The Value of Time and Money

The Value of Time I’ve often made reference on My Money Design that time is the only true currency.  Even when we think of money as a currency, really all we’re doing with it is buying the convenience of goods and services that we would otherwise have to use our time to obtain.

And while as deep or philosophical as I think I’m being, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a movie a movie with a subtle plot that made me think about how our society looks at the value of time and money.

So don’t laugh.  The movie was the sci-fi flick In Time with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried.  I know, I know – Not the best example.  I’m sorry if I’ve already lost you, but hear me out.  There will be a point to all of this.


Could the Value of Time Be a True Currency?

The Value of Time The thing that intrigued me about it and caused me to write this post was the premise.  Basically it goes like this:  In the future, the value of time is so great that you pay for everything with it instead of money.  The way it works is that you stop aging at 25 and you receive one year of “time” that you wear on your arm.  Each second that you live your time clock on your arm decreases.  Every time you make a purchase, it goes down even faster.  Think of it like a running checking account balance that is constantly getting lower and lower.  When it finally hits zero, you die.

You can increase your time currency by working to earn more “time”.  You can also give it away to others by simply holding their arm.  However, unfortunately the balances of society are such that the rich and elite control all the prices on everything, and that makes it so that the lower class can barely get by.  There are also gangs that go around and steal time from people.

If you’re lucky enough to be a member of the upper society, then you get to horde all the time that your family has “earned”.  Essentially you and your loved ones can live forever.


Parallels Between What is Happening Now:

As ridiculous of an economy as that may be (even for a sci-fi movie), I found it to be an interesting metaphor for the way our society understands and values time.

Consider the following:

  • Most of us start off in this world with nothing but time.  We graduate from college starting with almost no savings or possibly even in deep student loan debt.  But we have a strong 30 to 50 years of time that we can work.
  • Early in our careers we come to depend on material processions, needing more and more things.  Cars, mortgages, gadgets, etc.  In order to get more money, we trade more of our time by working longer, going after promotions, or even getting other jobs.  We’re placing more emphasis on the things we want rather than our time.
  • The unfortunate ones get stuck in this rut.  They may work paycheck to paycheck for decades never really sufficiently saving or preparing for a future where they might not be able to provide for themselves.
  • Eventually they can no longer work due to medical problems or other reasons.  Without money they don’t have access to the best medical care or may have to continue to live in less than desirable living conditions (i.e. run down neighborhoods – how many of you know an elder person who refuses to leave their home even though the old neighborhood has gone to hell?)
  • Most regrettably of all is that while they were trading their time for money to buy more stuff, they squandered the time they could have spent with their loved ones: Spouse, children, parents, etc.

In contrast:

  • The ones who were smart and stashed their money away were able to buy their time back.
  • They can afford proper medical attention and prescriptions.  They can pay their bills.  They can move if they want to.
  • They can retire by Age 65 or sooner.  They can spend their golden years with their families and grandchildren enjoying whatever time is that they may have left.
  • The truly savvy ones will find a way to make sure that their fortune passes on to their other family members so that they can enjoy the same privileges as well.  Although they are not “immortal” in the sense of the definition, their money and family name can carry on like a dynasty through generations.

So is it really such a stretch that people in the future would work all day at their factory jobs just to extend their lives by a few more hours?  People of today do the same thing.  They trade their current time for money.  That money may get them by until next week; it may get them by a little more.  But unless they are saving and stashing away for a later date, the likelihood of prolonging their lives will be significantly reduced.


Keeping Perspective on What I Value:

The Value of Time The last thing I want to do is work my entire life only to sit upon my golden throne as an old man and realize that life had passed me by.  My children are grown, my loved ones distant, and my health withering.  I consider this to be an extreme ending to a life where priorities were not properly aligned.

But in the context of this discussion, the relationship between time and money makes this hard to realize.  Most people do not understand the value of time, and they see their only opportunity to increase their well-being by working more hours.  The allure of overtime and increased pay makes it an even sweeter deal to pass up.  They are forced into a life of submission where they feel their employers will terminate their roles if they don’t “play along”.  And to top it all off all the rising costs with gas, food, education, gadgets, and entertainment only widen the gap that much further.

There have been a number of people that urge us to think of our wants and needs in terms of time rather than dollar amount.  When you use a credit card or money in the bank, it’s easy to spend a thousand dollars on something.  When you think about how it took you a year to save up that thousand dollars, you might re-consider the actual urgency of that material possession.  Please give this philosophy some thought and apply it the next time you think about how you want to spend your time on something.  You might just find that you’re more valuable than you think.

Though we may never get to a point where there’s a running clock on our arm and we use it to pay for everything with our time, make no mistake: We already pay for everything with our time.  We don’t value it as we should.  We may exchange it for money, relationships, services, or leisure, but it all comes from our ultimate currency: The time we have left in this life.


Related Posts:

1)      Want Some Financial Motivation? Get Off Your Computer and Go Outside!

2)      Believing In Yourself After Finding Out That You Suck

3)      My Post Retirement Ideas for When I Become Financially Free

Images courtesy of IMDB |


    • MMD says

      Well put! That’s all I really want out of all this – flexibility. I don’t want to yield my lifestyle, but also have the power of financial freedom. I’m convinced its possible to have both because you read / see it so often.

  1. says

    I love your metaphor. I have never even heard of the movie although I think I might enjoy watching it now.

    When we look at our purchases in time rather than money it really does help to scale back. I don’t make much per hour, so I need to start keeping my time value in mind when I think about making frivolous purchases.
    Alexa recently posted..How to Market Your Online Freelance BusinessMy Profile

    • MMD says

      A young single gal like you passed up a movie with JT?

      It’s hard when you don’t make that much per hour. All the sudden every small purchase starts adding up more and more. It really makes you question what you do and don’t need.

    • MMD says

      Now there’s a motivator! Death always lights a fire under me to do a lot of things I should be doing better. I think when you start to realize your time if finite and not to be taken lightly, you realize how important it is to make the best of what you have now.

  2. says

    “I know, I know – Not the best example. I’m sorry if I’ve already lost you, but hear me out. There will be a point to all of this.” Lol, I know…it is a bit of a cheesy movie, but the underlying point about time is a good one. We really try and look at the time it took us to get said money when we spend it. I’ve noticed in the time we’ve been running our own business that I have become much more sensitive to it.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Is Investing in the Stock Market Really That Easy?My Profile

    • MMD says

      Some of JT’s one-liners were pretty bad. But overall the movie kept me entertained.

      I can imagine that when you run your own business you look at time in a whole different way. That’s actually my biggest fear of going out on my own: Not being able to draw the line between when work is done and family/relax time starts. I do that a lot when I travel where I make phone calls and email at all hours of the night. If I ran my own business, I’d probably dig myself into a hole in the ground.

  3. Justin @ The Family Finances says

    I know the plot of the movie, but I’ve never actually watched it. It makes a lot of sense. Time is the only thing that we just absolutely cannot get more of. There’s always more money out there to be earned, but there’s only so much time. Once that final day comes, that’s it. I make a point to spend lots of time with my wife and little boy.
    Justin @ The Family Finances recently posted..A Parent’s Guide to Buying a HomeMy Profile

    • MMD says

      If its ever on Netflix or one of the movie channels, its worth checking out.

      You’re absolutely right. Although a little extreme, the concept makes perfect sense. You only have a limited amount of time, so what will you do with it? I think you’re very wise to use what you have with your wife and son. Those early years with your kids go by very fast; cherish them.

  4. says

    Great comparison MMD. I think you did very well on this one. We have lost our ability to value time. With such a consumer driven world, we only focus on building money, with no correlation to time. Money is our standard, but time only continues to decrease. We cannot get it back, but you can gain and lose money. It is all about priorities.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..Money Multitasking – Concept and ExecutionMy Profile

    • MMD says

      Thanks Grayson. And to some degree I think that was the point the movie was trying to make. If time was a physical currency, would you still spend it so frivolously? In the real world, we do this all the time and don’t realize it. We think that money is for “stuff” without realizing what it can really buy us – security and freedom = two of the best things you could ever own.

    • MMD says

      Well put Peter. We do tend to speak of both as if they were living breathing forces. The problem is that we let them over-power us when really we must train ourselves to be in control.

    • MMD says

      Was there really going to be a squeal? I feel like they’ll make a squeal to just about anything these days.

  5. says

    So is the movie any good? JT surprises me as an actor…he’s pretty good. Anyway, this reminds me so much of what I learned from the book Your Money or Your Life. I don’t want to piss it away on stupid stuff that is only going to make me work harder and longer now and in the future. But then again I don’t want to miss out on experiences and opportunities…it’s about finding the balance and valuing what you do buy or spend money on.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..How to Date on a BudgetMy Profile

    • MMD says

      I was entertained! It’s worth watching on DVD or HBO, etc. JT has been surprising me on many things: movies, music, comedy, etc. He’s had some good runs lately.

      I’ve really got to read Your Money or Your Life. It seems like one of those must-haves that is missing from my library of books I’ve read. The more I think about it I’m less about having a fancy car or bigger house, and all for using my money to have experiences, find opportunities, and do things that are out of my comfort zone. Those are the things I remember, and I consider it to be time well spent.

    • MMD says

      Despite some execution flaws with the acting, I also enjoyed the message behind the plot. It was a very literal example of selling your time for all the things you need or want in life.

  6. says

    I think compounding interest goes along with time and money. The earlier we save will give us a chance of getting rich soon. Maybe, some of us are working for the money. We need to be happy while earning. Find a job or business where your happiness is present because boredom will be solved. Let us be patient and committed in saving our money because time will let it grow.
    anthony a. @ financial freedom ideas recently posted..Yearly Budget Plan will guide us on where to save our resources.My Profile

    • MMD says

      Nicely put. I see first hand the benefits of money I started investing 10 years ago. While it would have been fun to spend that money at the time, I’m now more excited by how much it has grown to.

  7. says

    Money is nothing when you are not having enough time to enjoy it. Time is still something to be much more appreciated and money is just a way for the time to be enjoyed and maximized because it will not wait for us. Time will just come and go before we even notice it.
    Jeremy Norton recently posted..Help with Setting up a BusinessMy Profile

    • MMD says

      Time will come and go. And once its gone, it will be the thing we value the most. So if we are to appreciate it now, we’ll need a paradigm shift to recognize how important it is and what we should be doing with it now.

  8. says

    Turning 40 next year has really made me stop and take a look at how fast time goes. I guess according to statistics, I’m halfway done, and I certainly want to make the most of the time I have, especially while my daughter is little and I am in good health. So many people don’t get that time to enjoy life until they are too old to really enjoy it, and I am determined not to fall into that camp.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Eyes on the Dollar 20/20 Roundup #43- Pacific Northwest VacationMy Profile

    • MMD says

      Just being conscious it will keep you from joining that lonely group. You’ve got the right priorities with your family and health.

  9. says

    I think time is only valuable if you have motivation and ability do something about it.
    Otherwise value is ZERO. Look at the unemployment rates in 7-9%, among youngsters up to 25%….

    Yes, when you are engaged in lucrative business or project, you start missing your time off. Do not be fooled, this could stop any time. Earn as much as you can you, till you can…

    Greatest motivation for you 10-14 year kid is a successful parent..
    Financial Independence recently posted..April 2013 update ($238,300 +$4,470 or +1.8%)My Profile

    • MMD says

      That would be my biggest fear if I was self employed: Not knowing where that line is between working and not working. I can identify. Even with my blog I sometimes spend too much of my time on it when I really should be paying more attention to those around me.


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