Would you spend $40 to save time?
According to Harvard Business School professor and behavioural scientist Ashley Whillans, it might be a good idea — especially if you’re using that money to buy time that will make you happy.
“Importantly, the benefits of choosing time over money emerge for the wealthy and less wealthy alike. Even spending as little as $40 to save time can significantly boost happiness and reduce stress.”
However, you shouldn’t drop a couple of 20s to gain a few minutes that you’re just going to fritter away. If you’re going to spend cash to free up time, Whillans wants you to make it count:
“Benjamin Franklin wrote ‘Time is Money.’ My personal mantra is a play on this familiar quote: ‘If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time.’”
What is “happier time?” It could be time spent enjoying a meal with family or friends. It could be time spent reading a good book, or taking a walk with someone you love. You probably know where you’d like to spend extra time — and how much you’d pay to access it.
On the Harvard Business Review IdeaCast, Whillans also suggested using money not just to buy happier time, but to buy less unhappy time:
My research really focuses on using money to buy ourselves out of negative experiences. So subtracting negative minutes from our day, subtracting time that we spend stuck in traffic, subtracting extra work hours where we’re just spinning our wheels and really we should go home, subtracting housecleaning.
Would you spend $40 to avoid getting stuck in traffic? It’s a good question.
Whillans notes that this method only works if you’re already making enough money to meet your basic needs — and I’d argue that it only really works if you’re making enough money to feel financially secure. However, we all make these time-and-money tradeoffs, often without thinking critically about what we’re doing.
So, if you find yourself wanting to spend a little cash to save a little time, ask yourself whether you’re buying “happier time” — and that should make it easier to decide whether the purchase is worth it.