A question I get asked repeatedly by clients is, “What does time is money, mean”?
Think of money as a way to save the hard work you’ve done so you can use it later. In other words, money is like saving time. You work, you save time (in the form of money), and then you use it later for things you need or want.
Now, having made this argument, I’ll admit that time and money aren’t exactly the same thing. Money is a store of time, sure, but the two concepts have some differences too.
Time always moves forward. Once a minute or a day goes by, you can’t get it back. If you waste time, it’s gone forever. If you waste (or lose) money, however, it’s always possible to earn more. Time marches forward but money has no “direction”.
More importantly, time is finite. Money is not. Theoretically, your income and wealth have no upper bound. On the other hand, each of us has about eighty to hundred years on this earth. This difference doesn’t mean time and money are not correlated.
When you start thinking of time and money as being able to swap for each other, you see things differently.
Wealth and Work
Realizing that money is like stored time helped me understand wealth differently. Being wealthy means you have a lot of time you can use however you want, not just a lot of money.
This is why many people like the idea of Financial Independence. It means having enough money saved so you don’t have to work if you don’t want to. You’re free to use your time your way.
When I ask my clients as to what motivates them to become wealthy, almost everyone offers some variation on the theme: “I want to be able to do what I want, when I want.”
Isn’t it funny (sad) though how we work so hard to buy things but often don’t save money for later. Why is this?
It’s because as we get better jobs and make more money, we also start wanting more things. It feels like we have to work harder to get all these things, even though no one says we must have them.
Nobody said you had to buy that car, live in that house, go on that trip and freshly laundered clothes, but you would feel deprived if you didn’t, because your definition of wealth is stuff (not time), so you work a little harder to give yourself and your loved ones all the good things that life has to offer.
It’s a catch-22.
You work more to have more money to buy more stuff…but because you have so much stuff, you need more money, which means you must work more. It’s like running in place. The more stuff you have, the less time you feel you have.
“Nothing so undermines your financial judgement as the sight of your neighbor getting rich.” – J.P. Morgan
How to Break Free
There are two main ways to get out of this cycle.
1. Spend Less, Enjoy More
The first way is to simply spend less money. Spending less means you need less money, which means you could choose to work less. When you reduce your lifestyle, it takes less time to fund it. If you’re earning R500,000 per year take-home and spending all of it, you leave no margin for error.
If something goes wrong — you lose your job, are paralyzed from the neck down or inflation skyrockets — you’re in a bind. But if you spend less, you have more choices. You can save that extra money (saving time for later) or work less now and enjoy your time more.
The idea here is simple but powerful: when you spend less money, you don’t need as much money to live. This means you don’t have to work as much or as hard, which gives you more time to enjoy life. How do we do this?
- Track Your Spending: Start by knowing where your money goes. Sometimes, we spend on things we don’t really need or even want that much. Seeing it all written down can be eye-opening.
- Budget for Essentials First: Make sure your basics are covered—food, shelter, health, and saving for emergencies. Then see what’s left for other things.
- Prioritize Experiences Over Things: Often, experiences—like spending time with loved ones or learning a new skill—bring more happiness than buying the latest gadget or fashion.
- Reduce Recurring Expenses: Look at monthly subscriptions or services you don’t use much. Cutting these can save a lot over time.
- Embrace Frugality as a Lifestyle: It’s not about deprivation; it’s about making choices that align with your values. If freedom and time are what you value, spending less can be very satisfying.
This approach isn’t just about saving money; it’s about reassessing what brings you joy and fulfilment. It’s a powerful way to reclaim your time and use it for things that truly matter to you.
“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” – Carl Sandburg
2. Buy Time, Not Things
But what if you like your lifestyle and don’t want to cut back? Or what if you’re not able to cut back? There’s still a way to use the relationship between time and money to increase your sense of well-being.
The second way is to spend your money on things that give you more time, not just more stuff. Investing in services or tools that save you time can significantly improve your quality of life. This strategy is about consciously choosing to use money to increase your free time and reduce stress. We do this by…
- Hiring Help for Household Tasks: Whether it’s cleaning, lawn care, or repairs, outsourcing these tasks can free up several hours a week that you can then spend with family, on hobbies, or relaxing.
- Use Convenience Services: Grocery delivery, meal kits, or even a virtual assistant for administrative tasks can streamline your daily routines, making your life easier and freeing up time.
- Automate and Delegate: Look at what tasks consume your time and see if they can be automated (like bill payments) or delegated to someone else.
- Invest in Time-Saving Technology: Whether it’s a more efficient home appliance or software that streamlines your work, the right technology can save a lot of time in the long run.
The key here is to think of spending as an investment in your time rather than just consumption. It’s not about buying more stuff but about enhancing your life’s quality by freeing up time for what makes you happiest.
Both strategies—spending less and buying time—lead to a more fulfilling life. They help you escape the trap of working endlessly for things that don’t add true value to your life. Instead, you start making conscious choices that prioritize your happiness, health, and well-being.
“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” – Sydney Harris.
This shift in mindset can lead to a deeper sense of satisfaction and contentment, as you find yourself with more time to pursue passions, relax, and be with loved ones. It’s about creating a life that feels rich not just in financial terms, but in time and experiences—the things that matter most.
Finding the right balance between spending time now and saving time for later is a personal choice. There’s no one right answer for everyone.
What do you think? How do you balance time, money, and happiness? Have you found ways to “buy” more time and become happier? How did you find the right balance for you? This way of looking at things aims to make the message easier to understand for everyone, encouraging thoughtful choices about how we use our time and money to truly enrich our lives.