Passion by the Hour

On our DVD shelf, which is admittedly quite thinner than it used to be, there are quite a few DVDs that we’ve watched once and are simply accumulating dust. Assuming a cost of $15 per DVD and a two hour movie, our hourly cost is about $7.50.

On the other hand, we have our Pixar movies. We picked up Toy Story 2 – our son’s favorite movie – for about $11 and we’ve watched it at least nine times, while also digging through the special features several times. Our hourly cost for that DVD is about $0.60.

Here’s the difference: we’re not passionate about that first movie, but our son is very passionate about that second movie. It’s his choice on almost every family movie night. He loves it.

That dust-collecting movie would have been far better off as a rental. We could have dropped a dollar, rented it somewhere, enjoyed it once, then returned it. That reflects our passion much better than owning the movie because we enjoy watching a wide variety of films, not watching and re-watching the same ones over and over (outside of a small handful of them). Cost per hour – $0.50.

Here’s another example. My wife has owned a flute for many years. She’s put thousands of hours into the flute over the decades and is quite good at it, making beautiful music while my attempts sound like awful noise. Her cost per hour of use of that flute is down in the pennies at this point.

A while back, she decided to take on learning the keyboard. She picked up a pretty solid budget keyboard for $99 and set it up in the basement. At first, she played it quite a bit, but before long, the novelty of it wore off. Now, most of the touches that the keyboard gets come from our children, who occasionally enjoy climbing up to it and pounding the keys for a few minutes.

My “back of the napkin” calculation on that one, the cost per hour of use of the keyboard is somewhere around $4.

There’s a pattern here. If a purchase is in line with someone’s passion, the cost per hour of that purchase is pretty low – it’s a value. If a purchase isn’t in line with a passion, the cost per hour on that purchase is very high – it’s a waste of money.

There are some really useful conclusions that can be drawn from this.

First, it’s fine to spend money on your passions if you know what they are. If you’re passionate about something, you’re going to wind up investing a lot of time on it, simply because the activity is important to you. Thus, it’s completely worthwhile to invest in that passion.

Take, for example, someone who drinks several cups of coffee in the morning as opposed to someone who drinks perhaps one cup a week. The person who drinks a lot of coffee is passionate about it and will likely get value out of a coffee grinder and whole beans. The person who drinks perhaps one cup a week will get very little value out of that same coffee grinder.

Second, if you’re unsure about your passion, it makes sense to rent equipment or buy low-end equipment. In the example above, my wife might have been better off if she had simply bought a very low-end keyboard, perhaps a used one from a yard sale or from Craigslist or Freecycle. This would have lowered the initial cost quite a bit, so that we didn’t have as much invested when she discovered that she didn’t have a real passion about playing the keyboard.

What happens if you discover that you are passionate about it? If you find that you do have a passion – that you’re staying up late playing the keyboard or working in the woodshop – upgrade your equipment as needed. If you can identify a good reason to upgrade a piece of equipment that you’re using all the time, upgrade it. If your original piece of equipment was inexpensive, then it won’t be too much of a loss to upgrade.

In the end, the cost per hour of your equipment is a great indication of what you’re passionate about. The things that have a very low cost per hour are things that either were already nearly free or that you’re passionate about.

On the other hand, things that have a high cost per hour of use are things that you should strongly consider trimming in your life. For example, we’ve stopped buying individual movies, instead moving towards renting movies for family movie night. I’m also strongly considering moving to a pay-as-you-go mobile phone plan.

It’s easy to get started: just spend some time looking at the things in your life. What do you spend a lot of time with? What do you not spend much time at all enjoying? Likely, the things you don’t spend much time on – especially in comparison to the cost – are great places to trim away a little fat. Start looking at your expenditures through this filter and you’ll likely surprise yourself at what you might discover.

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