Your Money and Your Time: How to Master Both

People sometimes make fun of me for getting up at 5am…

But I tell them it’s part of my “pay myself first” rule.

“Paying yourself first? Isn’t that an old money rule from one of those finance books? What’s that got to do with getting up at 5am?”

Well, as you probably know, the pay yourself first rule exists because most people are bad at money management. When paychecks come in, their money goes straight to everyone else — bills, rent, food, luxuries, etc. — and they have little left over to save for themselves.

I think it’s the same with hours in the day. 

When most people wake up, they immediately give all their hours to everyone else — work, family obligations, traffic, chores, etc. — and at the end of the day have very little (or very low-quality) time for themselves.

My theory is that getting up early is like paying yourself first with time. Paying the first few hours of every day to yourself ensures that you’re never ripping yourself off later. That’s why you don’t often hear early risers complain about running low on spare time. Because they schedule it first thing, daily.

Other Money Rules that Translate to Time Management

This epiphany came to me a few years ago when I started to refine my work/life balance. I was reading a lot of finance books at the time and couldn’t help but notice how well classic money advice applies to time.

Here are a few classic money rules, and their equivalent time rules…

Track Your Time. It Will Surprise You

Finance nerds know that the first step toward improving your money situation is to track your spending. If you don’t know where your money is going, it’s hard to set specific goals and cut back in areas.

Well, it’s the same with making better use of your time.

If you don’t know how much time you *really* waste on some activities, it’s difficult to make adjustments. Most people think they know where their major time sucks are, but have you ever tracked it to be sure?

I remember hearing once that the average American watches an average of 4 hours of TV each day. 🤮

So one day I started writing down all the times I watched TV over a period of a few weeks… I was embarrassed to learn that I averaged about ~2 hours a day for that tracking period!

Sure, it’s half the national average, but dang, it was way more than I thought I was watching. More importantly, it’s way more than I wanted to be spending! TV rarely brings me value, and tracking this gave me the wake-up call I needed to make a change. (I’m proud to say that these days I’ve reduced my watching to only 1.9 hrs of TV a day. 🤣)

Tips on How to Track Your Time

  • Track your screen time (on iPhone it’s settings → screen time → see all activity). This breaks down how long you spend on each app. Check it weekly and watch the trends.
  • Count how many family dinners you have each week.
  • Count the hours you spend playing with your kids.
  • Track your TV-watching hours.
  • There are a bunch of work-time and productivity tracking apps designed to track work activities.

After tracking for a while, are you happy with what you see? If your answer is no, make changes! If yes, keep doing what you’re doing. :)

Budgets for Money = To-Do Lists for Time

I’m a big fan of the value-based budget. It’s when you design a budget so that all your dollars are spent on things that you find valuable in life.

For time, you can do the same with a value-based to-do list. Higher-value activities go higher on the list, and lower activities go lower (or not on the list at all).

Following a daily or a weekly to-do list makes sure you’re getting the things done that you need to do, and that you get the most value from. 📝✅

Max Out Your Vacation Time, Just Like a 401k

You hear investors say this all the time… “I wish I started investing earlier in life!” 

The reason FIRE peeps try to max out their tax-advantaged retirement accounts every year is that the opportunity only lasts for that year. You can’t go back and make 401k contributions for prior years. There’s a contribution limit that resets each year.

Well, time also is limited, and vacation opportunities pass every year. You can’t go back in time and join that kayaking trip your friends took without you three years ago.

This is why I encourage people to use up all their paid time off and vacation time. Max it out every year like your 401k and enjoy the journey!

Wasting Money and Wasting Time

You’ve probably heard this one: “Stop buying things you don’t need, with money you don’t have, to impress people you don’t even like.”

My time-equivalent saying is: “Stop doing activities you don’t truly enjoy, with time you can’t get back, to be like people you don’t want to become.”

Donations and Volunteering

If you have an abundance of money → give some to those less fortunate. Even $1 a month helps.

If you have an abundance of time → use it to help someone else. Even 1 hour a month helps. :)

Diversify Your Life, Just Like Your Stocks

The reason I buy and hold broad index funds is because I want exposure to as many stocks as possible. If I own a tiny piece of everything, I get to enjoy all the good and bad stuff that individual stocks go through. Over the long run, there are more goods than bads out there.

This is the same reason I’m trying to say “yes” to more experiences in life. The more new things I try, the more golden moments and memories I’m making. There are more good things than bad things out there — I just gotta try them all to find out.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine… It’s LETHAL!” – Paulo Coelho


We talk a lot about money here. How to save, invest, and spend it wisely.

But I think it’s equally important to manage our time wisely. What ways and rules have you found to better “invest” or “spend” your time?

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  1. The Millennial Money Woman May 17, 2021 at 6:09 AM

    Happy Monday Joel!

    Awesome article about money and time. It’s true that we really do need to start budgeting our time… and it’s probably really important to start now because time is finite while money is not.

    And ultimately, if we allocate our time to doing things that make us more productive or that help us accomplish our goals faster, then we will likely grow our income too.

    By the way, I loved Coelho’s quote… priceless!



    1. Joel May 17, 2021 at 11:33 AM

      Great point – I can see how better time management can lead to higher earning too. Cheers Fiona and have a great week my friend!

  2. Christine Luken May 17, 2021 at 10:28 AM

    I couldn’t have said it better myself, Joel! One thing I will add is something I do called “Buying Back My Time.” It’s the rule I use to figure out if I should do something myself or pay someone else to do it. Essentially, I calculate how much time something takes me versus how much it cost me to pay someone else to it. For example, my cleaning person takes 10 hours of work off my plate per month for the low, low cost of $160. (She only needs 6 hours to get it done because she’s that good.) All I need to do is sell an online course or book one 60-minute corporate money wellness webinar to pay for my house cleaner. $160 to buy back 10 hours of my time is an amazing deal for me!

    1. Joel May 17, 2021 at 11:52 AM

      Awesome trick! Sometimes I feel guilty outsourcing work I could do myself, but if I think of it as “buying back time” it makes complete sense! Cheers Christine!

  3. Jason Brown May 17, 2021 at 10:53 AM

    Hey Joel — I love this post. I recently went back to school to get my master’s. The most valuable thing that I learned wasn’t anything from a book, professor, or lecture (although I did learn from those, too). The most valuable trait I developed from my 3 years in grad school was – Time Management. We also had our first child a few months after I started school. So I was forced to account for every minute of my day and use it productively. The first thing I did was delete Facebook off my phone! What a time waster that was! Now that I’ve been out of school for 3 years, those time management skills I developed during those survival years of grad school have stayed with me and helped to greatly enhance my life!

    1. Joel May 17, 2021 at 11:56 AM

      Full time work, grad school, and a new baby at the same time? Wow – I will never complain about being busy ever again!

  4. David @ Filled With Money May 17, 2021 at 8:32 PM

    I thought about tracking my time so much! There’s people at the end of the year who say “where did all my money go?” I’m one of those people who say “where did I spend all of my time?”

    I can never seem to remember where I focused all my attention and time to. I wish there was a personal capital app but for time.

    1. Joel May 17, 2021 at 9:59 PM

      There are a bunch of time tracking apps. But none of them do it automatically like personal capital. You need to input it all (and I suspect that’s why nobody does it! haha)

      1. Accidentally Retired May 17, 2021 at 11:39 PM

        Yeah, that is why I just built my own spreadsheet. There are apps that can track what you do in the computer, but they are still wildly inaccurate as to what you are actually working on,

        I highly recommend tracking your time though, I even released a version of my spreadsheet on my site a few weeks ago.

  5. Accidentally Retired May 17, 2021 at 11:36 PM

    I love the Money Rule v Time Rule chart. Brilliant way to compare and show that how we think about both are closely aligned in more ways than you’d think!

    1. Joel May 18, 2021 at 11:48 AM

      Cheers AR! I hear people say “time is money” all the time, but they manage the two very differently.

  6. Impersonal Finances May 18, 2021 at 6:32 PM

    Diversify your life is an excellent turn of phrase. The first aha moment for me in terms of time tracking is this god forsaken screen time tracker on the iphone. My goodness do I need to stop staring at my device! Excellent tips. I used to be hesitant to take my vacation time for fear of looking like a slacker at work, but I have since shed that fear.

    1. Joel May 19, 2021 at 9:42 AM

      I felt the same about vacation time. Also I was in sales so when you take vacation, you don’t make any sales (nobody does your job for you while you’re out), and your income drops. I missed many fun trips because I was too focussed on income. Changing that now though!

  7. adam@realworldpersonalfinance May 18, 2021 at 8:04 PM

    Honestly, it’s sickening my average screen time on my iphone 3+ hours a day! Given, it’s usually 5- 10 minutes, so it’s hard to notice. I almost gasp every time I get that little notification on my phone.

    I could work out, cook dinner, and probably clean my entire apt in that amount of time.

    1. Joel May 19, 2021 at 9:40 AM

      I hear ya! I’m ready to start scheduling phone-free days. Or maybe phoneless blocks of time at night.

  8. Dividend Power May 20, 2021 at 8:31 AM

    Money its time and vice versa. Those with money use it to gain time.

  9. Grateful Kae May 27, 2021 at 3:38 PM

    I also love that $$ vs Time chart! I’ve been super into time management stuff for the last few years. It fascinates me and it’s one of my favorite topics. Still don’t feel I’ve totally “mastered” it, but maybe moving in the right direction at least?? It’s easy to slip away from you if you’re not super careful. I really want my life to feel very intentional, although some days it feels more like treading water, what with kids and jobs and all. :) I read a quote in a book the other day I really liked that said something like, “The minutes of our life are a concrete and valuable substance- arguably the most valuable substance we possess.”

    1. Joel May 27, 2021 at 8:36 PM

      Great quote Kae! I know what you mean about mastering time management – just when you think you’ve got it, stuff changes and you have to figure it all out over again. :)

  10. Philly June 6, 2021 at 2:20 PM

    Great read! I struggle so much with my budgeting and trying to save money when I am with my friends. They always want to go out and eat or go somewhere that costs money, and I don’t want to miss out! I read this article, that had some great tips about saying no to them so I can save more. I am struggling and still trying but it had great tips. What do you think I should do? Advice? haha i don’t want to not see my friends but I need to save more!