Have you ever felt like saving was more trouble than it’s worth, and in the end you were just wasting time? Believe it or not, you might have been right. Saving money is great, but if you take it too far, you sacrifice something much more precious: your time. Every method you use to save money should take into account the time it costs — because you’ll never get it back.
Saving money can give you stability. For example, having an emergency fund lets you sleep easier knowing you could handle unexpected expenses thrown your way.
But saving money, just because you can, might actually make you less wealthy in the long run.
In a sense, time is money. Every minute of your time is precious and valuable. You can put in extra hours at work and earn extra pay. Or you can spend time with loved ones or doing things that make you happy.
If you’re a salaried worker, you could spend your extra time building a side business to give your income a boost. The extra money you earn from working or building a business is an easy way to put a monetary value on your time.
Divide the extra income by the time it takes to earn that income to get the dollar value of an hour of your time.
That said, if you’re working a full-time job, you may value your free time at an even higher rate than you get paid. Why? Your time is precious.
You have two lives, and the second begins when you realize you only have one.
If you only have evenings and weekends to spend with your family, you understand this. In this case, you have to decide how much your time is worth.
How much would someone have to pay you to trade your free time for work? That’s how much your time is worth to you.
So how can saving money be disastrous for your life and finances? If the time you spend trying to save money costs you your free time, you’re working for less than you’re worth.
This becomes more obvious when you calculate the true amount you save for the time you put into some common money saving activities. Here are a few examples to really drive the point home.
Driving Across Town to Save Money on Gas
Believe it or not, some people drive clear across town to save $0.10 per gallon on gas. If it takes 15 minutes to drive across town and your car only needs 15 gallons of gas, you’ll spend half an hour of your time to save $1.50 in gas.
Let’s Do The Math
Let’s say you earn $25 an hour at your job. That same time could earn you $12.50 if you were working. That doesn’t even include the added cost of wear and tear on your car, or the opportunity cost of less time with your family.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t spend all your time working, either. You need to make sure the time you spend trying to save money gives you big wins rather than a few pennies in savings.
Your time on this planet is finite. Don’t waste time. After all, everyone wants to get the most out of life that they can.
So how can you tell when saving money is a good idea or if you’re wasting time trying to save money? It’s usually just common sense.
Here are a few more examples of when you’re usually wasting your time, trying to save money.
Unplugging Electronics to Save Pennies on Your Electric Bill
If you read up on easy ways to save money, you’ll probably come across the recommendation to unplug electrical devices when you’re not using them. This saves you money on vampire electricity usage.
These tips make it sound like you’re wasting money by not unplugging your computer monitors, phone chargers, and other devices when they’re not in use.
According to Duke Energy, you’d save a whole $6.70 every year you unplug a laser printer, a computer monitor, a coffee pot and a phone charger when they aren’t in use. Breaking it down, that means you’re saving $0.55 over 30 days by unplugging these devices after every use. Is your time or money more valuable in this situation?
What’s common sense tell you? Of course it’s your TIME.
Instead of wasting your time unplugging and replugging in your electrical devices, consider making other energy consumption changes that don’t require you to waste your time.
For example, raising your thermostat three degrees in the summer could lower your electric bill by up to 9%. On a $200 electric bill, that’s an $18 savings. The best part is, it only takes a second to change your thermostat and you only have to do it once.
Visiting Different Grocery Stores to Save a Couple Bucks
Getting the best deal on the things you buy can be a great way to save money and boost the balance in your savings account.
Unfortunately, the time it takes to always find the best deal could mean the money you save isn’t worth the time you waste. This is very common when it comes to saving money on groceries.
It’s common for customers to visit several different grocery stores to get the best prices from each store. But this process could take hours depending on how many grocery stores you visit and how far apart they are.
If a store 20 minutes away has a case of bottled water on sale for $0.50 cheaper than the store right down the street, you’re likely better off buying that case of bottled water at your local store.
Of course, if the savings are significant, then an extra trip and can be worth it.
If you’re making a major purchase, it may make sense to spend the extra time it takes to drive across town or even across the state. Let’s say you’re looking to buy a brand new car.
Your local dealership will sell the car for $35,000 but the dealership in the next town over is willing to sell it for $33,000. If everything else is equal, driving an extra two hours round trip to save $2,000 is a great deal.
Camping out for Black Friday Deals
Black Friday often offers some amazing deals on electronics and other popular holiday gifts. Unfortunately, the best deals are usually very limited in quantity.
While there are plenty of places to save money on Black Friday, people who want to get the best deals usually end up wasting too much time for the money they save. You usually have to camp out hours in advance to save a couple hundred dollars on a limited quantity TV or cell phone.
If you calculate your hourly rate, chances are you could have paid full price by working extra hours than you saved by waiting in line.
You Still Need to Make Smart Money Decisions
Don’t let time be an excuse to spend money frivolously. While time is money, there are plenty of ways to save money without wasting time. It’s true that driving 15 minutes out of your way to save a dollar in ATM fees likely isn’t worth your time.
However, if you’re passing a fee-free ATM while running another errand, it makes sense to save the dollar and stop at the fee-free ATM. In this case, deciding between time or money isn’t even an issue since saving money takes no extra time.
Small savings can still be worth it if they don’t cost you time.
Quit Wasting Time on Small Dollar Savings
Instead of trying to pinch pennies and save a dollar here or there, don't wind up wasting time. Instead, consider enacting a savings plan to save money over time.
Creating a plan, such as transferring money to your savings account as soon as you’re paid, has a much better chance of working than saving the $1.50 you didn’t spend by driving across town to get cheaper gas.
If you stick to the plan for a long time, you can use the power of compounding returns to build a hefty nest egg by the time you reach retirement age.
It is important to cultivate good spending habits. It’s just as important to make sure you aren’t wasting massive amounts of time and only saving a tiny amount of money.
Lance Cothern is a freelance writer and founder of the personal finance blog Money Manifesto.