I’m actually thinking about outsourcing my laundry. I might buy more prepared food. And I just hired a gardener. Did I win the Powerball? Nope. But I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition that often ails busy parents and I’m exploring ways to treat it. I have a major time deficiency.
Or do I? In her new book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, author Laura Vanderkam, a writer and mother of two, rejects the “If only I had more time” excuse and says that 168 hours per week — even if you work 40 hours and catch eight hours of shut-eye each night — is more than enough if used wisely. “If you’re not living the life you want in 72 waking, non-job hours, why would bumping that up to 92 hours change anything?” she asks.
Put simply, the theme of her book is figuring out what you’re good at and outsourcing the rest. Anybody want three small kids? Just kidding! I want to a better steward of my time precisely because I wa nt to be a better mother. I want to spend more quality time with my family. Because time flies.
In this economy, money, not time, may feel like the more-stressed resource. Most of us can’t afford to hire a staff to pick up after our kids or run our errands. My inner penny-pincher doesn’t even want me to. Why pay someone to do something I can do for free, it questions?
But one month after finding a recent college graduate with a gardening business to reclaim our yard from the dog, and $500 later, it looks as if someone with a green thumb lives at my house. Both the penny-pincher and I feel calm, not crazy, when enjoying summer on the deck, and I have begun to rethink my belief that saving money and paying less is always best.
The struggles between choosing to spend time or money are never-ending. To get an idea of where your time goes and create a plan for spending it more wisely, take these three steps:
Track how you spend your time, the way I’ve often suggested you track how you spend your money. You can download a log on Vanderkam’s website (and if anyone knows of a time-tracking application for the iPhone, let me know, OK?). Once you see that you are spending six hours a week on Facebook, the claim that you have no time to meet your friend for lunch will seem silly, won’t it?
If you work outside the home, calculate how much your time is worth based on the post-tax wage that you make at your job. It may be easier to spend money to save time if you know this figure. I have another figure to add to the calculation: The nuts factor. Maybe it would make more financial sense for you to take care of a task. But if it’s making you crazy, you can’t bring yourself to do it, or it would interfere with the precious time you spend with your family, see if you can find it within your budget to eliminate that vexing item from your to-do list.
Finally, Vanderkam suggests you answer the question “What do I want to do (or do more of) with my time?” not just once, but 100 times. Make goals regarding how you want to spend your time just the way you make goals for your financial resources. It is much easier to design meaningful, lasting changes around how you spend your time if you know what it is that you’re saving for.
Kara McGuire is the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s personal finance columnist and mother of three. She answers finance questions at KaraMcGuire.com.