The conventional wisdom is that items cost more at a convenience store than they do at a grocery store because we are “paying for convenience” at the convenience store. But it dawned on me the other day that everything we pay is for convenience.
When you buy a pizza at a takeout place, you are paying for the convenience of not making your own pizza; making pizza yourself would be cheaper, but would consume a lot of time. Similarly, when you get an oil change you are paying for convenience; you could change the oil yourself, but it’s so much easier to let someone else do it. You buy fuel at the gas station for the convenience of driving; you could walk everywhere, but that would be inconvenient. These are easy examples. Now for a harder one:
When you go to the emergency room with a broken arm, you are paying for convenience. You don’t have to get the arm fixed. You could resign yourself to a life with one gimpy arm, or you could try to fix it yourself, but these alternatives are awfully inconvenient. You’re better off paying for a trained professional to help. The same goes for legal, accounting, and other professional services.
What about the shopping example I started with? Grocery stores are less convenient than convenience stores, and wholesale outlets are less convenient than grocery stores, so we know that we sometimes pay for a store’s convenience. But there is also temporal convenience: for example, buying a swimming suit in June is more convenient than waiting for the end-of-summer closeout sales in August. The convenience of having something right now is often costly. Another example is seeing a movie in the theater instead of waiting for it to come out on dvd.
Okay, so we agree that everything we buy is for convenience. What does that reality mean for us? It means that we need to decide which conveniences are most important. We all have limited time and money, so what convenience merits an expenditure of these valuable resources?
Generally, the convenience of being healthy is high in value, so I believe most people would be willing to pay a lot for that. The convenience of having a prepared meal at the very instant when we become hungry is relatively low in value; we can suppress our appetites for a couple hours while we travel home and cook our own meals. Between these extremes, there are a lot of judgment calls to make.
The next time you reach for your wallet, identify what convenience you are paying for. Is it worth the cost? Or could you use your resources to pay for a more valuable convenience, and put up with a little inconvenience in this instance?