Time is Money, but Not Much

photo-1440170465262-8fce22fdb872Dandelions. That’s what was on my mind mowing the lawn the other day. The dandelions were back. They’re all pretty and cute on someone else’s lawn, carefree spots of sunshine scattered about the neighborhood. But on your own lawn they’re an eyesore, they’re a menace. Worse, they’re time.  Time spent spraying or weeding or railing against them, time I could surely use someplace else. So is the whole lawn for that matter…why am I out here? Don’t I make ‘good money’? Isn’t my time worth more than all this yard work?

No, no it isn’t.

Really, I worked it out…my time’s worth a couple bucks.

Okay, let’s run through this a little more analytically, with numbers and everything. How much is my time really worth? I’m going to simplify a bunch here, but using rough numbers, let’s say I’m a single guy living alone (no pets!) making $60,000 a year. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (vacation days, but they’re paid), that works out to …$28.85 hourly.

Alright alright alright, I make $28.85 an hour. Surely I can pay someone a few bucks to mow my lawn? I mean, even paying $20 per hour, I’m still profiting.

Well, the $28.85 might be an exaggeration; no one’s take-home is under a zero percent tax bracket. Let’s say we’re giving up 25% to taxes, leaving $45,000 a year, or $21.63 per hour. That’s still a pretty good wage, leaving plenty of room for enjoying the finer things in life. Like not mowing a lawn.

Well, here’s the problem. That $21.63 is how much I make, not how much my time is worth. It doesn’t take into account two big things: my fixed expenses, and the fact that I don’t work 24/7.

A salary means a fixed, stable income, but it needs to cover all the hours I live, not just the hours I work. And it turns there’s a lot more hours in a week than 40. Instead of dividing the $45,000 by the hours I worked, I should divide it by the hours in a year. If my salary needs to cover all of them, that means that my $21.63 take home has to cover all of them. Dividing it up, that works out to $5.15 an hour.

Now let’s put fixed expenses into the mix. Again, just pretending for a second that I’m in charge of everything, let’s guesstimate $1,700 a month in fixed expenses: Rent $1,000, Food $200, Utilities $200, Car $250, Phone $50). Could be higher or lower depending on your city or situation, but that’s probably a decent starting point.

If we work that into our budget by subtracting it off the top (well, after Uncle Sam), I only ‘make’ $45,000 – $20,400 = $24,600 a year, or (gulp) $2.81 an hour. So that’s what my time is worth, about the price of a fancy cup of coffee an hour.

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So that was a little depressing … $2.81. It sounds pretty tiny, but that’s the ‘available’ money, after expenses, that I have every hour.

I could buy a latte (well, a small one) every hour. I’d be a little wired, so maybe not the best use of the extra money. If instead I save up for a few hours, I could put together $10.00 and buy lunch. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s probably more realistic, rather than thinking “well it’s noon, I’ve worked three hours, a ten dollar lunch is nothing.”

A new video game would work out to be $60/$2.81 = 21 hours.  So wait a day, and that’s all your free money going there.

There is an upside to this though…I like a solid 8 hours of sleep a night. And I almost never spend money while sleeping. So every time I wake up, I’m $22.47 richer, like it’s just appearing on my bedside table. If you manage to go through the whole day without spending any extra money, you’re up to $67.40. Monthly, that works out to a little over $2,000 … now we’re talking.

It’s probably a little unrealistic to say you’d go through a month without spending an extra dollar, but that’s what you’d be able to save. Even $1,000 or $1,500 would go a long way toward your goals, whatever they might be.

It’s your money and your call, just remember that it’s got to cover all your hours, not just the ones you work. Me? I’m going to save some time, take some of that hard-earned cash and buy myself some dandelion killer. But only the $10 jug; let’s not get carried away now, that’s worth a good four hours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12 Comments:

  1. Dandelions are such a happy looking “flower”. Too bad they’re classified as weeds.

    Enjoyed your post.

  2. I think for people that are on salaries (like myself), this is a valid calculation. But I’ve heard a counter argument to this as well for a different subset of the personal finance community. I believe I heard this in Paula Pant’s podcast, Afford Anything.

    I’m basically just throwing this out there to put out a different perspective. For those that are self-employed or entrepreneurial, their time is potentially worth a lot more since their income is potentially limitless. So in those cases, it would probably pay to have someone mow the lawn so that they could put that time to more effective use working on their own business and furthering revenues and profits.

    Thanks for the post! It’s good to see some writing from Mr. Paradise as well. 😀

  3. This is an interesting perspective. I’m going to think on it a bit. But I do believe now I’ll feel less depressed over the hours I spend cleaning.

  4. Dandelions are a valuable source of early nectar for honey bees. Don’t hate the dandelion.

  5. Some times I think I would like a large piece of land. Then I spend some time weeding or watering our lawn, and think: I’m good for now. =) Same is true for a bigger house.

  6. I like your line of analytical thinking, Mr. Paradise.

    I earn maybe 7x the man in your example, but I still pluck my own dandelions and mow my own lawn. It may be true that my time at work is highly compensated, but when I choose to mow the lawn, I’m not doing it lieu of an hour of work. I’m doing it for the fresh air, exercise, and opportunity to listen to an hour of uninterrupted music or podcasts. I’m already working as much as I want to work. Maybe more.

    Plus, I’ve been pushing a lawn mower for the better part of 30 years. Why stop now?

    Best,
    -Physician on FIRE

  7. Too bad whoever illustrated this post used a chicory when the first sentence is about dandelions (yellow) and chicory isn’t mentioned in the post.

    And dandelions in one’s own yard can be attractants for butterflies.

    • Hi Barbara, good point! I just like to use the flower pictures from unsplash.com even if they don’t match the post exactly. They put me in a good mood!

  8. I find it ironic that wanting to break away from the shackles of work to achieve FIRE, you still end up calculating the worth of time using the previous work salary. Surely, that can’t be the benchmark right?

    • Hi there! I think we are less calculating the worth of our time and more our speed toward financial independence. This calculation looks at how much “extra” you have to spend per hour after taking out all your fixed expenses. So in that sense, the only benchmark you can use is how much you are making right now. That’s not to say your time isn’t “worth” more than that, but I think that’s much more difficult to define and will be different for everyone. It also depends on how much you like gardening!

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