Time or Money?

It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it. ~ Tock

I suppose I am hardly the first or last person to consider this conundrum. And a conundrum it is. I think it may actually be the most salient “grass is greener” argument ever. Whichever one you lack is the one you desire. And it is a strong intoxicant, this desire. Even imbued with panacea-like qualities.

Remember when you had all these big plans and ideas and dreams and the only thing holding you back was the money? How many times I said, “Ahhh…. if only….” And you work and you plan and you strive. And then, lo- you have the money. But where has the time gone? And you find yourself lamenting, “Ohhh, if I only…” [I may be projecting here of course, I am prone to that in this format, but this has been on my mind for a while. Not just on my mind… dominating my mind.]

The whole situation reminds me of Jacques’ soliloquy in As You Like It where he describes the seven stages of man:

At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Couldn’t this mirror our sentiments about time and money? The infant for whom any amount of money is useless, the young boy with all the time in the world – to waste – creeping like a snail, the lover who wants only to impre$$ the object of his affection, the soldier building his reputation and his coffers, but by definition without the freedom to use either, the judge with all his material finery- and a big fat belly that will clearly not play well out there in the field, the old man who sees a world to wide, and then the final act – the second childhood where money matters not.

I do not want to be the tottering old fool sitting on piles of money looking at a “world too wide.”

But here we are. The economy has been less than optimistic. People I know are struggling to manage the financial situations they have found themselves in, and this is not to even mention those who have lost their jobs. And so, to be in a financially secure, even solvent, position seems enviable. Add to this the fact that I made a conscious decision to stay in Hong Kong two years ago strictly for financial reasons. Seems a bit offensive to moan. I stayed here purely for reasons founded in avarice. I had no other real reason to stay. The. Money. Was. Good. And so here I am. I gots the money, yo.

At what cost?

Now of course, as must be plainly obvious, I am also thinking a lot about this because there have been some serious shifts in my personal priorities recently. In Hong Kong, all people care about is making the biyuyu – the chedda – the scrilla – rolling in the sweet swells of the cash flow. Even seemingly non-pecuniary folks will always contribute their fair share as to what you should seek at a job, how much more you should try to get, what else you should ask for. It is exhausting. And at the end of the day, it is not really my thing.

I recently made it clear that I needed to be away from work for a substantial amount of time. I cannot tell you how many people around me found it completely incomprehensible that I would take unpaid leave. Why? Why? Why? [And let me just say, that is not even the half of it. I took more than a 10% pay-cut in order to guarantee that I could have more discretionary time away from work.] People have been mystified. Or they think I am secretly sitting on oil wells or something. No one really understands that I would rather just not be on the income treadmill right now. This is not to say that I am losing all sense of reality and am going back to the land or something (though I will be going to Burning Man – so yeeeeaaaaaahhhhh!) it is just that I want to see a little more balance between time and money. What good is money if you cannot enjoy it?

Many people I know say that I can only say this because I am financially secure.



But when I look back at a life time of choices, it seems to me that the idea of money and extravagance has always held more allure than it’s corresponding reality. I like the idea of lots of money, but how many cliches do I need to throw in here… “You can’t take it with you…” [Especially if you can’t even get the time off to take it anywhere.] And make no mistake, I have my indulgences.  But anymore, time seems like the greatest indulgence of them all.

In my ruminations on this subject I have been talking to lots of people and getting a lot of input – something I required as I considered this recent round of contract negotiations… And it has been so interesting to hear what people had to say and the varying attitudes towards time and money. I keep asking myself that same question, “What would I do if money were no object?” Unfortunately it IS an object. So, a better question is what’s it worth to you?

And to that end, I found this paper: Spending Time versus Spending Money by Erica Mina Okada and Stephen J. Hoch. As a research project for the Wharton School at UPenn, it has a definite purpose, but it is a truly interesting read. The premise is trying to evaluate our attitudes towards spending money versus spending time.  And of course, I assume the expectations hold that if you have no money, you are more likely to spend time, but this is not what they looked at. They considered how we value our time. And again, some things were obvious… we will spend at a premium for convenience, and go the distance for a perceived bargain. But what about all the stuff in between?  How do you put a value on time? Of course there are opportunity costs to consider, even I teach this concept at the high school level, and then there are other constraints and circumstances to factor in. However, overall, it appears that people derive more extreme emotions when money is involved (greater satisfaction in favorable outcomes and greater disappointments in bad ones) and seem to be able to rationalize disappointments when time is spent to get something – which leads me to conclude that we do not value time appropriately. They also look at how people consider these things when dealing with a volatile currency – and that really gave me pause, like how we spend money when we go to places with weak currencies – like it is free money. What is up with that?

I stopped and thought about this. I pay more for direct flights – why? Because I have no time. I spend money like it is fake when it costs a million Dong for something or 10k Baht. I do not even consider the costs when I barter/exchange/trade (goods for goods or time for goods) because if it is not coming out of my bank account I guess it is “free”? What does this say about the value I place on my time? What a stupid contradiction especially in light of the fact that I was just in contract negotiations trying to demonstrate how valuable my time was.


And all of this brought me right back to Tock from The PhantomTollbooth. Tick Tock is the watch dog, who guards and values TIME. The time wasters in this story are the serious bad guys, like the worst of the worst: the Terrible Trivum , the Senses Taker, the Lethargians and of course that awful place, The Doludrums. Norton Juster had a good point.

So, don’t cry for me Argentina: I am going on VACATION.

Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life. ~Tock , The Phantom Tollbooth


About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Chasing the Life I was Supposed to Want, China, Holidays, Hong Kong, Life, The Future, Travel, Work and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Time or Money?

  1. Sheli says:

    Good points all in terms of time. Am taking time off to do an MBA…how crazy of me?! Its great, but no money to spare.

    Wow, the Phantom Tollbooth was my favourite book as a kid (9yrs), how’d you find it after all these years?!! Still very pertinent, oddly enough.

    • Amanda says:

      I love the book too! I use it with all sorts of levels of students. In fact, most adults I know should take another read… plus his manipulation of language is awesome. And I think time off for school may be some of the most well spent time. I am jealous.

  2. carol barickman says:

    you can get more money but you can’t geyt more time, it’s a gift, like the dog said. and then ask: what do you have that lasts after you’ve spent your money? after you’ve spent your time? m

    • Amanda says:

      For sure.
      I still think that the way we assess the spending of time compared to how we look at the spending of money is fascinating, I suppose it is some sort of sad statement on humanity at the end of the day, but there you are.

  3. Anna Es Muy says:

    spend more time in the meatscape….

    • Amanda says:

      You know, I am. It is why the blog has gotten a little less attention.
      If there is one thing that Dr. Ramez Elgammal aptly demonstrated, it is that bullshit detectors are far less accurate outside the meatscape. Time to get real and eliminate that which wastes time AND money.

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