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December 06, 2018



It's interesting how personal the "worth it" meter is for each "customer." I do remember feeling rather irritated when a locksmith let us into our car, for way-more-than-we-could-comfortably-afford-at-the-time, in less than a minute. *But* that takes skill, tools, training, and transport to and from our car, and I try to remember all the invisible costs when paying for that sort of thing. (Mr. Locksmith was not actually earning $100/minute (or whatever it was). It only looked like that, briefly. :-) )

In some cases, we're fine with a less-ideal product (say, trees put in holes but the dirt isn't totally leveled out) if it took them "long enough" to be what we consider a fair price for the labor (which can change if the day is miserably hot, or if they install trees while being snowed on, etc.). In other cases, the product is identical whether they took a long time or a short time, and in those cases, eh, either try to find someone who'll do the same thing for cheaper, or try to appreciate that they're good at what they do (and if *everyone* worked well and did a really good and efficient job all the time, we would live in a much more cleaned-up world, I think?).

Lady With Thin Hair might be able to negotiate for a slightly lower price, due to thin hair? But the costs of a salon are substantially greater than the hairstylist's time, so they may really be fine with her getting the useless double-service. (but: my hair would be *so cranky* if you did that to it! I can't imagine that any hair would be happy about it?)

But with what's a fair price, there are several ways of slicing it: "what the market will bear" (aka: the highest price that someone will still pay for the item/service); the cost of labor, supplies, and training; what you're used to thinking of as a fair price (see: milk, which is subsidized); or things like "how much you could make that for at home" or "I'd be embarrassed to charge that much per hour for just [unreasonable oversimplification of process]!"

I *prefer* people in general to think a bit (or more than a bit) about what a living wage in their location is, the fact that manual laborers will need to be taken care of for retirement, too, and might have family, and to consider materials (plus material loss from expiration or breakage) and travel time and this-isn't-a-guaranteed-40-hours-per-week-all-year-round factors into what they consider a fair price. Yes, your neighbor's 12 year old will babysit after school for X per hour, but you should expect to pay more for reliable, trained, insured any-hour daycare than that. Yes, you could make that fettucini alfredo at home for less, but here you're not cooking or doing any of the dishes (surely that's worth something!), and the restaurant needs to pay rent plus all sorts of labor plus deal with leftovers plus all the other costs. Yes, you're not willing to pay $40 for a hand-knit hat, because you can get a knit hat made in China for $2, but it's a hat with nicer yarn and 2 hours of work put into it: don't chide the person making it for asking for $40!

Ahem. Should get off my soapbox. Good work: it's worth paying for, and those who can pay for it should pay for it!


KC - I think thin hair lady was paying for the company she got during her hour of styling time. The stylist couldn’t get away with charging her just to chit-chat, so I think that’s how that arrangement was reached. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

I remember being on the opposite end of the equation, when I did work for time and materials - and my company sometimes had to charge people for four hours of my time when someone else could have worked it out in two.


Ohhh! That makes a lot of sense, then. If you want an hour of time-with-this-nice-human, then you really do want your full hour, and yes, most companies won't let their employees just chat for pay.

Eh, double isn't actually too bad as a margin of error between different people tackling the same thing? (I once had a project take 5 hours instead of the 50 hours estimated by the client; it just all went smoothly and the data behaved and my code didn't need any revision, so... there it was.) But yeah, it feels weird whichever way it goes, if one feels weird about that sort of thing. (I have found that feeling weird about taking too much money is *not* universal.)(feeling weird about getting less money for the same job because you did it better: probably universal?)

I do think time-and-materials generally makes the most sense for highly unpredictable or novel items/projects, with a scaling "time" rate for experience and competence, but lump-sum makes more sense for more standardized things - everyone knows how much money will be changing hands to begin with, and if one project of the type goes "over", another will probably go "under" and it'll all wash out if the estimating is done decently.

Still, most of these things only work *really* well when all parties are acting in good faith, more or less.


KC - That’s the rub. Never can tell if strangers are acting in good faith.

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