Most of us have a memory or two of the brighter sides of childhood. Unending summer days with sun kissed cheeks from chasing a frisbee at the beach, sandy feet and salty hair. Unequaled freedom of time never seen during the school year, giving you all the options of things to do, yet still finding boredom during the dog days of August. Ice cream dripping down a cone over your fingers from a sunset parlor trip, leaving that sticky residue to remind you all night that you should probably wash your hands (but you won’t - there’s too much fun to be had).
Despite the beautiful life that nostalgia reminds us of from childhood, we were swallowed by adulthood, working 40-60 hours per week, fighting to afford the time and cost of doing something that brought you even half the joy from our memories. In the fight to afford to find that time and money, we forget what we were wanting in the first place: living the life that satisfies us.
We are caught in the current of life that demands we work at least 40 hours per week, constantly trying to find the next promotion, new position/title, an increased paycheck. Our default setting skews towards “more is better,” in reference to defining a “hard worker” with how many hours they work, and also in the possessing of more things, including money.
What we forget, though, is that nobody truly would choose to work as much as we do, and for as long as we do throughout our lives. If money is no option, are you setting an alarm to hustle into the office to sit in a chair for 8 hours? While our work can bring us joy as well, and it’s ideal to enjoy what one does for work, our true and deeper core joys likely never would have led us to any semblance of a job in the first place.
Considering we do need money to live and operate, it seems prudent to understand how much time we are willing to sacrifice for money. That all depends, however, on what life looks like that brings you satisfaction. Working to understand that is important. It comes with measuring what you’re doing now / today that affects your cash flow (income in, expenses out, savings).
Here are three possible situations you’re in as it relates to how you trade your time for money:
- You earn less money than you spend. If this is you, then what you’re really doing is spending money on things or experiences that you are willing to work for later. I say later, because you’re going into debt in order to buy a thing or an experience that you currently don’t have the money for, though you’re willing to say “The 160 hours that I will sit at my chair for the benefit of my boss next month will have no reward later, because I’m taking the reward first.” This can easily become problematic when we overestimate how much we will earn later, and underestimate our future desires to buy things or experiences. Will that affect your job performance over the short-term (knowing that you’ve already spent this current paycheck on the AirBnb trip last month) and also the long-term (constantly working to pay down debt, which is the things or experiences you bought before you had the money for them)?
- You earn far more money than you need. If this is you, then you’re front-loading your time-trading by trading a significant portion of your time currently with the hopes you will be able to drastically reduce, or completely eliminate, trading your time for money later. This is what traditional American retirement looks like, in its simplest form. We tend to overwork ourselves for 30-40+ years in order to take the last 20-30 off completely and focus on our true joys 100% of the time. Will you find any joy over those 30-40+ years that will get you though to “retirement years,” or will those decades of grinding subdue the true value you had once hoped to get from retiring? Will your health or financial situation even facilitate the chasing of passions in the last third of one’s life, or did your own neglect of physical and mental health or loose spending habits instead create a retirement full of penny-pinching and drastic immobility? Or on the other hand, did we sacrifice too much of our time over our life - and therefor gave up more life than we needed to - which now means that excess will be boxed up and passed onto the next generation (i.e. inheritance)?
- You earn approximately what you spend. If this is you, then you are trading just enough of your time to satisfy you today, plus a little bit additional to cover your desire to reduce the amount of time you trade for money as the decades go on (or as a measure of insurance to provide for your household in case you pass away early). While it’s maybe a bit utopian to consider chasing your joys early in life, it’s worth asking yourself what it is that’s worth waiting for (especially if it requires a healthy body to do) versus finding seasons in life to enjoy things here and now. Would current joys be enough, and worth pursuing (and therefore working less)? Do we even know what “enough” is yet at this point in our lives?
The complexity that is planning for our own futures certainly comes with a wide breadth of variables. Though it starts with measuring. Measuring what we earn, what we spend, what we save, and what our ideal future looks like. What can be measured can be improved. Improving is reducing inefficiencies - not necessarily equalling “more.” We can plan for where earned income goes, and aim to build our financial foundation with blueprints rather than on the fly.
Build a plan for yourself and measure your income and expenses, while considering your future. This probably involves dissection of your bank and credit card statements, career trajectory, and passions you want (or will want) to pursue. Then build your financial situation around the plan. You should know how much you’re contributing to investment accounts to build for the future, and how much you’re spending this year on what you’ve already planned for. None of this happens on the fly without a plan unless you’re ok with sacrificing (or waster, rather…) the time you traded for those dollars you’re wasting. It’s far easier to plan than it is to cope with throwing your own time away.