Time, Money or Love — Which is Most Important?

So recently, someone listed me as one of the top personal finance sites in Malaysia.

It’s a huge honor. And I’m thankful.

I found it amusing though — because as much as I write about money, and as much as most of my popular posts are about money — I never intended mr-stingy to be a personal finance blog. I wanted it to be about optimization.

That’s why for every “Why Save Money Even When You Earn Just A Little,” you’ll see a “What Playing Basketball Taught Me About Winning At Life” post.

So today, I wanna talk a little bit more about the abstract topics of time and love. And look at their relationships to money while asking an impossible question: time, money or love — which is most important?

But first…

 

You Claim to Not be a Personal Finance Blog, Yet You Always Write About Money. Why?

I write about money because it’s easy.

It’s easy to quantify dollars. That’s why I post articles like: How I Paid Off My 58K Education Loan. There’s no fluff there — because I really had to pay off an RM 58,000 (USD 14,500) loan (in six months). On the contrary, it’s much harder to quantify things like love, happiness, or relationships. (Is the guy who’s slept with 25 girls before settling down happier than the one who married his first love?)

The other thing about money is it’s relatable to everyone. Almost everyone can understand what it’s like to not have enough money. Or worrying if they can support their families. Or wondering how they’re going to pay for their dream vacation.

But mostly, I write about money because it’s a basic necessity in today’s world. Food, shelter, security — everything needs money.

No one is going to listen to my theories of optimizing happiness if they’re hungry tonight and their children have no milk tomorrow.

I’m not saying that poor people have no time or are incapable of loving.

What I’m saying is — if you’re financially stable, you have more time to focus on things you love.

So there lies the first rule of optimization: You take care of the basics first.

And money is the most basic of all.

 

The Most Precious Resource: Time

“I’m not going… because I don’t think it’s the best use of my time.”

This popped out of my mouth when my friend invited me for a charity event two months ago.

Her: “You asshole.”

Her comment caught me off guard. And I realized, “Yes! I just sounded like a first-class asshole.” But the more I thought about it, I realized I would have never said the above statement if I wasn’t financially secure.

I looked back at when I first graduated — trying to thrive on an RM 2,510 salary. If I didn’t want to go for something, I would give weak excuses: “I need to go somewhere else”; or “I have something to do this weekend.” And then waste the best part of my weekend playing The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Picture of Youth: More Time Less MoneyYouth: lots of time, no money

 

It wasn’t that I was more political when I was younger. I just hadn’t learned that time is a finite quantity. I didn’t even realize that I was gonna die someday.

But over the years something changed. I grew older, went up the ladder and made more money (yawn). But I also stopped living in the virtual world of computer games and Internet women — and started reading blogs like Wait But Why. Blogs that changed how I viewed life.

And somewhere along the way of more work, more money and more stress — I realized that the amount of money one can make is theoretically limitless. But I could never see this when I was poor — when all I could think of was making more money.

It’s a bit of a paradox: It takes someone who has money (and less time) to realize that time is more valuable than money.

Because time is the ultimate resource: Everyone just has 24 hours a day. And if you’re lucky — you get 70 years of it.

 

The Money Value of Time

“But wait!” you say, “You talk as if you need to choose one over the other. If I have all the time in the world, but no money — I’ll starve!”

You’re right.

By saying that time is more valuable than money I don’t mean you should quit your job and bum on the beach. It’s not an all or nothing deal. What I really meant to ask was this:

Every day — each of us exchanges a portion of our time for money. How much money do you really need, and how much time do you wanna keep for yourself?

Interestingly, people have quantified time in terms of money too: how much is an hour of your time worth?

And they say, your time is worth: (your monthly salary) / (number of hours you work a month)

So if you earn RM 5,000 a month, and you work eight-hour days, your time is worth:

= 5,000 / (8 x 22 days a month)
= 5,000 / 176
= RM 28.41 per hour

Yes, that’s a rather simplistic calculation. Because each one of us is worth a lot more than just his/her day job and monthly salary. So guess what, your time is worth a lot more than RM 28.41 per hour.

But it does give us an interesting baseline for comparison. Let’s say you value your time at RM 30 an hour. Would it make sense to work part-time for a job that pays RM 17.50 / hour? And what if we turned the question around: Is it worthwhile to pay someone RM 17.50 / hour to clean your home, if you hate housework and rather play with your son instead?

If all these numbers are making your head spin, I’ve simplified my thoughts into some simple diagrams.

Here’s what I hope you don’t become:

Picture of Sad Life: Less Time, More MoneySad, old man: lots of money, no time

 

Instead, I’d rather you become:

Picture of Balanced Life: Money and TimeHappy: enough money to be comfortable, enough time for yourself

 

Greed Leads to the Dark Side

“You’re being silly again,” you say, “I don’t want to choose… I want everything.”

“I want all the power and money in the world, and still have twelve hours a day to party with Paris Hilton and friends. I know it’s possible because I saw a website that promises passive income while I sleep. And I know someone who does it…”

No my friend, that’s unrealistic. And it leads to the dark side.

But I do like your idea of trying to game the system. I do like your idea of trying to get lots of money without giving up lots of time. The question is, how do you hack that equation, without losing money to Internet scammers? I see three (legal) options:

  • Be born into an outrageously rich family and have an irresponsible father — who gives you money without you having to work. (If you know any rich families who are adopting, please let me know).
  • Be in the top 1% of your field — that you make huge money for even short periods of your time. (You will however have to work to reach the top 1%) .
  • Love

Huh? What does love have to do with any of this?

Everything. Love changes everything.

 

THE LIGHT SIDE OF THE FORCE: LOVE

The reason I threw love out is because it’s the great modifier to the time-money relationship.

With just time and money, the relationship is usually: Less time (work more), more money. More time (work less), less money.

But suddenly with love, we have a new angle to look at things:

  • If I love someone, now I want to spend time and money on her, instead of me.
  • If I marry her and have kids, now I have motivation to work hard — so I can give them a good life.
  • If I love my job*, the time I spend working is happy and fulfilling. And I get so good at it that people pay me more money.

It’s not that love directly fills your bank account or gives you 28 hours a day. I’m sure you know non-rich people who have to work hard, yet have wonderful, loving families. It’s just that love warps reality — other things don’t matter so much anymore — and it makes you happy.

Sorry for my horrible drawing skills, but the best way I could sum it up looks like this:

Picture of life with loveThe more love you have, the less time and money mean to you

 

* * * * * * * *

 

I started this article with an impossible question: time, money or love — which is most important?

You know my answer now, but like you said — you don’t have to choose only one out of the three. After all, they’re interlinked. You need time to create money. More money makes loving easier. And love gives you happiness as you go through the cycle.

I hope you will always have all three.

And as we move into the holiday season, the new year and more Star Wars madness — I wish you the very best ahead: Success in your career with more money; a healthy body that lets you enjoy your life; and enough free time to read mr-stingy.

But mostly, I wish for you love so strong — that you wouldn’t exchange it for all the time and money in the world.

 

 

*I’m being romantic here. Nobody loves 100% of their work. Even people who have “dream jobs” dislike certain parts of their jobs. But maybe there’s a lesson here too: When you love something or someone — you accept the good with the bad. 

Picture at Pixabay

 

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14 comments

  • Hi, just wanna share my opinion on some of the things you talked about in this article.

    So you said, “With just time and money, the relationship is usually: Less time (work more), more money. More time (work less), less money.” and that “But suddenly with love, we have a new angle to look at things:If I love someone, now I want to spend time and money on her, instead of me.
    If I marry her and have kids, now I have motivation to work hard — so I can give them a good life.
    If I love my job*, the time I spend working is happy and fulfilling. And I get so good at it that people pay me more money.”

    I do not agree that if you love someone, you could want to be a better version of yourself only because of your partner’s sake and also for your kids'(if that relationship successfully leads to kids) sake. And that without being in a relationship, life is only about having more time to work and earning more money. Firstly, it is a positive thing to focus on one’s career. At the end of the day, I am sure when one is rewarded with promotion or finishing a very difficult task that his/boss has given to him, one can feel a great sense of achievement. Even if we are not talking about one’s career, when one is single, he/she can still live a very enriching and meaningful life by pursuing his hobbies/interest. For e.g, I would love to read at least 1 fiction a week, I would love to grow potted plants and probably farm my own vegetables right in my balcony, I would love to wake up in a foreign land and start painting landscapes/people on canvases, I would love to visit the museums and spend hours enriching/educating myself with the exhibits, I would love to take up a singing course to hone my singing skills, I would love to go on holidays as and when I want to, I would love to learn all kinds of sports and push my body’s boundary and see what I can achieve physically while keeping slim and healthy, and the list goes on and on. But if a relationship finds itself into my life, or I settle down and start a family, what I have listed above will almost be impossible to achieve, in fact I would have less time and money to spend on myself. Call me cynical, but perhaps after recently coming out of a failed relationship, it has made me lost all form of motivation for “sacrificing or living for another person’s well-being”. Maybe, we do not have to prioritise loving another person( with the exception of family and friends, of course) over other things in life. I am just not too sure being in a relationship can give a positive reinforcement in helping me find happiness. Sometimes, it could be the opposite. (think about breakups, think about couples divorcing, think about kids being caught in the middle of their parents’ fighting over their custody)

    • Hey Pam,

      In using the word “love” here, I meant it in a very generic way. You could love your travels, your hobbies, or people, etc. I’m not suggesting that without a wife/husband — life would be all about time and money. What I am saying is that when love is in the equation (and love can be for anything, like the example above), it warps our reality of time and money — they don’t matter as much to us anymore.

      Everyone finds meaning differently. Some people find it outside of traditional marriage and relationships. But ultimately for most people, the “strongest” love seems to be “being in a relationship,” and having a family.

  • I would think you place the wrong diagram for ‘Youth: lots of time, no money’ and ‘Sad, old man: lots of money, no time’.
    For instance, in ‘Youth: lots of time, no money’, if you would like to indicate there is lots of time, shouldn’t be the Time is in more heavy on the weighing scale?

    • Hello Justin,

      Thanks for dropping by! Yes, that’s definitely one way to look at it. I didn’t look at it as a weighing scale — just something to indicate balance between Time vs Money.

      But whichever convention we use, I’m sure we understand the point 🙂

  • Interesting post Mr Stingy. I think we will go through all the 3 in different stages of our life. When we are young, we would choose love above everything else. When we got married and start a family, we would choose money to give the best for our children. When we are getting old and weak, we would choose time to be able to live longer.

    • Hi Millie,

      Thanks for dropping by and your kind comment. I wonder if I’m being too greedy if I want all the time, money and love in the world (right now)! 😀

  • Lovely post and got me thinking about my own life circumstances. While its not 100%, I’m grateful that my money/love/time balance is in sync.

    Ai! Would you prefer it if I clarify Mr Stingy as an optimisation website rather than a personal finance website in RoR?

    • Thanks Suraya. Glad the balance is working for you too.

      Erm… no preference on the description on RoR really. Just describe me as how you really perceive me to be. Thanks!

  • My view is that u got to love what u are doing, from there go into areas where u gain from what u are doing,i always believe that life need not be suffer if u choose not to, the important thing is that whom u met and whether he or she going to help u change your life and u willing to accept his or her thought and philosophy of life.

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