In 2008, I made a very painful decision. I walked away from a career that I enjoyed, mostly because I didn’t have the flexibility I wanted to spend time with my children. I felt like I was missing the years where they were growing up and I did not want to be an absent father.
I wanted to be there at every soccer game, at every martial arts test, at every spelling bee. I wanted to be there when they came home from school upset that their friend wasn’t nice to them. I wanted to be there when they lost their first teeth. I was missing these things, and I didn’t like it.
On the day I made that decision, my income dropped by more than half. I was making some income from writing at the time, but it wasn’t nearly as much as I made at my job.
Financially, this was a disastrous move Any time you slash your household’s income by a third, you’re restricting your ability to make strong financial moves. At the very least, you’re slashing away at your disposable income and your ability to save for the future (which is exactly what we lost).
We made it work, though. We ate even more meals at home. Sarah no longer had to leave work because of a sick child, since I was now taking care of them.
Because of this change, I have been able to spend a ton of time with my children over the past four years. I have a strong, deep relationship with all three of them. I hold them when they’re hurt. I play with them when they’re happy. I teach them about the world, and about right and wrong.
Building these relationships and doing all of these things took a lot of time.
What is that time worth? Is it worth the loss of income that we suffered? Over the last four years, I’ve come to realize quite a few things about the relationship between time and money.
First, there’s a baseline of income that a family needs to make it. You have to be able to pay the bills, keep a roof over everyone’s head, and keep food on the table. For us, the money needed for this came out to be about the level we would earn if Sarah and I both had a minimum wage job for forty hours a week.
On top of that, though, people have a lot of freedom to choose what to do with their money. Do you chase more income so you can have a bigger house and higher quality stuff, but perhaps also get a lot of job stress? Or do you choose a lower income path to have less stress and more choices with your time? There are lots of different choices in here once you have the basic income covered.
Regardless of the path you choose, time still has a financial value. If you choose to work less hours for less money, you’re saying that your additional free hours are worth the money you’re not bringing in. If you choose to work more hours for more money, you’re saying that your extra work hours are worth the extra money. If you choose a high stress job with more pay over a low stress job with low pay, you’re saying that the extra money is worth the effects of the stress over the rest of your life.
I don’t believe there is a “right” choice or a “wrong” choice. There are just different choices. Some people might want the wonderful house and might thrive on the challenging job. Others might prefer the smaller house and the free time to spend with their family.
It really comes down to values. What do you care about? It doesn’t matter what others care about. What matters is what you value.
The reason I believe so strongly in frugality is that frugality can help out no matter which path you choose. Frugality is simply looking at a situation and making a choice that maximizes the value you get out of it. Sometimes, you maximize money; other times, you might maximize the time or energy you get out of it. No matter what, it’s a thoughtful and conscious decision that gets you more of the resource that you most desire.
Time is money, but it doesn’t mean that your time needs to be devoted to money.