5 Ways to Invest Your Time

We often get hung up on financial concepts when it comes to investment. But have you thought about how you invest your time?

Investing is often considered in monetary terms. However, we have other resources to invest. One of those resources is time. Before you get too hung up on money, think about the way you invest your time. You might be able to put it to better use.

Why time is more important than money

It's true that we all need money to live. Some of us make do with less money than others, and some of us have help from others as we plan out how to afford our lifestyles. We get hung up on money, but we sometimes forget that time can be more important than money.

First of all, it's your time you often exchange for money. When you work, you are giving up some of your time to receive payment. While few of us like to think this way, your hourly wage can be an indication of what your time is “worth.”

Many experts take this thesis and apply it to the things you buy. If you earn $10 an hour, and the TV you want to buy costs $1,000, you will need to work 100 hours to pay for that TV. Someone who earns $50 an hour, by contrast, will only need to work 20 hours to “afford” the same TV.

However, it's not just the connection between time and hourly earnings that you need to think about. A very real consideration is this: Time is more important than money because once it's gone, you can't get it back. You can always make more money after you spend what you have. You can work overtime, get a second job, start a side gig, learn the skills and gain the experience to get a raise, or work out a way to earn passive income.

Once time is gone, you can't get more. Time—and how you use it—is more important than your current income.

Time freedom and privilege

Not everyone has this privilege, though. At one point, I was working 50 to 60 hours a week as a freelancer. It was brutal. But I was early in my career, working for peanuts, trying to make sure we could pay the rent while my then-husband worked on his PhD. I had a toddler who needed to eat.

When we talk about how time is a more valuable resource than money, it's also important to acknowledge that not everyone has access to time. In our current system, basic necessities are commodified.

There's no place in the United States where a full-time worker earning minimum wage can afford a modest rental. In my state, you need to earn $21 an hour to afford a two-bedroom rental. If you make minimum wage, it takes 117 hours of work per week to afford a modest rental in Idaho.

Recent inflation—including on food prices—has been disproportionately due to price gouging with supply chain issues and Covid providing some cover. Repositioning yourself to have the time needed to invest can take, well, time. And it can be exceptionally difficult depending on your circumstances.

In a new podcast, It Doesn't Make Cents, I'm co-hosting with my friend Sarah, we discuss the reality that, for most people, you need 20 years of nothing going wrong to escape poverty.

Once you get some time freedom (and have some money to go with it), you can start investing it in ways that benefit your life.

Invest Your Time for Maximum Benefit

When you invest your time, you are likely to reap financial benefits as well as see non-monetary gains. The way you invest your time can make a big difference today and in the future. Here are some ways you can make the most of your time.

Learn new things

One of the best ways to invest your time is to learn new things. Spend time learning new skills and acquiring knowledge. You might be surprised at the doors it opens. Not only can you improve your work/income situation, but you can also expand your horizons and understand more about the world around you. Self-improvement has its own benefits and learning new things is a good start. From learning a new skill to picking up a hobby, new things can help keep your mind flexible and provide enjoyable experiences.

This might also include inspirational content that gets your creative juices flowing. I don't always go in for motivational speeches and reading. But sometimes it helps to receive a little inspiration. Watch interesting content on YouTube. Read the biographies of people that you admire. A few minutes of inspiration each day can help keep you going. Plus, it can create a feeling of optimism that can influence other areas of your life.

Develop meaningful relationships

If you want to invest your time in ways that repay you in ways you might never imagine, make sure to develop meaningful relationships. Invest in relationships with your life partner, children, friends, and business associates.

Being actively involved in my downtown community has also led to wonderful friendships. Playing trivia, going to Sunday brunch, talking with folks I know downtown, and generally being about has led to amazing encounters.

These relationships can require time and effort, but they can repay you in dividends that might surprise you. Plus, they add color and depth to your life. If you are so focused on money that you neglect the relationships that add meaning, you might miss out on what makes life rich.

Help others

Giving your time to help others can be a surprisingly profitable endeavor—even if it's not profitable in terms of money. There are benefits to volunteering your time and talents, and you might be surprised at what they can add to your life.

I serve on local non-profits that address issues in my community, such as food insecurity, affordable housing, and supportive childcare. I'm also involved in local politics. We saved a park from destruction. I've helped elect a good portion of our city council. Local leaders regularly appoint me to committees and ask for my advice.

Make the time to help others, and enrichment is likely to follow. Plus, if you are involved in a cause you believe in, you can feel good about making the world a better place.

Take care of your health

Don't forget to invest your time in taking care of your health. Even if you have a lot of money, what is the good if you are too ill to enjoy it? Take the time to engage in physical activity and make it a point to try to eat right. Good health is a time investment that pays off for years. You don't need to spend hours each day to reap positive, long-term results.

I struggle with exercising, so I focus on things I enjoy:

  • Yoga in the morning
  • A short workout in the afternoon
  • Walking in the evening
  • Outdoor activities like snowshoeing and hiking

I also try to keep healthy snacks, like stuff for caprese, on hand. I'm not happy with my weight (that's a separate struggle), but all my measures like cholesterol and blood sugar look good.

Unfortunately, in some cases, access to fresh healthy food requires—you guessed it—money. But if you have the money and the time, investing in your health can provide you with long-term benefits.

Enjoy meditation and relaxation

Spend some time quietly, without distractions. Turn off the cell phone, and put down the laptop. Invest your time like this a little each day, and you can clear your mind and improve your mental and emotional health.

This doesn't mean that you need to spend 30 minutes in what we consider “traditional” meditation. Sometimes my meditation is the time I spend in the pool, swimming and thinking of nothing but the count of my stroke and the way I breathe. Sometimes my meditation is done while I play the piano or guitar. Find ways to relax and clear your mind, without everything around you. You'll cope better with stress, feel better in general, and interact better with those around you.

Relaxation also means different things to different people. I don't watch much TV on my own, but one of my favorite activities is when, about once a week, a friend comes over and we watch a show together. For some people, it's relaxing to scroll through Instagram and see what their friends are up to. One of my friends takes a bath almost every day. That's his way of relaxing and indulging in a little self-care.

Figure out how you unwind, and take some time to do that.

Bottom line

Not all of these ways to invest your time will work at every stage of your life. I have a lot more time right now for self-care and relaxation now that my son is grown up. My ability to maintain my health is rooted in the fact that I work from home, and work fewer hours than I've ever worked before—and I make more money than I did 10 years ago.

However, if you start by identifying one hour each week to do one of the five things on this list, you can start reaping the benefits.

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