Is Benjamin Franklin Right? Is Time Money?
Our culture has long since honored the adage "time is money." But is it? In the hearts and minds of humanity, who think more about these two precious resources than perhaps any other on the planet, do we truly perceive one the same as the other? The answers may surprise you.
Ways they’re similar… Time and money are both precious resources that affect our happiness.
Many people feel constrained in their daily lives when it comes to both time and money, and wish they had more of both (Goodin, Rice, Bittman, & Saunders, 2005; Perlow, 1999; Rheault, 2011; Hershfield, Mogilner, & Barnea, 2016).
And how much we have of both are certainly correlated with our happiness.
Having more money is associated with greater happiness, but only up to about $75,000 of annual household income (Kahneman & Deaton, 2010).
Having more spare time is also associated with greater happiness and life satisfaction, even controlling for income (Kasser & Sheldon, 2009). Conversely, time scarcity, or “time famine” is a cause of stress, and actually makes people less helpful, less active, and less physically healthy (Banwell, Hinde, Dixon, & Sibthorpe, 2005; Darley & Batson, 1973; Jabs et al., 2007; Mogilner, Chance, & Norton, 2012; Strazdins et al., 2011). This is as it relates to short-term, day-to-day life.
Despite these similarities, people think about time and money in vastly different ways.
For one, people are much more careful with how they spend their time than how they spend their money, particularly in the short term (Lynch, Netemeyer, Spiller, & Zammit, 2009).
That said, when people are looking longer term, they’re much more likely to overcommit future time than future money because they’re just not as good at predicting how much time things will take (Zauberman & Lynch, 2005).
Another difference is that people view how they spend their time as a reflection of themselves, but much less so with how they spend their money. Time is just more critical to our personal narrative (Gino & Mogilner, 2014; Mogilner & Aaker, 2009; Carter & Gilovich, 2012). That’s why when we donate our time, we feel so much more gratification than when we donate our money. We just connect to it more (Reed, Aquino, & Levy, 2007).
What Causes People to Focus on One Over the Other?
Generally speaking, we tend to focus more on a resource if we have less of it (Shah, Mullainathan, & Shafir, 2012; Shah, Shafir, & Mullainathan, 2015; Spiller, 2011). This is true of both time and money.
That said, there’s an interesting way that money diverges from time. Those with an abundance of money tend to focus on it in the same way that someone with financial scarcity does. This is NOT the case with time (Trope & Liberman, 2010).
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