Time is money.
You’ve heard this slogan before. Benjamin Franklin first used it in 1748 as a reminder to workers that time spent not working is time spent not making money. Today, it has become a belief, a credo; people organize their lives around this equation: Time = Money.
On a basic level, this formula checks out. Yes, we can sell our time for profit, most of us do this to survive. However, we go one level deeper and the time equals money equation actually breaks down, and this proposition that seems to be a fundamental truth turns out to be only half true.
What we’re forgetting is that—thanks to the transitive property of equality (thank you algebra)—if time equals money, it would mean that money must also equal time. But—money is not time. So, if the equation doesn’t prove both ways, the “time is money” equation for living is also incomplete.
Money and time are linked, but they are not equal:
Money is a two-way trade: You can sell your time to make money. If you spend, waste, or lose your money, there is an abundant supply from which you can earn back financial wholeness.
Time is a one-way trade: You can sell it but you can never buy it back. It is finite and irreplaceable.
Money is valuable. Time is invaluable.
This inequality plays out in real life when we dedicate our time to unfulfilling work in the pursuit of money. When it is, in fact, the opposite of what we really want: more time. We say, “If only we could make enough money we could buy ‘quality time’ for family, hobbies, or the opportunity to pursue long deferred dreams.” The idea is to trade time for money while young, so we can buy back time to do the things we’ve always wanted to do….when we’re older.
Here’s the rub: eventually health, energy or willpower runs out. So, if the plan is to use our time now to build up sufficient money in order to buy back sufficient time or happiness later, then we are buying into the myth but not the math.
In order for the math to work out one would have to save enough money to finance a future of “time affluence”—time that could be spent pursuing activities that bring meaning and enjoyment to life. With purposeful planning and stewardship of one’s money this is, of course, possible. But, what about the people who, despite working long hours, struggle to make financial progress? This group is keenly aware that time is money. But, if money doesn’t equal time, then why not blow all their savings today on a fantasy trip to Bali? Not so fast.
Money is a powerful tool. It is an amplifier of our values and our priorities. It can accelerate progress towards our goals, finance the education to achieve these goals, provide a comfortable and safe environment in which to live and enjoy our lives, create endless diversions, clothe and feed us and importantly, fuel our ability to help others. Yes, money is a powerful tool.
The question is: what is it a tool for?
Am I using it in alignment with what is important to me, or am I wasting it on things that are not, while putting on hold the stuff that really matters? How much do I cash in now and how much do I bank for later? What is the right balance between time affluence and money affluence?
Here are some ideas for investing time wisely:
“Pay yourself first” when it comes to time. Just as it’s a good practice to sock away money in savings each month before the rest disappears on other expenses, we can be intentional about identifying the people, experiences and projects most important to us and schedule them in first. Life can leave us with a surplus of money, but it will never leave us with a surplus of time.
Avoid being money rich but time poor. Strive to create conditions in your career or in everyday life that move you closer to your dreams. Don’t know what those dreams are? Carve out pockets of time to explore your deepest interests.
Audit your time expenditures. Seek to eliminate, outsource or automate non-essential or unenjoyable activities and you will instantly win back some of your most precious resource.
So, time is money. But, if money is not time, then it is with intention that we should apply the use of our time, along with our money in our daily lives. Money is our necessary starting line—but time, time is the bottom line.