What If Time Was Currency? Don’t Waste Your Time

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In Time is a new sci-fi movie about a future where science has figured out how to stop the aging process. To prevent overpopulation, the solution was to allow everyone to live to age 25, and then give them one year to live. Time has replaced money as currency. If you don’t earn more time, then you die. The rich effectively live forever. A cup of coffee costs 4 minutes. The trailer is below:

This storyline made me think of the almost frugal-cult-classic book Your Money or Your Life (get it used for $3 shipped). One of the concepts inside is that working is the same as exchanging your life energy for money. Let’s say you earn a solid living, $25 an hour after taxes. But then there is all the stuff attached – the commute, the clothes, the lunches, the stress (need for vacations and drinks after work). You might really be earning $20 a hour.

If your rent is $1,000, you’re spending 50 hours each month just to pay for that. An iPad costs $500, 25 hours of work. If you spend $100 a month on wasteful things that you really don’t enjoy, that’s another 5 hours of your life every month. In a way, we are sacrificing our lives for money. Sure, you may not die any sooner, but you’ll be spending that much less time on what you really want to do. It just happens so gradually and indirectly, we don’t notice. Try pricing everything out in terms of your real hourly wage. (A cup of coffee might actually cost more than 4 minutes.) Try adding up all the money you’ve ever made, and calculate your net worth to see how much you actually kept.

If you concentrate on maximizing the gap between expenses and income, one day your income from your investments will match your expenses. That’s financial independence.

Steve Jobs said in a great commencement speech that we should find work that we love. Most of us don’t love our work in the way that if we didn’t get paid, we would still go out and do it. Amazingly, he did. If you’re like me and are still having trouble with that, then at least we can reach for the day when we can simply do what we love because we don’t need more money.

Either way, don’t waste your time.

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  1. wow…$25/hour? Really seems like a fantasy that most people don’t obtain. Overall though I liked your synopsis.

  2. If only the movie made your point. It has an interesting premise, and could easily have been directed to make a similar philosophical argument to yours. Instead, the preview contains a line about the rich effectively stealing time from the poor/middle class. It’s sad that such a childish understanding of wealth is promoted; the idea that there’s a set amount and that it can be hoarded. Anyone with even a little interest in building wealth (such as myself :)) quickly understands the wonderful truth: Currency may be limited, but it’s only a tool. Wealth itself is as limitless as human potential.

    Thanks for the efforts of writing this blog, it’s already helped me learn a great deal.

  3. Heh… i thought you had an advance screening for In Time and were saying don’t waste your time in watching it.
    I’ve been doing this for awhile but generally my view has been kinda the opposite, along the lines of “that only costs 1 hour of my time.” And thankfully I’m blessed to work from home so the commute, clothes, etc. don’t have to get into the calculation. I can’t say I love the work I do, but I do love how I get to do it.

  4. well said.

  5. To me it seems a little more complex than a strict trade-off between time spent at work and at leisure. That is because spending some time working definitely increases the value of your leisure time by allowing you to own or rent a home, afford hobbies–in general have a better standard of living. In other words, there is a portfolio effect to giving up some level of leisure to do some compensated work. Leisure time for the homeless person doesn’t seem that attractive to me.

    For most of us there is a diminishing marginal return on labor in terms of value of leisure time. In other words, if you don’t work at all then starting a job will greatly enhance your leisure time but if you are already working 80 hours a week, going to 90 hours will make a small incremental improvement of the kinds of toys you can afford but be more than offset by your loss of 10 hours to enjoy those toys. The social safety net may actually be an exception at the front part of that curve. I’ve encountered people willing to stay on long-term disability payments rather than work because their wage would only be a few dollars more than they are collecting for not working.

    I guess it gets more interesting when you analyze the marginal trade off of more work versus a unit of leisure once you have obtained a reasonable standard of living. Expectations also play into it–how else could you explain why many don’t uitilize all of their vacation days in a given year–when that is in effect paid leisure time.

  6. A very nice post. Thanks!

  7. I calculated my wage after taxes and work related expenses but before benefits and 401k elections, as those are voluntary, to see what my actual wage per minute. Mine came to about 0.49 per minute, which means those $2 cups of coffee really are costing me 4 minutes.

  8. I don’t know about rich literally stealing time from the poor, but from what I gathered in the movie, criminals definitely tried to steal time from others. I’m sure there are many arguments that the rich exploit the poor and that’s basically the same thing, and given the consequence for being “broke” is death instead of just working until you die, that is even more dramatic.

  9. For someone who writes about money you laid out beautifully how not to be consumed by money.

    Very thoughtfully written!


  10. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog says

    EXCELLENT metaphor. Now only if all the spouses understood that!

    I have written extensively about the true cost of even the shortest trips we make to 7 Eleven to pick up a loaf of bread. Accentuates the efficiencies to be gained from batch processing further.

  11. Great post J, keep them coming. I’m definitely going to watch this one.

  12. Vince Thorne says

    Good clean point made. the lesser you waste (spend) the more you will invest and the earlier you will gain financial autonomy from your employment status or as you put it….financial independence.

  13. I searched for time currencies and I found timekingdom.com who state that time currency units can be converted to time or to any other activity or condition. Unfortunately most of their money seem to be sold out except the “one seconds”…. 🙂

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