Is a Snow Blower Really Worth the Money?

Woman clearing snow with a snow thrower
As I dug out from yet another Michigan snow storm recently, I was -- as usual -- happy that I had my trusty snow blower to do the bulk of the work. Then, I noticed a couple of my neighbors using shovels. I offered to let one borrow my machine; he happily accepted, and quickly knocked out the rest of his job.

When he returned the snow blower, my neighbor was very appreciative. I, by contrast, was perplexed: Why wouldn't a man who was relatively affluent (and obviously appreciated the value of my machine) own one himself? Perhaps his was on the fritz? No. When I asked, "When will your snow blower be repaired?" he informed me he'd never owned one.

Why not? His explanation was that he didn't want to spend the extra money, and didn't mind dealing with the snow the old-fashioned way. Perhaps -- but he clearly didn't mind using mine to finish his snow shoveling duties.

Doing the Math

It never ceases to amaze me how penny wise and pound foolish people can be in their efforts to save money. I did a little research online and found out I could buy a reasonably priced snow blower for about $400. That's what it would cost to replace the model I bought 12 years ago with a similar one today.

With that in mind, let's do the math: What's the real cost of a snow blower as opposed to a good old-fashioned $20 shovel? I'll start with the numbers for my old snow blower and the approximate number of jobs it has done for me over the years. Keep in mind, I live in Detroit and our winters are not easy -- though this year's snows have been exceptionally heavy. Your numbers, no doubt, will be different.

My Cost Per Winter

I believe, on average, I've had to use my snow blower about 4 times a month from December through April every winter season. That puts me at around 20 uses per year with an average time of 30 minutes per session. This works out to about 10 hours spent per season actually removing snow.

Now, I paid $400 for the snow blower. About 3 gallons of gasoline gets me through most seasons without having to refuel. Gas has averaged roughly $3 a gallon that period, which means I spend $9 a season in gasoline, plus my oil mixture which is an additional $4 a season. My per-season operating cost: $13.

That's $13 a season multiplied by 12 seasons, which equals $156.
I've also had to have the machine serviced twice at an average cost of about $75, adding another $150 to my operating expenses, which brings the grand total to $306, plus my $400 initial investment. So I am into this machine for $706, or roughly $59 a season.

When compared to my other options -- shoveling (which generally takes twice as long as a snow blowing session), or paying a snow service company an average of about $25 per visit -- the choice becomes simple and clear. A snow service would have run me about $500 a season or $6,000 over the same 12 years. The snow shovel only costs $20 -- or $1.67 a season -- but what about the value of one's time?

Rich or poor, we all have the same 24 hours in the day, and one of the biggest differences between the rich and poor is how they spend it. So if it takes you 20 hours to deal with snow each winter with a shovel, or 10 hours with a snow blower, how much are those extra 10 hours worth to you? It would cost my neighbor about $57 more per season to use a snow blower. But he would save 10 hours to devote to something or someone else that's important to him. Obviously, he doesn't value his time at more than about $5.70 an hour. That's the very definition of "penny wise and pound foolish."

But Not Everyone Lives in Detroit

Obviously though, plenty of DailyFinance readers live in places where winter doesn't last until April, and where snowfalls heavy enough to require shoveling aren't usually a four-times-monthly winter occurrence. So let's redo the math for those lucky folks in somewhat more temperate regions.

Say you only break out the shovel 10 times in an average winter. Let's cut your annual gas expenditure down to two gallons. (Wouldn't want to get caught short of fuel when you need it.) Fixed costs remain the same: $550 to buy and maintain a snow blower. Adding $6 for gas and $4 for oil gives you a per-season operating cost of $10.

If your machine lasts a dozen years, as mine has so far, $550 divided by 12 is around $46 a year. Add the $10 and your annual cost is still just $56. But now, it's only saving you five hours of hard labor. Still, ask yourself: Isn't your leisure time worth $11.20 an hour? I'm willing to bet you'd say it's worth considerably more. (If you can find some young entrepreneurs in your neighborhood willing to shovel snow for just $11 an hour, you may want to take them up on the offer.)

Finally, after a heavy snowfall, with deep, blowing drifts, the value of that snow blower verges on priceless. Moral of the story: Pay attention to the true value of your time, and guard it as the valuable commodity it is. Constantly strive for ways to increase your efficiency and guard your time treasure chest more carefully than chests of silver or gold.

John Jamieson is the best-selling author of "The Perpetual Wealth System." Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Cam Koll

You may want to consider an electric snow blower. The cost is about half and there is almost no maintenance.

November 22 2014 at 4:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Red.....when was your last cardiac cath....? You have no idea what shape those arteries are in. I can't tell you how many highly athletic individuals I know hit the floor with massive coronaries. Dying's no problem......but what if you become a burden on your family, becuase your heart is left working at 25% .......? You're in your late 50's...time to be cautious....

February 19 2014 at 12:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What the small homeowner uses is a SNOW THROWER....not a snow blower...technically

February 19 2014 at 2:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Pathetic when people are scared to do anything physical LOL

February 19 2014 at 2:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to redviolinblues's comment

yeah, especially those people who had heart surgery and other wussie stuff...get out there and shovel....your grave.....but, watch out for KARMA....

February 19 2014 at 2:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I guess some of us are in better shape than others. You live your life in fear and sloth,,while I enjoy life and all it has to offer. Being scared of "What If's" is no way to live. If being scared of moving around and living id your problem,,then so be it. And if being jealous of those that can,,when you are physically incapable,,then so be it,,enjoy your fear,,,stay indoors,,,and never eat,,drink,,or even move,,because,,,one day,,we all die. It's how we live that counts. So,,I will enjoy my shoveling regardless,,,of your sloth of youyr own life, Another thing,,,,it's totally dumb to be jealous of someone who shovels,,LOL Your either seriously pathetic,,,or a snow blower salesman LOL

February 19 2014 at 2:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to redviolinblues's comment

do heart and cancer patient have to hasten that day to satisfy nephew was 36 and never sick...but, he shoveled and had a massive heart, go shovel BIG MAN AND LEAVE OTHERS ALONE TO ACT RESPONSIBLY FOR THEIR OWN HEALTH PROBLEMS THEY DON'T NEED YOU TO TELL THEM WHAT IS RIGHT FOR THEM...only fear for some is the fear of another heart attack, if they survive the first one...most do not...that one is the only warning some will get.. LOL LOL to YOU

February 19 2014 at 2:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just better be sure there's not a 95% blocked coronary artery waiting inside your chest because snow shoveling is one brutal workout according to the experts, and doing it a few times a year can be enough to let that one chunk of plaque bust loose and block that remaining 5% all at once, no squeezing, no pain, just BOOM and you'll get to lay your 50+ year old butt in that wonderful snow till somebody finds you.........

Just get the machine..... next thing you know these guys will say they cut their grass with a push mower....

February 19 2014 at 1:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am 56 and have always used a shovel. I prefer a shovel because it is a great workout and I love being out in the snow. I never have minded nature. I'm an old soldier also and have that hidden thing in me to always be ready and shoveling helps with that. I also do not like the smell of gas and the fumes,,but I do use a lawnmower for my lawn. I'm not a fanatic about it but I do my small share. AS I get older, I just take breaks now. I love the snow,rain,sun,and all nature has, Shoveling gives me a reason to go outside and hear the winds blow. Most gripe and moan about it,but I enjoy it. Sometimes I get sick or maybe am injured and will ask someone else for help and it's always there. I will gladly help others shovel if they need help. I try to follow the good neighbor policy. about half my neighbors use a shovel or a service but half still use a shovel. You can tell the ones who enjoy it because they usualy have a smile when you see them take a moment to enjoy the sound of the wind or the beauty of the snow falling. I myself do not think penny pimching has much to do with the issue. Some of us just accept nature and love it. Some love thier snow blowers also and I understand. When I get too old,,I will pay someone else,,but until that time,,I shall enjoy every snowflake that hits my face. No one or nothing can beat the power and beauty of nature at it's best.

February 18 2014 at 11:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I grew up in Iowa and moved a lot of snow by hand shoveling before getting a snow blower. If the time savings isn't enough for you, how about avoiding back pain, sore muscles and a possible heart attack for the older citizens by getting a snow blower? The regular snow fall is one thing, but the high density stuff the snow plows push into a driveway is something else entirely. A snow blower is the only way to go if you have regular heavy snow.

February 18 2014 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here in Michigan on the Lakeshore we can get some serious snow. We're well over 100 inches this winter, and we have had more than that many seasons that I can remember (I'm 58.)

I shovel, and it's a great way to stay in shape. Then again, I've run a marathon, so I'm not exactly the typical couch potato snow rangler. Using a shovel to throw snow over a 6-foot snowbank is something that some poeple (small, out of shape, older or whatever) have no business doing. And I agree completely with the time element involved. I'm getting tired of all the shoveling because of the time it takes. I recently became self-employed, and time becomes more precious when instead of shoveling, I could use that hour to make more money.

It will be a snow blower from now on.

February 18 2014 at 10:55 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

We moved from Chicago 11 years ago. We had a monstrous snowblower for our 300 - 400 ft' of driveway and it was worth every penny for the more than 10 years we used it, including some of the worst winters Chicago had to offer. Now we live in the mountains just north of Greenville, South Carolina where thankfully, snow storms are few, far between and short lived. Still, they do happen and three years ago after four storms in a row left us shoveling a large driveway we bought a small snowblower. It cost $200 delivered to our door (from a Chicago suburb). It's electric because the odds of not using it are somewhat better than the odds of using it and we didn't want it sitting around with old gas and oil. This is the first year we've used it and it seems unlikely we'll use it again until next winter at this point. Our theory was if it didn't snow we had bought a $200 insurance policy. If it did snow, we had a snowblower ready to go. Our per year cost is now averaging down to $50 and dropping each year. $200 well spent.

February 18 2014 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply