How I Prioritize Tasks Based on Time vs. Money

There’s a conversation in personal finance where many decisions can be boiled down to Time vs. Money (like is it worth spending money on a cleaning person to come to your home or should you take the time to clean it yourself). How much do you value your time to take on these tasks, verses how much do you value your money to not spend extraneously? I think there is a nuance here that is not as actively discussed, which is that some people have more money to spend on things that take time and some people have less to spend (i.e. those at the poverty line or below) and therefor will always have to chose the option that takes a more time. As I spend more time thinking about what I value in this context I’ve come up with a list of activities or items that I’ll spend money on that make sense for my life. I’m still having internal debates on some of these issues.

Spending Time

  1. I’ll get right to the chase, I value spending time making lunches over going to Pret for my weekday meal (different than ordering out–more on this below). I usually prepare my weekly work lunches on Sundays. It’s a nice ritual I’ve gotten into that allows me to prepare food ahead of time. I don’t mind eating the same meal every day so I will usually big batch something. This week it was lentil shepherd’s pie (I added cheese to the top!). I’ve learned the hard way that spending money on lunches every day adds up very quickly and you get more for your money if you bring in your own lunch (no matter what it is).
  2. As you know, libraries are great. They provide tons of services and offer books in many different formats. I would rather spend the time going to the library than buying physical books. This saves me money at every turn, and it doesn’t take much to visit the library that is within walking distance of my daily commute. I go pretty frequently and it’s usually just to pick up a book I have on hold or drop off my last read. It’s a win-win.
  3. I spent the time setting up automatic bill payment for nearly all my bills, this upfront time to set up the bills saves me time month-to-month so that I don’t have to sit at home writing checks, and I’ll never miss a payment (aka late fee) for these automatic transfers. I don’t actually spend money to set up the payments, but I’m not losing any money either.
  4. I will choose riding the subway over taking an Uber/Lyft/taxi any day. Of course, there are certain circumstances that make sense to take an Uber/Lyft/taxi, like when you have to get to the airport at an ungodly hour and don’t know how the trains are running. The nice thing about living in NYC is that the trains are running 24/7 (some better than others), so I know I’ll always be able to catch something. Whereas with a cab, I’ll end up paying fees for surge pricing or the amount of time I spend in traffic. Public transportation is always the cheaper option and I’ll choose it every time. Recently, I arrived back in NYC from a trip and decided to take the airport shuttle to the subway to get back home. It took longer to get home than by car, but it only cost $2.75 so who is the real winner?

Spending Money

  1. I loathe doing the laundry. I know that my fiancé will have opinions about this, but I will chose paying for drop-off/pick-up service over hanging out at a laundromat any day. The value for me is that I don’t have to spend unnecessary hours doing something I hate–going out of the house, waiting for the machines, dealing with other people. (Subject to change if I ever get a washing machine in my apartment!) 
  2. I prefer to shop online for many of my purchases. I took an online survey (with a chance to win a gift card!) recently, and it asked what my shopping habits were. I realized that I don’t spend much time shopping in actual stores, but really spend a lot of time browsing for things online. The convenience of ordering online is preferable to the time I spend in a physical store.
  3. This one I’m still getting used to, but I have to say I value getting manicures at a salon to painting my nails myself. The reasoning is two fold, a) I am not able to re-create a gel manicure at home, b) I found a reasonably priced salon near my apartment (compared to higher-end nail salons in Manhattan or other parts of Brooklyn). I love the feeling of not worrying about chipped nail polish (that’s really the bottom line for me). The debate that I’m having with myself now is that gel manicure kits are available online and I’ve gone to the salon enough to know the general technique so I should be able to recreate the look at home. The up front cost is about $40 for the UV light plus the cost of polishes. Right now I’m sticking with the salon experience. I understand that I am in a good position to pay for these manicures, but even just a few years ago, I would have scoffed at the idea of paying for a manicure. This change takes some getting used to and I’m still debating with myself if this is a worthwhile spend. 
  4. Separate from meal prepping my lunches, I try to limit my Seamless orders to about once per month (or twice if Josh also orders us a meal). I value the convenience of a delivery to the time it would take to make something at home. As long as ordering food online isn’t every day or more than twice a week, it’s convenience outweighs the cost. But notice that I do even limit Seamless orders because I do try to buy enough food at the grocery store to have the option to make meals at home. Ordering Seamless is infrequent. Also, a subsection of this category is that I do go to the physical grocery store and I do not order groceries online–though that is something I should consider doing, but Trader Joe’s is so inexpensive that I’d rather go than pay extra for some other grocery order.

I’m sure people might look at the time vs. money equation differently based on how you were raised, what your financial situation is, and what your financial goals are so this is by no means supposed to be The Right Way. I’m only outlining that how we spend money is a choice. Now if only I could find a way to automate washing the dishes…
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