Is a Snow Blower Really Worth the Money?

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Woman clearing snow with a snow thrower
Alamy
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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