What Will One Hour Buy You?

by Katy on April 12, 2009 · 8 comments


I was sitting in the break room at work the other day when a discussion about the state of the economy came up. One of my fellow labor and delivery nurses was bemoaning how bad things were for all of us these days, and I chose to disagree. 

I argued that if I were to take one hour of my pay to the grocery store. I could easily buy a week’s worth of food for myself.

Her response was, “Well sure, if all you eat is rice and beans!”

But I don’t eat just rice and beans. Yes, we occasionally eat rice and beans, but we also eat chicken, vegetables, fruit, cheese, cereal, yogurt, potatoes, eggs, pretzels, ice cream, well . . . you get the picture. We eat a completely normal diet. I’m just careful with my food shopping.

My family of four, which includes 10 and 13-year-old sons (think hollow leg here) spends $450 per month on food. This takes into account school and work lunches, as well as rare meals out. This means we’re each spending a little less than $30 per person, per week. (And I don’t consider ourselves to be particularly scrimping and saving when it comes to groceries.)

The notion of what an hour of work will buy began to percolate in my head. An hour’s wage could easily buy a child’s brand new outfit, a first run movie for the entire family or even dinner out in a nice restaurant.

But it’s not that simple. I choose to work a part-time schedule. I generally work between 16 to 24 hours per week, because I know that when I work less I enjoy my job more. And when I do work full time hours, I don’t get to have the time off I need to enjoy my life.

So I choose to buy second hand clothes for my family, see only second run movies, and eat cooked from scratch meals at home.

I could work full time in order to buy brand new things for my family, but then my hour of work would need to stretch into three-to-four hours.

I’m lucky that I have the choice to pretty much work as little or as much as I want. Not everyone has that option. But I’m able to choose that completely manageable schedule because I do make these across the board frugal choices in my life. 

What my hour buys is different from what what someone else’s hour buys. 

Are your hours at work buying more than ever? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

lala2074 April 13, 2009 at 10:10 am

About 6 years ago, my husband and my grocery bill for just the 2 of us used to be $220 to $250 per week. This equated to $110 to $125 per person each week. We also purchased our work lunches every day on top of this amount.

Our grocery bill is currently $180 per week for 3 people, or $60 per person per week. This covers all meal, including work and school lunches.
When I purchase meat, I only purchase lean cuts trimmed of fat.
I make nearly all my meals from scratch.
After tax, this is equates to one and a half hours work for to feed each per person in my family each week.

So we have about halved this amount per person in recent times from about $120 down to $60 per person.


Jeanine April 13, 2009 at 10:17 am

“But I’m able to choose that completely manageable schedule because I do make these across the board frugal choices in my life. ”

I think that you are more able to make those type of changes moreso because, at the foundation, you have an education that allowed you to get and maintain an excellent job.

My family and I were talking about that this weekend. My sister also works in the health field, and notes on the daily how her techs (radiology) complain of how they struggle…but then she hears of the people in enviromental services (housekeeping ) complain. There’s a prime example of a 28k job and an 14k job.

I think it all gets back to the basics of how you spend what you do have, and what is most important to you as an individual.

As for us….we trying to save more, but there’s not a quantity change, but a quality. That dollar isn’t buying kraft, but maybe sauers. Not any delmonte, but maybe surefine. No name milk and cereal. Things like that.


Jen April 13, 2009 at 10:50 am

I, too, am a nurse and am blessed to be able to work only when I want to. I choose to work about 12 hours per week right now. I always think of bigger purchases (and sometimes smaller ones) in the context how many hours of my pay it will cost, and that I am trading my time and labor for this purchase. Maybe that is because we try to use my income only for what I consider extras, like music lessons, braces, vacations, and sometimes home repairs. I gave up a full time job about 5 years ago in order to homeschool our kids, and I have never looked back. My thought is that some things are more important than money, and being able to enjoy my kids while they are still kids is one of them.


mari April 13, 2009 at 12:12 pm

I too am a nurse . When my children were at home I worked only part time. I had homeschool my children up until highschool. Now that they are moved out of the house, I have started to work full time again. It is by choice, (and some bad financial choices in my first marriage) that I need to pay of debt and accumilate my retirement money. I do live a frugal life now. I just finished reading Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel. It was on the suggestive reading list in David Ramsey book. In his book he talked about lowering the footprint we have on the earth. He also talked about an hourly rate of services , product, maintance ,rent for storage on things that we buy. It makes me stop and think before I buy something, even if it is used. Is it worth buying or can I rent/ borrow it and save on space/maintenance on this item for the time I am going to use it?


Jen April 13, 2009 at 2:34 pm

I haven’t heard of Radical Simplicity. Will have to see if the library has that one.


Caroline April 13, 2009 at 3:32 pm

Taking this idea a little bit further than a trip to the supermarket, I have joined a LETS (Local Exchange Trading System). It allows me to literally swap an hour of my time providing a service for someone else in the system. Then I can use my “credit” to swap for fruit and veg (sometimes even cooked meals). Some systems are called “time banks” and work on the same principal. I think these systems have great potential for helping us to both be frugal and help each other thrive.


Jen April 13, 2009 at 8:17 pm

I like the LETS idea. I often wish I had something to barter like some of my friends do. I wish there was something like that in my town!


Barb April 14, 2009 at 8:18 pm

This is a great post! While most people I know are up to the roof with debt I am managing my one income. I don’t own a credit card and have no debt with the exception of my mortgage. I pay all my bills every month.
I will NOT work overtime, holidays, nights or evenings. When I was hired at my current job I told them the only stipulation I had was that I work Monday to Friday 9 – 5. (I think they were a little surprised that I had the audacity to be so demanding!) I love my job working with people who are dying (in the last stages of living). It is really hard at times and like you, if I am there too much it becomes very stressful.
I can manage this lifestyle by living very simply, buying used and not wasting. I don’t mind wearing the same clothes over and over again. I don’t mind not wearing very much make-up , driving a car that is older than the hills and doing without. In the evenings I am home with my kids. For me, that is all that matters.

PS – Thanks for your post on kids & activities! It was a wonderful help!


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