If I asked you how you spend your money, you could probably answer with an honest amount of precision. But if I asked you how you invest your money, your answer would be very different – because spending money and investing money are two very different behaviors.
Let’s replace time with money. How do you spend your time? That’s an easy answer, right? You probably sleep 6-8 hours a day, work about 8 hours, leaving another 8-10 hours for other activities. But how do you invest your time? Or, do you just spend your time?
It seems odd that we can easily explain how we spend our time, but not so easy when it comes to how we invest our time. Perhaps because “spend” feels like a one-time transaction or disposal, whereas “invest” feels like a commitment to a higher/greater cause.
If that’s the case, let’s look at practical ways you can “invest your time” – and in turn, build something better:
School. The value of a college education is usually presented in purely monetary terms. But according to the Lumina Foundation, Americans with bachelor’s degrees receive the following benefits in comparison to high school graduates never attending college:
- The likelihood of reporting health to be very good or excellent is 44 percent greater.
- The likelihood of being a regular smoker is 3.9 times lower.
- Life expectancy at age 25 is seven years longer.
- The probability of being in prison or jail is 4.9 times lower.
- The probability of being married is 21 percent higher and the probability of being divorced or separated is 61 percent lower.
Relationships. Spending time with family and friends in order to build relationships is absolutely an investment and like any investment, the key is to be intentional.
Exercise. Going to the gym, taking walks, playing basketball or jogging with your dog are investments in time and investments in you. It’s akin to the maintenance you provide for your house – cleaning out the gutters, fixing that squeaky door, repairing the wood rot. Your body, of course, is much more valuable than your house.
Eating healthy. Eating well is much like investing in a savings account – eating healthier won’t pay immediate dividends, but you’ll be better off in the long run.
Using the Principles of Investing Money
Interestingly, the principles of investing money can be applied to investing your time:
- Just as I’d caution you not to invest all your retirement assets in a single stock, don’t invest all of your time in a single activity. When investing your time, you really don’t know which activity will be the most rewarding, so you’re better off investing your time in different areas of interest.
- When equity markets have a prolonged run-up, I advise my clients that we need to reallocate assets to maintain a balance that is consistent with their goals and risk tolerance.
Similarly, if you spent much of the past year exercising every day and eating well only occasionally, maybe you should flip the two.
- Risk/Reward. I’m constantly reminding my clients that every investment carries risk – and that risk must be worth the potential return. The same is true when you invest your time – not everything in life brings you the same amount of joy or purpose. Only you can determine if the risk is worth the potential reward.
- Research is Important. You know that there are great investments, awful investments and everything in between. As a financial planner, I research the details of an investment so that I can make an informed recommendation to my clients as to which investments appear to be better than others. The same is true with how you invest your time – there are plenty of great ways and plenty of awful ways to invest. Do your research. And remember that some activities may not be the best investment for you.
Smart, experienced financial experts can debate all day long about the merits of one investment versus another. But what most may agree on is that it is best to invest early and do so consistently. The same is true with your time. Just like cash, you can frivolously spend on material things and not invest your money for when you need it later in life. Or you can invest your money in ways that improve your life. Investing in your time is no different.