What’s More Valuable than Money?

Time.

OK, many things are really more valuable than money, but for this discussion I’ll be focussing on time, and how some habits that you developed before wealth may not be serving you as well now.

Most of us started with little or nothing and have worked our way up. A few of us got lucky in the sense that monetary success just sorta happened unexpectedly (hence the name of this site). But the thing we all have in common is that it wasn’t always so.

Before what ever process or happy accident brought you to a position of affluence, you had to watch your pennies. Or you should have. In fact in a very real sense you still should, but that’s a discussion for another day.

During that time, while living appropriately within your means, or perhaps even just living paycheck to paycheck, you developed strategies to pay the bills, and hopefully accumulate wealth.

One of those strategies is often that your time is worth less than your money.

It makes a lot of sense.

It’s the classic “do it yourself” scenario. You can save money by doing things yourself – be it cleaning the toilets, building the deck, doing your books or installing a new faucet. You trade your time and a little elbow grease for saving money.

In fact, it may be one of the strategies that got you here. Nicely done.

But now that you are here, it might be time to reconsider. Now that your situation has changed, and you have the resources to perhaps make difference decisions, are those old habits still serving you well?

One of the local housecleaning services advertises with the slogan: “Life’s too short to clean your own home.” There’s a deep truth in that sales pitch. If you have the resources to do otherwise, is cleaning your own home what you would choose to do? How about the other things you do day to day?

Hiring someone else for things you do, call it handing off or outsourcing or whatever you like, is something worth considering, and well worth exploring. Think of it as purchasing time. You’re trading money, which you have and perhaps continue to generate, for time, of which there is only a limited supply.

And all that is actually not really the point I wanted to make here. At least, not all of it.

You see, this urge to save money at the expense of time runs deeper than whether or not to call a plumber or hire a house cleaner. Much deeper.

The big decisions are easy. They’re obvious, they grab your attention, you can make a decision one way or the other objectively and move on.

Habits, on the other hand, are harder to break.

Let me give an example.

As I’m sure is true for you as well, there are several gas stations in my home town. And, as fate would have it, the cheaper gas station is further away – about three miles, out of my way. There’s a more convenient one that I drive by every day, but naturally it’s more expensive.

On top of that, everyone knows that the cheaper one is, well, the cheaper one. So it’s always busy. It’s not uncommon to have to wait for a while before being able to fill up.

You can probably see where this is going.

One day I did some math. On average say I put in 20 gallons and the price difference is as much as $0.20 per gallon.

$4.00.

I’m saving $4 by using the cheaper gas station each time I fill up.

But I’m spending an extra 10 to 20 minutes to save that $4. Between travel time out of my way to the other station and occasional wait times it really does add up.

So, not long ago I decided that was a poor use of my time. I now fill up at the quicker, more convenient station. I pay $4.00 extra for doing so, but get 10-20 minutes of my life back each time. It’s worth it, to me. Not to mention that it’s less stressful than jockeying and almost competing for a position at the pump.

One of the rules of thumb for estimating the value of your time is to take your annual income and divide it by the number of hours in a work-year, 2000. I don’t really like that approach, because there are so many different ways to measure the value of time, and we’re not all actually working. However it’s one random rule of thumb.

Another random rule of thumb is that if you can pay someone else one half of that or less to do something for you it’s worth it. Again, I’m not sure I agree, but it’s a starting place for the thought process.

$4 for 10 minutes is $24 an hour. That’s a fair trade for me.

Looking for bargains is a hard habit to break. And, in all honesty, just “breaking the habit” isn’t the right thing to do either. I’m certainly not suggesting that you start spending wildly and rationalizing it by saying “but I’m trading money for time”. You might be, you might not be. You might also be spending more than you would objectively think that it’s worth.

The point here is simply to realize that time is a precious resource, and you are in the fortunate position to be able trade some money for time. You can do it in big ways, by having others do some of what you have traditionally done. You can also do it in small ways that add up, by changing some of your habits.

In either case, it’s well worth considering how you spend your time, how you want to spend your time, and what all of your options really are.

2 thoughts on “What’s More Valuable than Money?”

  1. This is a good observation, and one that doesn’t only apply to the wealthy. I make a decent living, but I’m not wealthy by a long shot. Even in my position, I find myself looking at cost/time trade-offs. I’d rather pay someone to clean my apartment regularly than do it myself. I won’t schlep to the farther supermarket to save 20 cents on carrots. I don’t have a car (I like in NYC, where public transportation is excellent), but if I did, I’d probably make the same trade-off you describe here for gas.
    In a way, it all boils down to “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” The only difference at different income levels is the definition of “small”. For someone with millions of dollars, small can be quite big. For someone in my position, a few dollars here and there is negligible. For someone supporting a family on minimum wage income, even a few cents can be big enough to matter.

  2. I think there’s more to simply trading time for money than simply gaining time.
    I’m not wealthy by any means, however with a large family (and the accompanying needs and wear/tear) I find doing a lot of things myself to save some money, but it also shows my kids that they can do this kind of thing themselves as they grow up and are trying to make it on smaller incomes.
    I also have people who, for one reason or another – I dunno…, think that I’m brilliant for being able to do so many things on my own. I repair my own vehicles, do all my own home improvement/repair jobs, computer troubleshooting, etc. But they are constantly amazed that I can make do when things are down, or look desperate.
    I learned these things by having to do it on my own. Sure, today, time is money, but I find that I’m constantly learning new things. For those (been there, done that 100 times) jobs, I do find myself wanting to turn it over to someone else… but then find that the quality isn’t that great. Yes it was done fast. But shoddily so.
    But I also find that my “talents” that came from years of doing it myself have indeed turned into “money” when I can help someone else in a much more direct way than throwing a few dollars out to help them. I end up teaching them, helping them, giving them hope. Essentially, teaching a man to fish, instead of throwing a fish their way.
    I’ve always said that I’d like to be tempted with lots of money (after living many years with little money). Your site explores some of the lessons that come with such a temptation. Quitting a job doesn’t satisfy oneself, and appears to be a lesson learned (quite often) the hard way. I learned this one when unemployed for over 2 years. I had money to live off for that time, but it wore away at my self-worth. And the money was disappearing. I never asked for help, but remember crying when someone came by with a carload of groceries. There’s something to giving… and graciously accepting.
    We are each an individual with needs that require someone else – for communicating with, sharing life’s experiences and learning from them, exploring ourselves and our world, and seeking out what brings us true happiness.
    It’s too bad that money turns so many people inward. I live in an affluent community, but often look with some jealousy at the community values and closeness in lower income areas.
    And when we die… what good is all that money? You can’t take it with you…
    Thanks for a thought provoking site!

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