Making This Mistake Can Cost You Time and Money Every Day—Here's How to Avoid It

There's truth to the phrase "time is money"—so if your goal is to save money, it helps to make sure you're not undervaluing your time.


Welcome to Day 19 of our 30-Day Easy Money Makeover! Every day in April, we’re bringing you strategies to help you improve, and feel more confident about, your money situation. Follow along and see the rest of the calendar here .

There’s truth to the phrase “time is money”—so if your goal is to save money, it helps to make sure you’re not undervaluing your time.

People tend to be more protective of their money than their time, which can be an expensive mistake, says time management expert Laura Vanderkam, whose books include “Off the Clock” and “168 Hours.”

“Time is worth money, and it’s not just about how much you earn per hour,” says Vanderkam. “You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.”

So-called “time traps” happen when we don’t strike the right balance between time and money. For example, when you drive miles out of the way to save a couple of cents on gas, or book a trip with connecting flights to get a slightly lower fare, says Vanderkam.

“You’re waking up at 4 in the morning to make that 6 a.m. flight, and you’re miserable the rest of the day on your vacation because of it,” she says. “Maybe it would have been better to have a slightly higher price to actually enjoy the first day of your vacation.

“When you are stuck in Denver overnight because you missed your connection, you may think better of that.”

Here are some ways to recognize and overcome time traps.

Find a balance at work Your job plays a big role in how time-stressed you feel, says Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School who studies the trade-offs people make between time and money. Taking advantage of adjustable deadlines or flexible working hours can help you avoid burnout. So can actually taking your paid vacation days. Fewer than 1 in 4 workers takes all their vacation time , according to Glassdoor. “Leaving paid vacation days unused are like leaving the gift of time on the table—we wouldn’t do that if the employer left us a stack of money on a table. We would take that money,” Whillans says.

Make the most of free time You can prioritize time without spending money, Whillans says—and the happiest people are those who are deliberate with their free time. Researchers call that achievement “time affluent.” People who don’t earn a lot, or who juggle multiple jobs, benefit more from focusing on time because they are often pressed for it, she says. Being time affluent will look different for everyone, but the heart of it is about finding ways to be meaningful with your free time. That might mean spending your 15 free minutes practicing the guitar instead of surfing Facebook, for example. “I think it’s important to recognize that even in the absence of having a lot of discretionary income, there are some thing we can all do each and every day to prioritize time over money,” says Whillans.

Buy more time There’s no shame in outsourcing tasks you don’t want to do, like mowing the lawn or food delivery. Whillans suggests asking yourself how to can subtract the most negative moments of your day, which can include outsourcing tasks you don’t like doing. In a recent series of articles in the Harvard Business Review, researchers (including Whillans) found that spending as little as $40 on something that saves time (in their example, an hour of home cleaning through Taskrabbit), is going to make you happier than spending that same amount on stuff (a few weeks of coffee purchases). Especially if you use that purchased time to do something you enjoy. They found the less you earn, the greater the happiness boost from trading money for time.

Check out Saving just $5 a day could make you rich one day — Here’s how via Invest in You with CNBC + Acorns.

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