Count the (Hidden) Costs … December 9, 2011

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Sometimes I get in a mood to try to find a bargain and save money. Of course, I should immediately be punished for such foolishness, because the money you spend to cover the error in trying to be economical far exceeds what you would have spent by being practical in the first place. But that doesn’t stop me from pursuing the path of thrift.

It happened this week. We had a one-day stay-over in Jacksonville, Florida, so I decided to search for a coupon for a motel that would be more reasonable than our usual fare. I was successful. If all you want to do is grasp onto the illusion of savings, it is available at every turn. But upon arriving at this “great deal” of a motel, I discovered that they had a plan to retrieve my money without initially and obviously trolling for it. They wanted to charge me extra money for an early check-in, for extra bedding and a pillow and almost everything else I asked for. I became so gun-shy of pursuing any amenities that I found myself being stingy with my toilet paper. When I added up what they would have charged me for the room with all the extras (had I not declined them) it was more money than the most expensive motel in town.

I laughed.

Fortunately for me, I decided to pass on the extras and ended up maintaining my savings. But it was a minefield of potential miscues—and  the reason I laughed is that I learned a long time ago that you can count the costs all you want, but some hidden information will pop out at you and the more vehemently you object to it, the more your “surpriser” will insist that you cough up farthing.

So it’s not just about counting the cost. It’s about counting the hidden costs. Yes, mixed into practicality is an adequate dose of optimism, which permits you the energy to begin the pursuit in the first place. But added to that optimism has to be a good portion of pessimism, so that you will consider all possibilities that might crop up–even the ones that seem ridiculous in the moment. If you don’t, you will end up being aggravated and will swear to never do something again—something that really does need to be done. Here are three things you want to avoid:

1. A good deal. I do love people. I don’t find them particularly generous—especially when you need them to be. So when somebody tells me they have a “good deal” for me, I immediately add 20% onto the cost and see if it still appears to be functional. If it does, I may very well pursue it. If it doesn’t, I will pass. Then, if they actually hold to the agreed price, I can praise them for their integrity and if they go ten per cent over, I can smile—because I had the intelligence to prepare for it. It’s a system that keeps me from becoming cynical about my fellow-man, when I know that my human acquaintances are all I really have and if I choose to be nasty about them, my whole life will probably turn sour.

2. Big deal. Yes, there are people who make life a big deal. To them, everything is a whopper or a whale. This morning in the breakfast room of my motel, I overheard a lady discussing bed linens in her room. She seemed to be obsessed with the notion that there might be creepy, crawling things in her sheets, visiting her in the middle of the night. I chose not to inform her that no matter how often they wash the bedding, those creatures still find a way to do their “undercover work.” You can think about it and make it a big deal, or you can hope they just eat the dead skin from your legs instead of your legs.

I feel the same way about people who clip coupons for grocery stores. They will evangelistically explain to you how you should be doing it, too, but as the hours they take to perform the task are revealed, and some of the humiliation they endure while standing in line, holding up the lives of other people, you realize that it’s just not worth the savings. So I will go to the grocery store, pursue the weekly deals and say thank you.

People who make a big deal are always over-wrought and can’t enjoy the plan they so meticulously have devised.

3. And finally, there are those folks who think that life is a raw deal. I don’t know if they read too many fairy tales or motivational books, or somehow misinterpreted scripture to think that their lives were supposed to be easy, but any inconvenience will send them into a tirade about the unfairness of society and how you can’t trust anyone. I really don’t think life is about trust. I think life is about awareness. And if you stay aware, you have to spend much less time mistrusting folks and most of your time just being on top of what is obviously unfolding—if you just pay attention. Life is not a raw deal. It’s just … life. And with that journey comes an understanding that some people are good, some people are bad and most of us are just kind of bad at being good.

So what is life? The real deal That means there are always three phases to everything: (1) what is promised; (2) what actually is there when you arrive, and (3) how it deteriorates from then on.

If you understand this, you can be ready to make the needed adjustments that change what could be a pending disaster into what the less-initiated would call a miracle. It’s not really a miracle. It’s just being smart enough to use the brain God gave you to use the soul with forgiveness and calming the emotions so they don’t walk around pouting, feeling cheated all the time.

Life is a real deal. If you wanted to wear a sweatshirt that tells God and everyone else your status, it should say: READY. Because that’s the profile that makes this passage of time work best.

So I got my good deal at my motel by keeping my cool and by not insisting they change their practices—and I had prepared myself for just a bed, a television, a toilet and a locked door. Turn the lights off and you’re at the Hilton.

Count the hidden costs. It’ll save you an awful lot of frustration, which may end up producing some needed financial help in eliminating your blood pressure medicine—and  also by keeping you out of the emergency room, (which, by the way, may be the true origin of the term “hidden costs.”)

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Here comes Christmas! For your listening pleasure, below is Manger Medley, Jonathan’s arrangement of Away in the Manger, which closes with him singing his gorgeous song, Messiah.  Looking forward to the holidays with you!

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