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Budgeting Time

Jonathan Clements

FIVE YEARS AGO, I realized I’d spent my adult life doing something that was totally unnecessary—drying my hair with a hair dryer. I’m not sure why I got into the habit, but one day I realized it made zero difference to my appearance. I’m not saying using a hair dryer is a bad use of time for others. But for me, it was a minute or so each day that was completely wasted.

And it isn’t just the hair dryer that I’ve ditched. I’ve become ever more parsimonious about time. I spend as little of it as possible on shopping. I don’t currently own a car, and I couldn’t be happier. That’s one less thing to deal with. I put off chores—doing laundry, upgrading my cellphone, tidying the garden—until they’re absolutely necessary. Instead, I want to devote as much of each day as possible to the things I care about most: time with loved ones, time outdoors, and writing and editing.

We all know time is the ultimate limited resource, but we sure don’t act that way. Many folks closely track how their dollars are spent and invested. But how about our use of time? It strikes me that time allocation is far more important than asset allocation, and yet most of us aren’t nearly as rigorous about it. That got me to thinking about six ways we can conceptualize our use of time:

1. Fixed vs. discretionary. We often divvy up our spending between fixed monthly costs and those expenses that are at our discretion. But the notion applies equally well to time.

There are things we have to do and things we want to do. If we love the things we have to do, that’s great. What if we don’t? That’s when they become a chore, and we’ll likely improve our happiness if we pay others to do them for us. That way, we can devote more hours to discretionary activities—the stuff we really enjoy doing.

For those in the workforce, their job will be their biggest fixed time commitment. That’s why it’s so important to like your work. What if you don’t? There’s this thing called financial freedom, where your time becomes largely your own, and the way you get there is by saving diligently and investing prudently.

2. With others vs. alone. One isn’t superior to the other. Rather, unhappiness will likely result if we spend all our time with others or all our time alone. As someone who sits hunched over a laptop most of the day, I treasure the time I have with others and would happily spend more time doing so. But I can also imagine that others feel just the opposite, hungry for time alone to read and think, after too many hours each day with family or colleagues.

3. Indoors vs. outdoors. Being in nature is associated with a slew of mental health benefits. Ditto for exposure to sunlight, which can also help our physical health. I try to get outside every morning for a bicycle ride and I try to take a walk every afternoon. All this grows less inviting as winter approaches, and the days grow shorter and colder. But I still make it a point to get outside—because I know I feel better when I do.

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4. Active vs. passive. Americans spend fewer hours working and have more free time than they did in the 1960s. Problem is, we’re spending much of this free time passively sitting in front of the television, which doesn’t rate well in terms of happiness. Instead, we should strive for active engagement—things like seeing friends, playing sports, volunteering and pursuing hobbies, all of which have the potential to boost happiness. We’ve all heard it before, but it’s still a shocking statistic: Americans spend an average three hours a day parked in front of their TVs.

5. Investing vs. personal finance. Many folks check the stock market’s performance every few hours and their financial accounts every day. They spend countless hours fretting over whether they own the right investments. Yet ample research has shown that once we do the investment basics—settle on a sensible asset allocation, decide how to diversify and pick some low-cost funds—further effort is typically a waste of time.

Meanwhile, we tend to spend too few hours on broader personal finance issues: managing taxes, developing an estate plan, getting the right insurance, holding down borrowing costs, reviewing spending, deciding when to claim Social Security, developing and revising our financial plan, and so on. That’s a shame. Unlike investing, these are all areas where a little effort can yield big benefits.

6. Hedonic vs. eudaimonic happiness. I discussed this distinction last month. Going out to dinner with friends can deliver hedonic happiness—a pleasurable interlude that delivers a brief boost to our spirits. By contrast, planting bulbs that’ll flower next spring can deliver eudaimonic happiness. Getting on our knees and digging in the dirt is taxing, but there’s also satisfaction involved, as we imagine how great the garden will look six months later.

As I argued in my earlier article, we should pursue both types of happiness. Want to get more from each day? Ponder how you’re divvying up your time between hedonic and eudaimonic happiness—and make sure there’s a good balance between the two.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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Handy Randy
Handy Randy
2 months ago

Did you see the story about the 94-yr old guy in Iran who died this week? He hadn’t bathed in decades! Imagine the time and soap and water he saved!

tshort
tshort
3 months ago

Excellent. I retired four five years ago and haven’t looked back (time flies – another year already!).

I like to tell people now I’m a time millionaire. Nothing tickles my fancy more – or makes others more jealous.

Thomas Taylor
Thomas Taylor
3 months ago

You make a lot of good points, as usual Jonathan. I’m surprised you didn’t mention being glued to your cellphone screen. I find that just as prevalent with the younger and older generations as watching TV. I enjoy having a smartphone, but I try not to let it run my life. Being in the southeast, I can still ride my bike 4-5 times a week throughout the year and can walk 18 holes of golf each week as well. I wish I could do without a car, but it is virtually impossible where I live. Since I’m still working, during the onset of the pandemic, I quit shaving and have not missed doing that each morning. I also let my hair grow out again and only get it trimmed periodically.

Richard Gore
Richard Gore
3 months ago

Nice article with lots of good points.

It was hard for me to understand exactly what I wanted to do with my time until I retired. I enjoyed my job and believed it was valuable to my customers, but starting with a blank slate helped me truly see all of the possibilities that were open to me.

I hope you and everyone on the site can find those things that bring them and those they love the most joy.

Kyle Mcintosh
Kyle Mcintosh
3 months ago

Great piece as usual. One item that I see sucking time for people today – that I refuse to give in to – is time spent charging their electric cars. I see one executive jogging to the parking lot a few times a week to move his car. Other people seem to drive out of their way to spend 15-20 minutes waiting for cars to charge at these Tesla supercharging stations. It’s hard enough to keep my cellphone charged 🙂

Fred Miller
Fred Miller
3 months ago

Jonathan, Great article. My first post here, but been reading your articles for a couple years now. I really enjoyed this one. Keep them coming 🙂

Dave Kelch
Dave Kelch
3 months ago

I noted that you are “hunched over a laptop”. An inexpensive keyboard and large LED display connected to your laptop can make a huge difference in comfort – both physical and mental. I know.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
3 months ago

Thanks for an excellent article, Jonathan. As a happy retiree, I wholeheartedly affirm that time is the greatest luxury. Just being able to do so many little things that were never possible during my hectic working years—like reading a book in the middle of the day—is immensely rewarding. And as with any luxury, it is definitely not to be wasted!

James McGlynn CFA RICP®
James McGlynn CFA RICP®
3 months ago

Your ditching the hair dryer got me to thinking about haircuts. (I gave up the hair dryer after high school when the hair was much longer.) I save time and money by going to Great Clips for a basic haircut. I buy a gift card and save 25% per haircut. The biggest “joy” I get is using their app to check-in online. On my drive over I check-in and when I get there I have zero wait. So ditch the hair dryer, get inexpensive haircuts and no waiting. Saving time and money-HumbleDollar style!

Ellen Evans
Ellen Evans
2 months ago

I hope you all do something nice for your wives to show your appreciation for their time spent cutting your hair! Maybe surprise them by taking a turn doing one of the chores they normally handle so they can spend that time doing something that makes them happy.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
3 months ago

My wife also started cutting my hair a number of years ago. I figure we’ve over a thousand dollars in that time. It was nice during the first years of the pandemic.

Mike Wyant
Mike Wyant
3 months ago

I have the ultimate luxury. My wife cuts my hair, and she’s gotten pretty good at it! For some reason, she won’t let me cut hers 😉

Bernardo Pace
Bernardo Pace
3 months ago

Henry David Thoreau didn’t have a blow dryer but he had some bookends that he had to dust on a regular basis. When he tabulated the time wasted on dusting the bookends, he pitched them out the window.

Marla Mccune
Marla Mccune
3 months ago

I wholeheartedly agree. I am doing pretty good except on number #5! Thanks for the kick in the pants!

Henry Blinder
Henry Blinder
3 months ago

Great article, Jonathan. Thoughtful and right on target. I have similar thoughts but could do a much better job acting on them.

Edmund Marsh
Edmund Marsh
3 months ago

This article resonates with me. I spend a lot of time thinking about—time, usually while I’m alone in the garden. I think about how to spend more of my time doing today the things I hope will yield a good harvest tomorrow. Activities like planting bulbs, managing money well, reading and studying, and carving out time for relationships. I have become less willing to give my mind over to trivia, but find satisfaction in simple pursuits like producing a ripe tomato and devoting time for a cup and conversation with my wife after lunch.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
3 months ago

Jonathan, thanks for another excellent article. The best HD articles provide timeless wisdom. This one reminds us of the importance of striving for balance in our lives.

Having recently turned 65, I find myself looking back. As cliche as it may be, I’m amazed at how quickly it passed. It’s easy to remember all the things I wish I had done differently. But I know that wallowing in the past is a great waste of time.

I think it is important to learn from our past, but it is just as important to move on and look forward to the future. I know people who seem stuck in a world of past regrets. They can’t let go of perceived slights and misfortunes. It can be very self-destructive, and prevents them from enjoying the present. It is sad, and often unpleasant, to be around someone who is stuck.

Chazooo
Chazooo
3 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

“…wallowing in the past…” is the perfect phrase – thumbs up!

Rand Spero
Rand Spero
3 months ago

Terrific article about our limited resource! I love the time pursuit dichotomy you set out between important decisions such as active versus passive engagement and considering investing versus personal finance matters. These are internal time challenges I find worth examining. I would add two personal internal time pulls that are slight variations of your theme.

The first is deep versus shallow thinking. Reading a layered novel or well thought out book takes effort to pursue, but the end result can feel expansive. Reviewing variations of the same news headline or watching a simplistic TV show can temporarily distract me, but leaves me feeling as if I over consumed junk food. The second dichotomy is a variation of the serenity prayer. Focusing on what I can control versus what I can not control remains a big time challenge. I am energized if my attention is directed on what I can control and feel empty reacting or worrying about things that could be simply accepted.

Evaluating how we actually spend our time does not come with an easy to read score board like a financial statement. But considering the profound issues you point out is a meaningful exercise. Thank you for this much needed push.

Fred Miller
Fred Miller
3 months ago
Reply to  Rand Spero

I really like your two personal additions about deep vs. shallow thinking/reading and the serenity prayer. I feel the internet to be a blessing in many ways (e.g., having access to read articles like this one and their related posts), but also at times a disservice to deep thinking because who needs to read books or think deeply when we have google that can answer any question. As I tell my students (and myself), google can provide answers to simple questions (e.g., what is an IRA, 403b, etc…), however, google struggles (even though it tries and sometimes does a decent job) to answer deep/critical thinking questions (e.g., should I invest in a traditional or roth IRA, what is the best diet). Deep/complex questions take deep/critical thinking if one wants a correct answer and the internet can aid this process, but most of the time cannot give you a direct correct answer, because their is too much information and/or too many factors to consider when answering complex/deep questions.

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