Money is Not The Goal, Time Is
“Happy Friday,” the woman at the checkout counter says, “We finally made it.” Every week it feels the same in the corporate world – my friends are excited it’s the weekend, clients ubiquitously end emails with “have a nice weekend” or “Happy Friday,” and everyone starts talking about their weekend plans by Thursday morning. This is the cycle.
But for some reason this past week when the woman at the pharmacy counter said it, I could tell she really meant it. I was struck by how tired she looked. That’s one of the things I notice a lot more these days – just how tired so many people look on a Friday. I could tell she desperately meant it when she said: “we finally made it.”
Most people live their lives for the weekend. It’s not surprising since we’ve been conditioned since we were kids to look forward to Fridays and doing whatever we want on the weekend. In 3rd grade, I was even in a school musical called “Saturday” about the best week all day long.
But how much of yourself can you really pack into 2 days, especially when you have weddings to attend and date nights and kids and chores and laundry? There just never seems to be enough time for anything – to read that book you’ve been putting off, or reaching out to chill with one of your friends you haven’t seen in a while, to practice that guitar you bought two years ago, or take that last-minute trip.
Now we slog through the week so we can go out hard Friday night, hit up the Saturday recovery brunch, a Saturday night and all that entails, and Sunday football on the couch. Then comes the dreaded Sunday night when you start thinking about the stresses of the upcoming week. 76% of American workers say they get the Sunday blues. It’s a real thing. I used to feel it all the time back in the day. But you might be saying – well I only work until 6 pm every day and I have evenings to hang out with my family, friends, and doing the things I love. But data shows that most people are so tired from work, they tune out and watch TV every night.
On average Americans are watching over 5 hours of TV every day! So a vast majority of Americans are disengaged at work and they come home to disconnect into a new Netflix show. I struggle with this too. Like most people, I run pretty hard and often struggle to chill as hard as I hustle. But this really got me thinking – when it comes to money, time is not all the same.
Not All Time is the Same
The study of time is as old as time itself and its relationship to money are deeply paradoxical. Time is both more valuable for some reason when you are young and more valuable for others when you are old. To me, financial independence has always been about time, not money. My goal was to make work optional as quickly as possible, so I could have more options with my time. If you view money as the goal, then you miss the point. Money is infinite, but time is not.
1. When You Work You Are Trading Your “Premium” Time
How many times have you felt energetic, inspired, and awesome at 11 am on a Tuesday, only to be called into another meeting in a windowless conference room or another call about nothing? Or you’re stuck at your desk on a sunny 70-degree day even though you don’t have enough work to do. This is your “premium” time when you feel most inspired, creative, and alive.
While those moments can come at any time, if you work 5 days a week from 9-5, you are working 72% of the week, just to get 28% off. Just based on the simple math, you are likely spending a majority of your “premium” time working at your job. Of course, this is great if you love your job, but if you don’t, and most people don’t, then you are selling your “premium” hours for your salary or an hourly wage.
According to Gallup’s annual survey of the American Workforce in 2017, 70 percent of employees in the United States are disengaged at work. They are just getting by. This just makes me so sad – that people resign to a job that they don’t like and spend the best hours, the “premium” hours of the best years of their lives, “just getting by.”
In an office building where I used to work, there was an investment firm where the partners almost always were traveling – but they needed to ensure someone was in the office during the day to take calls and receive packages. A woman who was in her mid-20’s sat behind a big glass door at a receptionist desk without windows. I walked by almost daily for 3 years and never saw her move and only very rarely saw another person in the office. She was trading the best years of her life sitting behind a desk just waiting for packages. She always just looked so blah.
You spend more time with your co-workers than you do with your family. I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely heard the joke a few times in a professional setting, always with a laugh: “I feel like I know you better than I know my wife and kids.”
This is why mini-retirements are so compelling because you can keep your job, but start reclaiming some of your premium time to do what you love. It’s also why it’s worth trying to retire as quickly as possible, so you can reclaim your own premium time for yourself.
2. When it Comes to Money, Time is More Valuable When You Are Young Because Your Money Has More Time To Grow
When it comes to investing, time is not equal and a lot of people are wasting it. It’s a well-known fact that the earlier you start investing the more time your money has to grow, so the larger it can grow. One dollar saved at 25 is going to be worth 2-3x more when you are 65 than a dollar saved when you are 35. When it comes to investing, every year earlier that you start makes a massive difference. This is why ideas like the Baby IRA are so compelling – if you open a Roth IRA for your baby at birth and max out the contributions at $5,500 every year for 30 years, your child will be able to retire when they are 30! Talk about a gift, haha.
This was one of the primary reasons I started saving as much money as possible when I was 24 and began to fast track financial independence because I knew I had time on my side. But no matter when you start or how old you are today, today is a better day to start investing than tomorrow. Waiting to invest is leaving money on the table and above all else, you are wasting the most precious resource of all: time.
3. Time is more valuable the older you get because you have less of it
Time gets more valuable as we get older for two reasons– we feel like it’s moving faster and we have less of it. Cognitive psychologists believe we as humans feel like time goes by faster as we get older because we have fewer “firsts” in our lives. By the age of 7, we have already experienced half of all experiences we will experience in life. Time moves slower when we are experiencing new things – it’s why when you travel time seems to move slower. But when it comes to working and our routines, those experiences are so comfortable – it’s why the weeks literally feel like they are flying by when we eat, sleep, work, repeat.
And not only does time feel like it’s moving faster as we get older, but we also have less of it. Time, becoming more valuable as we get older, is a simple concept, but unfortunately, but it doesn’t often align with how people value their own time or think about money in their lives. There’s no “I only have 20 more years to live” pay jump, bonus, or premium. In the corporate world, your compensation is based on how much experience you have and how valuable you are to the company, not how valuable your time is to you. You are paid based on how valuable you are to the market. And the market doesn’t care about you. If you don’t value your own time, no one else will.
With the recent passing of my 100-year-old great-grandmother, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own time left on this earth. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her 6 months ago at her 100th birthday, her mind as sharp as ever. When I asked for her thoughts on money, my great-grandmother who balanced her own checkbook every month until she died said, “What about it? I haven’t thought about money in over 5o years.”
At the end of your life, what will you remember? What will you regret? As you get older, your dreams, and how you see the world will inevitably evolve. Your dreams of the past might even disappear, leaving unrequited trails of “what ifs” and “in only”. In her reflective book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, nurse Bronnie Ware, who works with people who are dying, shares their top regrets including “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me,” “I wish I didn’t work so hard” and “I wish I had let myself be happier.” She goes on to share that a vast majority of her patients had never accomplished at least half of their dreams, often because of their choice to keep working instead of following their dreams. Here’s Bronnie Ware’s TED talk which is inspiring and well worth 15 minutes of your time.
When we’re in the trenches commuting to work, pushing through the daily grind, worried about money and our future, it’s important to step back and question whether the time we are giving up for the money is worth it. And to remind ourselves to ask that question often, because what you want, need, and love will continue to evolve. You can always find ways to make more money, but you’ll never get back the time you are trading for it. This is why investing is the OG passive income because you make money without trading your time. So we should optimize our money for time above all else. Money is infinite, but time is not.