Susan Hamersky's clients ask her
errand service, California Concierge Service, to run from The Dollar
Store to Wal-Mart and across town again for the best bargain, at
$39 an hour.
It ends up costing the clients
more in time than they could possibly save on bargains, the Los
Angeles-based business owner says, but if that is what they ask
for, she is happy to oblige.
The idea seems extreme: paying
someone to run all over town to save a few dollars here or there.
But it is the essence of what so many families do every Saturday
The weekly dance
They hop in the car and go to the drug store that is having a sale
on vitamins, then on to Target, where paper towels and dish soap
are always cheapest, and then over to the next town, to the warehouse
store, to stock up on meat and maybe pick up some jeans.
The day's total tally is four hours, 35 miles and
less than $10 in savings.
All that and the grocery shopping still hasn't been
done, plus the minivan is probably full of things that weren't on
the shopping list.
At times when we are trying so hard not to waste money,
we are often frittering away time and cash.
Every bargain hunt is a judgment call, Hamersky says,
but the balance of the cost of gas and the expenditure of time is
easily underestimated. She is inclined to go for simplicity.
"Whichever store you feel overall on their prices
is the best, then you just do your shopping there and don't worry
about the rest, because you can drive yourself crazy running to
three or four stores to finish your list," she says.
A gas analysis
In mid-August, the AAA Fuel Gauge Report showed the national average
for regular gasoline prices was at $2.48, up 62 cents from a year
earlier. The escalating price of gas is quickly bringing up the
cost of driving every mile, said Geoff Sundstrom, spokesman for
The cost of gasoline alone is now 9.9 cents per mile
for a 2005 Dodge Caravan, for a total operating cost of 16.2 cents
per mile, including maintenance and tires, according to the AAA
calculations. At 15,000 miles per year, with insurance and maintenance
factored in, the Caravan costs 56.3 cents per mile to operate.
On a recent weekend in Portland, Ore., three of the
best deals at Target -- a box of Frosted Mini-Wheats, a 15-pack
of Bounty paper towels and a 24-pack of Frito-Lay snack bags --
were $6.65 cheaper than they were at a local Albertsons grocery
store. The paper towels were the big buy, at a savings of $5.
At 56.3 cents per mile, if Target were even six miles
away from home, you would be losing money on that "great deal."
Just considering the operating costs, it actually costs more than
$3.24 to make a 10-mile trip across town and back. So the savings
plummet to $3.41.
Then the question becomes less about math and more
about what makes sense in your own life.
"You don't tend to put a price tag on your time,
and people tend to think of time as an unlimited resource, but it
is limited," Hamersky says.
Consider time and energy
California Concierge runs errands, shops for gifts, and is a personal
assistant for anything time-consuming. Hamersky's customers are
people whose time is very precious, whether they are CEOs or a new
mother bonding with a baby.
"They can be at work working with their
clients, making a sale, or spending time with their family or their
leisure activities that only they can do," she says. "It's