The Most Important Asset

Rethinking How To View Your Time

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Peter Attia, a physician and longevity expert, has a talk on increasing your lifespan where he proposes an incredible thought experiment to his audience (see 16:49):

I would be willing to bet that not one of you, if you were offered every dollar of Warren Buffett’s fortune, would trade places with him right now…And I would also bet, by the way, that Buffett would be willing to be 20 years old again if he was broke.

Consider his thought experiment for one moment.  Imagine having Buffett’s wealth, fame, and status as the greatest investor on Earth.  You can go anywhere you please, meet anyone you want, and buy anything that can be sold.  However, you’re now 87 years old.  Would you make the trade?  I know it sounds cryptic, but almost all of you wouldn’t.

Attia’s thought experiment got me thinking deeper about another seemingly unrelated question I have been asked by a few friends:

Nick, why don’t you monetize your blog?

I used to respond to this question with, “I am trying to grow my audience,” or “It isn’t worth what little money I would make,” but I recently realized I was wrong.  I was thinking about this question incorrectly.  I am charging for this blog, but not with money.  I am charging you the one thing you cannot replenish, the one thing Warren Buffett can’t buy, the most important asset in the world—your time.

Think of it this way:  Each week you get 10,000 minutes to live your life (it’s actually 10,080 minutes, but let’s round for simplicity).  If these 10,000 minutes represent 100% of your week, then each minute is 1 basis point (i.e. one hundredth of a percent).  If you sleep 7 hours a night that’s 2,940 minutes or ~30% of your week.  If you work 40 hours, that’s another 2,400 minutes or 24% gone.  Therefore, if you spend 5 minutes reading one of my posts, that’s 5 basis points of your week that you are allocating to me.  I know that doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the endless amount of content competing for your attention, it’s amazing.

This is why I happily spend ~10 hours a week (6% of my week) writing a 5 minute post that thousands of people will read.  It’s why I read 40+ books a year to find diverse ideas to relate back to your finances.  It’s why I view writing to you as a privilege, an exorbitant privilege, as Barry Ritholtz once said.  In a world where so many people think they are owed something, I have to remind myself that I am owed nothing.  I have to fight, scratch, and claw for your precious attention.  And I will.  I will scour the Earth for the most intriguing things I can share with you week after week after week.  And yes, while my post quality will vary, my goal is to never waste your most important asset.

And trust me that time is your most important asset.  Why?  Because you will never get a second more than what you already have.  Yes, I could discuss the importance of time when it comes to starting early or compounding, but I know you already know that.  Time is important primarily because of its scarcity.  Consider this thought experiment and you will see why:

Imagine working extremely hard for years at the neglect of your family so you can earn more money.  Let’s say your plan works and you get that promotion you always craved.  Now you can take your extra money and invest it.  However, a few years later, a downturn strikes and you sell in a panic for a minor loss.

In this thought experiment it sucks that you lost money, but, in theory, you can earn it back later.  You can work a few extra years before retiring, but you can’t go back and see your children as children again.  You can’t attend that friend’s wedding or mourn a relative with your loved ones twice.  As Epsilon Theory’s Ben Hunt stated, “Always go to the funeral.”  The fact is that money will come and go in your life, many times as a result of good and bad luck, but your time is only here now, so don’t squander it.

And don’t start believing that there isn’t enough time to do what you want in life.  That idea is self-defeating.  If anything, our society is creating more time for more people than ever before.  Just consider this beautiful graphic, which I have discussed before, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation:

Look at all of those children we saved and all of that human time we created!  All of those lives, billions of hours collectively, would have been wiped from existence but for modern medical knowledge.  This explains why the death of a child is so tragic compared to the death of a centenarian: the child never had a shot at life, but the 100 year old did.  Nevertheless, 5.8 million children died in 2015.  Children who never got to fully live, love, or dream big.  Children who never had their time, so whatever you do, don’t waste yours…

Knowing When To Trade

The key to changing your worldview on time is knowing when to trade it for money.  Obviously, if you don’t have much money, you don’t have many options for trading, but as you gain wealth, this tradeoff will become more relevant.  The traditional way to think about when to trade your money for your time has been to pay for anything that is below your hourly wage.  This explains how one could justify paying for a cleaning or laundry service.  I generally agree with this, but it can be expanded.

You should also trade your money for anything that you would regret missing on your deathbed.  If you can imagine yourself regretting skipping an event in your final days of life, then you should trade money for it today.  This worldview is something I only adopted recently, but it has made my decision-making process so much easier when it comes to tradeoffs like these.  For example, I would probably spend money to visit a good friend, but I wouldn’t spend money to have a nice car.  I will (hopefully) remember seeing my friend on my deathbed, but the car?  No chance.

Lastly, I do technically monetize this blog through Amazon affiliate links (i.e. if you buy a book I link, then I get a small percentage).  However, the goal was not strictly monetization (I’ve made ~$1 per hour worked on this blog), but tracking which books readers bought the most.

With that being said, if you really like issues of time and time travel, I highly recommend the fiction book Replay by Ken Grimwood.  Please just trust me and DO NOT READ THE SYNOPSIS.  Go in blind and you will thank me later for it.  I also recommend the films Memento, PrimerThe Butterfly Effect, and Twelve Monkeys for other takes on time travel (sorry it’s my favorite genre).  Until next time, don’t forget where you spend your basis points each week and thank you for reading!

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This is post 81. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering:

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29 Responses

  1. Anonymous commented on Jul 17

    Great article! The older I get, the more I value time. That’s one of the main reasons for me to pursue FI…I want to spend more time on things i really care about and less in unnecessary and lenghty business meetings.

  2. Anonymous commented on Jul 17

    Thanks for YOUR time spent writing. It was worth mine to read this and it really hit home as a father of young kids.

  3. Anonymous commented on Jul 17

    I enjoy spending my time here. Thanks for your thoughts.

    You may also enjoy Rant by Palahniuk if you enjoy those time travel books/films.

  4. Anonymous commented on Jul 17

    Thank you and another really good time travel movie About Time.

  5. Anonymous commented on Jul 18

    Wow, never thought about it that way. And we are indeed thankful to you for all the effort and time that you put in your writing. Great insights. I wouldn’t trade my position with Buffett because time gives us options. We need to choose more wisely as to what we do with it.

  6. Anonymous commented on Jul 18

    I recommend watching La Jetée if you haven’t (the film 12 Monkeys is based on).

  7. Anonymous commented on Jul 18

    I just bought replay by Ken Grimwood, synopsis ignored. I am excited to read it.

    Thanks for the reference.

  8. Anonymous commented on Jul 18

    Just had a conversation about an aspect of this. I (we really, being married 40 years) traded money for time when we were young because we did things. Now approaching our 60s we’re “having” to work a few more years in order to ensure another 25 years of decent retirement. Do we regret it? Not in the least. Your time is finite, and having lived and experienced what we did in our 30s and 40s is worth it, though it reduced our income. In short, if we hadn’t done it how we did we probably could have retired mid-50s. But then we’d be trying to experience it all in 60 year old bodies instead of 35 year old ones. No comparison!

  9. Anonymous commented on Jul 19

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!
    It’s the little changes which will make the most important changes.
    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  10. Anonymous commented on Jul 19

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article!

    It’s the little changes which will make the most important changes.

    Thanks a lot for sharing!

  11. Anonymous commented on Jul 19

    A great reminder about the value of time, and an interesting perspective on time as a form of currency.

    A great book on time travel is “When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead. It’s a children’s novel but it works for any age!

  12. Anonymous commented on Jul 20

    Ah, Romanticism in the air. Time isn’t money. No, no, time is love. Yeah that’s it. Well I hate to pop this romantic dream bubble. He could have spared all the words and just told us to listen to Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle”, a romantic story written by the singer’s wife.

    No, if you want to know the real relation of love to time, and one compatible with a masculine view of it, you’ll need to turn to another 70’s folk song: Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle”. It’s about how love and time are impossible to reconcile, but that fidelity and loyalty are what counts. And that is the lesson that has been forgotten in all this love = time nonsense. In a romantic age, we’ve dropped loyalty and fidelity out of the equation and are reaping the bitter fruit of fatherless children, while we keep on encouraging people to long for a perfect experience that doesn’t exist. We foolishly equate love with time in this world as a longing that can’t be realized and then give people the task of trying to square that circle. Cultivating a passionate longing via scare tactics (“you can’t go back and see your children as children again!”) is pretty sad, as if working overtime and abandoning one’s family might somehow have a similar effect. If love = time, no doubt they would.

    You can’t put time in a bottle. It’s impossible. That’s the point. It’s no less impossible to define what’s really real about love. What is love? Can you define it? The romantic sensibility defines what is really real as infinite longing. In the romantic sensibility, infinite unattainable goals are better than finite attainable ones. Whether for longing for time or an aesthetic experience, longing for the thing that will unify everything we are and know. Good luck with that.

    Croce, stating the impossible desire in the first stanza, and the impossibility of realizing it in the second stanza. There’s the song people should think of when it come to the relationship of time to love.
    If I could save time in a bottle
    The first thing that I’d like to do
    Is to save every day
    Till eternity passes away
    Just to spend them with you
    If I could make days last forever
    If words could make wishes come true
    I’d save every day like a treasure and then
    Again, I would spend them with you

    But there never seems to be enough time
    To do the things you want to do
    Once you find them
    I’ve looked around enough to know
    That you’re the one I want to go
    Through time with

  13. Anonymous commented on Jul 20

    Never seen Primer but the other movies are on my favourite list, so thanks for the tip, gonna go watch it and hope its as good as the others!

  14. Anonymous commented on Jul 21

    I’ve read Replay 2 or 3 times. Great book.

  15. Anonymous commented on Jul 23

    Great read. This is something my dad drilled into my head from an early age. Time is the one resource we can’t earn/buy/acquire more of. This lesson came from me asking why a friend of mine lived in a bigger/nicer house than us when his dad didn’t own his own business. He explained that he’d rather live close to where his business is in a smaller house so that he didn’t have to waste time driving everyday than live in a larger house and drive multiple hours every day. It has stuck with me to do this day. Thank you for affirming it!