The real cost of our purchases is time, not money

As the adage goes, time is money—and the reverse is true.

We may not see it, but our minds are not used to understanding our hours for what they’re worth. While we think about our purchases in dollars and cents, we’ve also paid for them in man hours. You could’ve worked an entire day for that fancy dinner, for example.

For conversation’s sake, calculate how much your time is worth. Really. Get a calculator out and try this.

If you have an unstable income or if it fluctuates based on projects you take on, use your annual income, divided by your working hours.

If you get paid a fixed salary:

Average number of hours worked per month x 60


Average monthly salary

 = Minutes worked per $1 spent

If you get paid per hour:

Average number of hours worked per month x 60

Rate per hour x Average number of hours worked per month

 = Minutes worked per $1 spent

If you’re a business owner or self-employed:

Average number of hours worked per month x 60

Average income per month

 = Minutes worked per $1 spent

A penny for your thoughts time?

Being able to estimate the time it took to earn your money means you’ll be much better poised to make more sensible financial decisions.

Now, assuming you’re bringing in a monthly paycheck of $4,000 and working an average of 45 hours per week with 4 weeks in a month, that would mean each dollar earned can be rounded up to approximately 2.7 minutes of your working life (Calculation: (45hrs x 4weeks x 60) divided by $4,000).

$1 = 2.7 minutes worked

To illustrate how you can go about thinking of money in time rather than time in money, below are some examples of purchases you might make.

PurchaseCostMinutes worked
Chicken riceS$38.1 mins
Fancy cafe latteS$616.2 mins
Uniqlo men’s teeS$1540.5 mins
Full tank of petrolS$602 hours 7 mins
2-room HDB BTO flatS$89,0004,005 hours,

or approx. 22 months of work

This is simplistic, but will change the way you decide how you should spend your time and money.

Knowing how much something costs you in time exchanged makes the decision so much more palpable. Whether or not that new outfit is worth a couple hours of work feels more real with this reframing.

Maintain healthy boundaries, and a rational balance

Obviously, everything taken to the extreme warps the initial intention. Sometimes, time and money aren’t exchangeable one-for-one. Time can be used to recharge and reflect. It can be spent on after-work hours with your family and Sunday morning hikes. These precious hours are not simply worth the same rate, as it were.

Here are three ways you can weigh and consider your newfound perspective on the cost of your decisions.

1. Apply the principle to only some budget categories

Another way to go about it would be to restrict certain expenditures from this time/money association. In other words, you could grant an immunity of sorts to specific categories of purchases.

One instance would be special gifts for family, or investments for your health and wellbeing. Likewise, you might also benefit from doubling down on categories where you notoriously splurge—think dining out or new clothes.

2. Harness the power of “done” lists

We’re all familiar with to-do lists, where we essentially list out what we’ve yet to complete for the day. Done lists on the other hand, help you keep track of what you’ve already accomplished for the day.

As crucial as they are, to-do lists can keep us honed in on what’s next to come. Oftentimes when we’ve failed to tick off a task or two however, our focus still remains fixated on our shortcomings.

This is what drags many of us down. The Zeigarnik effect, or the tendency to better remember unfinished tasks than completed ones, can be mitigated by jotting down tasks as you finish them, so you clear them from your mind.

It also helps us find gratitude within ourselves even when we feel undeserving of it.

3. Practice self-compassion

In our attempt to practice gratitude while at the same time striving to improve, it can be difficult to recognise when to be harsh on ourselves and when to subdue the inner critic.

Recognise the small achievements and be rational with the punishments you subject yourself to. When it comes to financial personality types, everyone is different.

Whatever you may be, practice self-compassion and make small changes over time in accordance with what you need at this point in time.

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