Saturday, December 29, 2007

The $125 Lesson

I was visiting a friend this past week, on the other side of the mountains (which have been getting a lot of snow). I was supposed to leave on Thursday, though it was predicted a huge snow storm was due that day. Since I didn't have to visit my client on Friday, I opted to stay until today, because the forecast predicted warmer weather today.

After waking up early so my friend could take me to Greyhound on her way to work, I found out the first (and probably second) Greyhound bus was cancelled due to the snow -- after she dropped me off. At 9am on a Saturday morning, I was stuck. I was in a rather small city, and the clerk suggested my only option to spend my time was to go to the mall (no thank you -- I'm not really a mall person and I didn't want to be forced to spend time in stores where I would possibly find something I wanted but didn't need). Another option was to rent a room in the hotel across the street and sleep (I was tired). My final option was to spend about $100 and fly back (note: the extra $25 was for the taxi to the airport and shuttle transport in my own city).

After finding out the ticket price I saw yesterday was still available at the same price, I ended up flying back. I figured that if I rented the hotel room, the cost would be at least as much, and then I would still have to endure a sold out bus ride back -- on a bus that wouldn't get me home until probably well after midnight.

After I felt dejected for a few minutes and got past my intial frustration and WTFamIgoingtodo-ness, I decided that flying was the best option. Yes, it added significantly to my travel costs for the trip, but when the only other option I seriously considered was getting a hotel room so I could sleep and I considered how much that would be [both money-wise and time-wise] versus the flight, there wasn't a question for me.

I learned a couple of things: 1. That there is a definite price I will put on my time if I'm stranded and there is absolutely nothing for me to do (and my only options are to spend money (e.g. hotel or mall)); 2. There are choices you make in frustrating circumstances, and you put a price on those ($125 is a small price to pay to not be stranded and to get home earlier than I initially planned on, and to just have a more pleasant point-to-point trip overall); 3. Sometimes what seems like it would be an expensive option really isn't (being able to buy a plane ticket for $100 on the day of a flight isn't a bad price in the US).

I also learned that flying is far cheaper than I thought it was to that location (I thought it was close to $300 round trip), but some tickets are available for about $50 each way, and it's with an airline that I get frequent flyer miles through. I'd never looked in to the flying option because I thought it was so much more expensive. In the future, if I have a choice between a $65 Greyhound ticket (RT) or a $100 plane ticket, I will choose the plane ticket. Flying saves me a good 4-5 hours, which, if I'm able to use that time to work instead, allows me to have less downtime and make more money.

On the flight back, I thought about how we make choices with our money, when a frustrating situation appears. I know that oftentimes people make rash decisions that cost a lot of money, without fully weighing the options. If I'd been able to call my friend and have her pick me back up (if she had a cell phone and if she hadn't been working), I would simply have stayed longer. I did see a lot of people at the station, that were bemoaning what they were going to do, and some of them had tried to get on the bus last night. None of them seemed to even consider flying as an option -- though most of them appeared to be with friends or family that they could stay with. What cost was it to those people, who maybe had jobs where they lost a shift?

The last thing I learned was that I miss being in airports...which is a dangerous thing. I've always liked airports, because they signal (obviously) going places, but I've never realized exactly how much I really, really like airports. This is a dangerous thing to think about, so I'm trying not to...otherwise I'll blow my emergency fund on a ticket to Iceland...or Panama...or Argentina...or [you get the picture].

In the end, I have the money in my emergency fund (and yes, I truly consider this its own kind of emergency, though obviously not the same severity as say, breaking my arm) and I'm happy to pay this cost. I also learned a few things, and that was worthwhile, too.

I'm interested to know how other people would have reacted, and what kind of "price" you put on your own [non-work] time.

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