Time is Money

Time is money. That apothegm means, to most of us, that time is a valuable resource and, as such, it is better to do things as quickly as possible. But I also see it from another perspective. That is, one sometimes can invest either one’s own time or one’s own money to accomplish a desired outcome and certain situations suggest the former is the best investment.

A video I watched this morning, showing a guy repairing a rusted-through spot on a car, brought the maxim to mind. The video demonstrated that, for a few hours (or less) of one’s time and energy and about $20, the car could be repaired. Though the video did not mention how much a professional body shop would charge, I think (based on a few estimates I’ve gotten over the years) the cost for a professional job would exceed $800. The finished products would not necessarily be of the same quality, but the outcome in both cases would be acceptable to most of us.

The question the video raised in my mind was this: how is it that we (modern-day Americans) have forgotten that we once did a lot for ourselves that we now pay others to do for us? We fixed our own cars. We sharpened our own knives. We patched our own clothes. We maintained workshops that served as our general do-it-yourself headquarters. Today, though, we tend to find other people to solve our everyday problems. We have grown either too busy or too lazy (or both) to do for ourselves those things that, once, would not have been done had we not done them. Instead, we pay others to do them for us. In so doing, we are in essence saying our time is more valuable than the time of the people who are doing the work for us. Put another way, we apparently believe the money we save by doing it ourselves is insufficient to warrant expenditure of our own time; our time is worth more than the monetary cost of “farming it out.”

Ultimately, I think it often boils down to individual choices in which we say to ourselves, “I don’t want to do that. I’d rather pay someone else to do it than do it myself.” Some would call that sloth. Because I engage in that kind of behavior, I would choose another word: lethargy. It’s a choice we can make because we have ready access to money.

Paradoxically, it’s a choice we make because we assign greater value to the time spent by someone else accomplishing the work to be done than to our own time doing something else. We’re willing to pay someone else more than we would “pay” ourselves in discretionary time.

I base all this theoretical stuff on my real-world experience. I pay other people to do things that I am (or once was) perfectly capable of doing myself. I could, in a pinch, take an inch off the length of a pair of jeans and hem them. Instead, I use gas, time, and money to take my jeans to a place down the street, where they will do it for me. I pay someone to do yard work, house work, paint, install toilets, etc., etc. etc. I’ve grown fat and lazy. And, apparently, old.

That last one, the age thing, accentuates the value of time. Not monetary value, necessarily, but quality-of-life value. Do I want to spend a day blowing leaves while choking on pollen or would I rather take a leisurely drive in the country?

Yet I still find myself spending time doing things I’d rather not do because paying someone else would simply be too costly (in monetary terms) for me to feel good about it. For example, a year or two ago, I replaced the headlights in the old 2002 Camry. My cost for the two headlights was about $150. I spent a good two or three hours doing the work. And I did not enjoy it. But I felt better about the work when I considered that I would have had to pay close to $800 to have an auto service center do the work.

Time is money, indeed.  Benjamin Franklin did not coin the phrase, by the way. Franklin used the phrase in 1748 in an essay titled Advice to a Young Tradesman. Quote Investigator found an earlier use, in a 1719 periodical called The Free Thinker. Well before that, variations in wording were used to express the same proverb. Two of them are: “The most costly outlay is time” (attributed to Antiphon) and a 1572 Discourse upon Usury, which noted that “They saye tyme is precious.”

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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