A while ago, I wrote an article, 50 Ways to Save Money on Groceries. One tip is to shop the sales at several grocery stores. While this may take more time, you can save a lot of money, particularly if you’re feeding a family. As I was typing that tip, I realized I was leaving a loophole open for people to rationalize that it’s better to save time, even if they have to spend more money. As expected, I received a couple of comments to that effect.
The decision of whether to spend money to save time really comes down to time management and the state of your finances.
According to Webster’s, time management is “the analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritization of tasks in order to maximize personal efficiency in the workplace.”
Do you manage your personal time the same way you manage your work time?
Here’s a “back of the envelope” exercise you can try. There are 168 hours in a week. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average working American spends around 45-50 hours working and commuting, 7-10 hours on shopping and meal preparation, 7-10 hours on household tasks, 7-10 hours of personal maintenance, and 49-56 hours sleeping. That leaves 32-53 hours. Estimate your own time usage. Where does all your time go? What do you do with your extra time?
The statistics indicate that the average working American has 4.2 hours per day for “leisure” and “other” activities. Of those 4.2 hours per day, the average American spends 2.8 hours watching television.
Those 2.8 hours per day equal 19.6 hours per week or more than 1,000 hours per year watching television. Let’s face it: Most people come home from work, make dinner and watch television. A thousand hours a year is a part-time job!
When we spend extra money to free up time, what time are we trying to free up? Is it time to spend watching television? Is this extra time really being well spent? Would it be better to spend that time doing things that save us money? And are we spending money we really can’t afford to spend?
I believe that until you have your financial house in order you can’t afford to spend money to save time.
If you are teetering on the edge of financial disaster, are one paycheck away from financial ruin, or at the end of every month you have no money left to save, then you don’t have the luxury of saving time by spending money, regardless of what you are doing with the extra time. Time is less valuable than money when:
- You do not have an emergency fund to pay for eight months of expenses.
- You have any kind of consumer debt: credit cards, car loans, a home equity loan or student loan debt.
- You don’t have savings to replace your car(s), appliances and to pay for home maintenance.
- You cannot fund your retirement adequately.
If any or all of the above apply to you, you have to spend more time and less money to get your finances in order.
Here’s are ways we can reallocate our time from doing unproductive things to doing things that improve our financial situation:
- Spend more time earning more money by either working paid overtime, or if that’s not an option, by getting a second job. This can be a retail job, tutoring, walking dogs, babysitting, etc. Or spend the time looking for a better and higher paying full-time job.
- Spend more time reviewing our budget and all of our bills and expenditures each month. Work to reduce or even eliminate some of them (cable, gym, expensive cellphone plans etc.). Twenty dollars a month spent on an extra cable channel for 10 years, if invested in the stock stock market yielding 7%, would have become $4,000. Can we really afford to spend $4,000 to watch Game of Thrones? Apply compounding to all excess monthly expenses and see how much it adds up to over time.
- Spend more time creating a meal plan and a shopping list each week based on multiple grocery store sale items. Shopping where the sales are, even if we spend more time shopping, is a productive use of our time if we don’t have any money. Also to minimize increased gas costs, create a route of places you need to go to before you leave the house so you minimize your fuel consumption.
- Spend more time cooking dinners and making lunches and snacks rather than dining out, getting takeout or grocery store convenience foods.
- Spend more time getting and staying organized so we don’t waste fuel running around buying stuff we already have, making a trip to the store for one or two things or paying full price when we run out of something and it’s not on sale.
- Spend more time performing household tasks that we currently pay someone else to do, such as cleaning, lawn care, snow removal and simple home maintenance tasks.
- Spend more time performing personal maintenance tasks rather than paying someone else to do them. This includes gym memberships, hair coloring, haircuts, facials, manicures, pedicures, teeth bleaching, etc.
- Spend more time looking for free or almost free extracurricular activities rather than buying expensive gear, tickets or passes to amuse ourselves. Look for free and low-cost activities from your local Living on the Cheap website.
- Spend more time researching required purchases to ensure we’re getting the best deal. Check Living on the Cheap for advice and information on how to score deals.
Once your financial house is in order, you can afford to spend more money in order to save time.
I know some will feel that this is too hard and that we all need time to relax. I agree, but is it really relaxing to know that you’re on the precipice of financial ruin as you sit at home watching television when you could be doing something productive to earn more money or to save money? I doubt it. By working hard, making sacrifices and trading your time to save money in the long run, you will be much better off financially — and much happier.