Every solution is the sum of time, money, and skills (economists read: labor, capital and entrepreneurial skills). For instance one can compensate a lack of skills with time. For instance, a skilled person does the job faster than an unskilled person. I learned this the hard way when I spent 30+ hours doing a joint 1040 tax return with several schedules for investment income/gains the first time I did my taxes. Hiring an accountant would probably have been faster. In that way I would have compensated for my lack skill with money. I still would have had to earn the money to pay the accountant but with my wage income at the time, it would not have taken 30 hours. Still, I learned a great deal about the tax code and since then I’ve been better prepared to play the tax code. Remember, it is your duty as a PRODUCTIVE individual to do what you can to MINIMIZE your taxes! For instance, I take tax saving investment losses to offset capital gains. Had I handed my taxes over to the accountant I would not have been aware of this and thus I probably saved more in the long run by learning how to do my own taxes. Besides, since then doing my taxes have taken less and less time.

But I digress …

The extent to which we as consumers have been accustomed to substituting money for even basic skills is incredible. Consider lighting a fire in a wood stove. One of our past rental units had a nice wood stove. Lighting a fire has been basic knowledge for about 50000 years, but at some point this knowledge was apparently lost. Instead of crumbling up 10 sheets of newspaper and spreading some wood kindle on top of that followed by larger pieces of wood with lots of space around them, it is possible, and I’m not making this up, to buy a — that’s a, 1, one — log wrapped in a bag at walmart. This idea is to throw the entire bag in and light the bag. Fairly convenient.

Also it costs $2 per log. That’s almost as crazy as bottled water! Assuming we’re using two logs a day for 3 months, that’s $180 a year or $180/0.04=$4500 in savings to support it. Natural gas is clearly cheaper. However, building your own fire is even cheaper, especially, when people are given away fire wood for free on craigslist.

If spending a few tries learning how to get a fire going saves $4500, it is probably worth it, no? If nothing else knowing that you have that skill should you ever depend on it probably lends some satisfaction. In addition, not spending that money did not really decrease your standard of living, right? In fact, there are many instances where a little thinking can substitute for a little spending with no detrimental effects to your standard of living. Stay tuned!

Originally posted 2007-12-07 08:36:00.