David was buying a charger for his phone on a known website. He was stranded on the payment page, looking for a discount. If you have tried finding coupons before, you’d know how the process works. You see hundreds of websites listing out different discounts and offers. To reduce the confusion, you’ll visit the pages you’ve heard of before.
Most of the codes won’t work because they’re either invalid or consumed already. So you end up trying one option after another until you find one or get fed up.
Similarly, David spent 30 min to find a working discount code for 5$. He patted himself on the back for adding those dollars to his savings.
But was the discount worth the time spent? Let’s find out how to evaluate time vs money.
- The thought process of saving money
- Common arguments against valuing time vs money
- What can you do with the saved time?
The thought process of saving money
Money plays an essential role in any person’s life, yours and mine included. On the surface, saving some cash seems like a good idea. People jump at an opportunity to reduce expenditure, especially when it doesn’t come at the cost of quality.
For example, if you find your supermarket offering chicken at a 20% discount, you’d buy it. But, if the offer mentioned that those were leftovers, you’d not find it attractive anymore.
We take it account quality, but most of us fail to consider the time spent to avail the offer.
Here is how your mind thinks when you an option to save money. David’s thought process went through the same decision making flow.
Such a mindset fails to take into account the most critical entity you’re losing in the process – time. The right way to cash out a money-saving opportunity requires an additional step, as shown below, before jumping to the obvious decision.
Time is money. Everyone hears about it, everyone speaks about it, and everyone calmly ignores it. Think of time and money again with an open mind.
If you lose money, you can make some more. But, you can never retrieve the time you lose because it moves in only one direction – forward. The time you spend is lost forever.
You’ve heard people growing rich, losing all they have, and then turning wealthy again. Have you heard about anyone hitting retirement, turning into a teenager and growing old again? It only happens in the movies based on time travel, for which science still hasn’t found any concrete proof.
Until a mad scientist comes up with an affordable time machine for us, you must put a weightage on the time you spend. At the bare minimum, you must consider your hourly wages and make a comparison. If you’re paid monthly, you can divide your salary by the number of hours you put in.
For example, if you’re paid 20$ per hour, spending 30 min like David on a 5$ coupon incurs a loss. If you had spent the time working instead, you’d have made more money.
You might argue saying, “But I cannot work during those 30 minutes, so the argument doesn’t hold good.” You make a fair point, and I will address that in the ‘common arguments’ section in the second half of the article.
Your thought process of saving money might stem from your parents, elders, and society. Fifty years back, the situation was different where citizens weren’t as affluent as they are today. If you’re living in one of the developing countries, your parents might have struggled to make ends meet. If you’re from a developed country, your elders might have had slightly better finances but not close enough to the comfort you enjoy today.
Your parents had to take measures to save money even it came at the cost of spending extra time doing things the hard way. But in the last few decades, the facilities, services, and the standard of living have improved greatly. Trying to pinch pennies by spending a significant amount of time is no longer an intelligent decision.
Besides, research has shown that people who value time over money are happier in life.
Common examples of valuing money over time
Here are 3 common examples where people choose to save money over time.
1. Buying a cheaper house leading to a longer commute
Let’s assume you have to look for a house to stay for a year on rent. Here are your two options:
- A house which requires 1 hour of commute each way to work, but costs lesser
- A house which requires 20 min of commute each way to work, but costs higher
Many people choose the cheaper house because they believe the money saved will add to their bank balance. Fundamentally, the logic holds good because you’re saving more at the end of each month. But have you considered the price you’re paying in return?
If you use basic mathematics, you will realize you’re spending an additional hour and twenty minutes in comparison each day. If you total that up, you’re spending over 26 extra hours each month sitting in your car, driving through the traffic to save the money. That’s 3 additional working days in a month, which you can utilize to increase your income instead.
Besides, driving affects your energy levels. You’ll arrive at work far more energetic after a 20 min commute than an hour’s drive. In the evening, you’ll reach home wholly drained out, having hardly any energy to spend quality time with your loved ones.
The long commute can take a toll on your mindset too. Driving a long distance through traffic, waiting at every signal can increase your frustration and make you irritable. Depending on the country that you live in, the additional amount you spend on fuel can incur a reasonable expense in itself.
2. Discounts on supermarkets and coupon codes
People spend hours in the supermarket trying to find the best deal on the soap, toothpaste, and cornflakes. Spending 15 minutes to reduce your grocery bill by $2 isn’t worth the time. The decision to drive 20 minutes to a far-off store with a 10% discount isn’t always profitable unless the savings amount to a considerable figure to your monthly expenses.
I am not advocating that you must stay away from discounts. If you’re walking down the fruits section and find an offer on an item you regularly consume, do pick it up and drop it in your cart. But if you enter the supermarket with an intent to go on a scavenger hunt to squeeze the last drop out of every discount, you’re not valuing your time enough.
3. Taking a walk/public transport
Some people have the habit of walking 30 minutes to save 5$ off an Uber ride. In a similar example, availing public transport that takes twice the time when you can afford a faster alternative isn’t the wisest decision.
If an Uber helps you save time at a reasonable cost, you’ll be better off booking a cab than walking the entire distance. If you’re walking for health benefits, that’s a different argument. But if your sole purpose of avoiding the cab is to save a couple of dollars, you’re losing valuable time.
Common arguments against valuing time vs money
I wouldn’t be surprised if you disagree with my examples because they appear controversial to many. Here are the most common arguments people have when it comes to valuing time over money.
1. My finances are tight
One of the most common reasons why people exchange time for money is affordability. Not everyone can afford an Uber ride or stay close to the office by paying higher rent. Also, choosing the location of your house can depend on other factors such as the spouse’s work location and the distance from your children’s school.
All of these are valid concerns. I’m not asking you to blow money to save time such that it comes down to living on your credit card. Neither do you have to pick a location comfortable to you, making life miserable for the others in your family.
The problem is, most people never give enough thought to such decisions. If you feel you’re better off exchanging time for money because you cannot afford the expense or create trouble for others, you have made the right call. But if you make such decisions on autopilot, you’d have failed to consider the opportunity cost.
Do not forget that the time you saved translates to money. If your finances are tight and you’re exchanging more time for money, you’re not helping yourself out of the situation. You might make things only harder for yourself.
The bottom line is, you must decide after enough deliberate thought and not merely to save money.
2. What’s the use of the few extra minutes saved?
You might argue saying, “What’s the big deal about spending 5 minutes on saving 50 cents at the supermarket? After all, you might lose that extra time if you hit a red signal on the way back.”
Yes, you make a valid point. But the intent isn’t to use those 5 extra minutes to complete a fruitful task right away. Evaluating time vs. money should be a mindset. The time you save creates a compound effect even if you do not use it soon after.
3. Such a thought process is disrespectful to money
Such a mindset has nothing to do with respect for money. In fact, the whole concept of saving time in exchange for money is one way to make more money. If anything, the approach respects the value of money.
The more time you save, the more time you have at your disposal. What you choose to do with it is your choice.
4. You cannot measure time vs. money every time
That’s a valid argument. For example, cooking a special dinner for your partner on your anniversary takes a few hours of your time. Ordering food online might seem like a better decision but you cannot blatantly ignore the emotions involved.
The thought and effort make all the difference even if you have to spend time in the kitchen cooking a meal which doesn’t taste as good as that of a restaurant.
The intent isn’t to place a higher weightage on time for every occasion, but only when it is sensible to do so.
What can you do with the saved time?
There are no right or wrong answers to the best way to use the extra time you save. Every person can make their own choice. Here are a few examples:
Do what you love:
Did you have a hobby that you no longer have time for because of your tight schedule? You can use those 20 extra minutes you saved by the shorter commute to play the guitar, build a garden, or read a book. The contentment you receive in exchange for the money you spent can reduce your stress and improve your happiness.
Generating extra income:
I would spend the extra time improving my skills or generating additional income by starting a side hustle. But that’s just me because I am a career-oriented person. If you’re keen about increasing your wealth, you can think of ways to find an extra income source. If you can spend time on your hobby to make money as a side gig, that’s even better.
Spend quality time with your loved ones:
Are you dragging yourself fatigued to your house, with no energy left to have a meaningful conversation with your partner or family? You can consider spending extra money so that you can enjoy quality time with your loved ones.
Relax or do nothing:
If you want to spend the time you saved just to relax or spend it alone or do nothing whatsoever, nobody is stopping you. You can experience peace of mind which eludes people with 14+ hour daily schedules.
In today’s world, time is money, and the sooner you start understanding how the math works, the better decisions you’ll make. You cannot look at the money saved at face value without considering the time you spent on it.
If you believe you can save more money by spending time in exchange, you’re on the wrong side of the logic. Spending money to make time can help you make more money in the long run. It is a never-ending loop that you need to wrap your head around.
You just have to look at time and money from a different angle. Switch your perspective, and you’ll save not only more time, but also more money along with happiness and contentment.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.