The Best Thing Money Can Buy? Time.

Myth: You can either have free time or you can make lots of money. But not both.
Fact: Money buys time.

The Best Thing Money Can Buy? Time.

When I was a kid, I didn’t care about making a lot of money. I’d rather have the time, flexibility and freedom to enjoy my life, I thought.

In hindsight, I was buying into a popular myth: making money demands a time-crunched lifestyle.

How many people do you know who say, “My buddy earns six figures and he works 80-hour weeks; I’m content to earn next-to-nothing and enjoy a standard work week.”

That’s a poor comparison (no pun intended). The overworked six-figure earner is making a similar hourly wage as the mid-pay-grade 9-to-5’er.

Both suffer from the same problem: they’re stuck in an employee mindset. They have an “hourly wage” or “annual salary” mentality: both phrases associate time (hourly, annual) with income.

The myth that “rich” is synonymous with “too busy for friends/family/fun” is fed by the false assumption that people must trade their time for money.

But almost no one becomes rich by selling his or her time. In fact, the reverse is true: wealth lets us buy time, rather than sell it.

How Valuable is Each Day of Your Life?

Everyone trades money for time.

Do you live in a city with terrible public transportation? If your answer is yes, then you probably face the following dilemma:

You could ride the bus to work / the gym / the grocery store, but that would take 40 minutes, including waiting times and transfers. Or you could hop in your car and drive there in 10 minutes.

Maintaining a car is expensive as heck. But if you live in an area with slow public transit, you save hours each day by driving.

Your time – your life – is valuable. So you use money to buy time.

Let’s Get Nerdy

During college, my poorest of days, I packed dirty clothes into a backpack, walked several blocks to the Laundromat, and waited for two hours for the wash/dry cycle to run its course. Laundry consumed half an afternoon each week.

Money solved that problem. Now that I own a washer/dryer, I have an extra two hours a week.

In other words: I didn’t buy appliances. I bought time.

That purchase doesn’t make economic sense until the value of time is factored into the equation. What do I mean? Let’s get nerdy about numbers for a second:

A low-to-mid-range washer and dryer costs about $1,188 from Home Depot ($550 each plus tax) and lasts about 8 years, which means I’m paying $149 a year to own these appliances.

Operating these appliances costs approximately $132 a year, assuming two loads a week. ((3.5 kilowatt hours per load * 0.30 cents/kilowatt hour * 104 loads/year) + (0.22 cents in water costs/load * 104 loads/year)). That means I’m paying $281 annually for the convenience of owning these appliances.

One load of laundry at the nearest Laundromat costs $2 (one dollar to wash, one to dry). Running two loads per week costs $208 annually.

At two loads a week, it makes economic sense NOT to own a washer/dryer, until you take the value of time into account. I’ll gladly pay an extra $73 a year for the convenience of doing laundry at home.

I’ve wrung out this example, but it highlights how ordinary people use money to buy time. Middle-class people make this tradeoff. Wealth just allows us to do it more.

I’m Arbitraging My Laundry

Cynics love to criticize people for spending their time earning money, only to trade that money for time.

That would be a valid criticism if people were making a one-to-one trade. But most people buy time through a process known as “arbitrage.”

Arbitrage refers to the process of capitalizing on the price difference between two markets.

World travelers are savvy arbitragers: they capitalize on purchasing power disparities between nations. They earn money in dollars, euros or pounds sterling, but spend money in Laotian kip or Colombian pesos.

Economists call this “geographic arbitrage.” I call it “napping on a Thai beach for $10 a day.”

Buying time follows the same principal. We earn money at a rate of $20 or $40 or $60 or $80 per hour, and use that money to buy more hours at a lower rate.

Repeat this process often enough, and eventually you’ll buy your freedom. (This is precisely how I could afford to travel for two years.)

Have I Mentioned the Best Part? It’s Fun.

Arbitrage has a second advantage: it’s fun.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve started outsourcing some of life’s drudgery. I quit troubleshooting this website myself. I pay someone to handle tech support, and I use the extra time to build relationships with other bloggers.

I also quit ripping out carpet and installing bathroom vanities. I outsource these tasks so I’m free to read books and tackle bigger writing projects.

Sure, you could make a case that I’m doing “higher-level work” that will result in a bigger payday down the road. That’s the logical way to justify these costs, and it’s valid.

But let’s be honest: building relationships and reading books is also a heckuva lot more fun than ripping out drywall. I’m not just doing higher-level work, I’m also leading a more awesome life.

The Bottom Line: “Time vs. money” is a false dichotomy. Wealth buys time.

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  1. says

    I agree money buys time! I can hire people to do all the tasks, project or things I do not like to do. When I owned a home, I had a gardener, pool guy, cleaning lady and (occasional) baby sitter. I worked smarter vs. longer to make the money to afford those luxuries.

  2. says

    I really enjoyed the post. Thinking about my purchases in terms of arbitrage is an interesting idea. You pay $.30/kw?! Do you live in Hawaii? If not I think you have some room for improvement on your electricity supplier.

    • says

      @John — If you enjoy it, go for it! Just ask yourself what you’d rather be doing with your time. You have time to do anything … you just don’t have time to do everything. If manual labor is how you enjoy spending your hours, go for it!

  3. says

    You’re forgetting one point — buying that extra 2 hours is only worth it if you feel if it’s been worth it and you make the most of it.

    On the one hand, if you bought that extra 2 hours, but then felt like you wasted it, you’ve wasted your opportunity.

    On the other hand, if those 2 hours let you have a nap and go to yoga to feel better mentally and physically, then it’s well worth it.

    I am one of those who thinks people who work 80-hour workweeks for double the salary of an average employee are giving up their time for money.

    Nothing wrong with that. I just don’t want to do it, but who does?

    Not everyone has a choice, the job, the circumstances or even the mindset to do something else.

    We can’t have everyone be self-employed freelancers raking in the cash. Who would make the rest of society function?

    It’s mathematically impossible and a dream that shouldn’t be sold to people who can’t make it.

  4. says

    Hey, I used to believe that too. Until one day someone challenged me on an issue right out of left field.

    I was an impatient driver back then, never letting someone cut into my lane and doing more than my share of tailgating. Until one day, when a slowpoke in front of me crept through a yellow light (with nobody in front of him) leaving me stuck at the red light. All manner of steam and hot air (not the silent kind) erupted in my car. And then someone pointed out that the maximum red light cycle in most cities is two minutes. That’s all. And (and this was the kicker) what exactly will I do with those two minutes if I had jumped the light and arrived at my destination two minutes earlier? When I arrived home, would I put those two minutes to productive use, or would that simply be two more minutes of “other time?” The kind spent on watching football, checking emails or whatnot.

    That conversation changed my driving. It also opened my eyes to the fact that our usage of time is not always to maximize it in terms of money. We make what we want to make and then spend the rest of our time doing “other things.”

    Like writing a comment on a good blog :)

    • says

      @William — Oh, I definitely don’t think that time should be spent maximizing money. Rather, I think the opposite: money should be spent maximizing time. And if we want to spend that time watching football, or reading blog posts, or doing anything else that gives us joy, we should.

      Just don’t speed or drive aggressively. That can cut our time short in the ultimate sense.

  5. says

    This is right up my alley. Elance has become one of my favorite tools. I simply pay a couple of dollars and I have someone do work for me that would normally take me hours. My time is way more valuable than a couple of dollars an hour.

  6. says

    I’ve been trying to get to the point of working smarter instead of harder for more money. It’s not easy since there’s no guide book that tells one how to do this, but I’m making progress. 😉

  7. says

    Travelers practice arbitrage all the time. I worked in London to earn pounds so I could spend the Winter in the Caribbean and then went back so I could earn pounds to pay for grad school. I recently moved back home to South Africa cause I could work online and earn in dollars and have more time to write my book (which is now complete).

    I just discovered this site from but I am so glad because I have been fighting friends and family on this concept of the 80 hour work week. Yes I could work as a business consultant or banker but the time and dreams I give up to earn that money just does not add to quality of life. The money you make should buy you time, not cost you time. By the time you get home you can only sleep and wake up to do it over again. Also how am I supposed to tell my kids to follow their dreams if I don’t put any time to following my own dreams?

    • says

      @Vangile — Welcome! I’m so glad you found this site. I think your last sentence summarized it best: How can you tell children to follow their dreams if you’re not role modeling it yourself? Kids learn best from actions, not words. (For that matter, so do other adults.)

      Global arbitrage is one of the best, and most creative ways, that travelers can afford to live the life of their dreams. Many people ask me how I could afford to travel. Many of them assume that my expenses in other nations are similar to my expenses here in the U.S. That’s far from reality. I can live comfortably in some other countries for $10 – $20 per day. Which an opportunity like that at my fingertips, how can I NOT travel?

  8. says

    This is an awesome post. It really doesn’t have to be one way or another. I use to try to do so much myself and be a proud DIYer. Okay. . I saved a great deal of money but half of those projects made me miserable. I’m at a point where I want to outsource regular household chores.

    • says

      @Karen — Me too!! I wrote a post about my transition from a DIY’er to a Delegator. I’ve only recently come to grips with the understanding that I should delegate more than I currently do. As a former cheapskate, it’s something I struggle with. But everyday I try my hardest to accept the fact that my time is valuable and I can achieve so much more if I delegate projects. I’m glad you’re doing the same. :-)

  9. says

    Wow great post. It is very different to see how people live in third world countries or in developing countries survive on minimal amounts of money, supplies, etc. compared to living in the U.S.

  10. says

    Thanks for the post!! I LOVE how you broke the washer/dryer example into actual dollar amounts. Then you showed the total cost of owning the appliances, then compared that to the value of your time.

    Huge eye opener for me, thanks for the effort into writing the post!

  11. says

    I have to admit that I never thought about outsourcing my laundry before. I am a fan of a good balance of working and actually living life. For me it seems best to just multitask and get all my chores done at once. Nice breakdown though.

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