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How Much is Your Time Worth?

by Ryan Guina

Yesterday I wrote an article about outsourcing tasks for my small business and one of the commenters mentioned that the same principles can apply to your personal life. I agree 100%. I recently wrote an article about whether or not changing your own oil was worth the savings. My time is more valuable to me than the few dollars I would save by doing it myself.

Other commenters mentioned outsourcing yard work, car maintenance, home repair, taxes, or other tasks. Many of these tasks can be accomplished by the average person, so long as he is willing to invest a little time and energy into learning how to do the task. But sometimes the time it would take to learn a new task is more valuable than spending the money to hire someone who already has the skills. Or in the case of the story below, time can be more valuable than the cost to purchase a tool to make life easier.

The story of the riding lawnmower

My friend and I were talking at work the other day about his elderly neighbor who is moving into a town home where his yard work is part of the association fees. His neighbor offered to sell him his gently used riding lawnmower for a reasonable price. But my friend wasn’t sure if he really needed a riding lawnmower.

Our conversation went something like this:

Coworker: “I’m just not sure if I need a riding lawnmower. I’ve used a push mower for years, my mower is still in good condition, and the exercise is good for me.”

Me: “How long does it take you to mow your yard?”

Coworker: “About an hour and a half.”

Me: “And you mow your yard, what, every 3 or 4 days?”

Coworker: “Yeah. Sometimes more often in the spring.”

Me: “So from April to October you spend 3-plus hours per week pushing a mower… 12-plus hours per month, and 84-plus hours per season.”

Coworker: “Yeah, I guess so.”

Me: “You do realize that a riding lawnmower can give you back 2 full days of your life every year. Not two weekend afternoons, but two around-the-clock 24 hour days.”

Coworker: Silence.

The next day my coworker told me it took him half an hour to mow his lawn with his gently used riding lawnmower. And he had an extra hour to play outside with his children.

How Much is Your Time Worth?


Published or updated June 11, 2009.
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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dividend Growth Investor

Now if your co-worker hires someone else to mow his lawn he would have even more time to himself ;-)

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2 Craig

It’s all about time efficiency. I am lucky with my work hours that I can do a little bit of reading in the morning and can go to the gym during lunch. So by the time I get home, I can just make dinner, shower and relax the rest of the night to do whatever. No matter what you do, its all about time efficiency.

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3 Hank

Great story! Now I have some ammunition to try and get my wife to let me buy a riding lawn mower.

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4 Miranda

This is exactly why I have my accountant do my taxes instead of spending 5-6 hours on it myself. I think that there is a lot to be said for having the time to do the things you want to do. It makes you more relaxed, and that can affect other areas of your life and relationships.

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5 Enrique s

It looks like it was the right decision for him to buy the riding mower, because it saves him time. My neighbor bought a riding mower like the landscapers have. I use a cheap mower that cost about $140, which isn’t self-propelled. We have the same size lawn. It takes me an hour and a half to mow my lawn. It takes him 3 hours on his new toy. Both my time & money are important to me.

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6 Ryan

Sounds like he is just having fun, which is probably just as important to him as your time is to you. Or he could just be avoiding his wife. ;-)

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7 Four Pillars

I have to respectfully disagree with this story – I love push mowers because they also provide exercise as well as mow the lawn so the extra time isn’t just wasted.

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8 Frank

Lets break your argument down. how much “exercise’ is he getting in 1.5 hours of “walking” and “pushing” a 40lb piece of equipment on wheels? I would argue that he is mildly increasing his heart rate to about 50% MAX HR at best for that 1.5 hours and burning 200-300 calories.

If he uses the riding mower he:

saves himself an hour of time

dedicates 30 minutes to moderate to vigorous exercise (15 minutes run or recumbent bike (65-75% Max HR) burns 200-300 calories (same as walking and getting covered in grass for 1.5 hours and better for the cardio respiratory system)

does another 15 minutes of weight training or a combination of push ups, sit ups, pull up (building overall core and upper body strength, burning another 150+ calories)

He still has 30 minutes to shower and watch an episode of his favorite show all while getting better “exercise” and not walking in circles in the back yard.

End result: Riding mower make more “cents” and is healthier for you! That is if you exercise the other 30 minute.

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9 Paul @ FiscalGeek

I was just thinking last saturday that I needed a riding lawn mower, unfortunately it won’t also pick up dog poop.

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10 Abigail

For me, it’s actually less about the value of my time. I have VERY limited energy thanks to some health problems. So I have to pick and choose my battles. And even then, I don’t always get a stable, predictable set of energy. So, at every errand, I have to stop and evaluate how I am doing. I get a very specific feeling right before I crash — and it is absolutely terrifying and thoroughly exhausting to drive in that condition. So, errands are prioritized. And, generally, timed to be in the same area.

In this sense, there are times when I have to put a price on my energy. Should I make the extra trip for the cheap fruit? Or leave it for another day? Or pay slightly more for the fruit at this store?

In general, small differences are okay. If it’s a matter of 25 or 50 cents, and I’m only buying one or two, generally that’s worth the energy saved. But, often, I simply decide to go without, rather than pay a little more.

Of course, that’s not always an option. When we are out of milk, for example. I’ve been known to pay as much as an extra $1 for a gallon. (I know this probably seems laughable to some. To me, it’s a big deal and I wrestle with guilt.)

I guess, for me, knowing that I could get an item for significantly less elsewhere often takes away my appetite for the item. I am willing to delay my gratification in order to save the money. But, of course, we’re working on a very tight budget, so these things make a big difference.

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11 Ryan

Abigail, the important thing is that you have been able to work with your medical condition to find a solution that works for you. This concept can be applied to time, money, recreation, or anything else that has a “value” associated with it. We have finite resources and need to prioritize those for the best possible return for our situation.

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12 No Debt Plan

Great point. Sometimes it isn’t just the cost of the expense that you need to look at. Especially with kids, time is so valuable. Spending an extra $20 might be the best thing you could do. Good job helping him out. :)

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13 Rajeev Singh

I truly agree that if the time saved by outsourcing fe wof our daily chores is worth more than the money spent on outsourcing we must do so… it makes both economic and social sense. Saves you money and time both while giving work to someone who needs it.

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14 frugalscholar

I’m somewhat ambivalent about the concept. Plus, I think do it yourself provides good role-modeling for children. And, these tasks are often family tasks.

You can also reverse the concept: doing things yourself provides a tax-free hourly wage. Once you add the taxes back, you might find it’s more “worth” doing things.

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15 Ryan

frugalscholar, The “do it yourself” approach is a great example for children. But not at the expense of not spending time with them.

I don’t think it is necessary to outsource everything, or pay for every possible convenience. And that’s not what I recommend. I think it’s best to take a balanced approach.

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16 Frugal Dad

Funny…I recently went through the same exact same exercise with my wife after our riding mower broke. I was convinced I could just use the push mower and save our emergency fund. She convinced me I would be spending much more time in the yard than doing things like writing my blog, spending time with the kids, etc. When put that way, it was a no brainer – got the riding mower fixed.

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17 Curious Cat Investing Blog

I do think about what my time is worth when looking at options but also other considerations come into play. And one thing you have to think of is the time it takes to find a good option. I don’t mind working in my yard and figure it is good to spend some time outside. But I don’t like cleaning up :) And it is nice to pay someone to clean the house.

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18 Kristen

I’m just back to work after a week on jury duty, so I’m catching up. This is the exact reason why we pay someone to clean our house twice a month. Both my husband and I work full-time jobs, plus he has a part-time job and I freelance. It’s such a help to have some help. Our housecleaner does a fabulous job. She cleans the floors on her hands and knees. She even cleans little things like the coffee pot and the inside of our toothbrush holder. I still sweep and spot clean clean in between her visits, but it saves me the big cleaning time. It’s worth every penny.

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19 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

Nice post! Sometimes you really do have to break it down like your riding mower example to see the value.

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20 Smart Money

Those ride on mowers looks fun. My uncle can’t help but mow his side and everyone around him because he enjoys riding the mower around. Now if he had to push one…he’d rather be inside drinking a chilled beer…

Commonly outsourced tasks are gardening/yard maintenance, tax returns, cleaning and tutoring… it’s definitely a tradeoff with your relaxation time to be doing those tasks because professionals can do those tasks a lot faster rather than you spending your time and stressing over it.

Travel time… people often don’t understand the cost of time spent travelling. The further out you live from the CBD/work, the more you have to travel, but in general, rent is cheaper. The closer you live to the CBD, the more expensive everything is from rent to food. My point is, people with lower incomes mistakenly choose to live close to the CBD and struggle financially when their time isn’t as valued by their earnings.

EG: If rent in the CBD is $300/week and if you rent out of the city CBD and the rent is $200/wk but you need to travel an extra 5 hours/week.

Then that 5 hours of extra travel time equates to a saving of $100/week… so is your time worth more than $20/hour? If you earn $10/hr for example, then you are better off living out of the CBD. And if you earn $30/hour, then it may be more valuable to you to live closer to the CBD and cut your travelling time.

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