Wednesday, September 26, 2018

On "Time" and Money

A recent discussion over at Five Acres and A Dream (if you are not following Leigh and Dan, you really should be.  No. Really.  Go over there and bookmark them now) has got me thinking (again) about the economics of our lives both now and in the not all so distant future.

At the moment we are in a bit of an unusual situation for us:  Our income has never been higher, but neither have our expenses (with Nighean Gheal in her second year of college and Nighean Bhean getting ready to go away next year).  It means that in some things we are making great progress, but I realize that it also means that this is not a long term sustainable solution (in the sense that I really do not care to work the hours I have been working for the next 9 years to get everyone through school).   This whole situation is also based on the real fact that I have a job at the moment - but given my industry, it could realistically end within a year.

But I am also a realist. The very thing that permits me to make my money now - my experience (and therefore my age) is the same thing that will eventually ensure that I do not get the next job, or the one after that or the one after that.  In other words, this train will not run forever.  At best there are nine to fifteen years left - at worst, one.

How does one plan for such a thing?

All the normal things of course - debt reduction, rainy day funding, savings - and to a greater or lesser extent, we are working on that.  But what comes very significantly to my mind is simply changing the very nature of how we live.

Modern life - at least a great deal of people's modern life - is built on specialization and convenience.  I am specialized in what I do and so I exchange that specialization for goods produced by other people their specialization.  These goods are easily accessible - more so than ever.  When I was growing up there were maybe 10 options for eating out in my little town.  There are probably 60 options for me now within a 5 mile radius.

But all of this comes at a cost:  a cost in money and a cost in how I view things and the world.

The cost in money is, I assume, fairly transparent.  But the cost in view?  I have changed my view from money and independence being the most important thing to "time" being the most important thing (I have not fully, of course - but let us play along for the sake of argument).

For me to fully right this ship, I need to change my view about "time" - now I view it as time I am not spending doing other things but the time I have to work to do this things is not figured into that calculation as it should be.  An example:  an average dinner for a family of four will cost me between 0.5 and 2.5 hours of labor at my current job.  The dinner lasts maybe an a hour and we have not had to invest the time to prepare the meal or clean up - but was it worth the time at work it took to have that dinner?

What I am trying to propose, in a perhaps broken way, is that my concept of time has influenced my concept of value of money.  For me to right this - to begin thinking correctly about it - I need to see my spending in terms of what I having to give up to make it happen.

Gene Logsdon of The Contrary Fame was an expert at this. Constantly in his writings he would reflect on the cost of what he was doing in the real world if he was paying for it - but as it was part of his lifestyle, the cost had transmuted itself into value.  He had escaped the black hole of time and money.

A new book at the Big Book Seller will cost me 0.5 to 0.75 hours of labor.  Alternatively I can wait until I find it used and it will cost me 0.05 hours of labor.  A little patience and effort makes my money go farther.

I am not quite as far on this path as I would like to be.  But I am also starting to get farther than I expected as well.


  1. As much as I would have liked to send my kids to college, there was no way I was going to be able to do that on a career military salary. Result; the kids are paying their way through school. There's an upside to this; if you give a kid a car on that 16th birthday, the kid is going to ream the thing, not having had to work for it. 'Same goes for a degree. I've long been aware that, if I lost my current job, it would be difficult for me to find another one, as companies looking to hire would go for "half the age for half the wage." For survival's sake, this is the way we need to think these days...

  2. I have friends that are addicted to consumerism. Retirement is not going to be a good experience for them. As for me, I am just cool with it. As you say, time and good folks are far more important.

  3. Pete - We have been super blessed that we are able to help contribute (the oldest is paying part of it too, and the middle one is being economical in her choices). I feel somewhat fortunate in that they are both (and the youngest too) responsible students and take their studies seriously. The second I thought it was wasted, we would be done.

    I am past the point where being able to earn a second degree in another realm is possible (unless I were to completely quit work and go to school). Certifications are a better possibility but (being honest) I am already pushing 60 hours a week on a regular basis; add in sleep and a little personal life and I am pretty much tapped out for energy and time. Right now there are a fair amount of jobs in my industry, but that could turn at any time.

  4. Glen, my consumerism has fallen off a great deal (as has The Ravishing Mrs. TB's, for that matter). If it is not a book or for Iai, I am probably not buying it. And my Iai training and sword collection has almost reached critical mass, so there is not much more growth to be had there either.

  5. Firstly, thanks for the shout out! It's truly an honor.

    Secondly, your point is an excellent one, and probably something most folks have never considered. It's the way our economy is structured. It requires a particular life cycle of working > spending > working > spending, which really isn't in any individual's best interest. As far as I can tell, it only seems to benefit the economic machine and those extracting the wealth from it.

    As a society we sacrifice so much for the sake of "convenience" (without counting the true cost as you point out so well), also for what we think is a sense of security (but that's another topic altogether).

    I think your statement, "my concept of time has influenced my concept of value of money," is extremely profound, and one that most people probably won't understand. I can't say I fully understand, but I get it. I get it because this is something Dan and I are working on too.

  6. Leigh, you are quite welcome. I very much enjoy reading about and participated virtually in your adventures.

    I think the great test of the theory is simply to start - maybe in small ways - to stop living like this small ways. To actually do the time to benefit ratio.

    A small example: Today I went to get my haircut at a "Manly" styled barber shop. It is a bit more than my usual "Cheap" haircut, but represented 30 minutes of my work. I enjoyed the haircut, both because it was a good haircut and the experience was pleasant. In that sense, it was "worth" my labor (and, they serve coffee and beer. Nothing wrong with that).

    Or I can use some of my allowance to buy a used book, which lasts a great deal long than the haircut. Or a tool, which allows me to do something. And so on.

    I wonder, if we had an economy truly based on the value to the individual instead of the profit to the economy, what it would actually look like.


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