Why Time Is More Important Than Money

UPDATED: May 24, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 22, 2016

After grocery shopping today, I drove an additional five minutes to a different store. It had a few items that were cheaper than the first. I am a gal who likes a great deal, and I didn’t mind the extra time it took to get it.

I wouldn’t say that is always the case. Over the summer, I turned down a big project in order to be able to spend the week lounging at the beach. I rarely turn down a work project—especially a lucrative one. It was an especially gorgeous week at the Jersey Shore, though, and they don’t come that often.

My bank account may have been lower than I wanted after skipping the project, but the memories of that sunny week last me all cold winter long. I adore time spent doing something that renders me utterly blissful such as ocean swimming. My life isn’t a fairytale, though. I did return to work and have been busting my butt ever since.

A recent study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people who value their time more than pursuing money were happier. In a series of six studies, the researchers asked more than 4,600 participants questions such as whether they would prefer pay more rent for an apartment with a short commute or a pay less rent for an apartment with a long commute. Just more than half of respondents said they valued their time over money, and overall they were happier than those who said making money was more important than their time.

Related: John C. Maxwell: 5 Qualities of People Who Use Time Wisely

“It appears that people have a stable preference for valuing their time over making more money, and prioritizing time is associated with greater happiness,” says lead researcher Ashley Whillans, a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia.

Whillans says that gender and income did not affect whether people valued one aspect over the other.

What’s It All Worth?

When I heard about this study, I knew it demanded more exploration. Are we more likely to appreciate time more than money when we are (likely) older and more financially stable? Do some people value their time more because they know money doesn’t buy happiness? Or are we a generation that cares more about pleasant experiences instead of padded bank accounts? Can we value our time and make big bucks, or do we have to choose one over the other?

Clearly, I can’t take every other week off to work on my tan. Making the effort to take time off for things I enjoy and cannot always do is more important than raking in big bucks, so long as it’s in moderation and I can pay that darn mortgage each month.

Certainly, if you have a lot of discretionary income, you may be able to use it to free up your time. I have a wealthy friend who decided to hire a landscaper so he could devote time to his children instead of ignoring them while mowing the lawn. Another person may prioritize the peacefulness of gardening over spending time doing something else.

What if you do not have all that extra income to hire house cleaners, grocery shoppers and whatnot? You may trade off in other ways: You may not mind spending an extra hour venturing to two grocery stores instead of one to nab the best deals. You may, however, take the money saved and put it toward that landscaper in order to allocate more time for whatever makes you joyful.

In short, there are no easy answers. We generally prioritize one thing over the other depending on our core values, but that can change at different times during our lives. If we know we can be happier putting more emphasis on our time than making money, though, maybe we should try it.

Related: Can Money Really Buy Happiness?

Love Your Time

Want to start valuing your time a little more because you believe it will make you happier? Whillans suggests changing the way you spend your money. Work fewer overtime hours, spring the extra $20 for a cab home if the bus is going to take longer, or go to the pricier grocery store that’s closer to your home so you have more time for things you enjoy.

“The key is making sure that in addition to using money to have more time, people also spend their free time in better ways,” Whillans says, adding that “better ways” would include devoting time to things that make you happy. For some of us that means lounging on a beach, while others want to spend time with family and friends. My guess is that you can make extra time but if the thing you do with it does not make you content, you probably won’t be happier in general. Being aware of what makes us genuinely happy is also a must so you can put that time to good use.

Another way to value your time is to let others know it. Let your clients know you clock off at 5 p.m. on Fridays to take the weekend off—then don’t respond to emails until Monday to prove your point. Be upfront about your time constrictions.

You may have a job at a company that wants to prove they value you by showing that they value your time.  Whillans is working with a few organizations to develop ways they can show they respect their employees’ time, and help them get more out of it. For example, one company assigns “do not disturb” time periods when internal instant messages cannot be sent.

“Providing employees with the ability not to check emails after 5 p.m., or rewarding employees for their hard work with extra vacation days, can send the signal to employees that their company cares about their personal time, thus enabling employees to empower themselves to prioritize their time versus having more money,” Whillans says.

Related: Want to Be Successful? Do These 7 Things in Your Spare Time