in the long run. For snacks, I like to buy fruit in bulk from Costco, where it is downright cheap compared to other stores such as Safeway. I swear by Trader Joes for everything else (their dried mango strips are simply divine!).

Anyway my point is to stir up some awareness of how much we typically spend on something as frivolous as a vending machine snack, just because a.) we've got some extra change, b.) we're bored, c.) we're a little hungry, d.) we were lazy about planning ahead and bringing food from home, or e.) it's there, so why not?

The more we're aware of our purchases, the more us ladies on a budget can save and invest for the bigger things in our life. Maybe an early retirement replete with a cute, red vintage Alfa Romeo? I'd take that over a bag of Funions and a Coke anyday!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely right! Most frugal folks find that the devil is in the details. I have to keep explaining to my husband: Yes, it's just two dollars. But with that attitude, it gets expensive fast. He thinks I'm always saying no and then we have to bicker. What I want is for him to think through every purchase. (Though in his defense, I am often saying no, because we don't need it.)

Crystal said...

Yes! People should always look at how much things cost them in total (especially if it's a reoccuring purchase, like snacks), instead of just looking at how much it costs at that specific second they want it.

Anonymous said...

I always think this way, and it confuses a lot of people.

$40/mo cable: $480/year
$12/mo radio: $146/year
$50/mo phone: $600/year
$2/day coffee: $300/year

Why don't I have (insert above item)? $1,500 every year, that's why. Would you rather Spongebob or go on a cruise every year?

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