Simple But Scary Truth: Money = Time

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Kelly Gurnett. Kelly runs the blog Cordelia Calls It Quits, where she documents her attempts to rid her life of the things that don’t matter and focus more on the things that do. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

We’ve all heard the phrase Time is money.” We know what it means—our time is valuable.  (Usually it’s said by muckity-mucks whose time is truly worth mucho dinero—have you ever seen what a law firm partner’s hourly rate is?).

But, there’s a flipside to that statement that most of us don’t consider. And, it’s one that can stop you in your spending tracks and make you look at frugality with a whole new appreciation. That flipside is: Money is time.

Trading Your Time For Stuff

Let’s say you make $15 an hour. (That’s just an arbitrary number picked after a quick look at some current wage figures on That would mean that for every $15 you spend, you will need to spend one hour at work (or more probably, once taxes are taken out) in order to pay for that item or service.

So, those nice salon haircuts you’ve been getting for $50 a pop? Those cost you 3 1/3 hours of your life or more—time that could have been spent with your family, pursuing a hobby, or even starting your own business. (Maybe the latest salon training academy is starting to look a little more attractive?) If your hair is personally an important investment for you (mine’s so hard to manage that, for me, it justifies a slightly pricier cut to guarantee decent results), then that’s fine. But, if you’re just going to Salon La-Whatever because you’re embarrassed to be seen at Supercuts, maybe you should consider whether that minor shame is worth 3 1/3 hours of time spent at the office.

Needless to say, when we start looking at bigger items like electronics, cars, and houses, the money-compared-to-time ratios can get downright scary. When you consider that the two-car garage, split-level home you’re longing after will add extra years (and years and years) to your current work sentence, suddenly the modest but cozy ranch looks like a much more attractive alternative.

Even the smaller purchases we tend to glance right over look more weighty when considered in this light—especially the smaller purchases, actually. Because it’s easy enough to say, “Well, it’s just a few dollars here and there,” than it is to say, “Well, it’s just half an hour / a little overtime / working on the weekend.”

Giving Up Your Future For Stuff

It’s bad enough that we’re trading whole portions of our lives for the money to buy things we may not even need. But, when credit is thrown into the mix, suddenly that stuff we’re buying takes on even more significance. Because when something is charged, financed, or mortgaged, suddenly you’re paying not just the face value of the item, but all those months (or years, if you only pay minimum fees) of interest.

We think of charging as our way of “buying ourselves time” to pay for the things we need (or think we need) but can’t afford at the moment. But, what we’re actually doing is spending even more of our own time.

Now that flat-screen TV that would have cost 50-60 hours of work costs you 50-60 hours plus interest. Think of how long you’ve been paying down some of your credit card statements—I’m willing to bet that half of the things you’re still paying for you don’t even use anymore. Clothes that are no longer in fashion, electronics that have broken down, fancy dinners that were awesome at the time but over in a couple of hours……Were they really worth years of your life?

How about you all? When you’re deciding whether or not to purchase something, do you ever consider how much time it will take you to earn that money back at your job? 

Share your experiences by commenting below!

    ***Photo courtesy of


    1. I think it is helpful to think in terms of the cost per hour, but I also like to think about the lost opportunity cost – in other words, a decision to buy X means I won't be able to buy Y.
      My recent post What Do You Want Out of Life?

    2. I used to do this when I made close to minimum wage and it often made me sick. I still think of things in terms of minimum wage sometimes and am shocked to see people who make that wage buying some of the luxury things they buy…
      My recent post Should I Pay Off My Car Loan Update

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        Yeah, I was first really struck by this concept when I read Your Money or Your Life–that book made *me* ill. If you really want to be floored, check out that book and learn about how to calculate your “Real Hourly Wage”–how much you're actually making per hour after subtracting job-related expenses like transportation, child care, etc. In fact, I may make that into an upcoming post…

        You want to talk some scary truths? You'll never look at a price tag the same way again!

    3. Staz @ EssentialF says:

      I just had a lightbulb moment reading your post, I used to do this when I first started working but over the years I've gotten more used to the actual prices than the hours of my time I would have to put in. Good motivation to start doing that again
      My recent post Advice From the Greatest Investor

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        I'm so glad my post helped to remind you! It's so easy to forget about what goes into earning the money we spend so easily. When you really stop to think about it, you can't help but want to be more frugal.

    4. justin@thefrugalpath says:

      Ever since starting my blog I've been thinking about this a lot. I did an estimation on the cost of bottled water v.s. filtered tap and its pretty scary how long you would have to work just to drink bottled water.
      Many people I know wish to retire, but I'm beginning to doubt they'll ever be able to afford it. If they thought about how much longer they'll have to work because of their addiction to consuming they might spend less.
      My recent post Goodbye Swiffer Refills Hello Savings

      • CordeliaCallsIt says:

        So true. You're not just spending your time right now–you're spending all those future hours you'll have to work to maintain the lifestyle you're living today. It can be very sobering. Is that big screen TV or flashy car really worth years of your retirement (or your retirement altogether)?

        p.s. Just read the Swiffer post at the end of your comment–I am so going to have to try that replacement tactic!

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