Should You Favor Time or Money?

Time and Money FinalTime and money—the sources of endless hand-wringing in modern society. No one ever seems to have enough, including the people we think probably do. Instead of struggling with primeval conditions of scarcity, many of us are encumbered with the so-called “first-world problems” of modern day. For most of us, there’s a whole range of choices and flexibility that Grok never had. That said, when we bring a Primal perspective to the fore, just what is a healthy and productive relationship to time and money? And how much of each do we need to be happy?

The fact is, our primal ancestors operated with a very different economy than the capitalist system many of us live and work within today. Social and cultural organization in Grok’s day, while far from “brutish,” was still unsophisticated with none of the luxuries or stressors that accompany advanced
economic structures. Grok and his kin still certainly needed and wanted things. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that even our Primal ancestors were attracted to form as well as function. (Evidence of shells and beads used for fashion date back to over 80,000 years ago.)

But no doubts about it, our primal ancestors lived in a world of relative material scarcity when compared to ours today. Their innate interest for the new and shiny, an adaptive characteristic that encouraged creativity and favored innovation, was naturally capped by the dearth of resources—or the work it took to produce items from their raw forms. As a result, Grok and his people had all the instinct for invention and collection of “things” but with a limited variety and quantity of actual possessions.

Today we obviously live in a very different scenario. We not only retain the natural inclination toward the new and novel, but have the ability to get it (or at least a lot of it). And at times, we get too much of it. This begs the question: how do we reconcile our primal desires with the modern infinitude of opportunity to indulge them? Call it the burden of choice if you will.

In a global economy where a few clicks can hunt down and ship just about anything we could ever dream up, what’s tempering our innate desire for accumulation today isn’t scarcity of options—it’s money and time.

Most of us have a limited amount of money, and we give up our time in order to earn it. In short, we “spend” our time to be able to “spend” money on the things we need or want. Less time working means less money to spend. But it also means more time to enjoy life.

To put it bluntly, we each are in a position (albeit some more comfortably and flexibly than others) to decide how much life we’re going to give up in the pursuit of possessions.

Yes, most of what the majority of us earn goes toward shelter, food, basic utilities, health related costs, and savings for future security. Even within that narrow band of essentials, however, many of us are still working with quite a free range of possibility. Will we live in a place where housing expenses run high, or will we move somewhere with a lower cost of living? How large of a house do we need to live in—and pay to heat, cool, furnish, repair, etc.? What will we pay to make it look the way we want it to?

And then there are those things we may not call necessities but unconsciously accept as default purchases. Things like smart phones or cable T.V., for example. Or even larger cars, snowblowers, lawn equipment, and the like. Our consumption is much more subjective than most of us would automatically assume.

Of course, many of us also bring values to our purchases that go beyond the personal time-money equation. We opt to pay more to support local businesses or “fair trade” exchange, or to buy from companies that institute certain environmental or humane production practices. We’re willing to work harder and longer to buy something that we feel makes a positive impact on our greater world.

And that doesn’t even crack open the influence of our other preferences—whether in the taste, color, material, brand, store, etc. for what we purchase.

Given this complicated picture, how do we decide when we have enough money—when we’ve reached that earning sweet spot where spending any additional time in pursuit of more things just doesn’t offer appreciable added good to our lives? How do we divvy up our life between time earning money to keep or acquire things and time enjoying family, friends, hobbies, health and other joys of life?

In short, how do we want to balance living with making a living?

It’s important to take a minute to pay attention to what comes up when you ask yourself that question. What reflections, justifications, resistance, hopes, resentments, gratitude, regrets, and visions does that question evoke?

Maybe we’ve felt overwhelmed by our mortgages for years or feel pressured by our current lifestyles or financial obligations. Perhaps we resent the hours we put in or the commute we do every day to maintain our current job. Maybe we’re celebrating some good choices we made (either recently or long in the past) that have allowed us to enjoy life more on our own terms. Maybe we regret certain decisions and wonder how to get back to a time when our needs were few and life felt a whole lot simpler.

Studies have demonstrated time and again that money increases contentment with one’s life only up to a certain income. Once basic needs are easily and consistently covered, researchers say there’s no further “progress” in the average person’s emotional well-being. A 2010 Princeton study settled on $75,000 a year for that threshold income, which has also been broken down by state and updated for 2015. Other research suggests today’s equivalent would be $83,000. Or, alternatively, that $50,000 is the better benchmark for life satisfaction.

But there’s something about any of these numbers that feels arbitrary and reductive. I’m sure we all know people (or fit this category ourselves) who have led happy, fulfilling, even enviable lives on much lower incomes—and know people who have huge incomes and never seem to be satisfied with anything.

Experts agree that how we live is much more important than how much money we have to live on. Research into the “happiest” countries of the world reveal that collective affluence isn’t the primary factor. (Mexico, for example, beat out the U.S. on that list.) Financial security, as indicated by the high rankings of Scandinavian countries, appears to be a positive factor. But again, this is only one influence among many, including the freedom to make one’s own life choices and one’s personal practice/perception of generosity.

Clearly our experience of abundance or abundant living isn’t easily quantified. Many countries that rank high on the “happiness” list also have shorter work weeks and/or ample vacation time. Again, time to enjoy what we have is often the scarcest and most underestimated commodity.

For some of us this might mean looking at options to decrease the amount of time we spend at work. It could be as simple as taking all of our allotted vacation time or looking for a job that requires fewer work or commute hours. It might entail transitioning to a different field in which you have the option of earning more money for less time investment.

Probably easier and more immediate for most of us, however, is examining where our money goes and making a conscious decision to reduce our perceived “needs.” Adherents of the “minimalist” lifestyle movement prioritize the freedom that comes from having fewer needs instead of pursuing more income—and it’s taken a recent foothold in popular culture. While plenty of mega-mansions are built every day, we’re also seeing the rise of “micro” homes.

These days, you also hear more about old-fashioned bartering—for everything from child care to business services. The Internet, of course, makes it easier to share rides, trade homes, or exchange labor. And in most cases, everybody wins.

Beyond the particular choices (e.g. “tiny houses), I think the real power here is this: in letting go of the idea we need to fully participate in the economy at-large and the social customs and standards that dominate, we open up the possibility for redrawing all kinds of boundaries, connections, and openings in our lives. We stop comparing our lives to others’ and finally find our way off the track we thought we had to be on.

When you begin with the notion that most of the rules you thought you had to live by aren’t carved in stone, and when you make the decision that the status quo doesn’t apply to you, more seems up for grabs than you’d thought possible. You start to think about the life you want and feel more flexible in letting go of old defaults. You become open to options you wouldn’t have considered before. Needs and wants shift considerably. Your thinking changes, and somehow you find others who think that way, too. Once you tap into that personal, vocational and economic momentum, life can change in significant ways if we really want it to. And when that happens, the trade offs between time and money—and how you should allocate your efforts to achieving each—usually become pretty clear.

So, I’m curious—how have you reconciled your need for time and money (or the things money buys)? What values have you come to prioritize as you organize your life and budget? Has Primal living influenced your thinking or choices?

Share your thoughts on the board, and thanks for reading. Have a great end to your week, everyone.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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51 thoughts on “Should You Favor Time or Money?”

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  1. People ask me why I don’t celebrate the holidays by draping my house and yard with decorations, or going bananas at some party decor store festooning my house and life with all things green (or some other chosen holiday color). People ask me why I also don’t have kids. I tell them that if I had kids, then I would be on the hook for draping my house and yard with ornaments, and be nagged to oblivion for all things green (or red, or some other color). No kids, no holiday obligations. No kids = no societal obligations.

    If I spent my time, energy, and money doing all that I wouldn’t be able to afford living the way I do now–eating quality food, drinking quality drinks, and enjoying quality health as a result. Yes, I chose money over time, but for a SHORT time only. Now I’m enjoying time over money.

    1. I find your reasoning, at least what you’ve outlined here, for not having children ludicrous. If you chose not to have kids, in order to free yourself from decorating for holidays and perceived societal obligations, you have a gross misunderstanding of what it is to be a parent. You say you value time over money, however the sentiment of this post says the opposite.

      Is reproduction not one of, if not the most, fundamental primal need?

      1. I’m not inside Wenchypoo’s head here, but I believe that she’s trying to make the point that having children imposes an entirely different calculus on one’s life when trying to find the time-money balance that Mark talks about.

        She’s right that becoming a parent unleashes a whole host of social obligations from which child-free people are exempt. Although there are many adults who enjoy decorating for holidays just for fun, there are many more who do it because it’s “for the children”, or because it’s what “good parents do,” or whatever.

        Wenchypoo has chosen to lead an adult-centered life relatively free of silly social pressures, and that is her prerogative.

      2. This is a great post. At 45, my husband and I decided to sell our home and live in a motorhome travelling around Australia. We did this for 5 years.

        I worked in a stressful professional capacity, with constant deadlines, meetings, projects, etc…etc..etc…
        Yes the pay was a compensation for the time I invested, but after the feeling of liberation during our travels, I realised we were happier living on a much reduced income, without all the material ‘stuff’ one accumulates in life.

        Now we have again gone into the housing market, however we live in a much smaller unit, still with minimal ‘stuff’ around us and we travel when we feel like it. Our life is much simpler, and enjoyable.

        On the questions of kids, I never had any, which was my choice to make. Everyone says how great they are, and I’m sure to their parents they are. I never felt the need to add to the human population, but of course everyone has their own choices to make both in life and in lifestyle.

    2. I find your reasoning, at least what you’ve outlined here, for not having children ludicrous. If you chose not to have kids, in order to free yourself from decorating for holidays and perceived societal obligations, you have a gross misunderstanding of what it is to be a parent. You say you value time over money, however the sentiment of this post says the opposite.

      Is reproduction not one of, if not the most, fundamental primal needs?

      1. No, reproduction isn’t a fundamental primal need. In this era of responsible, thinking beings and reliable birth control, procreation is a choice, not an instinct-driven “need” to propagate the species.

      2. Reproduction is certainly not a “fundamental primal need” for those of us who choose not to. It’s a choice.

  2. Time is the one thing that can’t be made, created, or manufactured, and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Unlike money, it cannot be regained. Being that we are finite creatures on this planet, time trumps money in my book, but there’s always going to be a trade-off.

    Some people are fortunate enough to love the work that provides them with sufficient money. The rest of us have to decide if those golden handcuffs that pay the rent, buy the food, send the kids to college, etc., are really worth the time that’s lost (doing something we might dislike), or whether improvements can be made without major sacrifice. It all boils down to what’s most important to us as individuals and what, for each of us, would constitute a workable compromise.

    For those of us who do have children, they are usually the deciding factor. Most of us are willing to give them what we wouldn’t bother with for ourselves. The trick is to figure out what they really need as opposed to what we just think they need.

  3. I forfeited both time and money when I decided to become an artist. I have a paying job for 3 days a week, work in my studio for another 3 days and have one more day left to relax (what’s that, again?), do stuff around the house, socialize, etc. I’m constantly broke, live in a tiny appartment, and work my butt off. Most of my money that’s left over after rent and such goes to my studio and materials, but also good food and a yoga membership because I value my mental and physical health as much as my creative endeavours (and I have to – my family has a history of obesity and heart disease, as well as overworking, burnout and depression).
    It’s a constant struggle to balance both a lack of money and a lack of time, but at the end of the day I have the most awesome job in the world – even though it doesn’t pay 😉

    1. I think we’re the same person. Ha! Wouldn’t have it any other way.

  4. No one on their death bed ever wished they would have worked more or spent more time on iphones, Facebook and Twitter. Volunteer for Hospice and you will see first hand what people think are important when dying. Most of it has to do with love, people, caring, forgiving yourself and others…

    1. Thank you so much for pointing out that most often it’s only when death knock at our door that we realize that most of what we have been doing is futile and that real enjoyment of life and personal growth has much more to do with compassion and love than paycheck and “ownage”. It’s not about what you carry after death but what you have been able to leave behind.

  5. Money doesn’t buy happiness…

    Do you live in America?
    Because it buys a waverunner.
    Ever seen a sad person on a wave runner?
    Seriously, have you?
    Try to frown on a waverunner.
    They are so awesome, it’s just throttle.
    People smile as they hit the peer.

    1. Trying to relax in a beautiful place is always ruined by some noisy machine.

  6. Another great article, thanks Mark!

    (It’d be even better if someone from your admin would actually contact me so I could register on the forums since I’ve been unable to do so for over two weeks now! Please.)

  7. I very much value time over money, but am working two jobs right now while my wife gets her business started. Hoping to be able to quit the full-time job to be with the kiddos all day once she’s up and running.
    If I could do early adulthood all over again, I would definitely have picked my second job I work now instead of a full-time gig. I get to be outside in the elements with lots of movement. Instead I work full time in an office and am bored to death because I chased a better paycheck – one that has yet to materialize.

  8. Being that money is a lot of peoples god, I think of this quote from Krishnamurti:

    “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society”

  9. Why not both? :~}

    (my apologies to the Old El Paso Hard and Soft Tacos advertising people)

  10. Money is a fact like gravity that needs to be dealt with, nothing more. For many in is their raison d’etre. I have never considered money important. She considered it extremely important. She will be a well-off lonely old woman. I’m having a good time (and don’t tell me that I will regret that when I am older. I AM OLDER NOW. Money just isn’t that important.)

  11. I completely agree with the need to think about striking a balance between time and money. But what I think is missing here is how passion plays into the decision. If you can find a rewarding profession that you’re passionate about, you might be compelled to invest more time in that profession. That might lead to more pay, but it also could equal more happiness. As you stated, Mark, it’s all about balance and what works for the individual person. I moved from the consumer tech industry to a tech company that provides education. That small change has been so rewarding and something I can be proud of when I go in to work every day.

    1. This! This is what I was thinking when I read this article – if you find something you love to do, you don’t feel like you are missing out on time. On top of that – if you are GOOD at it – you tend to be more efficient, maybe even earn a little more, giving you back both time and more money!

    2. Very, very good. In short you may have your cake (*) and eat it too

      (*) ehh, I meant a primal banana or apple

    1. The problem with the rat race is that, even if you win, you’re still a rat.

  12. I retired 3 + years ago, at age 57, from a lifetime career, at which I was good, but stressed me out and took most of my time.
    Today I choose to spend my limited funds on fun & vacations, rather than material goods.
    I buy good quality products *once*, & then take really great care of them & use them until they’re worn out. I’m fortunate to live in a nice (but not opulent) 23 year old home (which we bought new, and paid off before retiring), and I have enough money to eat well (but without waste). I drive a 10 year old car (but my hubbie’s is newer), camp in a 15 year old tiny (but adorable) trailer, kayak in boats that are old but immaculately maintained.
    Annual big expensive vacations like cruises, travelling, & long road trips are interspaced with plenty of free or cheap activities with my hubby, like hiking, biking, paddling, camping or museums/monuments on senior days.
    I keep mentally intrigued with my Primal food club & research, political debate group, & photography group online, playing the piano, and meeting up with local friends for lunch or a walk.
    I love my new life and we’ve dispelled any worry we had over having enough money or being bored. Life is good!

  13. Ahhhh the old work life balance! Mine is good but it can always be better, so its give and take. I work in a large corporate setting. My company has enabled several quality initiatives – modern work-space, state of the art gym, high end cafeteria which softens the “typical” big company, big demand stereotype. I also treat my work as part of my social life. I really enjoy the company of my management, peers and employees who work for me. And with technology, we are able to work anywhere, so often we work remotely from home to cover emergencies, personal needs, etc. I even took the time to complete the Primal Expert Cert so the balance is definitely there. That said I’ve been in my current role for 6 years and am anxious to grow to another level and take on greater responsibility and earn more money with a focus on retirement savings. I am willing to give up a little of the good life to take on the next level challenge. I think. 🙂

  14. All those annual incomes mean nothing if you don’t know the cost of living.

    My motto is “we vote with our money”. And I enjoy doing anything possible to vote the least often I can.

  15. I’m 63, and now “work” as little as possible generating income, and “play” as much as possible. The simpler my life has become, the more joy I experience.

  16. Very intriguing article. Hard to find balance in todays society. This sort of topic is always on my mind and seems to stir up some emotions amongst us. What ever happene to those ‘living off the grid shows,? Loved them! A simpler more fun and fulfilling life would be awesome. ‘Pursuit of happiness’

  17. Minimizing is absolutely the way to go.
    I haven’t retired, but am doing 60% at my high stress occupation.
    Moved to smaller house, the Adventure bike had to go etc, etc.
    More time now for writing and blogging.
    Many 30 an 40-somethings are already embracing this scaled-down consumerism.
    Think Tim Ferriss (4HourWorkWeek) and Joshua Becker (BecomingMinimalist)
    It does require a fine discipline: more time, but less money.
    It helps if we cut access baggage.
    Thanks for the post, Mark!

  18. I think this is worth contemplating:

    “Time is one of several currencies – Something you trade for something else.
    Capital is renewable. Time is non-renewable.
    If you’re finding you consistently don’t have time, it’s a symptom of not having sufficiently clear priorities.”

    Tim Ferris

  19. I watch my friends climb up the corporate ladder, work crazy hours and earn the big bucks and think to myself, what is the point of making all that money when you don’t have the time to enjoy it?!?!

    But I agree that there needs to be a balance.

  20. Several decades ago when I was learning Wing Chun I heard Wong Shun Leung (a great wing chun fighter and teacher) say that time was the most important thing as you only had what you had and you couldn’t get more. Whereas money you could go and make a bit more if you needed it. So time should not be wasted. Then there is that old saying about you cant take your possession with you when you expire.

    Ainslie Meares who taught stillness meditation from the late 1950’s till his death in 1986 was big on Quality of life and NOT dropping out… we have to make (pay) our own way in the world, there are benefits in labour – I I know that money is not the only reason why Mark Sisson works on this blog. Mark wants to spread the news about something he (and many of us) know is of benefit to humanity. So, it is part of our humanity to earn our way – whether that is hunting and gathering our food or indirectly hunting and gathering information or whatever else to enable us to gain money, our sophisticated bartering system, to enable us to get what we need to achieve quality of life. In fact what we do at work can contribute to our quality of life. But, if we spend all our time just on money we will not achieve optimal quality. At the end of his book “The wealth within” Dr Ainslie Meares he says:

    “We have talked of life, and many doubts have cleared from my mind. But it is only the doing of it that counts.

    First let us guard and strengthen our body for it is the fortress in which we dwell, and from which we must fight.

    Let us free our mind. Temper it with discipline, and enrich it with knowledge, for our mind is the essence of our being.

    Calm comes to us. The calm and the stillness amid the clamour and the action. It is the calm of the spirit.

    We understand beyond the constraints of logic and our mind is free to range from the well worn paths of the orthodox.

    Secure when silence comes about us, yet rejoice in the company of our fellows, so that we need seek neither the solitude of the hills nor the merriment of the games and eating houses.

    We work to contribute to the land of which we are part, and to maintain ourself that we may add to the well being of those around us. And we enjoy the restorative power of leisure that we might do these things the better.

    When love comes it purifies us and in the act of love we transcend the earthly and so enhance our being.

    Our mind is clear. We see the colour of it all and the meaning behind that which we see.

    When we understand, there are no opposites. They have merged in the greater picture about us.

    We know of pain and grief, but our mind is still and there is no hurt in it.

    The seasons come and go. The planting, the ripening and the harvest. The birth and growth and death. We feel the rythym and the harmony of it all. And it is good.

    And what of this other thing that comes in the eye of the storm and in the stillness of night, yet resides in a drop of dew? Cherish it, for it is born of the spirit and transcends all else.”

    This says it all – to me, anyway. OB

    Ainslie Meares ideas of natural, effortless calm meditative experience and living the calm dovetail perfectly with the primal blueprint. I’m certainly make no claims to be some sort of guru but I think the Meares method has a lot to offer the primal paleo movement.

    1. Thank you for this. I love the part about, “Secure when the silence comes about us.” So many people fear the quiet.

  21. Yes! I love this! It’s incredible how people keep falling for this “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality. I tend to blame advertising. I keep turning down extra hours at work because, really, I have enough money, and I get these weird looks. But I don’t own a car (don’t even have a licence), don’t have children, and ma perfectly happy wearing the same clothes day in day out like a cartoon character.
    What I do spend money on? Books, good food, and sometimes travel. That’s pretty much it (besides, you know, rent). Everything else that I like (running, hanging out with loved ones, writing) is pretty much free. And yet I’m the weird one :p

  22. I enjoy working. I enjoy solitude. I have had the very good fortune to live in beautiful rural places where I can be hiking or biking practically out my door. I make a living at various jobs I find nearby. My two vocations are mothering and my inner life. Neither buys the (primal) groceries, but they certainly feed me.

  23. Money isn’t the only form of capital. That comes and goes. Relationships, knowledge/skills, and health is where it’s at.

    If you work on those three things and your money problems will take care of themselves

    And forget about the Jones and stay away from loans for status symbols. Loans and image are the ball and chain that keep people in the rat race.

  24. These are some amazing comments. I checked out the article above and the updated threshold income for California, which is where I live, was about right on target.I would add some to that figure for the Bay area and to those with kids. I’m looking to move to a community where I can walk and drive comfortably again and would be willing to live in an apartment or duplex. My husband commutes an hour each way to and from work daily. I don’t think I could do that. I appreciate what he does for us, but that’s no way to live. I’ve been fortunate to be home with my son and now also to work from home. I plan on relocating withing the next couple of years, out of the Bay Area rat race. I’ve found some kindred spirits here on Mark’s Daily Apple. This conversation reminds me of the book “Your Money or Your Life”.

    1. Hi agree with this about the comment, they are really amazing
      I remember when I had to drive one hour to work, sometimes more.
      It is much better to earn less and spend less time on driving
      Now I have it perfect: good work place, interesting work to do and I ride my bike hearing my meditation music or talks, 25 minutes each way.

      1. I’m glad you have a better situation now. People spend a lot of time at work and commuting to work. The quality of that time is important. This ain’t no dress rehearsal

  25. Hey Mark, just wanted to say Hi & that I just started the Primal Blueprint Fitness today. Did my assessment for the 4 main exercises. Haven’t worked out much for the past year or more & could only manage 2 unassisted pullups. I could manage 8 about a year ago. Starting off a bit at a time with my diet & haven’t had any bread for a week yesterday. I’ll give it a couple of weeks then try to broaden my grain ban. I thought it’d be difficult but not really missing it at all. I was eating 8-10 slices of bread a day. 4 slices of toasted fruit bread for breakfast every day. 2 sandwiches for lunch on work days & sometimes a sandwich for an evening snack. Thanks for all the great info & advice you provide here Mark. Great work.

  26. Yes! Truly fantastic post! I am so blessed to grow up in a family firmly rooted in this ideology; we value experiences and time and connections over material things (I used to think it was weird how my parents lived compared to my friends families, but now I am so grateful they instilled this in me!).

    I am in my last semester of grad school so people are constantly asking me about my job prospects. While there are plenty of great secure jobs with benefits in my field, I am looking to do some part time and freelance type of work for a while to allow time for travel and my hobbies which are extremely important to me. Some people get this and are like “you go girl”, some people can’t understand why I’d pass up that great government job that requires 40 hours/week of sitting at a desk….

  27. My husband and I both work part time at the moment (and plan to do that for a longer period of time, the next years, or maybe forever ;-)), as our first son will be 2 this July and we are also expecting our second child. Sure, we have less money, but we have enough to live a good life (in a small appartment, but we tend to be outdoors a lot anyway) – and the first years with children are over so fast, we really want to use that time together, and not working! Ulli

  28. Definitely time. The more I recoup my time from things that I’ve realized aren’t that important to me, I keep realizing how much I savor unhurried, unscheduled time. Mr. Money Moustache is a great blog for people who want to explore living far below their means and becoming financially independent.