Your Time Is Not Worth $100/Hour

Control Your Cash regularly dispenses top-notch advice in the form of thinly-veiled insults, but a recent post was a bit out of line with their usual quality. Thinking that public transportation is beneath you is a great way to impoverish yourself.

The two main arguments given for never sharing a vehicle with strangers, no matter what the marginal expense is, are freedom and the value of your time. I can sort of understand the freedom argument. After all many people value the freedom that they get from credit cards, HELOCs, payday loans, and all kinds of impulse purchases. Who needs some idiot telling you what you can or can’t buy, or when you have to repay it, or even that you have to have the money or some reasonable prospect of getting it in the near future before you buy something? Wait, what’s that? Did I hear a faint voice in the wind while off-roading on top of a sand dune, that almost seemed to be saying “oh, but you will pay”?

It’s true that driving yourself gives you plenty of freedom and options to go anywhere you want at any time (and you can even buy a car with your credit card so you don’t have to pay for a long time!). Most of those options have no value and are a waste of your time. Which brings us to the actual value of your time. If you buy this argument, the extra 20 minutes you waste by taking the bus will be the undoing of your financial plan. Meanwhile dropping the $24,000+insurance+gas+parking+toll roads+maintenance+ridiculous spinning rims/flashing lights that the average American spends on a car is a good investment.

I happen to use a slightly different method to value my time, based on the premise that I won’t get paid $1 for every minute of my life that I manage to draw breath. Let’s say you earn $100,000/year for 40 years, certainly enough to make you wealthy if you plan well. If you live to the age of 80, that means you earn $0.0016/minute of your life. So a bus ride that takes an extra 20 minutes is costing you $0.032 in lost earnings. I’ll bet the CYC authors know someone who would be excited about that! And presumably you can’t spare that 20 minutes because you need every possible hour of the week to earn a decent income. In that situation I would suggest looking at the many ways to improve your hourly income.

I make time to do what I need to do, and usually have a bit left over to waste. Sitting on a bus and reading is no less profitable than spending your time mocking bloggers who are a public trainwreck. Plan things for a few people and you can spend time with those who are important to you, which is even better. If you’re really on top of things you can launch a 6-figure business while riding the bus. Try doing that while you drive and you’ll just launch yourself into a cement wall. And I’m not sure that driving always saves time. If you actually try to get somewhere in a populated area between 5 and 6 PM (a few times every year I slip up and let this happen), you can either be sitting in traffic cursing other drivers or sitting in your seat while someone drives you around using reserved lanes to get ahead of traffic (who is actually rich AND has to drive their own vehicle?) and you enjoy the spectacle. Even if your bus drives into another vehicle on over-crowded roads you can just get off and get on another one instead of getting home at 9PM after trying to deal with the mess.

In the end I don’t really understand the need to always save every minute possible in getting somewhere. Is it just bad planning? (it seems a bit like someone who has late bills every month and blames their boss or their family) I see this a lot when I do drive, with kids in expensive-looking trucks (which are apparently good for off-roading in case your nearest grocery store is on the other side of a mountain pass) zooming past like they need to risk killing themselves in the next 30 minutes to get somewhere. Strangely 10% of the population in my city seems to be in this exact situation EVERY SINGLE DAY. I just relax and turn up my music so I don’t hear their honking. The simple fact is that if you absolutely need to be somewhere far away, very soon, or something bad will happen, you are not in control of your life. Sometimes it’s unavoidable but for the most part you can take control and plan better than that.

I’ll admit I’m cheating a bit here for two reasons. One, we do have a vehicle (which we use when moving larger objects, going long distances, doing something that we can’t bike/walk to, and occasionally exercising impulsive freedom). And two, we live close to a bus stop and often do things that are in a bus-heavy area downtown. Fortunately this is enough to give me a good laugh every time someone suggests that we get a second vehicle (plus I’ve heard that real estate has better resale value if you don’t have to buy a whole new vehicle just to get to it). A few times recently the vehicle has been nowhere near me, and a taxi would save only a few minutes while putting an unreasonable value on my time. The public transportation around here won’t impress anyone but it works for us. If you’re a 30 minute walk from the nearest bus stop you might not enjoy the same convenience, but otherwise it’s pretty clear what works best.

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3 responses to “Your Time Is Not Worth $100/Hour”

  1. Joe says :

    When I return to TO for work, I am strongly considering living somewhere far from work, e.g. Hamilton or Oshawa. It’s not just the cost of living.

    My problem, living in Scarborough, was I had a 35 – 50 minute commute each way on the TTC disaster known as the “Bloor Danforth” subway line. What was my major problem? Well, for 90% of the trip, I couldn’t use the internet on my BlackBerry or a laptop.

    If I had a longer commute on the GO line, I could actually get WAY more done because I’d have a solid chunk of uninterrupted time, and I could use the internet (I’d buy a mobile stick for my laptop). During each day’s total two hour commute, I could probably nail off a blog post.

    Commuting on the 401 or 403 to work each day? fuhgeddaboudit. Besides the thousands and thousands more I’d spend each year on gas, insurance etc– and disastrously higher chances of something like an accident — it’d be even worse of a time-suck and 100% of the time would be unproductive. At least on the subway line I could compose my thoughts on my BlackBerry (even though I despise writing without internet/phone access).

    I think CYC is making a legit argument for the benefit of a ‘car owner’s mentality’. The independence to come and go really can be a boon to your finances. But the truth is that it’s a huge cost, and a lot of city-dwellers (real cities, i.e. the ones with subways and 24/7 buses) do very well for themselves. I own a car, but I managed VERY well and saved MORE money and was a LOT healthier when I didn’t own a car. CYC set up a bit of a straw man, which isn’t their standard style, but it was an entertaining read.

  2. Simply Rich Life says :

    I’ve actually commuted from a town outside Hamilton to downtown Toronto for one day of my life. Can’t imagine that drive 500 times a year! Public transportation sounds better but they should have wifi in there.

    It won’t take you everywhere of course. Inspired by MMM I’ve started biking again. Freedom + lots of surplus cash = win!

    Having to drive everywhere sounds a lot like the argument for new cars. It’s fine as a personal preference and you can arrange things so you can afford it, but it’s not the best way to get rich. Although, as a part-owner of several struggling car manufacturers, saying things like that will not make me rich…

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