Have you ever tried to build a website without being a web developer? I have, and I don’t recommend it. Last summer, I spent days trying to fix some random error on a website I was building. A box on my web page wouldn’t center, and no matter what I tried, I could not get it to move. “This is driving me crazy,” I shouted (yes, out loud) one night, just before discovering the problem:
I forgot to add one stupid, little character to my code.
I spent hours on something that drove me bananas (and more importantly, distracted from my actual paid work), when it would have taken a professional five seconds to figure it out. So this year, when my publisher told me to build a website for my upcoming book, the first thing I did was ask for help. Was it expensive? Yes. Was it totally, absolutely worth it? Ohmygodyes.
“Could allocating discretionary income to buy free time—such as by paying to delegate common household chores, like cleaning, shopping, and cooking— reduce the negative effects of the modern time famine, thereby promoting well-being?”
Spoiler alert: the answer is yes. Across a series of studies, the researchers found that spending money to save time made subjects feel less stressed and therefore, happier.
Researchers surveyed thousands of people, asking about their well being in addition to their time-saving purchases (paying someone to run an errand or ordering takeout, for example). They found that people who made time-saving purchases also reported higher life satisfaction.
Then again, the old correlation-causation argument could be made here, right? If you pay to outsource tasks and save time, you probably have the money to do that. And well, having money is pretty satisfying. So the researchers tested for that. In another study, they gave participants $40 to spend on the weekend. Subjects were instructed to either spend this money on time-saving purchases or tangible, material purchases (like booze or clothing). The subjects who spent money to save time had lower stress levels and higher well being than the material goods group.
It’s fairly obvious when you think about it: why wouldn’t saving time make you happy? We could all use a few extra hours in the week.
But where does this fit in with your own discretionary spending? For example, I know I could spend $150 on housekeeping once a month, but I also enjoy spending my money on other things, like travel or restaurants, which are also good for my life satisfaction (especially if sushi is involved). And there’s another problem: how much do you spend? If I had housekeeping help once a week, that would probably make me pretty happy, but it would also cost me $600 a month. My budget just ain’t built for that.
Put simply, how do you decide when to pay money to save time? A few thoughts:
Calculate the value of your time. This is a simple but effective exercise in valuing your free time. Use an online calculator to figure out how much one hour of your time is worth. That makes it tons easier to decide how much money to throw at a task. It takes me half an hour to transcribe phone interviews for the articles I write. Or I could pay someone else $10 to do it (probably in less time). If I earn $50 an hour, that $10 to save 30 minutes is totally worth it. Even if you’re not a freelancer, though, just thinking about your time in terms of money helps you value it so much more. Plus, it gives you a ballpark idea of what to spend.
Prioritize your spending. Chances are, you have limits on your discretionary income, which means you have to set priorities for your spending. Money experts tell you to spend your money on the stuff you love, not the stuff you simply “like.” So how much do you love having extra time in your schedule? If you love it more than sushi, you might prioritize that housekeeping service instead. It comes down to recognizing the tradeoffs.
Consider the task. My husband is reluctant to pay for yard work because, for some strange reason, the man actually likes doing yard work. So spending on lawn maintenance wouldn’t really be worth it for him. Sure, it would save him some time, but yard work doesn’t stress him out. (In fact, he finds it meditative!) My point? The nature of the task matters, and stress is a major factor in calculating whether the task is worth it. If I’m just kind of bored and lazy and don’t feel like making dinner, buying takeout so I can watch reruns of Frasier might not be the best way to spend my limited discretionary income. However, if I have five deadlines and I’m on the verge of pulling out my hair to meet them, I’m probably going to call for pizza and I’m probably going to feel good about that decision.
It’s easy to look at these studies and use them as an excuse to spend more, but the reality is: you probably have a limited amount of discretionary income. That’s not to say you shouldn’t start spending money to save time — the data shows it’s totally worth it — just remember: there’s a tradeoff, and ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out the best way to use your money.