A question of timing Featured

11:03am EDT August 26, 2003
I went on a casual shopping trip to a big discount store one recent weekday evening.

When it came time to check out, it was apparent to me that it would be a long wait before I was on my way. The couple in front of me had about $200 worth of groceries in their cart. Four customers stood ahead of them.

I looked at my watch a few minutes after getting in line. Five minutes to eight, I noted.

By the time I had paid my tab, it was 8:35. I'd spent more than forty minutes in line, and probably close to that strolling through the store.

I looked at the things I bought and tried to figure how much I had saved by buying at Mr. Discount rather than going somewhere else that might have been more expensive. I figured I might have saved $5. At that rate, my time waiting in line is worth about $7.50 an hour, what some fast food restaurants are paying these days.

On the other hand, if I change the oil in my car instead of going to one of those convenient oil change places, I pocket about $20 of value in exchange for less than an hour's work.

I got to thinking about the time/money relationship in our lives. Time is money, goes the old bromide, but do we really believe that? We expend a lot of effort and consideration when it comes to spending our money, but do we consider how important it is to spend our time wisely and productively?

I thought about the things I could do in 40 minutes. I can do a pretty thorough interview in that stretch of time or write a short article for Smart Business. I can walk a couple of miles and improve my cardiovascular function. In that case, I might extend my overall stay on the planet and, in effect, leverage some of my time to buy some more time.

A press release on my desk touts the wisdom of cutting costs rather than chasing after additional sales. Find $5,000 worth of savings in your company and you can save the effort it takes to land $50,000 in sales.

Maybe I'll stay home and change the oil instead of going shopping. And pay someone else to stand in line.