Thinking Out Loud

March 3, 2009

How Much is Your Time Worth?

Filed under: Christianity, ethics — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:56 pm

I’m having a bad week inasmuch as I am having this week to interact with people who work in what is generally referred to as “the trades.”   A couple of them are doing work on my house and a couple of them are doing work on my car.

All of them are people I know through various churches, and there is no 100% guarantee that they would not read anything written here, so I want to be careful in what I say.   I should also add that thankfully, one of them is taking payment in a barter for books and music from our store.

dollar-signFor those of you who read my industry blog, you know that my wife and I do not draw a salary from the business.    We are like farmers, who toil all year not knowing whether there’s going to be a good crop in the fall (i.e.  A good Christmas sales season, the only time the stores are profitable) until we add up all the costs (and in the case of retail, the cost of the unsold merchandise left over.) Our last holiday was five days to and from Washington, DC in December 2007, though someone offered us a cottage for three days this past September. (It rained all weekend, but there were some good memories.)  We’re not quite “living on faith” missionaries, but at least the farmers are entitled to agricultural subsidies; so we’re somewhere in-between.

It’s been estimated that in the past few years, given the time we’ve worked, we’ve been working at rates ranging from $1.55 to $4.30 per hour in different years.   That’s much less than we pay our employees.  (And pay them on time, too.)

It’s easy to be bitter.   I have to remember that I chose to take on this particular commercial ministry venture.   Still, I’m also a University graduate with an above-average IQ.   Don’t I deserve better? (Okay, maybe none of us deserve anything, and it’s all the grace of God that we have what we have. Especially on a world scale.)

In all of this, I do have to really question some things; particularly the nickel-and-dime invoice I got today from one of the trades in question.   From my perspective, he certainly did me no favours.   He certainly doesn’t get the financial conditions under which we have been living.

Maybe I need to rethink my whole, “Let us do good to all men, especially those of the household of faith;” criteria for picking tradespeople.

But I also need to change what I’m doing.   If you do reach a point where you find you are getting bitter,  then it’s possible that the original calling has reached its expiry date.   I think part of the reason I am so frustrated today is that we go out of our way to provide deals for others.    We make it a point to be sensitive to those who can’t afford what we have, because we see some of these as “must have” products.    If we were grocers, would we not try to help out the hungry or the homeless?

My goal is that by the time 2010 starts, the majority of our income will come from other sources.   I’m still not sure what that is going to look like, but I hope that it will allow me to declare the season of our commercial ministry venture over and done with.    It’s not fair that a ministry which benefits the entire Christian community in an entire county should place a huge financial burden on one individual family.    Especially when the “brothers and sisters” with whom we have to interact aren’t willing to work alongside us.

So back to the question at the top.    What is the maximum that an individual’s time is worth.   (Not a surgeon or doctor, mind you; there’s too many U.S. readers here for whom medical costs are apparently based on a model from another universe.)   But the average tradesperson.   The carpenter, painter, mechanic, plumber, etc.    Is there a ceiling at which we say, “That’s too high;” or, as we were taught in Economics 101, is the price simply “the highest the traffic will bear?”

1 Comment »

  1. Time is apparently worth a lot. As a former employee of yours, I can attest that yes I was always paid on time! :) But now I’m a stay at home mom. I read somewhere that if you added up all the hours of all the things I do, childcare, tutoring, laundry, cooking, etc., I should be making a 6-figure salary. But I make nothing. I give my time to my children, and my only compensation is knowing that it’s going to benefit them in the end. And it’s worth it. I know how hard you work Paul, and I know how hard you try and give to others, help them out however you can. I guess as far as tradespeople go, they set their rate and won’t change it, for fear they’ll have to change it for everyone. Or to make doing their taxes easier. Or whatever. But in the long run, I’d rather take care of my kids (or work in a Christian bookstore :) than fix cars or paint houses all day. After all, the car will eventually break down again, and the house will need to be painted again in a few years. But the work I’m doing will last a lot longer than that…

    Comment by Danielle — March 4, 2009 @ 5:41 am

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