Together Planning More money, less time?

More money, less time?

I don’t know anyone who has more money than they know what to do with.  I know those people exist.

I do know plenty of people who have enough money to do what they want to do.  That is our job—helping people figure out how to do the things that are most important to them with the resources that they have through comprehensive financial planning.

Even for folks who have enough money to pay the bills, save every month, and splurge on the things that make life fun, there is another resource that always seems scarce: time.

I serve on the vestry (board) of my church.  Every month we begin our meetings with a check-in—we go around the table and everyone shares what is going on in their lives, good or bad.  It helps us connect with one another, be sensitive to what other people have going on, and give context to our own comments during the meeting. It really is a great practice.  One thing I have noticed in the twenty meetings I have attended so far: people feel really busy.  People share about health concerns for loved ones, family transitions, and other stresses, but their comments usually start with “Things are just really busy…”  “Life is very full…” “Work is busy, kids are busy…”

It is a refrain we hear everywhere.  You see an acquaintance or someone you haven’t seen in a while and ask, “How are you?”  How often do they say, “Just really busy!”?

I recently read Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.  The chapter called “Buy Time” explores the idea of “time affluence,” or the sense that one has enough time. Some of the observations in the chapter were surprising to me, but they make so much sense.

Time feels more scarce than it used to (even though it isn’t really).

According to a study referenced in the chapter, work hours have not increased, on average, during the past fifty years.  Hours are more flexible now, and often not limited to a traditional schedule, but overall time spent working has not increased.  What has changed is that people feel like they have less free time now. Perhaps that is because we are so aware of the other ways that we could be spending our time.  Television and social media offer constant reminders that other people are doing other things while we are working or running errands.

Even if it is not exactly true that we are busier now than our parents were at our age, this feeling of time scarcity is having an impact on us. Feeling rushed or strapped for time leads to stress, headaches, sleep problems, difficulty focusing and trouble relaxing.

Having more money doesn’t help. It makes the problem worse.

People with money can pay someone else to do their chores and should therefore have more time to do things they enjoy, but this is not the case.  In fact, the authors note that “wealthier individuals report elevated levels of time pressure.” The authors propose that wealthier people feel more time pressure because they perceive their time as being more valuable. Consider this study that is referenced in the chapter:

In a study at the University of Toronto, students played the role of consultants, performing tasks for various offices of a fictitious company and billing their time in six-minute intervals. Half the students billed the company 15 cents per minute ($9/hour) for their time, while the others billed the company $1.50/minute ($90/hour). Afterward, students who billed the company at the higher rate reported feeling more pressed for time—even though they had completed the same tasks for the same amount of time as students who billed at the lower rate. In other words, making students’ time worth a lot of money was all it took to turn them into stressed-out, time-squeezed consultants. (page58)

Does this ring true to you?  My husband is an attorney.  Billing his time in six-minute intervals at a high rate has certainly led to feelings of intense time pressure.  As his billing rate has increased over his career, and as he has taken on responsibility for negotiating and collecting the bills for his time as well as that of other attorneys who work on his clients’ cases, his sense of being strapped for time has only intensified. It can make a person feel like they can’t afford to take a day off or take time out for a teacher conference or volunteer work. You can feel trapped by your hourly billing rate, and the higher it is, the more trapped you might feel.

Giving away some free time can make you feel like you have more.

Ah! Volunteer work!  Dunn and Norton present a case that giving time away is actually the best way to feel less time pressure: “Because time’s high value makes it feel scarce, giving this precious resource away for free can increase feelings of time affluence. When people engage in volunteer work, even for as little as fifteen minutes, they feel that they have more free time in their lives.”

The authors reference a study where students were told they would be expected to help another person for fifteen minutes after completing a study.  Then, half of the students were let go without having to help.  The ones who had to stay and help reported feeling like they had more free time compared to those who were able to leave early (and therefore actually did have more free time). The authors suggest that giving away time makes people feel more effective and competent and less likely to feel overwhelmed by their own “to do” lists.

Changing what you spend money on can help, too.

Dunn and Norton argue that changing spending in three key categories can boost your feelings of time affluence:

1.       Commuting: longer commute times lead to lower levels of happiness for the commuter and for their family. Driving a nice car doesn’t make it any less of a drag on reported happiness.  What does lead to more happiness (or less unhappiness) is taking a train or living closer to work.

2.       Television: much of the time saved over the last fifty years in chore efficiency has been eaten up by increased time watching TV, with no resulting increase in happiness.  Replacing television time (or, I would argue, time on social media or obsessing about the news) with a walk outside or time with friends could lead to an increase in happiness and time affluence.

3.       Socializing: the authors remind us that time with friends and family is often not free—meals out or a drink at a bar cost a good bit more than doing the same thing at home.  This is one area where the authors argue the expense is worth it. Spending money on an opportunity to connect with your friends and loved ones actually can lead to an increase in happiness.

What do you think of the concept of time affluence? Will this awareness lead you to change the way you spend your time or your money?

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