How Mowing The Lawn And My Finances Intersect
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In my post, “Every Blade of Grass,” I mentioned how paying off my mortgage made activities such as mowing the lawn that more pleasurable now that I knew that I, and not the bank, owned every blade of grass on my property.
There are other benefits of mowing the lawn that have a direct or indirect impact on my finances.
I officially own 7.67 acres of land and would classify my location as being “in the rural country”.
Of those 7.67 acres, I keep around 1.5 acres maintained.
I remember one of my physician colleagues who came over for a party looking incredulous when I told him that I essentially maintained the property myself.
He was surprised as most of my colleagues living in the city had a landscaping service maintain their yards (the size of which my property dwarfed).
Now when I first bought the property, the original owner, who was in his 70s, stayed on for the about 6 months paying rent (which worked out perfect for me as I could finish out my contract in Ohio before moving down south).
His only stipulation was that he would require someone to mow the lawn as he was no longer willing or able to do so.
I ended up finding a landscaping service that kept the yard mowed for $125/cutting.
This ended up being a $250/month expense.
When I finally moved into the premises, I actually kept that lawn service going for a couple of months before I decided that it seemed like I was wasting money since it was something I could do myself.
My push mower from Ohio was not going to cut it here (pun intended).
So the first thing I was faced with was buying the necessary lawn equipment to tackle on such a large scale property.
I originally went with a ride on zero turn lawn mower.
However after a few episodes of nearly tipping over on the very steep portions of my backyard (near the waterfall), I promptly exchanged it for a walk behind mower that had a lower center of gravity and which could tow me with an attached sulky.
This required a cash outlay of approximately $7500.
It was definitely a large sum back then (and still is now).
The key for me was to calculate the financial breakeven point.
I figured the mowing season was a little over 6 months a year.
Assuming that the landscape service rate stayed the same (not a given), it would cost me $1500/yr.
This made the breakeven period approximately 5 years (slightly longer if you also add fuel cost, machine service cost, parts, etc.)
Given that I bought the lawnmower in 2006 and it is still going strong in 2018, I have come out far ahead in this transaction.
Of course there are some readers that would point out that I have to account for my actual time cost (approximately 90 min each time) of mowing the lawn myself rather than outsourcing the work.
If one extrapolates my hourly rate at work (let’s just say $250/hour) to this activity, they could say that this time opportunity cost is $375.
I do think this line of thinking is wrong.
To justify that the time cost of me mowing is equivalent to $375 would mean that I would actually have to be engaged in the activity that would bring me that rate during the time I was to be mowing the lawn.
This would not be the case.
If someone was to mow my lawn for me, I would likely not be reading radiology studies at the very same time.
Most likely I would be on the couch watching TV.
Another aspect of mowing the lawn that I have applied to my finances has a bit more of a circuitous route (pun again intended).
When I mow the lawn, like most people, I would start from the periphery and work my way towards the center.
Now there were a lot of trees and other obstacles that I would have to mow around during this normal mowing pattern.
On subsequent passes I would try to mow in the most efficient way possible and follow exactly the path created by these detours.
These twists and turns were magnified with each subsequent pass until near the end it looked like I was doing some complicated dance moves on my walk behind mower.
It was definitely the most efficient way to cut the grass (I was always going over new grass) but it made the whole process more tedious.
My “aha” moment came when I decided one day not to follow the crazy twists and turns that an obstacle created, but instead on the next pass just go through in a straight line (even though I knew this was not being efficient as I was mowing over already mowed grass).
By this simple act, I made the entire process more streamlined.
I didn’t have to do crazy maneuvers in ever tightening circles.
In the big scheme of things, this inefficiency only led to maybe a few extra seconds of the mower running/more gas consumed (being able to mow at a higher speed likely even further minimized this discrepancy).
So how did I translate this concept from the physical world to the financial world?
When I was investing in my taxable account I used to use my bi-monthly payday as the trigger to buy funds.
Initially I used to do this manually.
I thought I could be more efficient by looking at the markets daily and if there was a dip in the market a few days prior to payday, I would use that day to make my purchases (I would always buy at the very latest on my actual payday no matter what the market did).
Sometimes I came out ahead (bought a few days prior to my payday at a lower cost).
Sometimes I didn’t (market dropped even further on actual payday).
But in the big overall picture this “mini market timing” really did not have a significant impact and just added extra twists and turns (me monitoring the market daily and then initiating all the transactions manually).
All that extra work may have gotten me an extra 0.10 of a share IF I was lucky.
Putting my finances on autopilot (automatic purchases based on my payday) is equivalent to me barreling straight ahead on my mower over already mowed grass.
It is mentally less fatiguing and in the long run likely to have the exact same results.
Superpower Take Home Points:
- It is sometimes helpful to think of a financial breakeven point when contemplating a large purchase or not.
- If the usable life of this purchase is longer than the breakeven point, it makes financial sense to proceed with the transaction
- Although efficiency on the whole is a good thing, taken to its extreme it can have a detrimental effect
- Factor in the extra effort required versus the potential gain from being efficient when deciding which course of action is best.
- Sometimes the easiest course, which may not be the most efficient, may be the best
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