Save money to save time, and vice versa.
You’ve probably heard of the time-space continuum: in physics, time and space are two sides of the same concept. In personal finance, there’s the time-money continuum. The two are the same, but we often forget it. When you save money, you save time. When you save time, you save money.
The aphorism “time is money” is so widespread that it’s become a cliché we take for granted. Would it help to flip it around and say “money is time” instead? It’s the same meaning, but hopefully more thought-provoking as opposed to eyeroll-provoking. Like many other cool things, this aphorism is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. He wasn’t the first to come up with it, but he was among the first to popularize it. (The guy would’ve been one hell of a social media influencer if he lived today.)
“One today is worth two tomorrows. Lost time is never found again. Time is money. Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff that life is made of. You may delay, but time will not.”
Intellectually, we’re all familiar with the underlying concepts, to the point where we don’t even question them: you get paid (hopefully with money!) in exchange for your time. There’s the lowest limit on how much you get paid – the minimum wage. You get paid more per hour if you work overtime. You will not live forever. Your time is limited. You can double your net worth. You can’t double your life expectancy. You can acquire more money. Every person gets only 168 hours per week – no more, no less. Some people are millionaires, but no one is immortal. Some lower-class or middle-class people live to be 90. Some billionaires die in their 50s.
We know those things. They’re axioms, just like “the sky is blue” or “water is wet.” But how often do we actually put them in practice? If you follow the line of thinking above, you’ll come to some very interesting conclusions. For example, are you aware that you’re wealthier than Warren Buffett? (As of this writing, he’s 91 years old and worth $104.5 billion.) He has multiple houses, his own jet company, and all the toys you can dream of (and probably some that you can’t even imagine), but when it comes to time, you’ve almost certainly got more time ahead of you than he does. That’s more sunsets to enjoy, more parties to attend, more beautiful memories to forge.
That concept is called being a “time millionaire” – valuing your free time and your remaining lifespan more than money. Some people take that term a step further: a “time billionaire” is someone who has a billion seconds (about 31 years) ahead of them. As far as I know, those concepts are quite modern. The very notion of early retirement is just a few decades old, and in this era we’re so obsessed with data-crunching that we end up with interesting notions such as these.
“Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Earlier, I wrote a long summary of my early retirement journey, but the bottom line was this: I chose to leave the rat race at 34 and enjoy lean but fun lifestyle. I could’ve stayed on for another decade or so, and I would’ve become a multimillionaire, but that would’ve been an entire decade of my life I’d never get back. (And to state the ugly truth, you’re almost always healthier when you’re younger than when you’re older. Exceptions exist, but they’re just that – exceptions.) Spending even one extra year at work wouldn’t have been worth it when I could travel, enjoy life, and make the most of it. Whenever I get contacted by LinkedIn recruiters, I make sure to start by stating that I’m not interested unless it’s at least $100K USD in total compensation. (And even then, I probably wouldn’t take it, though who knows.)
But I digress… How does all of this – any of this – help you, here and now? First, try to identify and cut out the habits that cost you extra time in exchange for very little money. Some of them fall under the umbrella of “frupidity” – a concept I wrote about earlier. To put it simply, if you spend 30 minutes driving to the cheapest gas station in town to save a few pennies per gallon, you’ll either break even or actually lose money. (Consider the wear and tear you put on your car, and the gas it takes to drive there, and the time you spend.) Cutting out coupons while watching a TV show? That’s a money hack. Spending 10 minutes in line (or in the drivethrough) to buy the same coffee you can make at home? That’s frupidity. It’s always difficult to view your own habits and routines with a critical eye, but give it a shot, see what you find.
The “money = time” concept is a lot more efficient on a larger scale. For example, if you get paid hourly, then you get rewarded with overtime pay if you put in those extra hours. If you’re a salaried employee, you don’t get any extra pay beyond those first 40 hours. I’m saying this as a recovering workaholic who literally used to sleep at the office to get more stuff done and to please my charismatic bosses: it’s not worth it. If you think working 50 or 60 (or 85, as in my case) hours a week will get you that coveted promotion next year – are you sure about that? How sure are you? And what if everyone else at the office does the same? (When it comes to promotions, to quote Highlander, “There can be only one” – or, well, a handful, but not all y’all.)
If you normalize working longer hours, it’ll become easier and easier to justify to yourself, and it’ll also set up a new benchmark for your colleagues, to the point where anyone who puts in less time will get ostracized. What if you did the opposite and cultivated the reputation of a professional badass instead? Work exactly 40 hours, exactly 8 hours a day, but get things done during that timeframe – and then head home, with strict instructions not to call you unless that’s an emergency. (I did, in fact, delete the company-issued software from my phone after a few high-level Amazonians started pinging me at 3am for non-emergencies. I never reinstalled that software, and I lived happily ever after.)
That principle doesn’t apply just to your workplace, though. Maybe you have a toxic or a dead-end relationship in your personal life, be it your partner or someone in your social circle. If you already know (or very strongly suspect) that won’t work out in the long run, why waste your time? Pull that plug, rip off that bandaid, tell that person it’s time to move on. Maybe there’s no particular catalyst – and you don’t need to be rude about ending things with them – but it’ll get you more of your time back. Then you can use that time to treat yourself, or to find other, more pleasant people to be around, or to just enjoy your own company, if only for a while.
Better yet, if you invest your money, it’ll generate even more money – slowly at first, and then it’ll compound. Keep that up, and eventually your investments will make you enough money to live on, or maybe even more than your day job. This is yet another example of your time working for you: if that older version of yourself hadn’t put in the time, you wouldn’t have had the money to invest to make more money and free up your time. It always blows my mind when a quick stock trade (or even selling a weekly covered call) ends up making me more money than I used to earn in a week or a month as a warehouse grunt, doing physical work for 40-60 hours a week. Now, because of all the actions in my past, I can use those savings, that foundation, and get more in one morning (not always, obviously) while lying in bed than I used to in a whole month when I was 23. Obligatory disclaimer – most people shouldn’t pick stocks and should stick with index funds. See this earlier post I wrote on this topic.
There is a lot more to this concept of “save time to save money,” of course. There are different types of time: just like different grades of chocolate, some time is more enjoyable than other. For example, being an independent adult is better than being a relatively powerless teenager. Freeing up your time here and now has more value than having the same amount of time when you’re much older. Two hours spent napping is obviously more pleasant than the same two hours spent in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. (I tried both when I commuted by car or by bus: napping on a bus is much more enjoyable. Please don’t nap and drive.) The time you spend commuting (and not getting paid for) is worse than the same time you could’ve spent at home if you manage to arrange work from home, because napping at home is obviously better than napping on a bus.
What kind of time hack can you get from that? If at all possible, try to arrange a work-from-home option, then seize that option, and never let it go. (Unless, of course, you’re an extrovert and love hanging out with your coworkers in person. In that case, you do you.)
There are other, simpler time hacks as well. For example, I’m in love with my Instapot. It was a pretty big investment ($100 even when it was on sale), but now all my cooking consists of throwing the ingredients into the pot, pressing a button, and coming back a few minutes later. Some time hacks are notoriously popular in the Silicon Valley: for example, shaving your head to avoid the time and effort of dealing with all that hair. Ditto for wearing the same outfit every single day to avoid dealing with wardrobe decisions. I’m fairly certain that tattooed makeup can save you a lot of time in the long run too, but maybe don’t go that far, eh? There are lots of other hacks, some weird, some merely eccentric, all of them helpful when it comes to freeing up your precious time.
So it goes. As you’ve probably figured out, I spend a lot of time thinking about, well, time. It fascinates me, it really does. Try to internalize this worldview too, or at least take it out for a ride and see where that takes you.
What about you? Is this something you’ve also practiced for a while? (Great minds!) What tips or tricks or dark, forbidden knowledge can you share? Leave a comment and let me know!