Is your time worth as much as you think?

Time is MoneyKJ: Have you ever sat down to actually figure out what your time is worth? Time is one of the scarcest resources, and it’s one that you can never get back. Knowing the trade-offs of what you are missing out on (often called an “opportunity cost”) can go a long way in understanding how you bring balance to your life and evaluate a purchase (whether significant or not). Let’s start with a simple calculation:

What is your yearly take-home (or family’s take-home)?
This should be relatively easy. For those of you that are salaried, the number is pretty easy to calculate – just add up your income from this last year.

For people with irregular incomes and uncertain bonuses, don’t put a whole lot of weight to those lumpy income payments. Instead, try to take a 6-18 month average (depending on just how variable your income can be) leaving out some of the larger bonuses/commissions/irregular income payments as applicable.

The 2,000 hour rule of thumb
Under both of these methods, simply divide the income number by 2,000 (the approximate number of hours worked by someone who is full-time at 40 hours per week). So, if you made $20,000 last year, your hourly rate is about $10 per hour. If you made $50,000 last year, your hourly equivalent is closer to $25.

Back out taxes
Now it’s time for the not-so-fun part. Take your number from above (sounds nice, doesn’t it?), and subtract out your taxes – boo! If you’re in the 15% tax bracket, then simply take the number from above and multiply by 85%. So, if you made $25/hr then your after-tax would be $21.25. If you’re in the 25% tax bracket, multiply by 75% ($18.75 if we continue our example). Don’t forget the impact of Social Security, Medicare, and state taxes (if that applies!) which could all take another 10%+ off your take-home pay! What you thought was your real take-home pay per hour could be significantly lower.

DIY or hire-it-out
Now that you have a quick rule-of-thumb of what your typical hourly-equivalent rate is, it might help you think about purchases in a different light – or hiring out that project instead of DIY. While I’m all for doing as much as you can yourself, there are definitely times when your time may be better spent hiring out a professional who will (1) have a better idea what to actually do, (2) has experience in doing it error-free (or as near error-free as you can get), and (3) who can do it far more quickly than you could accomplish it.

Even if the project is quite basic, maybe you would spend $400 worth of your time when you could have hired it out for $300. If instead the numbers were flipped, and it would have taken $200 worth of your time, yet you would have had to hire it out for $300 then maybe the hire-it-out option doesn’t make as much sense.

Money you have is different than money you could have
Clearly not all decisions are based on the fact that you could be working and generating income while the person you hired is completing the task. You may need to factor in some non-monetary considerations as well like needing a break – there are only 24 hours in a day!

Particularly if you live in the salaried world where extra work doesn’t quite relate directly to your take-home, the decision might not be quite as easy. It could boil down to whether you could be building your marketable skills for future (unknown) income opportunities – i.e. investing in your human capital – to be able to increase your hourly-equivalent rate in the future. Surely that’s worth something!

Use this to calculate any purchase
If the purchase of [insert product name here] is going to set you back $200, and you’re hourly equivalent after taxes is $20, then it would cost you 10 hours of work to pay for said item. It’s a good way to ask “was my hard-earned time for 10 hours really worth this purchase?” That’s about 25% of your entire week’s work…framed that way, your answer might differ.

This can be an exceptional way to really balance your wants and your needs for that good old budget of yours.

    Have you thought about how many hours it would take you to pay off something?
    Did it sway you into making the purchase or did you realize the purchase wasn’t worth it?

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2 thoughts on “Is your time worth as much as you think?

  1. I did a similar post a while back showing that after you subtract taxes and essential expenses, your disposable income is pretty tiny (I think it was something like $7/hr even if your made $25/hr)

    Really puts into perspective how much things really “cost” in the context of money AND time.

    Great post!

    • Thanks! Yeah, that would be a great exercise to try. Backing out all your fixed living expenses and looking at what you really have left over that’s discretionary would give a much more accurate picture – but it might be a little depressing too!

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