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How do it yourself can help you spot bargains

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Fred Prouser/AP

(Read caption) An employee handles a customer's takeout order at a Panda Express restaurant in Los Angeles May 20. Instead of a price list, suppose the sign read: 'Pay what you want.' How much would you pay? It's important to find out when you should hire something out, like a meal, and when to do it yourself.

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Let’s say you go to a restaurant somewhat regularly and each time you go, you spend about $10 on your meal. One day, rather than receiving a bill, you’re simply directed to a box on your table that said “pay what you want for this meal.”

How much would you put in?

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Would you put in anything at all? Would you put in the usual $10? Would you put in less than that? More? Does it depend on the specific circumstances in your own life at the moment?

What is that meal worth to you?

The interesting part is that this is really all about negotiation. When a restaurant puts a price on the menu, they’re telling you what value they expect for the meal. You can either accept that value or simply go elsewhere.

Now, let’s say you prepare a meal at home. You choose what meal you want to make. You also choose what ingredients you want to use and how much labor you want to put into it. The end result? You pay a much more reasonable price for your meal.

The lesson here is simple. The more you do it yourself, the better the bargains are and the more your spending is in line with what you value.

The same principle holds true with, well, almost everything. Take The Simple Dollar, for instance. Almost all of the people who read The Simple Dollar pay nothing for the articles posted here – I make income from the site indirectly through sidebar ads and other writing opportunities brought on by what’s posted here.

But if I place a “Donate” button here…

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… almost no one will click on it (yes, a few of you will, and yes, a few of you are awesome). Why? It’s a better bargain not to donate if you can already get it for free.

This is because of the same principle listed above. A blog like The Simple Dollar is a great value in seeking personal finance advice. Because readers “did it themselves” and sought out multiple sources of information, they found that a free subscription to The Simple Dollar provided more bang for the time and money investment than a subscription to an expensive personal finance magazine.

(Of course, I could change that value structure by charging for it, and some of you might continue to see the price as a good bargain for you, but many of you would not. Or I could write a book with new material not given away for free and some of you will choose to purchase it to accompany the site – again, a different alignment of value for your dollar and for your time.)

So what’s the point? The more you “do it yourself” and seek out lots of solutions to your needs in life, the better value you’ll find. If you just stop with the first option – say, a restaurant or a DVD series purchased off of an infomercial – you’re probably not finding the best value. Keep searching. Make a meal at home. Visit the library. Read some blogs.

If something is important to you, keep seeking value and you’ll find it. It’s a journey that constantly rewards you with better and better value for your dollar and for your hour. Good luck.

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The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best economy-related bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link above.


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