We don’t buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our life.
Or, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
This is a life-changing principle. When we begin to see our purchases through the lens of exchanging life, rather than dollar bills, we can better appreciate the weight of our purchases and understand their full cost.
For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to take a hard look at how much life some of our purchases actually cost us.
For the sake of conversation, let’s use the median US household income. In 2017, that number was $61,400. For simplicity sake, let’s round down to $60,000 annual income.
If your household income is $60,000, working a typical 40-hour workweek, here is how many hours of work are needed for the following purchases:
Grande Starbucks Cappuccino ($4.00) = 8 minutes of work
Pair of Wrangler Jeans ($24.99) = 50 minutes of work
Coach Brand Purse ($119.99) = 1/2 day of work
55″ FlatScreen TV ($711.00) = 3 days of work
256GB iPhone XS ($1,249) = 1 week + 2 hours of work
Dinner at a restaurant for your family of four ($80.00) = 1/3 day of work
Dinner at home for your family of four ($17.00) = 1/2 hour of work
New Living Room Furniture Set ($1,983.94) = 1 week + 3.5 days of work
2019 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid ($26,550) = 5 months + 10 days of work
2,500 square foot house (10% down payment, 30-year mortgage of monthly payments, $303,000 purchase price) = 11 years + 6 months of work
1,600 square foot house (15% down payment, 30-year mortgage of monthly payments, $196,000 purchase price) = 7 years + 2 months
Keep in mind, the amount of work needed for the items above is based on an annual salary of $60,000. If your annual salary is $30,000, the work time will be doubled. If you make $120,000/year, the measurements should be halved.
Of course, there are alternatives to exchanging our hours and lives for material possessions…
It takes just 10 minutes to tell your child a bedtime story.
45 minutes for an evening walk with your spouse.
60 minutes to help your son/daughter with homework.
Or 2 hours/month to volunteer at your local soup kitchen.
The money we earn is ours to keep and we can spend it as we wish. But it can be a helpful exercise to realize how many hours of our lives go into each purchase we make.
And it is always wise to remember we can spend our hours pursuing items of far greater value than material possessions.
Perhaps a topic for another column Joshua but looking at the cost/yr of items that last vs disposable or badly made. A pair of sneakers can be pricey or cheap but if you’re going to wear the tread down in a year anyway should you spend the money for the upgrade? A smartphone these days seems to have built in obsolescence (ie not supported by updates or security alerts) after a couple years so should we buy the one with less bells and whistles? On the other hand a well made sofa vs a cheaply made one can last many years more and therefore have a lower $/yr.
When I was minimizing I had to negotiate with myself about getting rid of surplus items and one argument that worked was ‘I had this $100 item for ten years so I’ve already gotten my moneys worth. I can let it go.
Stephanie Howell says
So if you have a job that pays a little over minimum wage , you better be real careful how you spend your time/money….
The most important point you neglected is that your book is not a necessity and therefore we should not buy it.
Always best to learn from an expert!
Love the book and the author
Dividend Power says
So the trip ski to maximize money per hour?
Mr C says
Its the opportunity cost of that time that is so key.
Would you rather read your kid a bed time story, or have your starbucks coffee?
Unfortunately in the middle of day to day life, we don’t evaluate what we’re giving up in making a decision about what to buy.
Really good point!
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett says
Love this concept. My wife has done this since she was a child and compared her purchases to how many hours of babysitting she would need to do to pay for it. I’m adding this to my Fawcett’s Favorites on July 5th.
Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
Financial Success MD
Here’s a main point that was not discussed: If were exchanging personal time (not money) for our necessities, then why can’t EVERYONE who works a full 40 hour week have the things they want and need to live happy and comfortable lives? If this concept were true, then doctors and cashiers who work the same amount of hours would both be entitled to have that luxury car, no matter how much “money” they have. This article truly highlights the inequality we all face in society, as a majority of us have to give up almost double our personal lives in order to live comfortably because our jobs are deemed less important than others’.
I should add that as long as greed and status exist in society, there will never be a time when we will exchange personal time for our goods. These two concepts exist because people have an innate feeling that they need them in order to survive.
Greed has always existed. Period. It’s part and parcel of the human endeavor. Now, whether we ALLOW ourselves to succumb to it is a different story.
Should a waitress that pours coffee be paid the same as the concrete construction worker? Whose job has more skill and value? People are equal. Not jobs.
Brian Patterson says
I agree I have retired three times, the first at 30, the second at 44, and now at 58.
I worked basic blue collar jobs over my entire career. I never made big money. I just was smart. Anybody can do this.
Fyi, due to required taxes like social security, you don’t take home 60k. So that Starbucks is more like 10-12 minutes (depending on your tax bracket). Each item takes more time than listed.
joshua becker says
Thanks for the comment. But technically, if someone considers taxes a contribution for something they use (roads, bridges, police/fire, national defense, social security, etc.), then my math would stand. Rather then seeing taxes as a deduction from the whole to be factored, it’s just another expense from the whole. But I hear what you’re saying, most people don’t see them that way as they are not necessarily voluntary.
Pier pressure we never get away from worrying about what the latest trend is “some do not all people “keeping up with the “jones “as we say ,the media has a lot to do with it
But that’s their job to sell us on every idea to get in our pocket book , we need to learn to live our own lives do our own thinking
i understand the narrative point but you failed to mention that we working for our necessities to be covered.
Juan Latorre says
You are right, but do not bare in mind whose are imposed necessities, food, wearing, etc.. And whose are your overflows… Three tvs, or other unnecessary expenses??
Oh stop!!! U get the Point! A lot of ppl have their priorities, (needs and wants) real messed up. That’s what he’s pointing at. Why does there always gotta be someone like you trying screw up the message?… Must have hit a soft spot huh? LoL! It’s cool. I wish u well no matter who you are.
Donald Flanky says
Thank you for your article.
I am 67 year old man. The Life Expectancy tables predict I’ll live until 83, on average (16 more years).
These 16 years comprise my REMAINING LIFE. Once gone, the story ends. Done. No more.
The other days I did a mundane task that took 80 minutes. It occurred to me that if I could somehow do it in 20 minutes, I would save ONE HOUR.
I need to be very conscious of how I send my HOURS and minutes, not just my dollars.
Beth Baker says
Exactly! A man being away from his home 13 hours a day, 7 days a week with a new wife, brand new baby, shared custody of his other 2 children and a new stepdaughter, may be bringing home a lot of money but he is losing out on so much more. He has made his wife a single parent of 4 with a few benefits on the side. He cannot effectively be a husband, a father, and possibly, an employee, a healthy human being. He has spread all much too thin. Is what he is making and paying for worth all those hours lost with his family? This children grow up really fast and the wife can get mighty lonely. That’s just my opinion, though.
I like that you made this the focus of your article, but I actually think its a little different, and worse, in my interpretation.
If you make 60000 a year…lets say after ESSENTIALS (up for interpretation) but from rent/mortgage, gas, phone, utilities, insurances, vet, car maintainance AND saving for retirement…etc…your left over disposable cash is 100/week (5000/yr). So, when I explain my minimalist theory…if someone were to buy, say a nice bag (they dont need, but would love) or a nice dinner out for two….and it cost $100…. Then, I say, you have to go to work for 5 full days of work to afford you that dinner/bag. IMHO. Peace all…..
So I calculate at for a 40 (2400 minutes) hours work week, saving $100 for disposable/luxury spending that that $4 grande takes 96 minutes of work, not 8.
Very interesting!! I never thought about breaking it down like that!! Gives you a whole different perspective! Wow! Thank you for that!
I’ve committed to minimizing my world and simplifying my life/ stress etc.
I so very much appreciate your insight and wisdom. Thanking God for you and what you’ve helped me see.
I got so used to paying off debt and saving so hard that i feel guilty for spending money on ‘fun’ stuff. I save 50% of my salary and have no debt but still struggle to spend the budgeted fun money because i feel guilty. We don’t eat out or spend huge amounts of money on other parts of out life either. Do you have any advice for overcoming this please?
Kudos for having such discipline.Sometimes you have let lose a-little so that when you look back on top your life it’s just not just all work and savings without enjoyment.
I completely understand your dilemma, my husband is the same way, he wants to save, save, save, for the future, which is a good thing, but I have to remind him, my Mom died too young, from cancer that took her away from us, and she too, was saving, saving, saving up for retirement that never came. I remember she had $10,000 of extra $ she saved, and that $ became part of a home renovation after she died….a home renovation that my Dad and his new wife enjoy. It’s heartbreaking. I tell my husband, yes, let’s save, but, let’s spend some for making memories that one day we can look back on and hold in our memories. That might help you have perspective. It has to be a balance between saving for later, and living for now.
Hey Steve I think if you shift your mindset and spend money on experiences you can then remember for a lifetime you would feel less guilty. Once you travel and experience the beauty of the world, and even “third world” you will appreciate your moments.
I also see that things can add time – eating healthy food, meditation, yoga, sport, having sex with your partner makes us live longer and makes our live quality better. So it actually increasing our time in long term.
Autumn Bailey says
I love this, such a good point :)
That s so true. The old Arabic proverb says: time is money. It just never occur to me thinking of it this way. Thanks for the article.
Social Pantheist says
Minimalism is a privilege. It is the gentrification of the lack of resources that is forced upon the poor. No one understands the value of an hour more than a single parent working three part time, minimum wage jobs to get by. It would be nice for the many people living paycheck to paycheck to have the luxury of taking back time, but we’re not focused on jeans or purses. We’re making sure we can cover rent this month, or medicine copays, or gas to get to work. That Starbuck’s may be the only tiny luxury a person has in their week. Dinner for four? Not happening. And it really sucks when someone who actually has the room to pare down their lives tries to tell poor people not to have a few small luxuries to enjoy. Income inequality isn’t going to be fixed by poor people not buying Starbucks, but by the wealthy being taxed appropriately.
Angel Morales says
How does that make sense . “Wealthy should be taxed” stop trying to live off of others.
I get what you are saying. One of my graduate nursing instructors was explaining that if we witness a mom with several mouths to feed, lives in an inner city subsidized housing, possibly on food stamps (old term) purchase a box of treats and a pack of cigarettes, we’re most likely to judge those purchases, and not all of the other healthy food purchases.
9⁰⁵ Professor explained that maybe that 10-minute smoking break is her ONLY break for the day. And maybe that treat for her children only is afforded once a week. And kids really want to feel special & have the experience of being like the other kids at school-even if only on occasion. I know I have mentioned smoking(very unhealthy), but until we’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, we have NO idea about them. And, yes, maybe enjoying that Starbucks is your only time for YOU, then I say “go for it”! You worked hard, saved, fed your family,
I’ve been there! ? Beautifully put!!!!
Taxes are to support government services not to flatten household incomes.
If you live on welfare payments however, this is categorically untrue.
Roger Williams says
It is true. It’s just that the money comes from someone else’s work.
Absolutely true. I live on welfare (I invest too, but the money is tucked away). I don’t think minimalism is gentrification at all, me and my partner live on only $803 a month and get by just fine on welfare. We have everything we need. Minimalism is for everyone. There are poor hoarders too. But minimalism makes us feel rich. All the things we own were either dumpster-dived, thrifted, or gifts. I get by just fine without spending and certainly don’t get starbucks (I make wonderful healthy meals at home with food stamps). I make my life better with life-enriching FREE experiences, like nature walks. People need to stop talking about poor people like we’re helpless and can’t participate in nice things.
If you are able bodied you should be working instead of mooching off the other taxpayers!!!
As if I could says
This is exactly how the Economy is a slave to the government. They give us money for giving up hours of our life just to live and we have to give a certain amount of it back.
and almost half of the life/time goes to tax
is not that similar to slavery or prostitution ? selling your life for basics – food and shelter…
or we can look at it as an investment, i.e. investing 10min of your life to get a cup of coffee as ROI/return …
at the end, you can not keep anything anyway….
I love this <3 I started working through this idea a while ago and it has really changed my relationship to material possessions!
I definitely agree. For some time now I have wanted to stop spending on stuff and spend more on making memories, such as going on great vacations together. My daughter and I are doing just that this summer.
Crystal Jurado says
Love this article and the headline! Can I quote you and the headline in my own blog? I like to start every post with a quote I feel is relevant and your headline hit the nail on the head for me!
Janet Boharsik says
Most normal people wouldn’t be caught dead spending that kind of money for starbucks when they can get coffee at any fast food for about a dollar, nor do they waste money on coach purses, 55″ t. v,’s, 256 I phones, when you can buy “just as good (if not better) elsewhere”. People who do spend that kind of money, are the “insecure” or as my Mom would have said, ” they have more money, than brains”,by the way, 24.99 for wrangler jeans, good price.
joshua becker says
Thanks for the comment. But I’m not sure your generalization about normal people not being caught buying coffee at Starbucks is correct. I know plenty of normal people who gladly sacrifice the pursuit of physical possessions for tasteful experiences such as fine dining or coffee.
Why can’t people make coffee at home, put it in thermos cup and take it to work? I’ve never understood the fascination with spending all the money with to go coffee of any kind.
Judy Johnson says
How about the time you spend in the Starbucks lineup rather than bringing your coffee with you from home in a travel mug?
Crystal, did you ever end up writing a blog post about this? I was going to do the same and would love to read your thoughts!