Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
Time and money are both limited resources. How do you decide when to spend money to save time versus when to save money by doing something yourself that takes time?
The decision of whether to spend money to save time comes down to time management and the state of your finances.
Following is a look at how to make that decision, along with what kinds of things make sense to spend money on to save time.
Evaluating your time
Look at how you spend your week. After work/commuting and sleeping, calculate how many hours are left, and estimate how much time you spend on chores (cooking, cleaning, household maintenance, etc.) and how much you spend on leisure (hobbies, TV, playing with your family).
Does the balance seem good, or do you need more free time to accomplish your personal and professional goals?
If the answer to the last question is yes, it might be worth your while to spend money to save time. But before you do, consider your financial situation. Do you have the cash available to spend money to free up more of your time? Or do you need that money to get your finances under control?
Until you have your financial house in order, you can’t afford to spend money to save time.
What does that look like? Here, we take a look at situations in which you do not want to spend money to save time, how you can better spend your time to save more money and — when you are in a better financial situation — when you should consider spending money to free up your precious time.
When you should not spend money to save time
If you are teetering on the edge of financial disaster, are one paycheck away from financial ruin or have no money left to save at the end of each month, you do not have the luxury of saving time by spending money — regardless of what you are doing with the extra time.
Time is less valuable than money when:
- You do not have an emergency fund to pay for eight months of expenses.
- You have any kind of consumer debt: credit cards, car loans, a home equity loan or student loan debt.
- You don’t have enough savings to replace your car(s) and appliances and to pay for home maintenance.
- You cannot fund your retirement adequately.
If any or all of the above apply to you, you have to spend more time and less money to get your finances in order.
Better ways to spend your time to save or earn more money
The statistics indicate that the average working American has 4.2 hours per day for “leisure” and “other” activities.
Of those 4.2 hours per day, the average American spends 2.8 hours watching television. That’s more than 1,000 hours per year watching television. Is that really the best use of your free time, especially if you’re struggling with debt?
If you want to improve your financial situation, you can reallocate your time from doing less productive things to doing things that will earn or save you more money. Here are a few:
Get a (better) job. Trade some of your leisure hours for working hours if you want to increase your earnings to pay down debt or increase your savings.
Spend your time working paid overtime or getting a second job, such as a retail job, tutoring, walking dogs, babysitting, etc. Or spend the time looking for a better and higher-paying full-time job.
Manage your finances. Spend more time reviewing your budget and your bills and expenditures each month. Work to reduce or even eliminate some of them (cable, gym, expensive cellphone plans, etc.). If you can find even $20 a month to invest in the stock market instead of spending it, you can watch your money grow rather than disappear.
Meal plan. Spend more time creating a meal plan and a shopping list each week based on multiple grocery store sale items. Shopping where the sales are, even if you spend more time shopping, is a productive use of time because you will save big on your food bills.
In addition, spend more time cooking dinners and making lunches and snacks rather than dining out, getting takeout or buying pricey grocery store convenience foods.
Do your own chores. Spend more time performing household tasks that we currently pay someone else to do, such as cleaning, lawn care, snow removal and simple home maintenance tasks.
Do personal care at home. Spend more time performing personal maintenance tasks rather than paying someone else to do them. This includes hair coloring, haircuts, facials, manicures, pedicures, teeth bleaching, etc.
Find free and cheap entertainment. Spend more time looking for free or almost free extracurricular activities rather than buying expensive gear, tickets or passes to amuse ourselves. Look for free and low-cost activities from your local Living on the Cheap website.
We get it — it’s not fun to spend time on budgeting and chores after a hard day of work.
But if your financial situation is in crisis mode, spending a little extra time each day on tasks that will save you or earn you more money is worth it when you can pay off your debt and increase your financial cushion.
When you should consider spending money to save time
Once your financial house is in order, you can afford to spend more money in order to save time. But don’t go crazy! Before spending money to save time, think about what you’re freeing up your time to do and decide if that’s more valuable.
For example, if you’re paying someone to do something you could do yourself because you’re lazy or don’t want to do that chore, it’s not a good use of your money.
However, if you’re freeing up time so you can pursue a hobby or passion, spend more time with your family or pursue a side hustle to earn more money than you’re spending, then the money you pay is well worth it.
Here are occasions when spending money to save time is a good idea (again, assuming your finances are in order).
Child care. If paying for someone else to watch your kids means you can get a job (or a better job), this is money well spent.
Even if at first, your pay is not much more than your babysitter, preschool or camp costs, investing in your career now puts you in a position to get promotions, raises and better, higher-paying jobs down the road.
Home maintenance and repair. DIY projects can take hours and hours of your time if you’re not experienced, and mistakes can lead to spending more time — and more money — to fix the issue.
Pay a professional to do the job right the first time around, and in half the time it would take you, so you can spend your time in a smarter, more efficient manner.
Meal prep. We all know that convenience foods, meal prep services and restaurant meals cost more than homemade dinners.
But if the early evening hours are the only time you have to spend with your family, it’s worth paying more to take some of the cooking burden off your shoulders, so you can have quality time with your kids.
Or, if buying the more expensive pre-shredded cheese or chopped-up butternut squash means the difference between a healthy, home-cooked meal and yet another TV dinner or takeout meal, the slight extra expense is worth it.
House cleaning. My cleaners can make my entire home sparkling in under three hours, whereas without them, my whole family spends countless hours straightening up and cleaning bathrooms, and there’s always some room that’s messy.
Especially if you want your entire house to be clean at the same time, spending money to get professionals to mop the floors and scrub the kitchen sink can bring you happiness and free up hours of your precious time.
Financial planning. If you’re not good with money, or will never sit down to figure out the best way to invest your funds, it’s worth paying a financial planner to help you out.
A good one should find ways to earn or save you more money, even after you’ve paid their fee. Similarly, an accountant can alert you to tax deductions you didn’t know you could take, or save you from making costly tax mistakes. Never mind the time you don’t have to spend cursing at TurboTax.