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Thoughts on Time Versus Money

If someone gave you five hundred dollars to spend on something that makes you happy, what would you buy?

Some new clothes? Gifts for friends and family? Or perhaps you’d donate the money to one of your favorite charities — after all, what could make you happier than that?

Well, there is something that makes most people happier, but we rarely consider it to be something we can buy: Time.

In this study published in June 2017, researchers concluded that people who pay others to complete time-consuming tasks for them are more satisfied with their lives than those who choose to tackle their unwanted chores. These results proved true across a wide range of incomes, careers and countries. It is important to note that one limitation of the study was that few people who lived at or below poverty level were included. Still, overall, the more time the subjects had, the more positive feelings, and less stress, they reported.

Why don’t more of us readily think of outsourcing some of our responsibilities to buy ourselves more free time?

According to Ashley Whillans, a social psychologist and the lead author of the above study, most people struggle daily with decisions of whether to place more value on time or money. For example: Do we take the toll bridge which will save time but cost money? Should we settle for a longer work commute in order to pay less rent? The list goes on.

Whillans believes that “people are notoriously bad at making decisions that will make them happier,” and suspects the abstract nature of time might be the reason. She says:

We always think we’re going to have more time tomorrow than we do right now, so we’re hesitant to trade money, which is concrete and measurable, for time, which is much more uncertain.

To me, this is the most compelling reason why we should give ourselves and our loved ones the gift of time. It is uncertain. Life is uncertain. As cliché as it might sound, it’s true: we never know what tomorrow will or will not bring. We need to make the most of today and not wait for when we “have more time.”

At no other point in my life was this more obvious than when I held my six-week-old daughter in my arms as she took her last breath. The only thing in the world I wanted was time. I would have given up everything I owned or previously thought was important to have more time with my baby. It was the only thing that mattered. I vowed at that point to spend as much time as I could with those I care about.

If you are lucky enough to have people in your life who want to be with you, please consider freeing up as much time as you can afford to spend with them.

Choose time. It doesn’t matter if you do something special or just “hang out” – it is being together that’s important. And you’ll end up with the added bonus of creating life-long memories. In my book, those memories, like time, are priceless.

Thoughts on Time Versus Money

Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog,, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.

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APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). Thoughts on Time Versus Money. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Aug 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.