Improving Investor Behavior: The Price of Time

Alarm clock sitting on a table


This article originally appeared in the Denver Post, September 15th, 2019.

In previous articles, we’ve discussed time as our most valuable asset. With only 1,440 minutes per day, how we choose to spend our time and where we focus our attention deserves the same rigorous budgeting that managing money does, perhaps even more so. Money is a resource; there can always be more of it. But time is finite, and there is no getting it back once it’s gone… or is there?

There’s a well-known quote by American author H. Jackson Brown that goes, “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

But I want to challenge the notion that we all have the same amount of time each day. Think about it like this: I doubt Michelangelo had to mow his yard. I bet Thomas Jefferson didn’t spend much time in traffic. And when Einstein showed up to the restaurant, they probably made a table available for him.

My point is this: though time is finite, it can still be bought and sold. Millions of Americans sell their time every day, usually in the form of an hourly job. Quite literally, they are paid to sell their time and talents. Likewise, time can and should be bought, whenever available. I pay someone to mow my yard, not because I don’t know how to work a lawnmower, but because I get to spend time with my family instead of hauling around grass.

This fact was understood by those listed above. Anytime spent away from their unique pursuits was wasted. It was the equivalent of throwing money down the drain. So they sought help for those tasks, using their time more effectively and meaningfully in an effort to accomplish what was important to them.

This was also deeply ingrained in a former colleague. In 2012 she approached me with the idea of acquiring her investment firm. At the ripe old age of 50, she was ready to stow away her calculator and unplug her Bloomberg terminal. What I couldn’t understand was why someone in her prime, with a healthy list of clients, was interested in walking away from the business. Everything was going great – why change?

Her reason was personal. Her husband was 20 years older, and she wanted to spend time with him. In ten years, she feared having to push him around in a wheelchair to see the sites of the world. Why not experience travel while they were still healthy and able? Both were in great physical shape and were active cyclists, skiers, and hikers. They wanted to take advantage of it.

Six months ago, things took a turn for the worse. At the ages of 57 and 77, her husband was diagnosed with a heart condition. He passed in August. Now it made sense to me: she bought time, and in this example, time was precious. They were able to see the world, travel, explore, and enjoy their relationship. That time was worth more than any amount of money.

You don’t have to be wealthy to buy time. You don’t need to hire a staff of assistants to pick up your groceries, do the laundry, and tend to the garden. But what little changes can you make to buy some time? Here are a couple I try to follow.

  1. Avoid the news; avoid social media. By design, they both steal as much of your time as they can. Checking in on world events now and again, or seeing what the kids are up to on Facebook is one thing, but if the first thing you do every morning is to reach for your phone, you might have a problem.
  2. Be in control of your time. Significant income traded for a stressful work environment wears thin. We all have parts of our job that are difficult; it is hard to put a price on the value of being in control of what you work on, who you work with, where you work, and the work is meaningful. Being part of a team who collaborates, creates, innovates to solve problems or develops solutions makes work a joy.
  3. Consider your commute. Early in my career, I had a 30-minute drive each way. Realizing I would be investing over five years of my life looking at the dashboard, I re-evaluated where my office was located and moved it to within 5 minutes of my house. Buying that time was one of the best investments I have made. This may not be possible for some people, but with modern technology, working remotely is the new normal. Is this something your office might consider?
  4. Surround yourself with meaningful relationships. Research says people with deep, engaging relationships disproportionately live longer. In the book The Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner profiles five parts of the world where a disproportionate number of people live past the age of 100. Primarily he attributes this to three things: genetics, lifestyle including diet and stress, and engagement with family, friends, and faith. Health, both physically and interpersonally, can help you find additional years of time.

Time is your most valuable asset. And though time is technically finite, there are ways to improve how you spend your time. Take a look at how and where yours is spent and remember, money is a small price to pay for time with our loved ones.

Steve Booren

Steve Booren is the Owner and Founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors, located in Greenwood Village, Colo. He is the author of Blind Spots: The Mental Mistakes Investors Make and Intelligent Investing: Your Guide to a Growing Retirement Income and a regular columnist in The Denver Post. He was recently named a Barron's Top Financial Advisor and recognized as a Forbes Top Wealth Advisor in Colorado.

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