Updated on 09.08.15

Investing Isn’t Just About Money

Trent Hamm

When I first sat down to write the Investing in Yourself series, I was mostly thinking about financial investments – how can you invest money in yourself in order to increase your earning potential? What the series actually pointed out to me, however, is that investments really take on a lot of forms and you can often transform one type of investment into another.

For example, take The Simple Dollar. For me, it’s a money investment (hosting fees), a time investment, an intellectual investment, and a bit of an emotional investment, too. What do I get out of it? I reap some financial rewards, increased knowledge and understanding (as a result of the research), improved writing skills, a network of acquaintances, and the wonderful feeling one gets from helping someone. Is it enough reward for the time investment? I believe that it is, but it’s probably not an exchange everyone would see value in.

There are lots of ways to invest in something.

Money is the most obvious investment. It’s very easy to see how financial investments increase in value over time just by itself, let alone how you can use money in effective purchases to improve your situation. Most tangible goods in some way fall under money, as they have some sort of direct monetary value.

Time is also rather obvious, and for me it’s the more valuable investment. An hour of your time should reap some sort of reward, and that’s why I think that many people were frustrated with my recent article about personal appearance and hygiene – for some, the benefits of the investment of time in cleaning yourself is so obvious as to be idiotic (and thus some seemed to be insulted by the article), but yet for others it’s not something worth investing their time in because they don’t really see the benefit. The comments on that post make that dichotomy clear (and convinced me that I made the right call in posting it).

There are other investments as well. Emotional involvement is one – whenever you become emotionally involved with something or someone, you’re hoping for a positive outcome. I immediately think of my sister-in-law here, who works at a job that she’s deeply emotionally involved in without much pay. For her, it’s much more than just a time investment. It’s passion.

Intellectual investment is another important one. For example, I often come home from my regular job with my brain completely drained of mental energy. It’s almost all I can do to raise up the mental energy to engage with my family in the evenings at times.

Along these same lines, not all investments pay dividends in the form of money, either. There are rewards in the form of time, in the form of emotion, and in the form of self-improvement as well. Again, looking at investment rewards from this perspective brings my sister’s job into clear view. She works at an emotionally involving job, investing her time and emotions greatly into her work. What does she receive as a reward? Money’s just one part of it – it leaves her with a great deal of emotional reward, too, from the upfront happiness of bringing a positive change to people’s lives to the overall satisfaction of doing something that fills a true social need. Overall, the equation balances out for her, even if looking at it from a time-for-money perspective makes it look as though she’s getting a raw deal.

When you start looking at investments from a wider perspective, lots of interesting aspects of life come into view.

Time-wasting activities seem more wasteful than ever. I’ll be the first to confess that the hour a week I spend watching Lost is probably not the best time investment. I spend an hour of my time, a bit of my mental energy, and a tiny bit of money on a show solely for the entertainment factor. Do I get enough out of that time to make it worthwhile? It’s rather hard for me to make that case, even for a show that my wife and I both get a lot of enjoyment out of, thus it’s almost impossible for me to make the case for just flipping on the television and staring.

Things that previously didn’t seem like investments seem more like investments. The personal appearance and hygiene article comes to mind again. Most people don’t think about this as an investment, but that’s exactly what it is. You’re investing time and a bit of money in exchange for a better appearance and slightly better health. For most people, this investment seems like such a no-brainer that it’s not even something to think about, but for others, the costs of this investment (mostly the time lost) isn’t worth the reward.

Maximizing the value of your investments takes on a whole new light. It goes beyond maximizing the cash value of an hour of your time. If you can spend an hour doing work that’s incredibly grueling and draining for $20, or you can do something very easy for that hour for $18, the $18 is a far better investment opportunity because it leaves you with energy for other tasks. I think back to a time two years ago where a penny-pinching travel companion of mine insisted that we sit in an airport for eight hours to save $30 on an airline ticket – for him, that was a good investment because he could cozy up in a chair and read, but for me, it was a terrible investment because I wanted to see my infant son quite badly.

Think about things in your own life that drain your emotions, your mental acuity, and your time. What rewards do you get from those activities? Are there other opportunities where you could get more value out of your investment?

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  1. Trent, an hour of LOST is -always- a good investment. :-)

    I think sometimes “time wasting” so to speak is necessary. Everyone needs occasional down-time to recharge and clear their minds. It of course can be dangerous, it’s easy to spend the whole afternoon surfing online and taking a nap while a bad movie is on. Personal investment is definitely a hard balance. With financial investment, you can see that investment physically growing. With personal investment, the lines are blurred and at times it can be frustrating not to see the instant gratification of it.


  2. Michael says:

    Trent, I am worried some of your readers don’t know how to write checks, which might keep them from succeeding if they have to pay off their bills. Could you please post about check-writing?

  3. Frugal Dad says:

    Trent, I’ve always justified the hour of Lost, and other seemingly time-wasted efforts as a way to recharge my batteries. In this way there is a slight return in more productivity with future tasks.

  4. Brian says:

    I agree with the others about watching an hour of TV. It’s not a waste of time. Does everything you do in life have to have a monetary value? What if watching TV is a hobby? Isn’t an hour watching Lost the same as an hour reading or an hour playing with your children? If it’s a hobby and you enjoy it, then just enjoy it. Don’t worry about money that you’re “losing” by not doing work.

  5. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    The question I ask myself is “Do I work hard so that I can do X?” If the answer is no, or it fills me with a sense of guilt or misdirection, then it’s probably a big time waster.

    Things that I work hard for include playing with my children, engaging in creative tasks, and reading. For me, television isn’t a very valuable use of my time – not even that Lost hour. Different people have different values, though – I just try to express my own.

  6. Brian says:

    Trent, I see your point about working hard for a payoff, and I don’t mean to say you’re wrong. But do you ever just take some time to relax? If you feel guilty about watching one of the best shows on TV once a week for an hour, when do you relax? Do you ever watch sporting events? Like I said I’m not trying to pick apart your reasoning, I’m just curious. One of the reasons I do work hard is so that I CAN sit down on a Sunday with some friends and watch three football games.

  7. KS says:

    I thought exactly what Brian says. Watching an interesting tv show is not a waste of time. I watch PBS mostly because they are so edu and informative plus they don’t show ads which are the actual waste of time imo. We should watch tv to know what’s going on in the world and to get new ideas. Spending time with family is fine but quality tv makes one a concerned and aware citizen.
    One more thing is that we should be aware of pop culture. I don’t watch sports but do read the papers to follow my city’s home teams just to make small talk! It may further us in our work situation. Like when people talk about an exciting game/tv episode/video and the one guy is clueless. Trent sometimes you come off obsessive, so lighten up ;-)

  8. Graham Lutz says:

    Growing my hair out is an investment. I go through this silly phase where my hair is not short and not long and just looks ridiculous.

    I think the idea behind feeling “guilty” for watching LOST is that there are other hobbies that are much more productive and/or rewarding.

    I’m with ya though, Brian. I work Hard specifically so I can NOT work hard. ha!

  9. Jacques says:

    Hi Trent,
    I agree with you that one should work towards maximizing their efficiency. But time waisting can provide great returns too… Some of the greatest invention of all time popped during a time-waisting activity.

    It also helps to let your mind run free & not focus on something specific sometimes. A bit like how we need sleep to release some of our mind tension at the end of the day. If one just keep on optimizing 24/7 he will suffer a break-down to some point…

    So being really focus & optimizing your time & energy investment is great to do – but not at all times,

  10. Eric says:

    Trent, The one thing I always struggle with is how much time to invest in things. Since I teach college and have been granted tenure, I could in theory just teach 5 classes and go home, but it’s more fulfilling to me to get involved in other aspects of campus life, teach extra courses, etc.

    I think many of my coworkers struggle when there are not set “requirements” as to how much work you have to put in to get results. I know this particular venue isn’t directly applicable, but the balance you’ve struck has definitely been instructive to me when you’ve talked about family plus blog plus work and how you balance them.

  11. Great perspective! There is more to life than making money.

    > not all investments pay dividends in the form
    > of money

    Maybe not in your portfolio. ;)

    Best Wishes,

  12. tracy ho says:

    Great post ,

    Love it

    Tracy Ho

  13. Our most important investments are the ones we make in ourselves. Whatever we contribute to the world is usually a reflection of what it is we’ve absorbed from our surroundings and cultivated along with our natural talents. Potential + effort + investment + talent = value. We all have inherent value, but we increase that value, especially to those around us and those we touch, by making those investments and seeking to reach our potential.

  14. I can relate to the frustration that comes with maintaining a personal finance website. There are good days and bad but I still love it!

  15. Ryan says:

    I like to work hard, play hard, and rest hard. I don’t consider time watching TV as wasted, that’s just part of my rest time.

  16. reulte says:

    I don’t watch TV (although I watch mostly educational DVDs) — so I would consider watching an hour of Lost a total waste. However, you enjoy it.

    Once you make the decision to sit down with your wife and enjoy it – do so. It’s your choice so make the most of it; Let it lead you into further discussions with friends and your wife who enjoys it as well. Contemplate the intrinsic (i.e. plot) and extrinsic (i.e. cineamatagraphy) factors that make it fun for you.

    Conscientiously chosing to watch a show is a lot different from plopping down on the sofa for hours and having no clue what you’ve just seen.

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