Time is Not Money

I’m a big fan of Napoleon Hill’s writing. It’s fascinating to read about money in the day-to-day context of past generations, in a time before PC’s, the internet, or social media. It also illustrates the deep-seated desire for people to be rich regardless of historical time period.

One of my biggest takeaways from books like Think and Grow Rich was a new perspective on money itself. Hill discourages stinginess with money, or the act of fearfully protecting riches, because it would cause people to be less generous with what they could otherwise use to do good in the world. It’s an important reminder to see money as the resource that it is, rather than the goal itself.

You don’t really want money; you want what it can buy you. You want the security, the freedom, and the fun it affords you. You want to know that you can take care of your family if you lost your job. Or you want to be able to take that trip to Costa Rica next year. I doubt any of us wants only a fat stack of green rectangular paper to look at.

We’ve all heard the cliche, “time is money.” Most of us understand the intention behind the statement – that time is a valuable resource and should not be wasted. The phrase is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, from his Advice to a Young Tradesman (1748):

“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 rather thrown away Five Shillings besides.”

Again, cool stuff coming from another era. Ben is reminding us to consider the opportunity costs of how we spend our time, and it’s an interesting metric to evaluate when broken down with a dollar value as it is here. But I think the Founding Father could have gone even further with this idea.


Time is WAY more valuable than money. To me, it’s not even close.

Time is precious because of it’s fleeting nature. We’ll never get the years we spend back. When we’re young, we feel like we’ll live forever. Who cares about eating healthy? Who wants to voluntarily contribute money out of their own paycheck for a retirement that is half a century away? Why not binge Stranger Things on Netflix all weekend?

But when we get older, the story changes. We start to see how quickly time seems to pass, or even wish we had spent that time more wisely. I had to run the numbers when I received a high school reunion invitation last year. It’s been that many years?

I swear it seems like my son was just learning to crawl. He’s going to pre-K next year?!

If you’re like me, you probably have some elderly family or loved ones who have passed away in recent years. If given the choice, which would those people have chosen in their final days:  more time or more money?

As the O.G. money writers like Napoleon Hill taught me, money comes and goes. You can lose some today or later this month in a volatile stock market, and you might gain it all back within weeks. You can lose your job and the regular paycheck that comes with it, but chances are you could find another job quickly, depending on how rigid your standards are. Somebody could steal your debit card and wipe out your account, or you could find a cash-stuffed envelope on the sidewalk, all in the same day. It’s unpredictable. In a sense, money is just like water or air, and we use the term “circulation” accordingly.

Time on the other hand, is different. Everybody get’s the same allotment of time each day, no matter how rich or poor you may be. When that time is gone, it’s gone for good. Time doesn’t care who your dad is or whether you went to Yale. Time doesn’t care if you have credit card debt or $10 mil in the bank. Time doesn’t care if you live in Silicon Valley or Somalia.

This perspective is why I now get anxious when sitting in rush hour on my daily commute, and start to question how sustainable the 9-5 model is for me. It’s also why I’ve begun to outsource more aspects of my life, trading money for time instead of vice-versa. More on that later.

How do you see the relationship between time and your life?

Let me know in the comments.


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