Buying back time

If time is our greatest asset, when should we invest in getting it back?

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Hi, friends. It’s Heather, still riding high from when the groundhog told me that winter’s almost over. Everything seems harder when it’s cold out, which is why I’m pontificating this week over how we spend our time and what investments are worth making to get it back. ENJOY!

Doug and I wrote The Millennial Money Fix while I was on maternity leave with our oldest daughter. This earned me a fair number of pats on the back but probably shouldn’t have. Hazel was born premature at the start of winter. We had no friends with kids and nothing to do but sit in our apartment, ride out cold and flu season, and watch her sleep. I had infinite time to write–all day and all night. Not to say it wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t hard due to lack of time. 

Writing this book is a whole new beast. The process is much more intense than the first time, in that it relies on our sourcing, scheduling, and conducting an incredible amount of interviews around the clock. We’ve got two kids now. At 8 and almost 5, they’re real people with real schedules and real obligations that are real distractions (as much as we love their adorable distractions). I’m not concerned about whether I’m capable of writing another book, but it’s harder specifically due to lack of time. Time is our greatest challenge and what worries me the most. 

Finding more time is a fallacy. There are 24 hours in a day; the same for all of us. You can make decisions that afford you more agency over your time. At first blush, these decisions might feel like sacrifices if you are canceling or opting out of something you used to spend time doing. But a sacrifice of one thing is an investment into another. They are two sides of the same coin, easily flipped and conflated, making it hard to know which is which.

When you spend money to free up your time, you’re investing in the opportunities you can recoup with that time. But how do you decide when it makes sense—and when does that investment feel like a sacrifice in itself?

In some circumstances, the opportunities provide that clarity. Let’s say you’re in a commission business, like residential real estate. Like us, you’ve got kids. You know that if you could show houses on one additional afternoon per week, you can reasonably assume that you’ll increase your opportunity to sell. Closing one additional deal will justify your investment in a regular babysitter, and sacrificing one afternoon per week with your kids is a manageable change. The calculation checks out enough to give it a shot. 

Most evaluations are not as simple. Some of our needs are more qualitative than quantitative. We are getting it all done but by the skin of our teeth. We know we could use help but aren’t quite sure how much or how little help will alleviate that feeling that the sky is always falling. Many working parents I know feel this way but aren’t sure how to improve matters.

The answer is more in how you feel than any proper measurement. 

It took me four months of working on this newsletter and our book to realize I don’t just need more time; I need a different kind of time. I can’t just dabble in the writing process. Thirty minutes here or there with the kids fluttering around won’t provide me with the meaningful blocks of focused time I require to do my best work. So as a household, we made some new investments.

One, thankfully, cost much less than our previous childcare arrangements. My mom now picks up the girls after school and drives them to their weekday activities. The investment for us all, though, is that she basically lives with us three days a week. I also purchased a small writing desk, which we squeezed into our bedroom so that I have a place to work behind a closed door. I don’t have a way to quantify the value of these changes quite yet, but I can tell you that I feel more human, more focused, and more confident I’ll get work done. 

But as I mentioned above, some investments don’t always leave you feeling good. I spend time on some things that I really can’t afford to, and I’m having a hard time letting up on them. Take cooking, for example. I’m inertly controlling over who cooks for my family. It’s my way to decompress and an act of service that shows how much I care about them. I prefer to visit the grocery store in person, spend 90 minutes walking the aisles, feeling my produce, planning my meals. But it’s become such a huge waste of business hours that I can’t afford to lose. I’m not willing to give up control over the kitchen to my mom or Doug, but I started delegating my shopping list to Fresh Direct. Using a grocery delivery service costs more money but saves an inordinate amount of time not just shopping but with the way they package and deliver our items. It’s a weird financial investment that feels like a sacrifice, even though it’s saving me time. 

This isn’t a perfect science. Only you and your partner know where the value lies.

I’m in several professional women’s groups online that suggest outsourcing and delegating as a means of reclaiming time. There really is a huge benefit, but the calculation of what makes sense is so personal and specific to your household. Look to see what other people are doing as a means of inspiration but not imitation. No one else can tell you what’s worth it or not.

What do you spend money on to save time? Let me know: [email protected].


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Last week’s issue about Doug’s death note received some very special attention. Thanks to our friends at CNBC for writing more on this important topic and amplifying The Joint Account for readers everywhere!

Also, a footnote. Many TJA subscribers wrote in asking where they should store their death notes—what a great question! The answer really depends on your personal comfort levels. Ours will live in our safe, which we both know the code for, but you can also consider placing a copy in a safety deposit box, or on a password-protected flash drive. We’d suggest password protecting the digital document on your laptops. Also consider, for continuity’s sake, whether there’s an immediate family member who should maintain a copy, too.


Do you have a money question you’d like answered in a future issue of The Joint Account? Don’t be shy!

BOOK UPDATE! We’re speaking with so many real-life couples about love and money, but we need you, too. If you’re interested in having a Zoom double date with us, email: [email protected].

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Find us everywhere: @dougboneparth + @averagejoelle

The content shared in The Joint Account does not constitute financial, legal, or any other professional advice. Readers should consult with their respective professionals for specific advice tailored to their situation.