Time is Not Money

by Katy on October 20, 2011 · 24 comments

How many times have you heard the phrase “Time is Money” used to justify a consumption driven life? It’s the excuse given to criticize couponers, get out of maintaining one’s own home and to rationalize everything from instant meals to exercise avoidance.

But break down the Time is Money argument, and you will find that it is full of holes.

Everyone on this entire planet is given the same 24 hours per day. Martha Stewart gets this much time, and so does your lazy brother-in-law.

So should we make every minute count for something? Is there value in doing nothing? 

Yesterday I invited my mother over to hang out together, as I had been thinking about how the only time we seem to spend together is spent cleaning her rental houses. (Note how we “spend” time.) Not that I resent the work, but it’s hardly my favorite activity. We ended up watching The King’s Speech together, which we’d been talking about doing since it first came into theaters. And then I made her watch an episode of Cash and Cari and then . . . I took a nap. I didn’t clean up the breakfast dishes, I didn’t take advantage of the non-rain to hang laundry and I didn’t get ahead on my writing.

I watched a movie with my mother, and I took a nap. Period.

If time is money, then how the hell could I justify my day? I certainly made no money, and I was not able to present a fully crossed-off to-do list. But you know what? I did exactly what I wanted to do. There was nothing I should have done and didn’t.

And no, time is not money. Time is time. That’s it, nothing more.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky October 20, 2011 at 10:13 am

It especially bothers me when people discuss the value of an activity (like doing laundry vs. hiring a housekeeper) in terms of how much money they earn at their job. As if they could work at that job every waking hour and increase their wages accordingly.

This isn’t true for everybody, certainly, but I find tasks like laundry and dishes useful for “rebooting” my mind. I can’t substitute more work at my job for laundry. I could substitute, say, exercise for laundry, but they way I do it, laundry IS exercise. 🙂

And how do you calcuate the monetary value of, say, social time? None of my social activities fall under the category of “networking,” yet during the course of my social life, I come across opportunities for jobs, barter, bargains, etc. Not to mention how much money I save on therapy bills because there are people I count on (and who count on me). I don’t so those social things *because* they benefit me financially. If I did, they probably wouldn’t.


Nicole October 20, 2011 at 10:57 am

If one is constantly in a “work” mindset, their brain has no down time, and they will end up burning out, and possibly in the looney bin if it’s bad enough.

On the flip side, I knit, which brings me some income. I knit nearly all the time (there is always knitting in my purse, and in nearly every room of the house) I knit while I am waiting in line, in the car, on the bus, at the movies, etc etc etc. This is not work to me, this is fun. It also helps me focus on whatever it is I am actively doing (watching TV, conversing with others etc) The fact that I make extra money off it is a bonus.


Samantha October 20, 2011 at 11:10 am

I actually like to think of time in terms of opportunity cost, with any choice you make you are sacrificing the opportunity to do something else. Time may not be money, but I do think there is a value that can be placed on it. I work from home, so my time is money in a sense – that doesn’t mean that I never do activities just for pleasure, but it does mean that I evaluate my time a bit differently since I don’t have a traditional work day.
I still partake in frugal activities, but I may outsource some of them that would take me longer and I don’t enjoy (like hemming my husband’s pants for work – it would take me an hour to do them myself, but to pay someone else to do it I only have to work for 15 minutes to earn the income).


FrancesVettergreenVisualArtist October 20, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Yes, that’s it exactly. There some things (like housework) that I find to be drudgery, and frankly, I’d rather work for the hours it takes to pay someone else to do for me! Of course, I’m blessed with a job I enjoy, which helps. But there are other things I want to do myself, and if I’m working so much I can’t fit them in, then work becomes onerous.

I don’t like the phrase “time is money” either, but I often calculate whether an activity is worth my time. Worth can be measured by a variety of yardsticks; money is only one.


shari October 20, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Someone said to me, a few months back, that sometimes making money is just too expensive. This was at a time when I was working full time and doing everything I could to get another person to take some of my hours, which she did. We were able to work it out to the benefit of each of us. But what I wanted more than anything else then was time and doing that job that I absolutely loathed for so many hours a day really was too expensive because I did not have the thing that was so precious to me–time. Too many hours were wasted earning money and I had no time left to do things that I thought were far more important. I no longer have that job. The cultural norm is to have money as sort of a base measurement for everything. But as with everything else in a given culture, this is not inherently “real,” it is just the story most people agree on, so it has social reality. This is changing as more and more people recognize the folly of this and they begin to tell different stories. Every blog post like this gets us further along the path to culture change!


Sara Wolk October 20, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Thank you for this! I find I’m my own worst enemy in this regard sometimes. I find I’m constantly spending my free, creative and socail time guilt tripping myself over why I’m not getting the things done on my list. Which in the end is more tiring than the actual work. When I look back on my life and relationships I’d rather be remembered as a good friend than a dynamo workhorse.


Thrifty Household October 20, 2011 at 3:10 pm

‘Time is money’ to some but I prefer to think that ‘time is precious’ .


Karen October 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm

I think the “time is money” saying or belief comes down to us from the business world, just as business metaphors such as “investing” in relationships do. In the ’80s I started hearing people refer to their relationships as “too expensive”, and it really struck me that we were approaching everything from a business point of view.

So I am with you, Katy, in not believing that time is money. Time is valuable in and of itself, and any time you can spend it with someone you love, watching a movie or talking or whatever pleases you, you are ahead of the game.


Carol October 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I’m guilty of using the phrase, “Is this worth it?” to determine whether something is worthy of doing. It creates this scenario where everything has to be weighed in terms of its fiscal worth, which is just silly, isn’t it? And besides—as it turns out, the things I love doing most aren’t really “worth it.” I drive two towns over to go to a grocery store I love; like you, I hang my laundry outside, which means some days I can only get one load done because it takes so long for the clothes to dry. But these are things I enjoy doing. This afternoon, I ignored my dishes to snuggle on the couch with my daughter and some story books. That was totally worth it!


Jinger October 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I have little money, but plenty of time. Time is far more precious to me than money. As I edge toward my 70’s, I realize more and more how much I value my time….to do as I wish. I spent 43 years raising 2 generations of children, 25 years as a teacher, and now working occasionally to make ends meet.


Laura's Last Ditch--Adventures in Thrift Land October 20, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Yay! That phrase has always bothered me, too.

Next to tackle: how about, ” You get what you pay for.”


Practical Parsimony October 20, 2011 at 8:56 pm

spend time
save time
beat time
waste time
time out
big time
spare time
buy time
time flies
make time
pass time
keep time
time served
I believe that I remember from linguistics classes (sociolinguistics?) that the English language has more uses and meanings for time than any other language. I could be wrong. Correct me if I am remembering wrong because of the passage of time.

Most of our phrases about time involve monetary/asset gain.

However, using time to make the most of time spent can be detrimental because downtime is when the mind is creative, resets, and generally creates or solves problems. Daydreams are not a waste of time. When we waste time and do nothing with our family, we are using a valuable asset (time) well.

How many people are on a frenetic chase to maximize a vacation by packing something into every spare second?

Not being able to spare time for leisure time in an effort to save time causes our mental states to suffer…my opinion.


Megan October 21, 2011 at 7:01 am


I really wish I could agree with this, but the whole damn world revolves around money. I wish it wouldn’t. Even if I lived as simply as possible and totally self sustained, someone would still need money from me.

A lot of times, my time and effort does save us money, that we can then spend on other things. Which is important, becuase if it didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to work part time. Therfore my time replaces my income.

Some days I don’t have to justify anything. Then time is just time, and hopefully time well “spent”! Too bad they aren’t all like that.


Mary October 21, 2011 at 7:14 am

Sometimes it feels like a time competition – as uf we want to be busier than everyone we know. I like to enjoy my time on the weekends by gardening or relaxing with a good book, making a homemade pizza with my husband, taking a nap with my cat. I mean I work all week and there are always lots of errands, etc. that it’s just nice to have some low-key quiet time. But at work on Monday morning it feels like a compeition with my co-workers about who had the busiest weekend. Why do we think we have to prove how busy we are all the time?


Kim October 21, 2011 at 9:16 am

There is no need to justify what you did yesterday. The mountain of dishes and laundry will never end, but you have no promise that your mother will live forever. My parents are gone and no amount of money can bring them back to life. I am rich in treasured memories of time spent with them.

You cannot afford to be frugal with love.


Jackie K October 21, 2011 at 11:07 am

What you did yesterday was “live in the moment.” There’s nothing better!


Greta October 21, 2011 at 11:37 am

I have to disagree with this one. Because I always look at it in reverse. I think about how much money I save when I spend the time to do things for myself. I think about how much time I save when I splurge and hire someone else to say, clean my apartment once in a while. I love that I have the rational view of my time, most of the time. And then every now and then– I let myself be totally irrational and splurge.

This keeps me sane. Especially in tough times. But then I’ve always been much more inclined to spend on services than goods. I don’t need things. But sometimes I need help.


Jeanine October 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

I have to disagree with this one.

Time you spent doing what you did what time invested in yourself, which translates into money saved on your health.

You could have spent that time making money (working at the hospital), but the stress of it, in the long run affects your health.


Madeline October 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

I have always valued TIME over money. In high school I never had a summer job.I loved hanging out with my other (lazy?laid back?) girlfriend at her backyard swimming pool listening to music and barbecuing hotdogs. I never had money to go to the mall but I didn’t like shopping anyway. I thrifted at an early age and the “uniform” back then was raggedy old jeans and tank tops anyway. We didn’t even wear make up.So who needed spending money.

Our boyfriends would take us to movies and sometimes even buy us a meal.

I just didn’t want to waste my summers WORKING.

As an adult, I have rarely worked full time.Just not worth giving up all my free time. I enjoy simple things like the library,long walks, I actually enjoy some housecleaning tasks, and listening to music, watching favorite shows on netflix. I like to cook from scratch.I also like naps and listening to my relaxation CD’s.

In the 70’s and 80’s I gave up money to stay at home and raise my own son (he is now in his 30’s–) Mu husband made enough. Not a lot but enough. We ate a lot of beans but were very happy and I had TIME to take Andrew to the park, the lake, and to the laundramat with me.

I am not lazy.I just don’t enjoy spending the majority of my TIME working. Even at jobs I like. I am a Nurse, too, (now FULLY retired..) and have had some nice jobs– rocking babies even– for work.but I LIKE TIME OFF.

TIME is precious.

Having enough time to spend some of it DOING ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but laying by a swimming pool, or taking a nap– well,WHY NOT!!?????


hydra October 23, 2011 at 2:24 pm

Though I do sometimes think in terms of whether something is worth my time, I am more often, much more comfortable wasting time. 🙂 I work hard at my job, but when I leave work, I do leave it behind. So when I’m home, I value that relaxing, non-working time. Unfortunately, there are things like housework that get in the way of that. There’s a balance somewhere there that I still haven’t found.

But what I really wanted to write in the gripe about is my other pet peeve – when people complain they’re too busy. I rarely use that phrase because we all have the same amount of time in the day. AND we all have the exact same amount of time that folks had 100 years ago. We even have wonderful ‘time-saving’ inventions like washing machines and dishwashers that should have given us MORE time, but instead, we just whine that we don’t have enough time and that we’re too busy.

Have we all really gotten ‘busier’, or just lost our ability to prioritize and say ‘no’? Choose wisely what to ‘spend’ your time on, and you won’t feel so busy…?


mike crosby October 24, 2011 at 1:59 pm

I read your post Katy on my phone and I really liked it. I thought I can’t wait to get home to read the comments, thinking they’d flush out your original idea. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed.

This is one of the huge reasons I love the internet. It’s people giving their ideas making life better for all those around.


Skip_G October 30, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I love the article. It is entirely consistent with a tenet I have held for quite some time: people who say they don’t have time to do something are lying to themselves. There are 24 hours in a day, and there is only so much that one person can do; that’s true enough. But as you said, those 24 hours are what each person gets, every day.

If a person says they haven’t been able to find the time to clean their garage, for example, what they are really saying is that they chose to do something else with all of the time that it would take to clean the garage, or start cleaning it, every day that has passed since they realized the garage needed cleaning. They likely found time to watch TV, to read the newspaper, to wander around the grocery store aimlessly, etc. The garage was less important to them than every other thing that they have done, is what they are really saying.

When it comes down to the bottom level of such statements, they may as well be saying, “I say that I would like to accomplish ‘Task A’, but in the same breath, I also say that I am not very serious about actually completing ‘Task A.'”

There is a line from T.S. Elliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, that goes, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” If one chooses to fritter away one’s time in pointless activities, then that’s how it will be spent… but it will be spent one way or another.

We are all the same age, it just happens at different times. And for some of us, it ends sooner than for others.


Franklin Chen November 1, 2011 at 7:17 pm

I was sufficiently bothered by this post that I wrote a blog post in response: http://franklinchen.com/blog/2011/11/01/is-time-money/


Katy November 2, 2011 at 6:30 am

You “Sense anger and contempt” in my blog? (I did read your blog post.)

Have you read more than one of my blog posts?



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