One financial lesson they should teach in school is that most of the things we buy have to be paid for twice.
There’s the first price, usually paid in dollars, just to gain possession of the desired thing, whatever it is: a book, a budgeting app, a unicycle, a bundle of kale.
But then, in order to make use of the thing, you must also pay a second price. This is the effort and initiative required to gain its benefits, and it can be much higher than the first price.
A new novel, for example, might require twenty dollars for its first price—and ten hours of dedicated reading time for its second. Only once the second price is being paid do you see any return on the first one.
Paying only the first price is about the same as throwing money in the garbage.
Likewise, after buying the budgeting app, you have to set it all up, and learn to use it habitually before it actually improves your financial life.
With the unicycle, you have to endure the presumably painful beginner phase before you can cruise down the street. The kale must be de-veined, chopped, steamed, and chewed before it gives you any nourishment.
If you look around your home, you might notice many possessions for which you’ve paid the first price but not the second. Unused memberships, unread books, unplayed games, unknitted yarns.
I can’t know for sure, but I have the sense that in pre-consumer societies, there was less emphasis on paying first prices (i.e. getting things into your possession) and much more on paying second prices—doing the work necessary to use what you have, and becoming someone who always does.
Imagine a plow, purchased for its features, but which never gets pulled through the earth.
The miracle of industrialization has reduced many first prices tremendously, but has also given us many more of them to consider paying. With all the wonderful toys on offer, almost nobody feels like they have quite enough money, enough acquisition power.
When a person receives a windfall, they immediately think of more first prices they can now pay.
But no matter how many cool things you acquire, you don’t gain any more time or energy with which to pay their second prices—to use the gym membership, to read the unabridged classics, to make the ukulele sound good—and so their rewards remain unredeemed.
I believe this is one reason our modern lifestyles can feel a little self-defeating sometimes. In our search for fulfillment, we keep paying first prices, creating a correspondingly enormous debt of unpaid second prices.
Yet the rewards of any purchase – the reason we buy it at all — stay locked up until both prices are paid.
Figuring out how to pay the second price isn’t hard. You just have to notice that moment you usually think about packing it in, and stay with it instead of doing something else.