I Stopped Pinching Pennies When I Learned How Much Time It Took

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  • I focused a lot more on pennies, until I realized it was costing me time.
  • I assigned my time a value – $ 60 an hour – and made decisions based on that figure.
  • I don’t waste time trying to save a few cents when I could do something more productive.

As much as I want to save money, I’m even more interested in saving time. Money comes and goes, but time just passes. It is my most precious resource – fleeting and non-renewable – and I am increasingly protective of it.

I was trying to save money without thinking too much about the time invested. But while I still aim to reduce costs within reasonable limits, I now take a more balanced approach. Restoring my priorities has helped me to drop some counterproductive attitudes and habits about time and money and made me feel better about how I manage both.

First, I had to escape the money-pinching mentality

Americans love business. We wait for them in long lines. We brag about them to our friends. We endure total chaos for them. Getting a good deal is such a cultural imperative that I’ve had people give me a funny look or a hard time when I did. Not look for one. On the other hand, people rarely blink if I blow for half an hour comparing prices – this is called being a “smart buyer”.

I have wasted time in countless ways trying to save a dollar. I wandered off for cheap gasoline, searched for free parking to avoid fueling a meter, took a winding road to bypass a toll road, passed a nearby ATM for a farther one to evade withdrawal fees, I went shopping (both online and in person) to find the best price, booked a connecting flight rather than a more expensive direct flight, and so on.

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Regardless of whether these decisions were fruitful or not, my approach was flawed because I didn’t see a complete picture. I tended to just look at how many dollars I saved, but I couldn’t take into account the time spent and any hassle or frustration added in the process. When I started seeing everything the costs involved, I realized that saving money can be quite expensive. To change my behavior, I had to start evaluating my time more explicitly.

I have decided how much my time is worth to me

People say time is money, but that begs the question: how much? Everyone values ​​time differently, and to help me decide how I spend mine, I put in a specific dollar amount. For me, at the moment, that amount is $ 60 per hour (or $ 1 per minute). On average, I’m willing to trade my time to earn or save that amount, but the rate has to be instructive, not decisive, so it’s flexible depending on the circumstances.

Having a dollar amount in mind helps me quickly assess whether an opportunity to earn or save money is worth it. If I’m not making close to $ 1 per minute, I’m probably not interested. Will filling up at a gas station 10 minutes away save me $ 5? Not worth the trip. Does the other grocery store down the block have the same whiskey for $ 20 less? Sounds good!

This approach also works in reverse to help me decide whether to spend money to save time. If a direct flight costs $ 50 more but saves me a three hour layover, count me! (But if that layover involves a comfortable airport lounge where I can be productive, then maybe not.)

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I turned my attention to saving time

To rephrase a familiar aphorism: a minute saved is a minute gained. Just like I’ve been looking for ways to cut dollar costs in the past, now I’m looking for ways to cut hours, minutes and seconds.

Many of the strategies I use to save time cost me nothing financially. For example, I recently started paying rent through Bilt Rewards, which allows me to pay electronically through an app on my phone rather than sending a check. It might only save me five minutes a month, but over the course of a year, that’s an hour I can devote to something else. (Plus I save on stamps and earn credit card points in the process.)

I pay for some time-saving measures, but at a price that is clearly worth it based on the hourly rate I set for myself. One example is accelerated airport security via TSA PreCheck and CLEAR. I estimate these services save me around 10-15 minutes (on average) each time I fly, which is often enough that the total time saved far exceeds the cost of the subscription.

Finally, I settle for doing home repairs or other jobs myself if it saves me a lot of money, but I have become more willing to pay more than my rate to avoid tasks I don’t like very much. For example, I absolutely detest doing my taxes, so I started hiring a CPA to do it for me. It costs me more than $ 60 an hour, but given how miserable the job is for me, it’s money well spent.

I have adopted practices that fit my new mindset

Prioritizing time over money has helped me cultivate practices conducive to doing things quickly rather than cheaply and makes me feel better about my relationship with both resources. Here are some examples:

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I don’t dwell on trivial decisions: Which car or refrigerator I buy deserves some reflection; which paper towel I buy doesn’t.

I’ve established a rule that I’m not allowed to spend more than a few seconds thinking about non-essential items that cost less than $ 20. I don’t break a stopwatch, but when I catch myself hemming and mulling over a daily purchase like peanut butter or batteries , I stop immediately and make a decision.

I let good enough be good enough: I’m still willing to shop around when it’s warranted (and I’ve taken the time into account), but once I find a price I’m happy with, I’m done. Perhaps there is a better deal out there, but continuing the search beyond what is needed results in a rapid decrease in returns.

I can’t guess: Similar to the last rule, once I’ve made a purchase, I try to forget it unless I have a compelling reason to reconsider. Consumer goods prices change all the time and in the past I could have kept an eye on additional discounts even after purchase. Now I see my purchases as done business and take them out of my mind.

I recognize my privilege: Not everyone can afford the luxury of prioritizing time, as many people cannot afford to give up opportunities to save money even at a disproportionate cost over time. Recognizing the trade-offs between time and money and being more intentional about how I manage them has made me more grateful for both of them and for the privilege I have of choosing which one takes precedence in my life.


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