A major focus of this blog is to help improve your finances and increase your net worth through shrewd, but simple investing techniques. But how can you take the extra money you’ve earned through techniques like reducing fees, minimizing trading, and saving early and often, and convert it into a happier life?
It turns out that while money cannot directly buy happiness, emerging research shows that by trading your money for time, you can improve your well-being.
Trading Money For Time
Researchers from Harvard, the University of British Columbia, and two universities in the Netherlands recently collaborated to study whether exchanging money for time can improve happiness levels.
Their results, entitled “Buying Time Promotes Happiness,” were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
How often do people trade money for time?
They first surveyed over 4,000 people to understand their spending habits. Only 28.2% of them (including nearly half of Dutch millionaires) reported spending money each month to save time. While some people may be trading their money for time while not realizing it, it is shocking that a high percentage of Dutch millionaires, who have lots of disposable income, do not take some of their significant wealth and trade it for extra time.
They next asked study participants to rate their happiness levels. Not surprisingly, they found that participants who spent money on time-saving tasks were happier, even after controlling for possible confounding variables. In other words, spending money on time-saving services is correlated with increased happiness levels.
Does paying for time-saving tasks make you happier? Yes!
The researchers then conducted an experiment where volunteers were asked to spend $40 one week on material goods and $40 in another week on time-saving purchases. They found that in the weeks they purchased something to save them time, they were happier and felt less time-stress than on the weeks they purchased material goods.
Why does trading time for money make you happier?
The researchers hypothesize that by trading your money for time, you reduce the “end-of-day time pressure” in your life. This correlated with better daily moods, which correlated with overall well-being. As others have noted, sometimes you can add happiness to your life by subtracting the chores you have to do.
Trading money for time works in the real-world, too
These findings are not confined to social science experiments. The authors note that Stanford University Medical Center recently piloted a program where the hospital would offer vouchers to their emergency physicians to spend on time-saving activities, such as babysitting and home-cleaning services. They found that doing this improved physician well-being and retention. Burnout is common among physicians, and this could be one way to ease some of the burdens on doctors.
So how can you buy time in your life?
Time is the most precious natural resource we have. It cannot be mined like gold (or bitcoin), and you cannot invest it and earn 8% returns like the stock market. Our time (along with our health) are our most valuable assets and we should be trading the money we have for more of it.
So how can you trade the excess money you have accumulated through hard work and shrewd money management for time? Here are some ideas:
Working less and having a shorter commute
Obviously, by working fewer hours, you have more leisure time to enjoy. This, of course, comes with a lower income. Living closer to your office or hospital also frees up more time, but that may mean moving to a more expensive neighborhood.
A faster computer or phone
We live in a digital age where we are glued to our phones and computers. Given how much time we spend tethered to our devices, buying a new computer or phone when your current one slows down can make a lot of sense.
Meal kit services and grocery delivery / pick-up
Meal kit services, including Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, have popped up over the past few years, offering busy professionals the opportunity to cook delicious, healthy meals without having to run to the grocery store to get the produce. The services are quite expensive, with the ingredients approaching that of a meal at sit-down chain restaurant. But for someone with expendable income, the time saved might make the extra cost worth it.
When I worked on Wall Street in New York City, I did much of my grocery shopping online through FreshDirect. They would deliver my groceries from their warehouse to my apartment, and I’d pick up the groceries from the doorman when I got home from work. I saved a lot of time walking to and from the grocery store, and the prices were only marginally higher than physical stores, because they did not have to pay expensive New York City rents.
There are some people who enjoy the process of cleaning, but I’m not one of them. I suspect most of you are not, either. Hiring someone to clean your house is one of the best ways to trade your money for time.
Similarly, landscaping and mowing the lawn are things that can be easily outsourced if you don’t like doing them.
Living in a smaller home or apartment complex
By living in a smaller home, there is less space to clean and fewer things that require home maintenance. Even better, you could live in an apartment complex, where the building owner will often take care of home maintenance.
My wife has told me that we will sell our home and rent a place in a full-service apartment complex when we retire. It’s expensive, but the time saved on home maintenance is worth it.
Spending less on material goods
If you spend less, you need to work less to meet your financial goals, and if you work less, you have more time. In addition, by shifting your spending habits from material goods to time-saving purchases, you’ll buy yourself more time.
Keep your investments simple
A lack of financial security creates stress and reduces well-being. But once you are saving an adequate amount of money and are on the path to financial independence, spend money on things that will save you time, and you will be happier because of it.
What do you think? What kinds of time-saving purchases do you spend money on? Do you think trading money for time makes people happier?
[Editor’s Note: The first WSP newsletter will be coming out on August 7th. It’ll include blog stats, more of my favorite personal finance and investing links, and some extra pearls. It’s going to be great, and it’s exclusively for readers on the WSP e-mail list. Enter your e-mail address below and receive the newsletter and new post notifications. – WSP]