Updated on 06.14.10

Buying Things You Wish You Had Time For

Trent Hamm

Not too long ago, I traded in my Nintendo DS and the games I had accumulated for it for a Playstation 3 and a handful of used games. I did this for two reasons, mostly. One, I don’t play the DS much at all since I’m not traveling (when I am out and about, I usually use my iPod Touch). Two, I have several friends to play against in various online games.

When I picked out the titles I wanted to trade for, I mostly thought about my friends and the games that we could play together (or at least discuss and compare achievements on). I selected a handful of titles that I thought I could play in the evenings after the kids are in bed some nights (they’re mostly parents, too, and would also play in the late hours).

Of course, after making the trade and contacting my friends, they were ecstatic. But after a few days, we all started comparing games and they also sent me to some Playstation 3 review sites.

What I ended up finding was a long list of titles that intrigued me. Some of my friends already owned some of them and others just seemed like fun. I wound up making a long list of potentially compelling titles.

It was at that point that I had a realization. At most, I’ll be playing this four or six hours a week, late in the evening with some pals. I’ll likely never have enough time to fully play through the titles I already have, let alone the titles on that list.

I might wish that I have more time to play because, quite frankly, it’s fun to play such games with old friends that are spread all over the country. It’s entertaining, interactive, and a great way to maintain a connection with people that I might otherwise lose.

But the truth is that six hours a week is probably going to be the absolute maximum cap on the time I would be able to play – the equivalent of a “poker night” with those guys when we happen to be spread out across the country.

I would simply be spending a lot of money on things that I wish I had time to play – not on things that I actually have time for.

To put it simply, that’s an incredibly poor way to spend your money. Never, ever spend your money on things that you wish you had time for.

If you wish you had time to exercise, don’t buy exercise shoes. Instead, find the time to exercise and start walking and jogging in the shoes you already have, then think about buying shoes if you need them.

If you wish you had time to cook at home, don’t blow $500 on kitchen implements. Instead, start making meals at home on whatever cheap pans you can get at the Goodwill Store. If you find yourself getting used to it and cooking at home a lot, then upgrade.

If you wish you had time to travel, don’t buy tons of travel guides. Instead, focus on getting your life under enough control so that you have the time and resources to travel.

The solution to not having enough time for the things you want to do in life is not found through buying stuff just in case you have time to do it. In fact, the solution is the opposite: invest your money and your time into building the kind of life where you have the freedom to do the things you want. Live way below your means. Knock your job out of the park. Do what you’re passionate about.

Then, when you do find yourself in a secure place with more free time, you’ll have the time to do the things you want to do – and the financial resources to actually do it.

Until then, don’t delude yourself with the power to buy. Buying stuff is not a substitute for having the time to enjoy it.

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  1. Shannon says:

    So it’s okay to spend hours playing video-games but watching television is a waste of time?

  2. David says:

    That hit home!

    One recent case: I really would love to have the latest DSLR. However, I realized that what I really wanted was to be taking tons of great pictures and videos, which I can do just fine with my current point-and-shoot. So, instead, I’m focusing on using the camera I have even more. If I eventually outgrow it, then I’ll know I’m getting the DSLR for the right reason.

  3. Chuck says:

    Article is well said. I have a friend who seems to collect the stuff associated with hobbies but rarely spends time doing the actual hobbies. He’s always looking for the next great gadget for all of these activities he never does. Basically his real hobby is collecting stuff not doing stuff.

  4. Dennis says:

    I liked this post since I do spend money on things I wish I had time to do. But, I am curious though: what are your thoughts on buying something so that when you actually do have time to use it, it’s right there for you. Using your example of video games, buying a game now means it will be there for the time when you actually have time to play. In contrast, if you didn’t buy the game, and you have some time, then… well, you wouldn’t have the game. My point is, isn’t it actually worth it to buy some things in advance for when you do have the time for it as long as you are 100% sure that you will use those things when you have the time?

    Also in reply to Shannon: I think it depends on the person. Some people just prefer to play video games to watching TV. I guess Trent just prefers to play video games (as he stated in the post, he finds it a good way to connect with old friends).

  5. Brian says:

    try the swapping site http://www.goozex.com
    i’ve stopped paying for games entirely (other than the shipping charges) and i always have something new to play.

  6. Money Smarts says:

    I just sold a bunch of those “wish I had time to play” video games this past month. I’ve had the games for quite a while and I kept meaning to try them out, but just never had the time for it. when I do play there are usually one or two games that I play. So off to craigslist and ebay the games go – time to simplify!

  7. Jennifer says:

    I buy my husband games as gifts and I think that they fall into the “I wish I had time” category. This was a good post.

  8. jdmitch says:

    Wow, Trent, I was actually using very similar phrasing to explain to some colleagues why I avoid certain hobbies at present (hunting, golf, and go kart driving like some buddies do). It all comes down to the fact that I’m a bit competitive and to get to the level of competency that doing it would be more than an exercise in frustration would take too much money and TIME than I have to invest right now. I get a better ROI out of time spent playing with my three little kids and taking them on bike rides.

  9. Macaroni says:

    I agree, this is a great post.

    I fall into the “wish I had time” category and realized I was buying 1-2 games per month; I resorted to gamefly to save cash and still get my “fix”. If I cannot get into the game within an hour I send it back. If I like it I play until I’m tired of it and send it back. The really good games get added to my wish-list (which are few and far between) and are reserved as gifts for Christmas/Birthday/Father’s Day.

  10. The “I wish I had time” category is widely spread. Not only games, but also other kinds of hobbies, or things in need of repair. I try to be realistic and to let go, otherwise the ‘stuff’ would become ‘clutter’.

  11. Annie Jones says:

    This is an area of concern for me, too. My weakness is crafting supplies. I have, literally, a closet full of supplies and don’t have (won’t make) time to craft. Yet I want to go to the craft stores and buy more supplies. Hopefully your post will inspire me to 1) start crafting more, or 2) get rid of the supplies I have.

  12. I think most people who wish they had more time really DO have time, they just idle it away in a variety of ways, making it SEEM as though there just isn’t time. If a person were to take away all the screen time during the day, except in the case of playing more video games, many of us would have a surplus of time with which we could do a great many things.

    I am curious as to what people are so busy doing that they don’t have time to enjoy life? Are our lives really that hectic?

  13. Mary says:

    Trent, your posts often help me reflect on something in a new way, and I really enjoyed this one. This is a habit of which I am definitely guilty, as well as wasting time wishing I had more time! Keep up the good work.

  14. Deb says:

    In our house, any time we want to buy something other than food, we go through the ‘fantasy vs. reality’ exercise. Many times, we decide not to buy the item. Right now we are dying to buy kayaks, but when we run the idea through the ‘fantasy vs. reality’ filter, we realize we’d use them only a few times per year. Not worth it. (Of course, we are referring to our own fantasy and our own reality.) We have no debt and could easily afford them, but the ‘not having time’ factor is what stops us. I’d like to reorganize my life to HAVE the time to kayak on weekends and am working to accomplish that. THEN the purchase will fall into the reality column and not the fantasy one. Until then, we are renting them.

  15. Jason says:

    I wish I had read something like this a couple years ago. I have the gear to embark on a climbing expedition, a kayak adventure, a paintball mini-war, and numerous other hobbies. I havent looked at them in a while. The only upside is now that Im making changes in my life, I may have less of an excuse not to do these activities.

  16. Crystal says:

    My husband realized his lack of time a few years ago and spends a tiny fraction of what he used to on computer games and other gaming systems. A college kid living on his parents money had a lot more time than an adult trying to get a Master’s…he has several hobbies, but he stopped spending on ones he doesn’t have time for. :-)

  17. Suzie says:

    Fantastic article this one. I absolutely agree, we buy stuff to make us feel like the person we want to be, and not the person we are.

    And I am definitely as guilty of it as everyone else… so thanks for the reminder that I should be focusing on getting more time, not more stuff!

  18. Hope D says:

    I have watched that show “Hoarders”. It seems many of them keep or buy things they want to have time for. There are many different reasons for hoarding, but keeping things you want to use but will not realistically have time for is one.

  19. Todd says:

    It’s funny how strongly we picture ourselves living out our fantasy lives. Even clothing catalogs take advantage of this. I haven’t gone so far as to buy sailing gear, but I’ve bought certain clothes based on a catalog photo, thinking, “If I’m ever invited to someone’s summer home in Maine and am laughing with friends on a sailboat, THIS is exactly how I want to look!” As if…

  20. chacha1 says:

    @ Annie, I was in the same situation and finally put my foot down. I sorted through all the different projects, chose one that really sang to me, and gave the rest of my stuff away. My productivity has shot up.

    It was as if getting rid of the things I *didn’t* truly want to do made it possible to get moving on the things I *did* want to do. The amount of time available hasn’t changed.

    If you are already occasionally making things in your One True Craft :-) you might consider opening an Etsy Craft store and selling the rest of your supplies in a Supplies store there.

  21. KJ says:

    I’m feeling energized following TSD right now, re-doing my GTD collection phase and really enjoying the articles!

    The only place to disagree here is your example of footwear. Many types of inexpensive or well-work “athletic” footwear can give newbie joggers a repetitive stress injury. For most folks, walking’s a-okay in oldies, though, and you can build up your walking mileage quickly without worrying about hurting yourself.

  22. Anthony says:

    I usually agree with most of your posts, but I think I disagree with this one. Most of us have very busy lives, so does that mean that we should never indulge in something as reward. Should I never buy a book? I thought I didn’t have time to go to school, but I enrolled anyway and I’m halfway to a degree. If I let time be an excuse, I wouldn’t do anything. I play golf and I have a PS3 and I am very busy. These are some of my favorite things. I also have a daughter and another one on the way. After the initial costs, I do things to keep the costs down. Used games, golf twilight hours and specials. If I just let my responsibilities take over and didn’t give myself a reward once in a while, I’d be pretty miserable.

  23. Kai says:

    I agree with #16.
    If you want to start running, start with walking. A brisk walk a few times per week will get you going with no gear needed. Once you’re into it, if you’re going to start running, it’s worth putting the money into *running* shoes. Or you’ll cost yourself much more in fees trying to fix what you broke. Don’t run in old shoes.

    Run barefoot if you have appropriate ground and appropriate feet. But don’t run in junky shoes.

  24. Tara C says:

    This reminds me of a fashion consultant’s advice to ask yourself the question when you see an item of clothing in a store that you want to buy, “Where am I going in that?” This question has saved me many times from buying an outfit that is really for the “fantasy me” and not the “real me”. I bought so many things that I never ended up wearing because they were for some lifestyle that I really didn’t have. Great post!

  25. Julia says:

    This is why I have so many books. I have about 10 books queued up waiting to be read – I’ve them for 1-2 years. I just don’t read as much as I used to. I finally banned myself from the bookstore until I finish my current reading list.

  26. valleycat1 says:

    re # 18 – the eye-opening exercise I did regarding shopping for clothes was to map out a representative week of how I actually spend my time, then assessed my wardrobe against that. I was buying a lot more clothes (or at least spending more) than I needed for the smallest segment of my time, & not enough for the largest.

  27. marta says:

    I agree with this post in general, but I wish you’d stop telling people to run in their old shoes. This is bad advice.

    Don’t skimp on running/exercise shoes. It’s not worth it. Also, if you start running in bad shoes, you *won’t* be likely to pursue running.

    If this is your approach to exercise, I am not surprised you can’t find the time for it…

  28. Ashley says:

    Like many others have said, it is wise to invest in good shoes for running and when walking considerable distances. I’m in the process of losing two toenails because I walked way too far several times in older shoes. The shoes used to be fantastic, but they eventually wreaked havoc to my toes. My new shoes of the same brand and very comparable style haven’t further injured my toes despite still doing a lot of walking.

    Still, I understand the main point of the article even if I don’t completely agree with this example.

  29. Wahid says:

    This is a very good post. This can also apply to buying stuff that you generally have no need for. That is probably the biggest problem and gets people into debt the most. And with debt a major problem here in New Zealand (and everywhere else) this is priceless advice.

  30. Good point- an example that comes to mind in my personal life is my deliberation on whether to sign up for a gym membership.

    I’m not a big fan of recurring monthly expenses, and I think that if I signed up for the gym, I would likely NOT have time to go…

    so I guess I’ll stick with my yoga dvd’s for now =)

  31. Greg says:

    I disagree about the cheap pans from the Goodwill Store. The bottom of the pan actually has the function to distribute the heat evenly, so do yourself a favour and get a halfway decent pan, even if you cook only occasionally.

    Wben you are an experienced cook, you can switch back to crappy cookware, and compensate for its defects by cooking technique ;-)

  32. Another Dave says:

    I agree with the intent of this post, but like Marta, believe one should not be skimping on running shoes. I am in need of a new pair myself.
    But in general I have been following this advice for several years now. 90% of my purchases revolve around productivity gains. Tools, Equipment, etc. It’s the stuff that I am constantly going “Man I really need..XYZ”. That’s the stuff that sticks to my shopping list. Esp w/Books. My reading list is still 18inches tall.

  33. This is why our economy is in such bad shape because people buy stuff that they don’t or can’t even use

  34. Matt says:

    Sometimes I find myself buying something I’m unlikely to use. But I rationalize the purchase with this line of thought: “if I spend the money on this thing, then I’ll feel guilty if I don’t use it.” To be honest, that does work sometimes, but fails more often than not. In other words, I attempt to use the purchase to motivate a behavior in myself.

    But I find Trent’s approach more effective: first motivate myself to do the thing, then reward myself with a purchase that supports the new behavior.

    With regards to running… There’s growing evidence that says modern, ultra-padded running shoes are actually bad for you. The solution: run barefoot, or in the most minimal shoes you can find that still protect your feet (e.g. Vibram Five Fingers, Converse Chuck Tailors, Adidas Samba).

    I saw a video demonstration on YouTube that showed someone running (on a treadmill) with modern running shoes. Her foot strike was “heel to toe”. Then the same person ran on the treadmill barefoot: this caused her forward strike to land on the *ball* of her feet instead of the heel.

    The theory is, in the absence of a padded heel, our bodies will naturally land on the the instep when running. The idea makes intuitive sense to me: when you land on your heel, your leg is straight, and you rely on the cushion of the shoe to absorb the blow of your body weight. Chances are, the shoe can’t absorb the entirety of the strike, so you joints absorb the rest. Compared to when you strike with the ball of your feet: you leg is bent, so the *muscles* of the leg can absorb the shock. Muscles are meant to be used (abused?) in this way, bones are not.

    Just something to think about. There is a website dedicated to barefoot running. See also the Pose running technique, as it can be done barefoot as well.

  35. DivaJean says:

    I call this phenomenon “amulet buying.” Before we had kids, I would notice hubby buying groceries that neither of us particularly liked but were considered “healthier.” Things like veggies nad fruits that were not favorites, lower caloried foods that tasted nasty, etc. I began calling these the food “amulets” as they represented what people “should” eat. We were eating healthfully enough otherwise, but dang, the money that got wasted! I finally approached hubby about buying these token amulets towards good health and how unless it was something actually done or consumed, it was just waste.

    Over the years, we have come to notice other areas of amulet like buying and try to curb it. One biggie was holiday decoration buying. In the end, it had become a big old token of my trying to provide a picture perfect childhood with photo ready holidays for the kids– not what anyone actually needed or wanted. Now, I just put out a few decorations we have come to like and at Xmas, its just the tree and a few other items.

    We try to discuss and dig into the “whys” of what we buy to tap into wise buying… and as such, we have cleared out a lot of our wishful thinking in the process.

  36. Giz says:

    I agree with Greg. Don’t go blow $500… but get a good 18/10 stainless steel pan with a thick, conductive bottom (copper, aluminum). You can get lucky finding these at Goodwill, so I’m not discounting that, but the thin-bottomed pans a lot of people use are really not conducive to learning to cook well! I see a lot of good pans cheaply at places like Marshall’s or TJMaxx as well (at least for the US folks).

    Also, as a personal trainer – YES! Get out and do! When you are in the low mileage (ie just starting) you can walk in nearly anything. You can even run in Target sneaks… when you decide to up your game though… then you need the really good sneaks. Barefoot running is good, and possible when worked up to very gradually (think about how often you’re actually barefoot, as an adult), but it’s not for everyone. Fivefingers makes a shoe for barefoot running that several of my colleagues like (I have not tried them yet), since actually going barefoot opens you up to lots of injury – gravel & trash on the ground etc.

  37. Kristine says:

    Awesome. It’s kinda like asking before you make a choice to ask yourself if the decision is a strengthening or weakening decision. Is it moving you towards your desired life or away?

  38. This post made me think of a book that I finished recently called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It’s a great challenge to assess how we are spending our time and see how well it compares to our values and priorities. I have a full review on my site under 24/7 = 168 Hours.

  39. Sarah says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for over a year now. There are so many posts I’ve appreciated, but this one really got me to think. Plugging the financial leaks, even the little ones, is tremendously helpful. THANKS.

  40. KJ says:

    @Matt — I am all for minimalist / barefoot / boiled Puma insoles tied to your feet (!) / Vibram running and agree that it’s the way feet are supposed to work.

    The issue is mostly folks doing too much too quickly, coupled with what it’s like for your body to run in worn-out shoes…

    …especially with respect to pronation, or how your foot tips back and forth between the inside/arch and outside as your feet are in contact with the ground over your stride.

    So I’m still thinking that Trent might consider only encouraging folks to start a _walking_ program in the “shoes they have.” Because you’re not striking the ground as hard, you’ve got a lot more flexibility with respect to the type of shoe you can wear without doing yourself damage.

  41. ACS says:

    I know this isn’t really in the spirit of the post, but depending on how much you currently spend on games each year, have you considered joining Gamefly or some other online game rental program? My husband used to buy new and used games until he realized that he really only played the game once, until he had “finished” it. So it made more sense to rent games, play them through once, and then return them for another game. I think it’s $16/month, he gets one game at a time and can keep it as long as he needs to. Some months he “tries out” several games, other months he’ll just play through one or two. In our annual budget we each get a couple hundred dollars of “discretionary” spending and this is how DH chooses to spend his — paying $200/yr for many games vs just buying four games/yr made sense. Again, I know your post was more about using your time to build the life that you want, and not really about how to find a way to work through your PS3 wishlist, but thought I’d throw this idea out there.

  42. Perry says:

    I started running last summer. During cold weather I ran on an inside track and developed a knee problem as a result. I’m getting back into it and I’m still using the old shoes I had last summer. I’ve thought about the shoes and heard about the modern padded shoes being bad for you. Trouble is, I have big feet. The width is mostly the problem, which makes it hard to find shoes that fit. When I do, they usually cost more. And good luck finding those “minimal” shoes in a wide width. I don’t have a lot of money for shoes, but I don’t want to develop more knee problems. Not sure what to do.

  43. Amy B. says:

    Trent- Another excellent post. I think you could really tease into this a bit more based on the comments. It’s part of a happy life – knowing your limits. It’s one of the reasons many aren’t happy – because marketing professionals know how to make us want more – even when that’s not realistic.

  44. Larn says:

    It’s so easy to go overboard on a hobby that you’re passionate about one moment, but not necessarily the next. When my husband first bought his Jeep he started getting catalogs for all the cool accessories; because it was all new and exciting at the time, he deluded himself into thinking that he would use the stuff more than he actually did. That’s right, my husband is delusional.

  45. Julia says:

    OMG #14 I am laughing my head off!! your post about the catalog is so funny!!! And I so identify.

    But hey what a great article, Trent. I just have to say that last summer I started a workout program. I wanted to immediately start purchasing stuff for working out, but I made myself wait until I had completed the initial 90 days before I could buy anything, even new clothing.

    So what a great awareness. Now, I just need to practice that with all my books….6-7 in progress and just bot another – impulse purchase because it was on clearance….argh

  46. Kirstie says:

    Re: running shoes – Trent is right. The best way to start a running programme is by walking. If you can fit in half an hour of walking 3-4 times a week, after a couple of weeks you will be fit enough to start running, and you will know that you have the time available and commitment to keep it up.

    @ steven #7 “why can’t people find the time to do things?” – if you have young children every child-free minute depends on the good will of a spouse/friend, or paid childcare. This situation doesn’t last forever, but it is reality while they are young.

  47. Aubrey says:

    You traded stuff that was sitting on a shelf for something that you could see yourself using a few hours a week? That doesn’t seem like a bad trade, it seems like a net gain.

  48. Bryan says:

    Good article. To get around my console video game spending, I use rewards programs to get stuff for my PS3, that way I don’t feel bad about not spending as much time as I would like on the games. In fact the PS3, controllers, and games I own were all obtained for free. It takes a while, but for me it is worth it. I use two sites sonyrewards.com and thankyou.com. You do not have to have the Sony rewards credit card to earn points (you accumulate points faster if you use the card), instead there are different “clubs” you can join that ask trivia questions based on Sony pictures TV shows (all the answers can be found online). I don’t have a Sony card, but I do have a Citi bank premier pass card that has access to the thank you network. I usually use the thank you points for the games since they have a bigger selection and newer titles and the Sony rewards for the hardware since non card holders are restricted on how many points they may apply to items under 10,000 points. As a bonus I trade the games I am done with at used game shops for credit for other games

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