This is an altered version of a longer piece I recently wrote for “Boundless” a young adult Christian ministry. If you are interested in that version, with
How much is your time worth?
What it is worth to you? Every minute of your life. If you had to place a monetary value on it, what would it be?
Recently I was at the post office, needing to ship out a package. Knowing my way around the automated postage machines that most post offices have, I got in that line of two people as opposed to the regular line of what was then six. I was folding and sealing envelopes and filling out address information when I overheard the woman at the machine two spots ahead of me. She was attempting to purchase a postcard stamp.
She was unable to, as to the best of my knowledge the machines at the post office do not sell postcard specific stamps. I overheard her saying, “I don’t want a first class stamp, I want a post card stamp,” so though I was just coming into her conversation with the machine halfway through, I determined she wasn’t getting the exact stamp she wanted and wasn’t willing to buy a regular one. A first class stamp would work just as well, just be more expensive.
She canceled the transaction and walked away. Part of me began to process what I’d do next. I’d walk over to her, explain the math vs the time comparison, and help her with the machine as she thanked me for making her realize the value of her time. She’d of course thank me for changing her outlook on life and go on to reap the benefit of decades of improvement.
Now, what do I mean by this?
This woman wanted a post card stamp, which as of this writing costs 34 cents. A regular first class stamp costs 49 cents. The difference is a total of 15 cents. Unwilling to purchase the regular stamp she cancelled her transaction, and went to wait on line. A line which was now a half dozen people deep, meaning she would have a wait of easily 15 minutes instead of being out the door and on her way home. Was 15 cents worth 15 minutes of her life? Was saving 15 cents worth waiting on line for a quarter of an hour?
I understand I’m making assumptions here. I’m assuming that she wasn’t willing to spend the extra 15 cents on the stamp. Maybe she didn’t know she could use a regular stamp, or maybe she was confused with the machine or maybe her head was somewhere else that afternoon. I don’t know for sure, but even just anecdotally, I think there’s something to take from this story.
Not really paying attention I wasn’t able to say anything until she was on line and the next woman at the automated machine had already started, so I didn’t mention. Then there’s the time cost for me since the woman in wrong of me paused for just a moment before she left as well. I was at the machine, paid and had my receipt in hand within a minute.
Forget the woman and her postcard for a second. How often do you get caught doing this in your life? Trading time for money and assuming it’s worth it. Most people might think its a waste of money to pay someone to mow their grass or shovel their snow, but if $20 saves you an hour or two of your life, is that worth it? Is it worth it to drive across town to save a few cents a gallon on gas? You might bristle at the thought of paying someone to do a task that’s basic, just very time consuming, but you could easily do it yourself… But do you really want to? What else could you be doing with your time?
I’ve always valued time over money and am 100% willing to spend money to give me back more of time. I’ll gladly pay someone to perform a task for me if it means I can have more time doing the things I love. I’d much rather have the 15 minutes than the 15 cents.