Time vs. Money: How We Choose
There exists out there in the world a misconception that extreme frugality dooms you to a life of intense labor that could otherwise be provided for you through an expenditure of money.
But in our experience, that’s simply not true. Mr. Frugalwoods and I don’t live like indentured servants (except perhaps to wait on Frugal Hound)–quite the contrary! It’s all about striking a harmonious balance between the allocation of time and the outlay of money.
I used to think that money could almost always be traded for time, but I’ve come to realize that through frugality, it’s often possible to optimize for both. If you’d told me this before we’d embraced the beauty of frugality and started our journey to financial independence, I would’ve thought you were crazy.
After all, isn’t it always one or the other? Surprisingly (well, not surprising to fellow frugal weirdos), it’s not. I’ve discussed the non-monetary benefits of frugality before, but I think saving time is perhaps the most noteworthy.
Saving Both Time and Money
This is the optimal situation to find oneself in: the ability to simultaneously save the treasured resources of time and money. What could be better? But is it really possible? I’m here to tell you it is. The magic of frugality comes to the fore yet again, my friends!
A prime example are our DIY at-home haircuts. At first blush, it might seem like going to the salon or barber is a fair exchange of time for money, but in reality, you’re losing a great deal of both. Case in point: it takes me 15 minutes to buzz Mr. FW’s hair. Full stop. There’s no way he could travel to the barber, wait in line, get his hair cut, pay for the service, and return home in anywhere near 15 minutes. Same goes for my locks. Mr. FW cuts my hair in circa 15 minutes as well, which is a fraction of the time I’d spend at the salon–not to mention the commute to and fro.
It’s easy, quick, and efficient to cut hair at home whereas it’s time-consuming and expensive to outsource it–yet, most people do. Why? Because going to the salon gives the illusion of being easier. Our culture endlessly parrots the merits of having other people do things for you. However, when we actually calculate the cost, time, and benefit, it’s often cheaper and faster to do the work ourselves. This is a scenario where the frugal weirdo enjoys a cunning advantage. Rather than spend several hours and a fair amount of cash outsourcing a simple task, we’re done in under 30 minutes for both heads of hair with nary a dime lost.
Hungry for more examples?
Cooking at home: going out to eat, or ordering take-out, takes longer than cooking a meal on one’s own and, obviously, costs significantly more. Take our traditional pizza Fridays here at Frugalwoods HQ. It would actually consume more time for us to order a pizza and wait for it to be delivered than it does to simply cook our own. And I don’t even need to tell you how much money we save in the process.
Shopping used and accepting hand-me-downs: the amount of time and money I’ve saved by gratefully taking free baby paraphernalia, as opposed to toiling away in a store with new items, is considerable. Rather than waste my day comparing 17 different baby activity mats, for example, I cheerfully accepted the used one I was offered. No time wasted, no money spent.
When Time Wins Out
This issue of time vs. money also raises the question of margins: just how much time and just how much money are we talking? In the case of haircuts, where we’re talking about hundreds of dollars and many hours saved each year, the trade-off is clear. But what about contexts where the margins are slimmer?
In those instances, Mr. FW and I often opt for time over money. That might be surprising given that we’re planning to retire early and thus save as much money as humanly possible, but, our true goal in life is to give ourselves more time. Our entire raison d’être in moving to a homestead and quitting our jobs is to enable ourselves to pursue our passions–to grant ourselves the time and space to do what we want with our lives. Thus, time is precious to us and we don’t give it up lightly.
That being said, we look for opportunities where the outlay of money for the time saved equates to a good deal. Our car is a perfect illustration. It would be slightly cheaper for us not to own our 19-year-old Frugalwoods-mobile. After all, we spend $400/year in insurance, about $450 on gas each year, and then a few hundred more on miscellaneous parts, repairs, registration, an emissions test, and oil. However, the time we save by owning a car far outweighs the $1,000 or so she costs annually to maintain.
Mr. FW and I used to live in the city car-less and, while it’s totally possible, we love the convenience of having a car to access Costco, Home Depot, the grocery store, as well as the luxury of driving to the mountains for hiking whenever we fancy. In this instance, we’re glad to swap our money for time. However, even by this same metric, owning a new car wouldn’t be worth it. I consider cars a splendid example of the hierarchy of time vs. money. Here’s why:
Not owning a car: the cheapest option. But, we’d lose a lot of time and freedom, which isn’t worth it to us. Since we’ve been carless in the past, I know exactly how much time and freedom.
Owning a used, paid-for car: the happy medium. We pay a relatively nominal $1,000/year for the luxury of Frugalwoods-mobile, but reap a high level of time benefit.
Owning a new car with a car payment: the cost now supersedes the benefit accrued. While we’d still experience the freedom of more time, we’d be over-paying for the privilege. Plus, the marginal gain of a new car vs. a used car just doesn’t amount to a worthwhile trade-off. Our enjoyment of a new car wouldn’t be commensurate with the astronomical costs. Frugalwoods-mobile serves our needs for a car and upgrading to a newer car wouldn’t increase the advantages of car ownership.
Valuing time over money is also why we’re not into couponing or other intense forms of deal-finding. In addition to the fact that most coupons are for products we don’t use in the first place, I don’t want to spend hours every week assembling scraps of paper and then traipsing around town to sniff out these bargains.
Plus, since we don’t spend that much on groceries and household goods to begin with, the relative benefit just isn’t there for us. The best way to save money is to not buy stuff we don’t need and anytime Mr. FW and I try to use coupons, we end up with stuff we legitimately do not need.
I find extreme couponing to be a case of missing the frugal forest for the trees. For us, it’s preferable to simply buy the fresh, whole foods we eat every week at a discount grocery store (hat tip to Market Basket!) and focus our efforts on much larger savings endeavors. Trying to squeeze out a few extra cents per item just isn’t a wise use of my time. However, to each their own and some people truly enjoy the couponing process–again, it’s all about how you want to allocate your time. There’s no right or wrong, only an opportunity to analyze the value you’re extracting from the time you’re spending.
When Money Wins Out
For Mr. FW and me, the instances where money wins out over time fall into one of three categories:
1) We enjoy performing the task ourselves and thus don’t consider the time “lost.”
2) Scenarios where the money savings are so pronounced that losing the time is worth it.
3) Tasks that enable us to build useful skills in their execution.
An example of #1: cleaning my own house is a clear candidate for money over time. I actually appreciate the process (weird, I know!) and it brings me a certain degree of satisfaction to perform the rote tasks of vacuuming, scrubbing, and dusting. It gives my mind a respite and provides my body with exercise. Hence, I’m happy to clean on my own and save a couple hundred bucks each month.
An example of #2: painting an interior room. Just about anyone can paint a room. It’s not a difficult task to perform and it’s not even all that time-consuming. It is, however, rather expensive to pay a painting company to do it for you. Me? I’d rather keep the $500 they’d charge and paint it myself.
An example of #3: conducting our own financial analysis. You can certainly pay someone to build your financial plan for you, but if you take the time to do the research and create one for yourself, you’ll learn the underlying mechanics and become a much more informed investor in the process. This is a situation whereby you’ll reap the benefits of the skills you’ve gained for the rest of your life. Teaching oneself to fish is a much higher value proposition than buying pre-made fish sticks.
In all of these circumstances, there’s also a sense of satisfaction and pride that stems from doing these tasks on one’s own. I always feel empowered and emboldened when I take on a project and teach myself how to do something new. When I refinished my jewelry chest, for example, I was thrilled that I figured out how to do it. It wasn’t a particularly in-depth or complicated endeavor, but it was something I’d never done before.
Same story for refinishing our staircase, our kitchen cabinets, our closet doors… and the list goes on. Without fail, we appreciate our own work much more than the work someone else has performed. The confidence and self-reliance we build with each new project is both fun and affirming.
Plus, the imperfections inherent to DIY work are endearing to us and serve as a catalog of the lessons we’ve learned. We joke about the mistakes we made along the way and embrace imperfection as a natural and often hilarious aspect of frugality.
Life–no matter how extravagantly you spend–isn’t perfect, so you might as well spend a whole lot less and delight in the imperfection. P.S. Nothing is more expensive than the futile pursuit of the elusive perfect.
Additionally, doing these tasks ourselves means that Mr. FW and I spend quality time together collaborating and working. These are opportunities for us to enjoy one another’s company and learn about one another’s skills. I’m very proud of Mr. FW every time he engineers something new for our home and he likewise takes pride in my work. Having respect for one another’s abilities is a central tenet of why frugality is so incredible for our relationship.
The Fallacy Of “But I Get Paid More”
As you probably noted, all my examples of money over time are tasks that we’d need to pay someone else to do for us. In our opinion, outsourcing of this nature often doesn’t yield the level of benefit that’s perceived.
There’s a prevalent fallacy that paying someone else to do things for you makes sense if you’re paid more per hour than the task you’re outsourcing. However, this only holds true if you’re actively earning money during those hours.
There are plenty of mega hustlers out there (many of whom are my friends) who run their own businesses and hence, actually are always earning, doing, and achieving. But if you’re paying someone to clean your house and then utilizing those “saved” hours to instead, say, watch TV, are you realizing the advantages of that extra time?
This is one of those concepts that you have to carefully evaluate for your own life. There’s no one right answer here–it’s all about what you’re honestly doing with the time you’re saving by paying to outsource. Plus, if you’re not doing this work yourself, you’re atrophying your DIY muscles in that arena.
Once you become accustomed to other people doing your work for you, you’re creating a dynamic whereby you lose confidence in your ability to perform these tasks. This also builds the assumption that you’ll have to pay others for this work for the rest of your life.
Just Don’t Do It
This is a liberating concept that Mr. FW has indoctrinated in me (well, he’s trying at least). It’s the idea that if you really hate doing something, just don’t do it. Obviously, the application of this philosophy should be circumspect and reasonable–for example, if you hate brushing your teeth, you should still brush them and if you hate exercising, you should still get your body moving.
But, there are plenty of tasks I used to busy myself with on a regular basis that brought me nothing but anguish. Now? I just don’t do them. It’s a pretty excellent part of living a life where you don’t care what others think of you. As long as we’re kind, responsible, giving citizens, not a whole lot else matters.
A classic example for me is that of wearing makeup. I used to loathe the amount of time, effort, and money that wearing makeup everyday required. Now, I just don’t wear it! Simple as that. Eliminating makeup from my regime increased my self-confidence, gave me more time, and no people or greyhounds were harmed in the process. A win all around.
This ideology works best for activities that have no inherent or longterm benefit. With this mindset, I call into question anything I’m doing because “I’ve always done it” or “everyone else does it” or “I feel like I should do it.” Beware, there be danger lurking in those phrases.
Strategic Frugality Strikes Again
There’s no sense in being frugal if it means you’re constantly at a loss for time. In my world, it’s a balance of both and it’s all about achieving a peaceful, content life where I’m learning, doing, creating, and enjoying on a regular basis. Since our desire to retire early is about recapturing our lives and our time for ourselves, we’re keen to create efficiencies with our time and our money. We constantly evaluate drains on either resource and, with creativity and frugal perseverance, it’s often possible to optimize for both.