Fixed costs and variable costs in your life

Good Evening FPO Readers,

This is a mini lesson in economics.  There are two types of costs, fixed and variable.  A fixed cost is one that remains the same independent of other variables.  A variable cost is a cost that changes based on a combination of variables.  Many bills and purchases in our life have a combination of fixed and variable costs.  A utility bill is a common example.  For any consumable, there is a fixed base account/delivery charge and a variable change based on the amount delivered.  This applies the same to a water, electricity, or natural gas bill.  The fixed cost must be overcome before any variable costs are encountered.

The important concept here is that it is easier to cut variable costs than it is to cut fixed costs.  However, the counter to this is that the price per unit consumed raises since the fixed cost becomes more of the dominant cost of the two.

A useful application of this principle would be a household that has both an electricity service and natural gas service.  The only device on the natural gas line is the hot water heater.  The fixed monthly cost is for delivery is $14 and the consumption by this house is low at approximately $8 per month average.  In this case, it is likely beneficial to switch to an electric water heater when the natural gas unit reaches the end of its life.  With a variable cost that would likely be $12 to $14 per month, the natural gas fixed cost is eliminated since hot water is now provided by the electric service, whose fixed costs are already covered.  Though an electric unit does not heat as fast, this should be an acceptable trade off since the hot water consumption was low enough to start.

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House purchasing economies of scale

This one is a quick reminder for those attracted to investment properties. The right home to have for the purpose of renting out will be around the price median for a given area. Too expensive of a home, and it will be hard to get what is needed in monthly rent. The exceptions being vacation homes, and the luxury market.

The other end of the spectrum is even more problematic. A $40k house will have many cost items that are the same as a $160k house. Here is a list for example:

Appraisal: $200-$400. The house size can influence price, but not by much.

Home Inspection: $200-$500 depending on tests performed. It is similar to appraisal, but can vary a little more with house size. Most of the inspection will be a fixed cost.

Plumbing: Trip fees and simple fixes will be the same. Toilets will be the same.

Mortgages and titling fees generally disregard house size.

Cable TV, and utility service fees will be the same

Evictions will cost the same

Liability issues will be roughly the same

While this list has exceptions, its purpose is to provoke thought about the “good deals” to be had in low cost houses. Always make sure to do your own due diligence before making any kind of investment, and if unsure…consult a local professional advisor.

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