Saturday 23 September 2017

Well-being: Time or money?

Do we know the real value of money

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

José Mujica, the former president of Uruguay, drove a 1987 baby blue Volkswagen Beetle during his time in office. He also declined to live in the presidential palace, preferring the simple pace of the farm on which he cultivates chrysanthemums with his wife.

Known as the "world's poorest president", Mujica, who stepped down last year, donated 90pc of his salary to charity and regularly picked up hitchhikers.

His time in prison shaped his outlook on consumerism. During the 1960s and 1970s, he was part of the Tupamaros, a guerrilla group of armed Marxist insurgents.

Due to his involvement with the group, he spent 14 years in prison during the military dictatorship, much of it in solitary confinement.

Mujica reflects on his time in jail, and what incarceration taught him about life, in the documentary, Human, which was released last year.

"I spent over 10 years in a solitary confinement cell... I spent seven years without opening a book. It left me time to think," he explains.

"This is what I discovered: either you're happy with very little, without overburdening yourself, because you have happiness inside... Or you'll get nowhere.

"We invented a consumer society... which is continually seeking growth...We invented a mountain of superfluous needs. You have to keep buying... throwing away.

"It's our lives we are squandering. When I buy something, or when you buy it, we're not paying with money. We're paying with the time from our lives we had to spend to earn that money. The difference is that you can't buy life."

It's one of those epiphanies that hits you right between the eyes; a simple, yet profound, idea that forces you to rethink your perspective.

We can easily get behind the old adage 'time is money', especially when we want to pound our chests and feel terribly important.

Yet the turnaround, 'money is time', forces us to contemplate the true value of everything we earn.

Imagine paying for a new-season handbag with four day's work (not to mention the week of your time spent waiting for the next pay cheque).

Imagine logging into a time account where you could see how many minutes you have left in a day, after work and sleep.

Money and time will always be interrelated - to save one you generally have to spend the other - yet we tend to value money over time, when it should be the other way around.

Because time isn't tangible - we can't feel it coming out of our wallets or see it leaving our bank accounts - we tend to overestimate how much of it we actually have. Meanwhile, we tend to underestimate our capacity for accumulating money.

In other words, we spend money as though it's finite, and time as though it's infinite.

As Steve Jobs once mused: "My favourite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time."

Time is a priceless resource too. If you squander a fortune, you always have the chance of getting it back. If you squander your time, it's gone forever. Time is money? Say that to someone who has very little time left.

While the former proverb, coined by Benjamin Franklin, makes the wheels of capitalism move faster, the perspective 'money is time' makes us slow down enough to wonder if the society we live in is leaving us short-changed.

Those who think of time as money rarely even know what their time is worth. When working out your real hourly wage, remember to allow for your commute, breaks and any work you do outside of official hours.

Once you know how many hours you're really working, you can work out how much of your time an item or service really costs - or if it's worth spending three days of your time on a dress you'll only wear once.

It's also worth considering how much time you squander when you try to save money. Does a cheap flight really represent good value if you have a four-hour layover?

As for those planning to travel to the North for a Brexit bargain, does the saving justify spending a day of your time travelling back and forth? The trouble is that we're more inclined to think of 'opportunity cost' - the value of the next best thing - in financial terms.

We also overlook what is known as the time-money-energy triangle. As a general rule, you'll only ever have two of these resources, at varying stages of your life, so it's best to plan accordingly.

Our relationship with money often mirrors our relationship with time. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: "Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time."

Meanwhile, those that manage their time well tend to manage their money well too. They spend what poet Carl Sandburg called 'the coin of your life' - "the only coin you have" - prudently.

When we think of money as time, and not the other way around, we remember that we're using the very resource we all want more of to pay for the things of which we'll never have enough. Spend wisely.

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