The first time I heard the expression “time is money”, it was used to convey a sense of urgency. You need to hustle. The early bird gets the worm.
Then I remember hearing it used almost exclusively with the time value of money—the earlier you start investing, the more time your money will have to grow, so that extra time translates into extra money.
Recently, I’ve started hearing it differently. Time and money are interchangeable. At various times in our life, we may have an abundance of one and the other is stretched thin. I’ve been in both places. Each has its constraints. They both have their advantages.
If you’re feeling pressed for time, you may be able to buy yourself some margin, and it may cost you less than you think.
We treat time like a continuously renewable resource, but it’s not. No matter how much money we have, there are only 168 hours in the week.
Here are four examples of how you can save a meaningful chunk of time for just a few bucks.
Skip the commercials. I need to switch to Hulu’s ad-free plan. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve done the math. Let’s say each commercial break is 75 seconds long. With six commercial breaks in an hour-long episode, that’s seven and a half minutes of ads per episode. Four episodes a month, that’s a full half-hour of ads, per show. I’m watching four shows.
Is it worth $4 to buy back two hours of your time each month? I think so.
Purchasing power of $1: 30 min
Don’t buy the cheapest gas in town. I know that gas is $0.25/gal cheaper at Costco. But you’re only getting twelve gallons, tops. By the time you’ve driven to Costco and waited in line, you’ve spent half an hour to save three dollars. Probably less.
Purchasing power of $1: 10 min
Let go of the dollar. Several months ago, I noticed a fraudlent charge on one of our cards. It was the perfect test charge: 99¢ at the iTunes Store. It’s small, common, and easily overlooked. Many people wouldn’t have noticed it. I enjoy balancing the checkbook several times each month. I noticed.
If I had taken the time to file a fraudulent charge claim on our debit card, the bank would have happily refunded the money. I didn’t bother. The paperwork would have taken too long. Having the time was more important to me than the dollar. I had them issue a new card and left it at that.
Purchasing power of $1: 60 min
Let someone else run your errands. I was at a backyard barbecue where one of our friends, a mother of four, was singing the praises of Google Shopping Express and Safeway’s grocery delivery service. “I don’t have to pack the kids into the car and herd them around the store. They go down for naps, I sit down at the computer. A few clicks later, the shopping is done!” She was happy to pay a few bucks to have someone else run those errands.
Purchasing power of $1: 5–20 min, plus stress
Time and money are interchangeable. Whichever one we feel is more constrained, we will go overboard in the other direction trying to preserve it. You’ve got to find a balance between the two. If you happen to have more time on your hands than money, the advice works the other way, too.
There is an old adage: “Any problem you can solve by throwing money at it isn’t really a problem.” A cracked screen on your phone, a flat tire, and losing your wallet are inconvenient, but they aren’t problems. A loved one dealing with depression, or cancer, or a troubled teenager—those are problems. Those need fixed with your time, love, and attention.
Money is a tool. Let it free up the time and attention it can so you can focus on what matters most.