Is Benjamin Franklin Right? Is Time Money?

 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?

Time & Money

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).



  1. Aknin, L.B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E.W., & Norton, M. I. (2011). It’s the recipient that counts: Spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. PLOS ONE, 6(2), e17018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017018
  2. Banwell, C., Hinde, S., Dixon, J., & Sibthorpe, B. (2005). Reflections on expert consensus: A case study of the social trends contributing to obesity. The European Journal of Public Health, 15(6), 564-568. doi:10.1093/eurpub/cki034
  3. Belk, R. W. (1985). Materialism: Trait aspects of living in the material world. Journal of Consumer Research, 12(3), 265-280. doi: 10.1086/208515
  4. Bhattacharjee, A., & Mogilner, C. (2014). Happiness from ordinary and extraordinary experiences. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(1), 1-17. doi: 10.1086/674724
  5. Caprariello, P. A., & Reis, H. T. (2013). To do, to have, or to share? Valuing experiences over material possessions depends on the involvement of others. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 104(2),199. doi: 10.1037/a0030953
  6. Carstensen, L. L., Isaacowitz, D. M., & Charles, S. T. (1999). Taking time seriously: A theory of socioemotional selectivity. American Psychologist, 54(3), 165-181. doi: 10.1037/0003- 066X.54.3.165
  7. Carter, T. J., & Gilovich, T. (2012). I am what I do, not what I have: The differential centrality of experiential and material purchases to the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(6), 1304-1317. doi: 10.1037/a0027407
  8. Chan, C., & Mogilner, C. (2017). Experiential gifts foster stronger social relationships than material gifts. Journal of Consumer Research, 43 (6), 913-931. doi: 10.1093/jcr/ucw067
  9. Cozzolino, P. J., Sheldon, K. M., Schachtman, T. R., & Meyers, L. S. (2009). Limited time perspective, values, and greed: Imagining a limited future reduces avarice in extrinsic people. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(3), 399-408. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.01.008
  10. Cozzolino, P. J., Staples, A. D., Meyers, L. S., & Samboceti, J. (2004). Greed, death, and values: From terror management to transcendence management theory. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(3), 278-292. doi: 10.1177/0146167203260716
  11. Dittmar, H., Bond, R., Hurst, M., & Kasser, T. (2014). The relationship between materialism and personal well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 879–924.
  12. Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688. doi: 10.1126/science.1150952
  13. Etkin, J., & Mogilner, C. (2016). Does variety among activities increase happiness? Journal of Consumer Research, 43(2), 210-229. doi: 10.1093/jcr/ucw021
  14. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, A. (2005). Income and well-being: An empirical analysis of the comparison income effect. Journal of Public Economics, 89 , 997-1019.
  15. Gasiorowska, A., Zaleskiewicz, T., & Wygrab, S. (2012). Would you do something for me? The effects of money activation on social preferences and social behavior in young children. Journal of Economic Psychology, 33(3), 603-608. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2011.11.007
  16. Gilovich, T. & Kumar, A. (2015). We’ll always have Paris: The hedonic payoff from experiential and material investments. In M. Zanna and J. Olson (Eds.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 51 (pp. 147-187). New York, NY: Elsevier.
  17. Gimenez-Nadal, J. I., & Molina, J. A. (2015). Voluntary activities and daily happiness in the United States. Economic Inquiry, 53(4), 1735-1750. doi: 10.1111/ecin.12227
  18. Goodin, R. E., Rice, J. M., Bittman, M., & Saunders, P. (2005). The time-pressure illusion: Discretionary time vs. free time. Social Indicators Research, 73(1), 43-70. doi: 10.1007/s11205-004-4642-9
  19. Gino, F., & Mogilner, C. (2014). Time, money, and morality. Psychological Science, 25(2), 414-421. doi: 10.1177/0956797613506438
  20. Hershfield, H. E., Mogilner, C., & Barnea, U. (2016). People who choose time over money are happier. Social Psychological and Personality Science , 7(7), 697-706. doi: 10.1177/ 1948550616649239
  21. Hobfall, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44, 513-524.
  22. Hobfall, S. E. (2002). Social and psychological resources and adaptation. Review of General Psychology, 6, 307-324.
  23. Hudders, L., & Pandelaere, M. (2011). The silver lining of materialism: The impact of luxury consumption on subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(3), 411-437. doi:10.1007/s10902-011-9271-9
  24. Jabs, J., Devine, C. M., Bisogni, C. A., Farrell, T. J., Jastran, M., & Wethington, E. (2007). Trying to find the quickest way: Employed mothers’ constructions of time for food. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 39(1), 18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2006.08.011
  25. Kahneman, D., Krueger, A. B., Schkade, D. A., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2004). A survey method for characterizing daily life experience: The day reconstruction method. Science, 306(5702), 1776-1780. doi:10.1126/science.1103572
  26. Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A. (2010). High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(38), 16489-16493. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1011492107
  27. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1993). A dark side of the American dream: Correlates of financial success as a central life aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 65(2), 410-422. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.65.2.410 
  28. Kasser, T., & Ryan, R. M. (1996). Further examining the American dream: Differential correlates of intrinsic and extrinsic goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 22(3), 280-287. doi:10.1177/0146167296223006
  29. Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. (2009). Time affluence as a path toward personal happiness and ethical business practice: Empirical evidence from four studies. Journal of Business Ethics, 84(2), 243-255. doi:10.1007/s10551-008-9696-1
  30. Krueger, A. B., Kahneman, D., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A. (2009). National time accounting: The currency of life. In A. Krueger (Ed.), Measuring the subjective well-being of nations: National accounts of time use and well-being (pp. 9-86). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  31. Kurtz, J. L. (2008). Looking to the future to appreciate the present: The benefits of perceived temporal scarcity. Psychological Science, 19(12), 1238-1241. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02231.x
  32. Lathia, N., Sandstrom, G. M., Mascolo, C., & Rentfrow, P. J. (2017). Happier people live more active lives: Using smartphones to link happiness and physical activity. PLOS ONE, 12(1), e0160589. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160589
  33. Layous, K., Kurtz, J., Chancellor, J., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2017). Reframing the ordinary: Imagining time as scarce increases well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-8. doi: 10.1080/17439760.2017.1279210
  34. Liu, W., & Aaker, J. (2008). The happiness of giving: The time-ask effect. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), 543-557. doi: 10.1086/588699
  35. Lynch Jr, J. G., Netemeyer, R. G., Spiller, S. A., & Zammit, A. (2009). A generalizable scale of propensity to plan: the long and the short of planning for time and for money. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(1), 108-128. doi: 10.1086/649907
  36. Mochon, D., Norton, M. I., & Ariely, D. (2008). Getting off the hedonic treadmill, one step at a time: The impact of regular religious practice and exercise on well-being. Journal of Economic Psychology , 29(5), 632-642. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2007.10.004
  37. Mogilner, C. (2010). The pursuit of happiness: Time, money, and social connection. Psychological Science, 21(9), 1348-1354. doi: 10.1177/0956797610380696
  38. Mogilner, C. (2010). The pursuit of happiness: Time, money, and social connection. Psychological Science, 21(9), 1348-1354. doi: 10.1177/0956797610380696
  39. Mogilner, C., & Aaker, J. (2009). “The time vs. money effect”: Shifting product attitudes and decisions through personal connection. Journal of Consumer Research, 36(2), 277-291. doi: 10.1086/597161
  40. Mogilner, C., Aaker, J., & Kamvar, S. D. (2012). How happiness affects choice. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 429-443. doi: 10.1086/663774
  41. Mogilner, C., Chance, Z., & Norton, M. I. (2012). Giving time gives you time. Psychological Science, 23(10), 1233-1238. doi: 10.1177/0956797612442551
  42. Mogilner, C., Kamvar, S. D., & Aaker, J. (2011). The shifting meaning of happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(4), 395-402. doi: 10.1177/1948550610393987
  43. Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. In C. R. Synder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 195-206). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  44. Norton, M.I., Mochon, D., & Ariely, D. (2012). The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 22(3), 453-460. doi: 10.1016/j.jcps.2011.08.002
  45. Perlow, L. A. (1999). The time famine: Toward a sociology of work time. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44(1), 57-81. doi: 10.2307/2667031
  46. Quoidbach, J., & Dunn, E. W. (2013). Give it up: A strategy for combating hedonic adaptation. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(5), 563-568. doi: 10.1177/1948550612473489
  47. Reed, A., Aquino, K., & Levy, E. (2007). Moral identity and judgments of charitable behaviors. Journal of Marketing, 71(1), 178-193. doi: 10.1509/jmkg.71.1.178
  48. Rheault, M. (2011). Lack of money tops list of Americans’ financial worries. Gallup Poll Social Series: Consumption Habits. Retrieved from: money-tops-list-americans-financial-worries.aspx
  49. Richards, J., Jiang, X., Kelly, P., Chau, J., Bauman, A., & Ding, D. (2015). Don't worry, be happy: Cross-sectional associations between physical activity and happiness in 15 European countries. BMC Public Health, 15(1), 1-8. doi: 10.1186/s12889-015-1391-4
  50. Richins, M. L. (1994). Special possessions and the expression of material values. Journal of Consumer Research, 21(3), 522-533. doi: 10.1086/209415
  51. Richins, M. L., & Dawson, S. (1992). A consumer values orientation for materialism and its measurement: Scale development and validation. Journal of Consumer Research, 19(3), 303-316. doi: 10.1086/209304
  52. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78.
  53. Schwartz, S.H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theory and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, vol. 25, (pp. 1–65). New York: Academic Press.
  54. Shah, A. K., Mullainathan, S., & Shafir, E. (2012). Some consequences of having too little. Science, 338(6107), 682-685. doi: 10.1126/science.1222426
  55. Shah, A. K., Shafir, E., & Mullainathan, S. (2015). Scarcity frames value. Psychological Science, 26(4), 402-412. doi: 10.1177/0956797614563958
  56. Smeets, P., Whillans, A., Bekkers, R., & Norton, M.I. (2017). Control over time predicts greater life satisfaction among millionaires. Working paper.
  57. Spiller, S. A. (2011). Opportunity cost consideration. Journal of Consumer Research, 38 (4), 595-610. doi: 10.1086/660045
  58. Srivastava, A., Locke, E. A., & Bartol, K. M. (2001). Money and subjective well-being: it’s not the money, it’s the motives. Journal of subjective well-being: it’s not the money, it’s the motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 959–971.
  59. Strazdins, L., Griffin, A. L., Broom, D. H., Banwell, C., Korda, R., Dixon, J., ... & Glover, J. (2011). Time scarcity: Another health inequality? Environment and Planning A, 43(3), 545-559. doi: 10.1068/a4360
  60. Trope, Y., & Liberman, N. (2010). Construal-level theory of psychological distance. Psychological Review, 117(2), 440-463. doi: 10.1037/a0018963
  61. Van Boven, L. (2005). Experientialism, materialism, and the pursuit of happiness. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 132-142. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.132
  62. Veenhoven, R. (1991). Is happiness relative? Social Indicators Research, 24, 1-34.
  63. Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2006). The psychological consequences of money. Science, 314(5802), 1154-1156. doi: 10.1126/science.1132491
  64. Vohs, K. D., Mead, N. L., & Goode, M. R. (2008). Merely activating the concept of money changes personal and interpersonal behavior. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(3), 208-212. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2008.00576.x
  65. Vohs, K.D., Wang, Y., Gino, F., & Norton, M.I. (2013). Rituals enhance consumption. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1714-1721. doi: 10.1177/0956797613478949
  66. Wang, F., Orpana, H. M., Morrison, H., De Groh, M., Dai, S., & Luo, W. (2012) Long-term association between leisure-time physical activity and changes in happiness: Analysis of the prospective national population health survey. American Journal of Epidemiology, 176 (12), 1095-1100. doi:10.1093/aje/kws199
  67. Weinstein, N., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). When helping helps: Autonomous motivation for prosocial behavior and its influence on well-being for the helper and recipient. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(2), 222-244. doi: 10.1037/a0016984
  68. Whillans, A. V., Weidman, A. C., & Dunn, E. W. (2016). Valuing time over money is associated with greater happiness. Social Psychological and Personality Science , 7(3), 213-222. doi: 10.1177/1948550615623842
  69. Whillans, A. V., Seider, S. C., Chen, L., Dwyer, R. J., Novick, S., Gramigna, K. J., ... & Dunn, E. W. (2016). Does volunteering improve well-being? Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology , 1(1-3), 35-50. doi: 10.1080/23743603.2016.1273647
  70. Whillans, A.V., Dunn, E.W., Smeets, P., Bekkers, R., & Norton, M.I. (2017). Buying time promotes happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114 (32), 8523-8527. doi:10.1073/pnas.1706541114
  71. Zauberman, G., & Lynch Jr, J. G. (2005). Resource slack and propensity to discount delayed investments of time versus money. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134 (1), 23-37. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.134.1.23

Leave a comment