Skip to Content

The Value of Time

IMG_20160813_185658You did everything right: maxed out your retirement accounts, invested in index funds, paid off all debt, saved half your gross income, and did every home project and car repair yourself to save money. If you are like me this describes you to a T. I save a massive amount of my income in tax advantaged retirement plans and stuff non-qualified accounts, too. Very few jobs are off-limits to me. The roof is bad; I go up there and spank on another set of shingles after tearing off the old ones. A bad light switch is an easy fix after a short visit to the hardware store. I clip my own lawn at home and the office; I grow most of the food I consume; I bike to work even though it is a 30 miles round-trip; change the oil in the car; and I have no problem with a paint brush.

Once per month Mrs. Accountant makes a major grocery run. Once per week she picks up milk and a few perishable staples. There are times we make our own bread, but milk needs constant resupply with kiddos in the house. Most items we consume at home or at the office are ordered online. Most of the time the price is cheaper, even with shipping costs added. When you consider the value of time and the cost of driving around town shopping, most online purchases delivered are a bargain.

Things Overheard

Several months ago I overheard Pete Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, say he was toying with the idea of having his groceries delivered. His argument was his time was worth more than the few dollars in savings running around town doing it himself. My first thought was, How un-Mustachian of the ‘ol boy. Here is a guy who does all his own projects. He bikes around town and consumes only 25 gallons (95 liters) of gas a year. Now the bum wants to have his groceries delivered? Really!

But he has a good point. My time (and his) is worth a lot. My billing rate at the office ranges from $120 and up. There are projects I get paid $2,200 an hour to do. How much is grocery shopping worth now? My time is valuable and so is yours. Even in retirement your time is a valuable asset. You have the same amount of time in a day as the richest man on the planet and the poorest bum. The rich/wealthy have no time advantage. What you do with that time is up to you. Spent wisely you have a cherished life of happiness and wealth; squandered, and you have increasing regrets as time takes its toll.

There is an advantage I have over most people. Pete is my tax client and I get to speak with him as much as I want. My worldview is beneficial, but guys like Pete see the world in a way that is not always obvious to me. There are times the guy says things that blow my mind away. Who the hell is the one working with clients every day for the last thirty years? You would think my experience working with people from all walks of life and business owners would put me front and center. For some reason Pete sees the world differently. It should be obvious, but it eludes us mere mortals.

The Next Step

There are things I insist on doing and justify the actions by saying it saves me money. For example: I clip the lawn at my office. If I hired the work done professionally it would cost under a thousand dollars per year. Knock another 30% off the cost for taxes. Now I saved maybe $600. Was it worth my time? Hmm.

Karen is my office manager. Her husband, Chris, is in the military. When he is home he loves working on buildings. He spends most of his time helping a landlord with a large number of properties. I had a project in the office to repair some water damage around the sump pump exit. I dragged my feet forever until I finally asked Chris to do the job. He did. I bought the parts needed and he billed me $150 for his day of labor, including the running around to pick up parts. I am certain my gas and tools required to do the job would have been more than $150. Doing it myself would have been more expensive and Chris did a better job than I would have and faster!

There are only so many days we get to live. We need to choose wisely what we do with them. People like me want to experience everything life has to offer, but it is impractical. Sometimes it is best to defer to the professionals. I discovered years ago installing flooring was not a good project for me to undertake. I decided to install carpet in one of my first rentals and quickly learned it was a skill I would probably never master. I don’t want to talk about how the job looked when I was finished. If you ever meet me and I tell you I have installed carpeting, just smile and humor an old man. I can still remember the address of that property, how we found the property, and what we paid for it. That was twenty-five years ago. Some scars run deep.

31hn1RJnQwL._BO1,204,203,200_Valuing Time

There are no hard and fast rules for valuing your time. A starting point might be to put a price tag of at least $40 per hour on the time it will take you to complete the job and compare it to what it will cost a professional to do it instead. Your level of experience and competence with the project involved will weigh heavy in the decision-making process of who does the work.

Readers of Mr. Money Mustache and The Wealth Accountant sometimes feel they have to do everything in life exactly like us. That is crazy! What Pete or I do is irrelevant to what you do. I installed carpet to save money, but hated the job; I’m not much of a remodeler. It was no surprise it turned out the way it did. Tax preparation may be the same with you. The odds are high I will prepare your taxes faster, better and cheaper than you can do it yourself. If you over pay your taxes because you don’t understand all the tax advantages available, your higher tax bill is what replaced your tax preparation bill. Bet I am starting to look cheap. Okay, I am not always faster; I am busy as hell.

Your time is worth something. Maybe not $120 per hour or even $40, but it is worth something. Certain jobs should be handled by an experienced professional. Your furnace or air conditioner is best left to a pro unless you happen to be a HVAC professional. That said you can educate yourself on any subject you want. I recommend educating yourself on a project before hiring a pro.  It is not necessary to possess the skills of a star quarterback to be an outstanding quarterback coach; the two jobs are not synonymous. I enjoy certain roofing jobs and will happily join in when a roof needs repair. I am not afraid of hard work or long hours, but, as Clint Eastwood said, “A man has to know his limitations.”

Picking the Right Projects to Do Yourself

The hard part is deciding what to do on your own and when to bring in the cavalry. Money is not the only deciding factor. Life is about happiness. Money can bring freedom to choose and, if handled properly, accentuate happiness. Money allows you the ability to choose which projects bring you the greatest pleasure doing yourself.

Clipping the lawn at the office is a bit of exercise at the end of the day I enjoy so I will not hire out the work at this time. If it becomes a chore I have the financial resources to hire the work done. At home I love working around the farm. My place is not immaculate by any means; I like the old, used look more. I don’t care what the neighbors think. In my neighborhood the neighbors pretty much live like I do. I hired the best contractor in town when I installed a mound system; the project was well out of my league. Other landscaping and gardening projects only exist because Mrs. Accountant and I like doing them. Once they stop being fun the projects end.

If a DIY project does not trip your trigger consider hiring it out. Life is too short wasting time on things that do not bring you pleasure. This is not selfish pleasure I am talking about either. What I am talking about is jobs that bring a level of satisfaction when doing them. It is not about money then, it is about doing something you like doing. Once you understand what a project entails from your research, you can decide if it will bring you happiness performing the tasks of the project. If it makes you happy then you can decide if it is a wise financial move to DIY. Now you are able to make the right decision.

Or, you can do what I did installing carpet over on Roosevelt Street. It was a work of art. As memory serves I sold the damn place shortly thereafter. Nightmares.


Sunday 14th of August 2016

Keith, I find it very strange that you value your time based on the marginal benefit of working an additional hour for a client. Especially given your stories about this most recent tax season. I am very curious as to why do you do this. Could you please elaborate? Since you are financially independent and do not need the money why is the value of your time based on client billing rates. Wouldn't classical economic theory suggest that the marginal ulility of an additional dollar of income be close to zero for someone like yourself?

Keith Schroeder

Sunday 14th of August 2016

Scott, I used my office billing rate because that is what someone would pay me for my time. Understand, Scott, I do not work for money any more than Steve Jobs worked until the last month of his life for money. We do it because we love what we do. The value is not more money, it is happiness. If you asked me what I want to do more than anything else I would say I am already doing it. I love running my own business. Every time I plan on retiring I backtrack as I realize there is nothing I want to do more.

I think I was clear on why I do some of the things I do. I clip lawn at the office because I like doing it. Trust me, I am not licking my lips over a quick $600 or so of extra money doing it myself. I enjoyed farming for a few decades and now have only chickens. I miss my boys (the steers). Maybe I go back into raising animals. We all have to pick what gives us the greatest pleasure. It is impossible to do everything. With money, I have the choice to do what I want to do. There is my utility.