When in Rome — Time v Money

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I’m a big fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, and the way he views the world. Like him, I agree that TIME is our most precious asset.

I was thinking about this on my amazing trip to Rome with my friend The Redhead this month. We went for a long weekend. We also planned badly. Both so busy in the run up to taking the flight, we were barely aware what hotel we were in, what we’d be doing when we arrived, and neither of us had learned more than please and thank you in Italian.

Firstly, we took a taxi from the airport, with a truly insane taxi driver. It was the single most terrifying car ride of my life, her life, and it’s worth stating that we arrived at the hotel deeply shaken and grateful to be alive. I was feeding Red sweets from the bowl at reception to stop her passing out. Kind of like first aid, using cheap sugar.

Despite our lack of planning, we managed in three days to cover the Colosseum, the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, the Roman settlement, the Vatican, the Sistine chapel, the Basilica, 3 lovely dinners, getting drunk, and even sleeping. We walked 29 miles, took the metro (and very few taxis!), and learned that when you’ve walked 29 miles in three days and you usually sit at a desk…you will learn to hate steps of any kind.

Right now, I’m a big fan of an incline. At least until I start having limbs which don’t ache when they think about stairs.

And now for the behavioural bit.

The Redhead and I applied a sunk-costs approach to the holiday. And we did it on two fronts. What’s a sunk cost? It’s when you have expended so much time, energy or money, that spending a little more won’t hurt.

When we hit the Colosseum on Sunday morning and it turned out that it was a) the first Sunday of the month so it was free AND b) the whole of Italy and the rest of Europe and America had turned up to take advantage, we revised our plans.

We took one look at the queue of 300 people and decided NOPE. We also looked at the “skip the queue line” which was better, but we concluded ALL OF those people were going inside, and it was going to be manic. Instead, we walked around the outside of the Colosseum, took loads of nice pictures and booked tickets to skip the line for Monday morning. Then we went to the Roman fort next door. Which was also free but practically empty by comparison.

Free v Sunk Costs

Entertainingly, as we trotted across the road from the Metro towards the Colosseum, we passed an English couple being hawked by a very pleasant man for tickets to “skip the line”. They were very rude to the hawker — and said to the hawker that they “would be getting in for free anyway”.

We passed this English couple at the end of a queue of 300 people as we walked off to the fort.

Now, I’m assuming that they didn’t live in Rome. Nor did they get there for free. In which case, they were using:

One of their weekends

Four flights (UK-ROME-ROME-UK x2)

A hotel

The metro (6 euros)

All this to get to the Colosseum. To stand in line for 2–3 hours, to save 15 euros a person. Roughly £22.

If you think of this cost in the context of getting to Rome it is clearly insane not to pay the price, if you were determined to go in on that day.

So why didn’t The Redhead and I? Because it was so busy it would have been a terrible experience whether you skipped the line or not. Plus, we had Monday and we could come back.

Here’s the difference — we applied a sunk-cost approach to our time too. You might as well maximise the time you have in Rome, whether it’s by taking taxis, or eating in the highly-rated hotel restaurant (highly rated because our bodies hurt from all the walking and it was right there).

Equally, what logic were that couple using?

The power of free. “Free” is so powerful a concept our minds struggle with it. Increase your charge by £10 for an item, say it now has “free shipping” and you’ll see your sales increase.

Which is why the UK government wanted to make “free advice” for investment products transparent. But what happened? People can see that they are being charged for advice, so they don’t take it AT ALL.

When using behavioural interventions, you need to be careful — because it’s the law of unintended consequences that result — like 300 people turning up to take advantage of “saving” a few euros, when they have spent a fortune to get to Rome! The “Skip the line” queue was geared to those who value their time more than their money.

So, think about your clients — you can always offer options to save TIME and options to save MONEY. You’ll find different people want different things. Give them the option to choose.