Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Time is Money"- Fallacy or Fact

I think one of the most aggravating phrases an extremely frugal person like myself hears on a regular basis is the quote "time is money". I think I hear this at least once a week, either as an excuse why people are spending money on certain things they can ill afford, or, even more frustrating, when trying to convince someone else not to do a money saving method in which they'd expressed interest.
This phrase is spouted out, left and right, so frequently, as if it were the veritable truth.
But is it really undeniable fact?
This post will attempt to tackle that.
First off, when someone is saying "Time is money", what are they actually trying to say?

In my opinion, they're actually saying one of three main things.

A) What you're suggesting I do is beneath my dignity. I'm more worthwhile than that. 

B) I can do better things with my time than that, things that actually make money.

C) My time is precious. I never seem to have enough of it.

Are these valid reasons not to do different money saving measures?

What you're suggesting I do is beneath my dignity. I'm more worthwhile than that. 

You may wonder why I assume that this is what people mean when they say "time is money" when presented with a frugal strategy that they're unwilling to do.
I wonder myself why I've come to that conclusion, but here's where my head is at. When people say "time is money", they seem to be saying "my time is valuable, more valuable than that task, which is why I won't do it." I may be hearing it wrong, but in that phrase "my time", I hear an emphasis on the "my", as in "maybe your time isn't valuable, but I'm a worthwhile individual whose time should be spent on important things, and not menial tasks like you're suggesting."
People have all sorts of hang ups about what things they are and aren't comfortable with doing, and I completely understand that. What one person may feel totally comfortable with doing, another may find uncomfortable and out of their comfort zone, despite there actually being nothing "wrong" per se with the task.
The thing is though, that menial tasks are not "beneath people". Menial tasks may not seem like they're valuable, but without them, the world wouldn't function. A little gear may seem inconsequential, but without it, a machine can't run. Little insects and bacteria may seem inconsequential, but without them, the whole ecosystem doesn't run properly.
Menial tasks need to be done by someone; there's no reason why you, as a human being, are "any more valuable" than another human being, no reason why it's degrading for you to do something that other people are paid to do. So, you don't like it? That's fine. Don't do it. But its not "beneath your dignity".
(For the record, I've worked as a cleaning lady. And while some might have found it degrading to be cleaning other people's toilets and floors, I didn't, as its important tasks that need to get done by someone... not to mention that it paid good money as well.)
In fact, many of these little things that are "busy work" and not profound intellectual pursuits have actually scientifically been proven to keep our serotonin levels up, and make us happier in general. So not only are they not "beneath you", doing them may actually improve your day.

I can do better things with my time than that, things that actually make money.

I hear this one a lot. People tell me "Penny, how many hours did you just put in to that project? How much did you actually save? I would never do that, because I make more per hour than what you save per hour doing that task."
At first, this does seem like a very reasonable explanation why it isn't worth someone's while to do something frugal.
But only at first glance.
Lets give an example of something I do that takes time but saves money. I spend 10 hours (way overestimate, most likely) picking grapes and making a batch of wine that will last us an entire year. If I didn't make the wine myself, and instead, bought it, it would cost me roughly $155 for wine for the year. (We use roughly a bottle per week.) Instead, I saved myself those $155 in my 10 hours of work, so basically I saved $15.50 per hour. My husband, and a large percentage of the people I know, make only $6.25 an hour, nearly a third of what I'm saving per hour when making that wine. So yes, I'm putting in a lot of hours for that task, but I'm saving a whole heckuva lot of money in that time, more than most people I know are able to make at work per hour.
So, I don't know how many people would say it's not worth the time it takes to do that.
But lets say something more simple, without as extreme savings. (Numbers here are approximations to show a point, not to compare costs in different places.)
Making a loaf of bread costs $1.50 in the store and $0.50 to make at home, and it takes Chelsea half an hour to make the bread. That would make Chelsea's savings per hour be only $2 per hour, when her job pays her $10 per hour. It may seem like Chelsea is wasting her time, therefore, making homemade bread, because she can make more per hour than she is saving per hour in doing that task.
But, there are other factors that need to be considered.
Assuming that Chelsea decides not to make that loaf of bread, is she actually going to use that time to make an extra $10? Most likely not, because in most jobs, there are set hours you work, and whether you do money saving activities the rest of the time or not, you still won't be making $10 an hour during those hours you're not working. So while saving $2 per hour isn't a ton, it's still more than the nothing an hour Chelsea would be making at home otherwise.
But even if you do have the option of taking on more hours of work, or more clients at work, which would mean that you doing money saving activities actually would be at the expense of work hours and therefore, would mean less income, you have to consider how much you actually are making per hour after expenses, and that means after deducting childcare and travel expenses, in addition to taxes. Only once you know how much you actually make per hour can you really make an accurate comparison whether or not you can make more per hour than you could save per hour.
Keep in mind, though, that tasks that take a while, the more often you do them, the more efficient you become at them, and therefore, they end up taking you less time. So while the bread making may take you half an hour at first and only save you 2 dollars per hour, when you bread make on a regular basis, you can shave down your prep time and make that bread in only 10 minutes, making your savings per hour be $6 per hour instead of only $2.
For each task, don't automatically assume that it's not worthwhile doing. Calculate how much time it would take, calculate how much money it would save, figure out how much you'd save an hour, then compare it to how much you'd make per hour after taxes and expenses, and only then, once you have the numbers, write off tasks that "aren't worth your while".
In my opinion, there are some tasks that aren't worth doing because they save such little money for such a large time investment. Most other tasks, though, either don't take much time at all, or they save a lot of money, even if they take more time, so they're worthwhile financially for most people to do.
Unless you're my friend Sheila, who's a private therapist, who can take on as many extra clients as she wants in whatever free time she has, and makes a whole lot of money per hour from these clients. For Sheila, most frugal ventures aren't worth her time financially.
But most of us aren't Sheila, and therefore, financially, most frugal tasks are probably worth your while.

My time is precious. I never seem to have enough of it.
Oh boy do I get this. Its currently a few hours past when I should have been in bed, and I'm only getting down to writing this post now, and after that, I've still gotta hang two loads of laundry and prepare lunch for tomorrow, not to mention go to sleep at some point.
There are only so many hours in the day, and many of us are very busy, just trying to keep up with our already full workload; taking on extra tasks doesn't seem so doable.
The only answer I have to this is that before you decide that you have no time to be frugal, try to see if there is any time that you actually do have, but you're currently using it for other pursuits, like playing on the computer, watching a movie, reading a book, etc...
Downtime certainly is important, as is destressing and enjoyable activities. But consider if maybe you can cut down on some of that downtime, and use it to do money saving tasks, or, can you, perhaps, do some money saving activities while you're having downtime, like sewing/mending/crocheting/hanging laundry/ironing while you're watching a movie?
If you, however, do find that you can't make any time for more frugal ventures, that's your call to make. Only you know how much downtime you need and how much spare time you really have.

Yes, time is money, and no, it isn't always possible to do every frugal activity because of time restraints. But keep in mind that that is something for you to judge based on your own life and your own capabilities; no one should tell someone else not to do a frugal activity because "time is money". What you have time to do is your call and yours alone, and no one should try to guilt trip you either way about it.

You know, when I started out this post, I think I was a little too harsh on those that use this phrase, but as I explored the topic, I found I began to understand more where people are coming from. I'm glad I did this.

Do you ever use the phrase "time is money"? What do you mean when you say it? What do you think most people mean when they say it? Do you think my understanding of the phrase is correct?
Which of these three reasons speaks most to you? What do you do about those issues?


  1. I see this going both ways and not really sure why there's no other comments. "Time is money" you use your time to save money, so your time is still money..more money because you saved it. So yes time is money no matter what excuse or phrase you want to attach to it you save or lose money.

  2. I see this going both ways and not really sure why there's no other comments. "Time is money" you use your time to save money, so your time is still money..more money because you saved it. So yes time is money no matter what excuse or phrase you want to attach to it you save or lose money.

  3. Penny, all of your points are spot on. However, one thing I think you're not considering here - and you should - is the real reason you're frugal. You're frugal, first and foremost, it seems, because you like the challenge, the quest, the accomplishment of saving money. You like to find alternate ways to do things and "beat the system," as a manner of speaking.

    My mother had some of your traits. I used to ask her that if she won a billion dollars, would she buy a new bedspread and she would laugh at herself coming up with more reasons why it would be wasteful to do so.

    I could be wrong but something tells me that even if a billion dollars dumped into your lap and you could hire someone to make the highest quality food for your family with 100% organic, Whole Foods ingredients and you could live in a mansion, you'd still struggle to live in a small box and bake pseudo Sour Cream Doritos for your husband rather than buy a bag.

    And there's nothing wrong with that because your pleasure comes in frugal DIY. Having said that, don't feel badly if your husband and children don't derive the same level of satisfaction from frugality and that they're no less aware or humble if they'd prefer to live very differently from you.

  4. Most people who say "Time is money" are self employed making $30+a hour.So unless winemaking was a hobby, it's taking time away from making money.Also most ppl who work for themselves work 50-75 hrs a week.They treasure their free time to relax.


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