Opportunity cost: more is not always better

Every Easter, my fiancĂ©’s family goes to Grand Junction, which is out on the western edge of Colorado and shares a climate zone with the deserts of New Mexico.

The city doesn’t have any snowplows because (contrary to your vision of Colorado) they get less than two feet of snow a year, and what they do get melts within a day or two because it’s a desert, and snowy days are followed by hot, dry days.

Except last year.

Last year, when we arrived on Good Friday, all the roads were icy, snow-packed or both. It seems they’d had a pretty heavy snowfall — 6+ inches — and then a string of cold days. And all that frozen water was sitting in the roads, because Grand Junction has no snowplows.

What does it cost?

You could tell that the citizens of Grand Junction had been grumbling rather loudly, because the entire back page of the newspaper was a letter from the City explaining that this kind of thing happens only 4 times a century, and that Grand Junction doesn’t spend taxpayer money on snowplows that would only be needed once every 25 years.

Is Denver’s snow removal better than Grand Junction’s? Kind of. Denver’s snow removal is faster. But Denver spends a lot of money buying snowplows, maintaining snowplows, hiring snowplow drivers, buying salt/gravel/magnesium chloride and distributing it, then cleaning the groundwater that has salt and mag chloride contamination.

Grand Junction doesn’t pay for any of that. They spend the money on textbooks and school lunches, public playgrounds, firefighters and policemen, or really nice wide sidewalks and a beautiful pedestrian mall. And for 9124 days out of 9131, it’s a great deal. On the other 7 days, getting around town is kind of a pain.

Both cities have snow removal that’s appropriate to their situation.

What’s appropriate to your situation?

It’s common for people to beat themselves up because they don’t keep “good records” — not like that gal down the hall who has every receipt, every transaction, every bill, all filed in alphabetical order.

But do you need all that? What does it cost you when you can’t find a receipt? And what is it costing her to alphabetize every single one?

Software companies fall into this trap all the time: they add on as many features as possible so that the back of the box has lots of bullet points on it.

How often have you been frustrated by software that seems to do everything except the one thing you want it to do? And how many sales is the company missing by not releasing the software early?

I don’t have a “good” laptop. I have a laptop with a tiny screen (13″ diagonal), a tiny keyboard, a tiny processor, a terrible sound card, and a hard drive that is considered small by the standards of the industry. But the tiny hardware fits in my tiny backpack, I don’t do anything that requires an awesome processor, and I’m using just over 1/3 of my hard drive. Oh, and it came at a 66% discount off a “good” laptop.

More != Better (More does not equal better)

Especially here in the US, we tend to associate bigger with better. More is better. Stronger, more powerful, more detailed, more thorough. But “bigger” and “more” come at a cost. And very often that cost is not worth it.

What can you do less?

If your house was a little messier, would you have time to create a blog?

If your DVD or shoe or gizmo collection was a little smaller, would you have the money to start a business?

If your product had fewer bullet points, could you ship it right now?

What can you do with less?