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Budgeting your time

When the word ‘budget’ comes up, most of us picture an Excel spreadsheet with two columns, one good and one not so good.

Of course it’s good to plan your finances (and if you’re not doing that, let me be the millionth person to tell you that you really, really should) but one thing that does not get enough attention is the budgeting of time.
All we have is time. When we get down to brass tacks, it is really the only currency that matters because it is all we really have. Most of us do not even know how much of it we have left, which makes its management all the more challenging and crucial.
It is just rather difficult (with current technology at least) for it to change hands in a capitalistically meaningful way, so we’ have found ourselves using more practical alternatives. The barter system (which is simple enough to work chronologically) evolved into the more efficient exchange of precious metals, which are rapidly being replaced by the superior exchange of ones and zeros in the information age.
And somewhere along the way, we have forgotten what the point of it all is. Having spent the beginning of my life in a country still washing out the after taste of communism, I grew up in an atmosphere of many unspoken rules that I later learned did not have to apply in life. One of these was the idea that only in the elite aristocracy is it commonplace to pay for a service that you can provide for yourself. Many of us young bourgeoisie and proletarian adults still live under the impression that because we can all cook, clean, iron, etc., we should do these things – why?- so that we can save money.
I think we have it all backwards. We generally do not mind spending a couple of thousand dollars more on a large purchase, because we know exactly where that money is going, some extra inches on that LED TV would surely make a world of difference.
Although we may not directly think of it this way, we are paying for time spent better than it would have been watching a smaller, cheaper screen. We have heard the old saying “you can’t take it with you” but we know we are not paying for the item; we are paying for the enjoyment we expect it to bring.
So far, so good. Here is the part were we tend to veer off into the wrong lane. While we are happy to part with some extra money to maximize our pleasure, we seem far less willing to spend money on minimizing the unpleasant parts of life. We do our own laundry in order to save money to pay for the loan that we took to buy that TV.
I suspect the reason behind this is that we do not like to buy time unless we know how we are going to use it. We seem afraid of being left to our own devices, perhaps we just do not want the burden of having to decide what to do with ourselves.
This minor epiphany came to me very recently when I walked into a building with ‘Laundry Services’ written in large, friendly letters on the gate. I found out that they could wash and iron a month’s worth of my clothes in a single day for about N$350. Using a very rounded-down estimate, I concluded that I spend at least ten hours every month on laundry-related activities. At that point the question had to be asked: Are ten hours of my life worth N$350?
I concluded, no and that was one of the first times I paid to have something done that I could have done myself. As a bonus, the following day I found out to my complete lack of surprise, that they were also far better at doing laundry than me. And more importantly, I could now use the ten hours that I bought myself to do something productive that I am actually good at. The parsimony is quite beautiful when you stop for a second and think about it.
‘Time is money’, we have all heard this cliche repeated as nauseam by people trying to sound important. But put differently, it illuminates a point that seems lost on far too many of us: Money is time.
We work eight hours a day to earn the remaining sixteen. I think that is a fair deal. It may seem unfair if you are discussed on saving money at the expense of your time, and if you do that, you have missed the point: Money is just a middleman. Use it to buy time, instead of spending time to buy money.
This is your life, and it is ending one minute at a time. Make the best of it.

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