The Value of Time

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I frequently write about how to make and save money. And indeed, money management is a very important topic. But the value of money pales in comparison to the value of time.

A few years ago, likely towards the upper elementary years, I began to realize the importance of time. It was a strange light bulb series of events that really rocked my worldview and challenged my commitments in life.

I realized that I was currently in possession of the most precious gift known to man – time. And I could use that gift any way I saw fit.

That’s great and dandy, and surely every young lad comes to that realization. But it came with a haunting side note.

I wasn’t guaranteed any set amount of time. That which I wasted, I would never get back. Gone, forever.

It was a strange awakening and one that frightened me. It made me begin to question my actions.

If I only had a set amount of time, how could I get the most out of it? Where should my priorities lie? What should I spend my time doing? What the heck really mattered in life?

And so I began to grow, little by little. I realized that reading, setting goals, and preparing for the future might be a better use of my time than playing video games. So I read, set goals, and prepared for the future.

About the time that college rolled around, money started to become a very real thing. I mean, I was always frugal and had a knack for keeping a high savings rate, but money just didn’t serve a grand purpose. My parents always provided the necessities, and my biggest purchases came in the form of toys, water guns, and video games.

Slowly my naive nature began to fade. I realized that I actually had to find a way to provide for myself in the near future. Mommy and daddy wouldn’t be holding the spoon til I turned 30? Oh dear.

I was still young and foolish. I thought the only answer was getting a business degree and working the corporate ladder to pay for all of the things that myself and my future family would want. (funny, I’m still after that elusive business degree)

Yeah, that was it. Trade my time, for money. That’s the secret to happiness in life!

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks to the face.

The more I earned per hour of my time, the more cool stuff I could buy. Or the more I could save.

Or… wait a minute. The less time I could spend working?

Maybe I could spend less money. And if I could spend less money, didn’t that mean I wouldn’t have to earn as much money? And if I didn’t have to earn as much money, did I need to keep working?

Maybe not, maybe I could do what I want, when I want. That concept is called financial freedom. It’s the sweet spot at the intersection of time and money.

So it was settled. I’d pick a high paying career to maximize my earnings, while minimizing my hours.

The Grand Plan

So what did I do? I just told you what I did. I chose a high paying career – dentistry, while minimizing my hours – dentistry.

I studied biology and chemistry and got my bachelors degree with the highest honors. I prepared for dental school, applied, did interviews, and killed the 4.5 hour entrance exam after studying for an entire summer.

For my exceptional academic performance, I was offered an early admissions position a dental school that I wanted to attend.

I took a few scholarships, took out even more loans, and began dental school – the 4 year doctoral program that would lead to freedom.

Then came one small problem – I hated dental school. The first semester involved 23.5 hours of coursework, and it was difficult.

But difficulty wasn’t the problem. I had no passion. My least favorite part of the whole program were the clinical courses, which resembled the actual profession.

Add to this some serious health problems and you’ve got a brewing case of misery.

But how could I just leave it all behind? All the work, the time, the money spend preparing for that opportunity. Was I just to flush it down the drain? Give up $300,000 per year on a 4-day workweek?

So what did I do?

I got straight A’s, finished the semester at the top of the class, and I left it all behind.

The Takeaway

Fast forward a 10 short months and you’ll find me here typing this article.

A lot has happened in that time period. I got married to a wonderful woman, moved to Texas, bought a house, started this blog, got a job at the university and began working full time on a PhD in financial planning – a topic that I love.

And somehow, without that precious six figure income, we’ve done alright. We’re about to polish off $19,000 of debt – all paid in 2013. And we’re doing so while maximizing our yearly roth IRA contributions and a 401k match.

Great, you say. How does that affect me? Well…

You’ve heard it said, “Time is Money.”

That’s a lie. Time is far more valuable than money – and anything money can buy.

I left dental school because I truly believe that. The massive income wasn’t worth years of being unhappy. It never is. My time was far more important.

Money is easily had. It’s a common commodity throughout the world. It’s a simple tool that has existed for thousands of years.

Given time, any motivated man can obtain more money. But he can never buy more time.

Time is the great equalizer in this life. Each of us wake up each morning, blessed with a God-given amount of time to spend as we see fit.

Neither talent, nor genius will result in more time. Those who work hard don’t get an extra tick on the 24 hours per day. At the same time, none will be withheld from the sloth who finds no purpose in life. He still has his 24 hours per day to spend as he sees fit.

There is no indebtedness with time. No ability to spend more than you make. You cannot spend tomorrow or refund yesterday. You only get today.

How you spend your time is of the utmost importance.

I think that an overwhelming number of people would structure their lives differently if they took a minute to reflect on the immense value of time. The rat race and the corporate grind would become much less appealing. Life would no longer be about having enough wealth to retire.

It would be more about finding meaning and fulfillment throughout a lifetime. It might mean changing careers or learning how to monetize a passion, even if that meant taking a pay cut.

As you spend your day, think about what brings value to your life. Reflect on how you spend your time. If you only had a year to live, would you care about that new car or fancy house? Would you be worried about chasing that next dollar?

Maybe instead of worrying about how to live on $75,000/year, we can all think about how to better live on 24 hours/day.

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Jacob Lumby, PhD
Jacob Lumby, PhD

Yeah, it can be a tough transition. But life is too short to be miserable… Or so I think.