Is time money?

‘Time is money’ wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1748, in Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One:

Remember that TIME is Money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon That the only Expence; he has really spent or thrown away Five Shillings besides.

To update this slightly, Franklin is saying that there is an opportunity cost involved in deciding not to work: if you take a week’s unpaid holiday, you need to consider not only the costs of the holiday, but how much money you could have earned during that time.

Over time, the idiom has come to be associated perhaps more commonly with other people wasting your time rather than you not making the most of it: ‘I can’t afford to spend a lot of time standing here talking. Time is money, you know!

But what is the relationship between time and money?

Time is money

Benjamin Franklin was absolutely right in pointing out the importance of opportunity costs when you’re spending time on leisure that you could be using on work to earn money.

And the same is true of money – there’s an opportunity cost involved also in using money for leisure (e.g. buying games, paying for netflix) that you could be investing to earn money.

Franklin summarises his advice in two words: Industry and Frugality.

In short, the Way to Wealth, if you desire it, is as plain as the Way to Market. It depends chiefly on two Words, Industry and Frugality; i.e. Waste neither Time nor Money, but make the best Use of both.
He that gets all he can honestly, and saves all he gets (necessary Expences excepted) will certainly become Rich.

After drafting this post last night, it was with a great deal of surprise that I happened upon the old Savings Bank as my husband and I were walking around in Glasgow today – and noticed that, over the windows, are inscribed those very words – Industry on the left, and Frugality on the right.

Industry and Frugality at the old Savings Bank, Glasgow
Industry and Frugality at the old Savings Bank, Glasgow

But it’s important to remember that life is not just about being rich, and that while we shouldn’t waste time nor money, we should enjoy both.

Logic dictates that if time = money, then money = time.

Another way of understanding the idiom ‘time is money’ is in the sense that time is precious.

By recognising that not only does time = money, but money = time, we can better consider how to spend our life energy.

Money is time

As Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin state in Your Money or Your Life, ‘money equals our life energy… Life energy is all we have. It is precious because it is limited and irretrievable’.

Working in most jobs, we are packaging up our time and selling it by the hour. Dorothy Rowe, author of The Real Meaning of Money, says that scientists and philosophers used to think time was an absolute, but in fact, time is our creation. ‘Language allows us to remember and anticipate. Language creates a past and a future. Language creates time’:

‘If we had never created time we could never have created money. Money is embedded in our language of time. Those lumps of metal, pieces of paper and figures on a computer screen are, in a string of present moments, nothing more than lumps of metal, pieces of paper and figures on a computer screen, but seen in terms of past and future they accept the symbolic meanings we want to impose on them.’

Money represents the time we have invested – either by our own physical or mental work, or our foregoing of certain resources for a period of time (e.g. committing your money to a term deposit for 6 months).

How much is it really costing you?

Next time you buy something, why not consider what it’s really costing you – ask not how many dollars, pounds, or yen, but how much time.

A half-price handbag or new tablet PC at $400 might sound like a bargain, but would you sacrifice a week of your life for it?

None of us know how long we have, and none of us can plan and guarantee quality time with our friends, our family.

At the end of your life, will you wish for one more week with your best friend, your partner, your kids, or following your passion – or another bag or gadget?

Today’s feature image was taken at a country pub we stayed at here in the UK, with coins from throughout Europe.

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