Is time money?

Recently I came across a blog post claiming that “time is not money”. Reading it, and the many comments that supported the author’s thesis, I felt oddly concerned.

I am not here to refute “time is not money”, but to briefly explain my concern.


Let’s start with life itself, rather than time or money. We are born. We live, by making sure our fundamental needs are met: eating, drinking, maintaining health, recovering from illnesses and accidents, etc. Beyond providing for our fundamental needs, we may do all kinds of other activities also, ranging from more sophisticated entertainment, socializing, trying to achieve fame, etc. At some point, we die.


Because we die, time is important, since we want to live and enjoy it and our time is limited. All things being equal, we would rather have more of life rather than less of it.


Unless we are hunter-gatherers who have access to free food, etc., we need some kind of money, as a store of value and a means of exchange for what we need.

Time is money

In modern industrial society, much of what we depend on and assume as a basic need (such as a non-primitive, legal, stable place to live) can only be obtained through money. We obtain that money by trading time for it, by using our time to be productive to society and obtain money in return. Hence, “time is money”.

Money is time

The relation between time and money is symmetry. Time is money, and money is time. The entire history of the modern industrialized world has been to enable conversion of money to time. Division of labor, so that we don’t have to spend our lives making all our own clothing and growing all our own food, has increased efficiency. Labor-saving technologies such as swords, knives, pencils, microwaves, and dishwashers save us time.

Time is money is time

So there is a cycle in our lives in which we have time, some of which we spend “employed” doing “work”, convert it into money, and then spend some of that money to buy us more time.

There are, of course, opportunities to use time or money elsewhere than in that cycle. We may have extra time that we can choose to spend in some other way than converting it directly to money. We can spend the extra time hanging out with family and friends, watching a movie, and doing all kinds of things we enjoy; in other words, use the extra time to live. The author of the blog post seems to be arguing that she enjoys doing all those things, and therefore time is not money. It is this last leap that does not make sense to me. Nobody ever said that all time must be converted to money.

Also, some break the cycle by not converting money back to time, but converting it into possessions instead. Unfortunately, at some point one has to remember that you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

For some, time really is money

The reason I am disturbed by the attack on “time is money” is that a lot of people have very little money, and the best way for them to get more, in order to be able to live better and create a virtuous cycle in which they can generate more time, is precisely to convert as much of their time as possible into money.

“Time is money” is a powerful message that immigrants to our nation have applied again and again to start out starving and end up feeding themselves and their families. The single mother who spends a large amount of her time working multiple jobs so that she can feed her children and proudly see them be the first in the family to graduate from college is living “time is money”.

In other words, I wonder if the attack on “time is money” is a perspective resulting from having enough money and therefore not needing to generate more. That is a state of living that is obviously pleasant, and congratulations to all who have put in enough time that they have all the money they need and can scale back. I’m actually quite sympathetic to the “minimalist” view of life and money: know how much money you need, and spend the extra on time. I just don’t think the minimalist message is useful, yet, to the unemployed single mother without health insurance, who will have very little time on this earth if she doesn’t convert the time she has to money.


Although I support minimalism, I don’t think it is in conflict with “time is money”, or equivalently, “money is time”. I see minimalism as a way to maximize one’s own life choices, rather than a way to be angry at other people for making different ones. I fear that blogs such as the Non-Consumer Advocate may be more of a preaching-to-the-choir forum than a way to help non-minimalists evaluate different ways of living. I sense anger and contempt in that blog.

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