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Buy time, not stuff

Updated: May 14

Updated post: 4/26/23

Original post: 8/21/22

How to Budget When Your Spouse Won't: Part 10 of our 10 part budgeting series

Imagine that right now you could trade places with Warren Buffett, who is worth around $100 billion and is around the age of 90. Would you?

  • Yes

  • No

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. When you or your partner earn a raise or receive a bonus or a raise, is one of the first things that comes to mind the stuff you can buy with it?

When thousands of Americans were asked if they would prefer more money or more time, 69% chose money over time. However, studies have revealed that choosing more time was associated with greater happiness—even controlling for existing levels of available time and money. Just thinking about time makes you happier and more social.

As we shared in an earlier post from this series:

"Material purchases do make us happy. Initially, then the newness wears off. And it was the new and exciting feature of the iPhone, TV, or whatever you craved. Now you needed something else that was new because you've adapted to it. You could argue that adaptation is an enemy of happiness."

The lesson is to buy time, not stuff.

The number of tough decisions we can make in a day is limited, partly because of time constraints and because being in a state of scarcity depletes our finite decision-making capacity. The lack of time produces anxiety that can lead to poor decisions, procrastination, and ignoring problems we are not immediately facing.

In other words, science tells us that when we feel like there aren't enough hours in the day and all of our choices are tough, we are in a time scarcity trap.

Think of time scarcity as an empty bank account. There's nothing to draw from, so we make choices that rob us of our future. When we have money in our savings accounts, we can draw from it when facing an emergency. We can plan for the future by building our savings to go on vacation or purchase a car with cash rather than robbing our future income.

Just as savings accounts provide space for emergencies, unplanned expenses, and future opportunities, time slack (free space) in our schedules allows us to manage unplanned challenges or crises with the emotional energy we need to do so without being stressed and anxious.

Think of it this way. We don't just need the money to pay for problems, we need the time to manage problems without feeling overwhelmed.

The majority of American households have dual incomes. Assuming both partners have similar working hours, the differences in spouse together time between single-earner and dual-earner couples are relatively small. Once one spouse is at work, it becomes difficult to do things together. However, if both spouses work, what they lack is time to manage the home. Once again, we're making a trade-off decision.


Subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast and learn from guests such as Dr. Whillans, a world leader in understanding the relationship between time, money, and happiness.

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Apple.

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Back to the original question: when you or your partner earn a raise or receive a cash windfall, is one of the first things that comes to mind the stuff you can buy with it?

If I've convinced you that time is more precious than money, consider these ideas when building out your budget to outsource responsibilities at home:

  • Housekeepers or cleaning services can help with tasks such as cleaning, laundry, and organizing.

  • Lawn care service can manage mowing the lawn, trimming hedges, and maintaining landscaping.

  • Meal delivery services can provide nutritious meals without the need for grocery shopping and cooking.

  • Pet sitter or dog walkers can take care of your favorite furry friends while you're away.

  • A handyman or contractor can manage the time sucking home repairs, maintenance, and renovations you probably don't know how to do without using YouTube anyway.

  • Take advantage of our Self Help Homework Hacks course if your kids need help studying.

  • Hire a child care service to help with childcare and after-school activities, particularly when you have more kids than drivers or you both work during the day.

  • Use grocery delivery services to save time by delivering groceries directly to your doorstep.

"Lost time is never found again." – Benjamin Franklin

When you plan a budget with your spouse, you are not budgeting with Excel or other tools such as our Budget Template for Couples. You are using these tools. You are budgeting with someone you love and share your life with.

Our free Budget Template for Couples is designed specifically for couples. Each category includes linked graphic-centric short videos to help couples in the budgeting process, providing essential prompts to consider budgeting each categorically appropriately.

This 10-part series is dedicated to helping you work with a spouse to budget together and provide the information you need to make educated decisions with your dollars.

Learn More

Couples who learn more, save more, and spend more on what is important to them.

Start, Strengthen, or Rebuild Marriages. For couples who want to manage money and the home as a team.

Winning ideas from experts to manage money and the home as a team. 2023 Plutus Award Finalist: Best Couples or Family Content

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Apple.

🔔 Click here to listen and subscribe to the Modern Husbands Podcast on Spotify.

Winning ideas to manage money and the home as a team delivered to your inbox every two weeks. You'll even receive a few free gifts!



Hershfield, Hal E., et al. “People Who Choose Time Over Money Are Happier.” Social Psychological and Personality Science, vol. 7, no. 7, Sept. 2016, pp. 697–706, doi:10.1177/1948550616649239.

Glorieux, Ignace & Minnen, Joeri & van Tienoven, Theun Pieter. (2011). Spouse “Together Time”: Quality Time Within the Household. Social Indicators Research. 101. 281-287. 10.1007/s11205-010-9648-x.

Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Eldar Shafir. Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means so Much. Picador, Henry Holt and Company, 2014.

Santos, Laurie. “The Science of Well-Being.” Yale Course on Happiness. Accessed 20 Aug. 2022.

Whillans, Ashley. Time Smart. Harvard Business Review Press, 2020.


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