Finding balance between time and money

Lately my personal focus has been on finding balance in my life. I'm trying to discover the proper place for money — and for time. Over the past few years, I've allowed money to become too important. I've worked too much, and that has hurt other aspects of my life. I don't have time for anything else.

As part of this process, I've been reading the new edition of Your Money or Your Life, the classic book that influenced so many of us here at Get Rich Slowly. One of the authors' main points is that time really is money. Or, approaching it from the other direction, money is time. They write:

Money is something we choose to trade our life energy for. Our life energy is our allotment of time here on earth, the hours of precious life available to us. When we go to our jobs we are trading our life energy for money. […]

Our life energy is more real in our actual experience than money. You could even say money equals life energy. So, while money has no intrinsic reality, our life energy does — at least to us. It's tangible, and it's finite. Life energy is all we have. It is precious because it is limited and irretrievable and because our choices about how we use it express the meaning and purpose of our time here on Earth.

I know this sounds a little New Age-y, but it's a profound concept. As it did for many GRS readers, this notion changed my life. But in some ways, it's an abstraction. I can talk about trading my life energy for money, but I don't know what this actually means in practice. I met somebody the other night who understands all too well.

Time is Greater Than Money

When my friend Sparky died in January, a group of his friends met after the memorial service to share our memories of him and to reconnect. Most of us hadn't seen each other since high school graduation, over 20 years ago. That first meeting was fruitful, and we've continued to meet once a month ever since.

We got together again last Friday, and this time Jonathan made an appearance. Jonathan was a good friend in junior high and high school, but I haven't seen him since we graduated. He's one of those people who just seemed to fall off the face of the earth. We spent some time Friday catching up.

I told him my story, about my struggles with debt and my current career as a professional blogger. “I don't even know what that is,” Jonathan laughed. I explained that my goal was to turn my former problems with debt into something good, and to help others avoid similar mistakes (or to recover from them) in the future.

“What about you?” I asked. “What have you done with your life?”

Jonathan took a deep breath. “Well, after graduation I got a good job,” he said. “I didn't go to college, but I learned a trade. I'm an electrician. I got married right after high school to a wonderful woman. We had a daughter and had another one on the way. We were married for almost eight years — but then they both died during childbirth.”

“Oh my god, Jonathan,” I said. My heart ached for him.

“Yeah,” he said. “We were deeply in love, and when I lost her, I was no good for a long time. I've managed to turn things around in the last ten years, but for a while it was a real struggle.”

He paused for a moment, and then added, “Earlier, you were talking about money. Here's the thing about money: I'm not willing to sell my life anymore. When I was young, I was willing to work 60 hours a week. Or more. I was making gobs of money. We had a house and all the stuff that went along with it. I wanted more. I had plans and dreams.”

“But that ended in an instant. All of that vanished when my wife died. It just didn't matter anymore. I've often thought that if there were some way I could buy back time with her, I would. I'd go deep into debt. I think anybody would. And that's what people don't understand. I could work 60 hours a week now, too, but I refuse to do it. I'm offered promotions, but I turn them down. These aren't the things that are important to me. Time is important. Family is important. Life is important.”

“That's a fantastic point,” I said, “but it can be so difficult to remember. I write a lot about working hard to earn money now so that you can essentially buy time in the future.”

“Yeah, J.D., but what about today? When you reach the end of your life, you're not going to say, ‘I wish I had more money.' You're going to wish you had more time, and that you'd spent more time with your loved ones while you could. If you had a magical credit card and you could buy back the days of your life, how far in debt would you go and not even care?

“That's an interesting question,” I said. “I guess ultimately we each need to find a balance between time and money. That's what's tough.”

Choosing Time

Jonathan has lived through the sort of thing that many of us only have nightmares about. He now has an innate understanding of the “life energy” concept described in Your Money or Your Life. His story affected me deeply. In fact, his words changed my behavior later that very night.

As our group moved from restaurant to bowling alley to karaoke bar, I was tempted to go home. I needed to write. I needed to work. I didn't have anything ready for Get Rich Slowly. I was about ready to say my good-nights then I thought of what Jonathan had said earlier about the importance of time over money. When I was on my deathbed, which memory would I treasure? That I had gone home to write about money? Or that I had watched Jonathan belt out Queen's “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”? That question was easy to answer.

I stayed out late, watching my friends laugh and sing.


A couple of geeky friends grown older…
More about...Psychology

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Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
11 years ago

New Age-y or not, this is a fantastic point. Turning promotions down sounds like career suicide, but it’s definitely an option we need to keep open to ourselves.

Great story JD, thanks for sharing.

Henrik Wist
Henrik Wist
11 years ago

Hi,
thanks for sharing this story. As Randy Pausch (http://download.srv.cs.cmu.edu/~pausch/) wrote in his “Last Lecture”: “Always trade money for time”. After reading his book, I try to follow that advice…

Baker @ ManVsDebt
Baker @ ManVsDebt
11 years ago

Nothing like a story like this to put everything in perspective. Thanks for the wake-up call!

Yaryna
Yaryna
11 years ago

Amen! Now if only we could eliminate the guilt that comes with decisions like these, life would improve exponentially!

Emily@remodelingthislife
11 years ago

This post brought me to tears. Thanks for sharing a powerful story to make your fantastic point.

fanf
fanf
11 years ago

Thank you for the reminder man.
And thanks to Jonathan too.

Rodney
Rodney
11 years ago

Excellent story. I would guess your post wouldn’t be as good as it is if you went home early to give yourself more time to write it.

A balance if we could achieve it, is definitely the goal in life.

Alison
Alison
11 years ago

I just requested that I be laid off so I can collect my severance and unemployment. This will give me enough time to figure out what to do next so we have more time as a family, more flexibility, and more time to do the things we love. We worked for years to become financially secure and now is the time to reap those benefits while we have a young child.

Miss M
Miss M
11 years ago

Many of us are trying to achieve the balance you describe. On Friday my boss stopped by and offered me overtime, which I’ve done plenty of in the past. I told him no, that my time was more important to me than the money. I’m still working hard and saving for the retirement I want, but I’m not forgetting to live along the way. I’ve reclaimed my weekends and now we make an effort to make the most of that time – day trips, walks in the park and time spent together. By the way, the only reason I am… Read more »

Kate F.
Kate F.
11 years ago

It sounds like part of the balance is also time management. I know that for you – extra time writing really could equate more money. For somebody on a salary though overtime pay doesn’t exist and extra time put into work really just means that you’re letting your worth be diminished. One way I attempt to find balance is to keep my attention focused. When I’m at work, I try to really just focus on work and productively get one with it. But when I’m at home my attention is truly focused on who I’m spending time with – my… Read more »

Kelly
Kelly
11 years ago

The story of your friend’s heartbreak brought tears to my eyes.

As a mom of 4 kids it is always a balancing act for me.

I have made the choice to be home with them for many reasons, but this is the main one, no amount of money is worth missing out on them growing up.

We are working hard to pay off our debts right now, but I try to balance the need to pay off debt with living our lives.

Thanks for the reminder about what it’s really all about, J.D.

Beth @ Smart Family Tips
Beth @ Smart Family Tips
11 years ago

What a moving post, J.D. Thanks for sharing it with us. It’s really hard to remember that making more money (whether for spending or saving) isn’t the most important thing. It’s easy for those of us with kids to think we can provide more for them if we make more money, when what they really need is our time. There’s a small lake near our house and my husband and I took our 3 year old twins over there yesterday to play on “the beach.” It cost nothing but a couple of hours of our time. I’m betting they enjoyed… Read more »

Adam @ Checkbook Diaries
Adam @ Checkbook Diaries
11 years ago

Ever since I got married I’ve felt this way. I feel fortunate to have come to this “discovery” earlier in life than most people. I believe that it is a result of my work environment. I see too many people that I work closely with keep climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of their life. They spend endless hours working, and are constantly complaining about the hours they put in on the job, and the lack of time they have to watch their children grow up. They have teetering marriages, but continue to work more, earn more, and spend… Read more »

DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad
11 years ago

Great perspectives!

Many people underestimate the value of their time . . . it is much more valuable than money.

Once time is gone it truly is gone . . .

I have written on this topic myself:
What’s More Valuable? Time or Money? http://divorceddadfrugaldad.com/2009/01/03/whats-more-valuable–time-or-money.aspx

Beth
Beth
11 years ago

Thank you J.D. and Jonathan for sharing this touching story. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to tell, but very much worth the effort 🙂 Money is a balancing act for me, and I have been tempted to get a second job for the summer since I’m single and don’t have a husband or kids whose time I’d be sacrificing. I think I need to be open to new adventures and meeting new people instead, rather than taking on freelance work that will chain me to my computer. The difference may mean not being able to meet my retirement savings goals… Read more »

Bre
Bre
11 years ago

Really great post. Thank you for this reminder.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
11 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, J.D. It is something everyone needs to hear from time to time, to remind us of what true success is. I want to be financially free and independent, and I think if you are more financially secure you are sometimes more free to focus on the more important things. However, your friend Jonathan made a very good point. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. And in the end, it won’t be our finances that make the difference. Our connection to people and living is what will evoke our most… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
11 years ago

Thank you. I really need to re-evaluate my priorities.

Doug
Doug
11 years ago

When I use to work on a transfer ambulance we often transported terminally ill patients. Many of them regretted missing out on time spent with their family. I never once heard anyone wish they spent more time making money. Recently a former coworker was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer the prognosis is not promising. She is only 26. This past weekend we had a 22 year old die in a car accident and 26 year old pass away. We don’t have an expiration date stamped on us. I think it is important to enjoy life, you don’t know when… Read more »

Chris Gammell
Chris Gammell
11 years ago

This is a concept one of my family members has mastered and I have been in awe of him ever since I realized it. In fact, when I made my New Years Resolutions a few years back, this was one of the main things I focused on. Coming out of a job that honored time spent at work instead of quality work really started messing with my life. I think your friend Jonathon is a great role model in this regard and I would encourage everyone to find someone in their own life who is similar and model your life… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Damn JD. This is a great post.

Jimbo
Jimbo
11 years ago

This post assumes that a person’s “job” is not their ultimate calling or what really brings the most happiness. A classic case of YMMV.

Jessica the hedgehog
Jessica the hedgehog
11 years ago

This is a beautiful post and, like a few folks mentioned above, I definitely have tears in my eyes too. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

t
t
11 years ago

you can always make more money, you cannot make more time.

KF
KF
11 years ago

The whole “life energy for time” thing is a great reason to spend as much of your working life as possible doing something that is also your passion. Most of my working life hasn’t felt like a “trade” because I am doing work (women’s rights and human rights in my case) that is intertwined with my identity, passions, and what I’d be doing anyway even if it weren’t a paying job. Long-term, find ways to earn money doing what you love. Scale back your lifestyle if needed to make this happen. And learn to give. While I work on human… Read more »

Mark Smith
Mark Smith
11 years ago

“Over the past few years, I’ve allowed money to become too important. I’ve worked too much, and that has hurt other aspects of my life. I don’t have time for anything else.” I can *so* understand this one. What I’ve been struggling with lately is a situation where when I “move the energy” with my company (i.e. work on a marketing campaign, improve our software product, etc)., the money flows – and when I step back it dries up. Keep in mind my software company does *not* require me to do service work (I’m a programmer and marketer, not a… Read more »

Colin
Colin
11 years ago

I find it sad that this is such a revelation to a lot of people. Not because I think lowly of people but because the degree in which this workalholicism is ingrained in society.

I know people who have maxed out their vacation because they simply don’t take it and it. absolutely. baffles. me.

clayton
clayton
11 years ago

I totally agree and love your article. Even though I consider myself fairly young (27), I have recently come to a lot of realizations and one of which is that money isn’t everything. When I got my first(& current) job and made decent money (and gotten big raises), I blew a lot of my money on materialistic things like new computer, flat screen tv, laptops, furniture, etc. However within the last couple of year, come to realize, that they only bring limited happiness if that and to enjoy more moments of now with friends, nature, etc. Time is a valuable… Read more »

Another Aaron?
Another Aaron?
11 years ago

I keep reading your stuff because you’re real. Thanks for a great story.

The dork in me wants to point out that time with family doesn’t have to mean more debt (but it’s a good exercise in trade-offs to see where your values are). It could also mean less junk. I’d choose more time and less junk any day.

Eugene Krabs
Eugene Krabs
11 years ago

What a beautiful anecdote. Thank you for sharing. I think that too will change my behavior, just a little bit.

Moneyblogga
Moneyblogga
11 years ago

That’s a great story! Life experiences, memories of the times spent with the people I care about, and the fact that once time has passed by I can’t get that time back ~ these are some of the things I think about these days. I wish I had been so enlightened about ten years ago but I guess it’s better than living another ten years into the future in the manner in which I was living. At least, now, my partner has a good chance at early retirement which would not have been the case had things continued the way… Read more »

wanzman
wanzman
11 years ago

This is something I have struggled with recently, as a 24 year old recently married man, also new to the workforce. Due to diligence, my wife and I are in the position to be completely debt free in 4 years (including paid off mortgage). At that time I would be 28, and my wife 27. The hard part is sticking to this plan, instead of trading up to a nicer house etc. Its either chase a better life, or live a modest live and basically be able to choose to do whatever we want to do, instead of needeing to… Read more »

Chett
Chett
11 years ago

JD, I think there is an important component that has to be met before you can afford the luxary of choice for more time. When people are trying to get out of debt, working more may be the only way to get out of the hole and the impact on time away from family seems secondary. Once a certain comfort level is reached, then the temptation becomes to get more money to be more comfortable. This notion can be a trap that has no end. I think YMOYL deals with this very issue as well in their discussion of the… Read more »

kristen
kristen
11 years ago

Damn you, J.D.! Now you’ve made me cry.

Good post.

Shara
Shara
11 years ago

I DO know people who reached the end of their life wishing they had worked for more money because they were running out and their last years were spent economizing because their money wasn’t guaranteed to last through their lives. That isn’t to counter your point because I think it is a great one, especially where you are right now. But whenever I hear platitudes like “Live each day as if it were your last” I have to scratch my head and ask, but what if it isn’t? That is how ants live their lives. Grasshoppers plan on winter coming,… Read more »

CurlyDee
CurlyDee
11 years ago

Hi J.D. I read your posts daily and have never felt compelled to write a response until now. Like many, due to irresponsible spending in my 20’s I woke up one day and realized that at 35 I had over $30 000 in consumer debt, and was still renting a tiny apartment. I made a conscious decision to do something about it and haven’t looked back since. Since this wake up call I found a second job, started reading your blog, made major lifestyle changes and began living more simply and more frugally. In the past 15 months have managed… Read more »

David
David
11 years ago

JD – you just keep getting better and better! Thanks for being so transparent in your posts. I too am glad you stayed for Karoke! I read all the comments to date and there was one thing I didn’t see mentioned that surprised me. Work is one thing that consumes time/life energy, and as some mentioned so are things (the more you own the more it owns you), but what about all the other often needless commitments I see people make that suck out their life energy. I’m so amazed as I hear parent after parent complain about how they… Read more »

Randy Haykin
Randy Haykin
11 years ago

JD! You’ve struck a wonderful chord with your audience on the importance of PEOPLE FIRST. Money and things are ephemeral, but relationships and family are forever. It’s important for us all to find balance in our lives so we don’t lose touch of what’s most important to us. We actually just blogged about this exact issue:

http://www.faithbalance.com/2009/03/the-global-meltdown-its-affect.html

If anything, the recent economic times give us a BETTER appreciation of what’s truly important, and its certainly not money.

Keep up the great work JD!

Lady J
Lady J
11 years ago

I absolutely agree and just wish more people could understand the insanity of working so many hours! I’ve never dealt well with overtime – 40 hours a week is enough for me! And if that means my paycheck is a little less fat, so be it. The time means more to me than the money. Also, I work part-time right now, and my fiancee works full time. If I were to work full-time, we could pay off our remaining debt much more quickly. It’s something we’ve discussed, but my health has suffered in the past… for right now, we are… Read more »

PT Money
PT Money
11 years ago

Great reminder, JD. Nice work.

Urchina
Urchina
11 years ago

Many stay-at-home parents (and their partners) have consciously made this decision. I quit a promising career I enjoyed to stay home with our kids. The gross financial cost of this decision is, so far, about $200K. But if you factor in childcare, work wardrobes, commuting costs, increased food costs (more convenience foods, more meals out), stress, and taxes, it’s actually much less – probably about $50K. So sometimes the decision is less “expensive” money-wise than you’d expect, and the joy time-wise larger than anticipated. On the flip side, my father-in-law recently died unexpectedly and suddenly from a massive heart attack.… Read more »

sheri
sheri
11 years ago

During the search for my current job our son was being diagnosed with autism. His education and well-being became the priority with paying the bills being secondary. I fully expected to make some sacrifices insofar as employment was concerned. I put my cards on the table and (shakily) declared to my future boss that I needed a employer who understood that my little boy came first – the job would get done but I would not travel and if I needed to tend to our ‘special needs matters” I needed that flexibility. As karma would have it my boss had… Read more »

becky
becky
11 years ago

Wow JD – that was beautiful : ) Kudo’s to you for staying for the karoke too. I needed that reminder and I wish it wasn’t something that I forgot so often. My father died of cancer at 59 years old. He was able to semi-retire while he was going through his cancer treatments for the 5 years prior to his passing, but I realized that he never got to enjoy all of his efforts and savings towards retirement. It gave me a good perspective that while you should put effort towards saving for retirement and life after work, you’ve… Read more »

Katie
Katie
11 years ago

Here’s my dilemma… I have about $75,000 in student loans… and about $10,000 in credit card debt. I have 30 years to pay off the student loans, and can manage the payments pretty well. But here’s the deal… I have a bachelors in social services, and experience in that area… but my passions are anything in the arts, teaching, and writing. I have been afraid to pursue things in these areas though because I’m afraid they won’t pay me enough. I’m trying to be realistic. But a number of people have told me to pursue my passions. I want to… Read more »

April
April
11 years ago

Um, JD, you need to warn us when you are going to write a post like this! I can’t be sitting in front of my PC at work with my eyes welling up! People are bound to start thinking I’ve lost it.

Very moving post. Gave me a lump in my throat to read about what your friend went through, and the lesson he shared about what’s most important.

David Safar
David Safar
11 years ago

Thank you for this post. A couple of years ago I came to this understanding of “time is money” on my own — I guess I’ll have to read Your Money or Your Life to get a deeper understanding. It’s very true, and I can totally relate to Jonathan’s statement, “I’m not willing to sell my life anymore”. That’s part of the reason I quit my job earlier this year to explore other avenues of generating income. I’m glad this idea seems to be gaining traction among people who might otherwise work their lives away, and I’m sorry Jonathan had… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416
11 years ago

Another great post JD. Thanks.

Carla
Carla
11 years ago

Thank you for sharing this moving story with us. It brought a lot of tears to my eyes as I read this. My wakeup call came recently for me. Having just turned 30, I was hell bent on working hard at my job and my online business to gain financial security. I would spend 45 hours a week at work and many more at home plugging away. Then came my MS diagnosis and that option is no longer open to me. Now, I’m on disability and constantly dealing with symptoms and some physical and emotional setbacks. This time off is… Read more »

Laura
Laura
11 years ago

This post made me feel sick to my stomach. Thanks to Jonathan for sharing his story with us–my heart goes out to him and his family.

Right now, we are making triple house payments in order to have the house paid off by the time our son starts kindergarten next fall. Once the house is paid for, I’ll become a stay-at-home mom. The trade-off is that I don’t get as much time with my son right now. Jonathan’s story made me wish I could quit today.

Thanks for such thought-provoking stuff.

Grant Baldwin
Grant Baldwin
11 years ago

The difficulty is most people don’t make that change in their life until something tragic happens like with Jonathan.

Good reminder about how fragile life is and to enjoy each moment with those you love…

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