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Balancing Time vs Money – What You Need To Know

Written by: Jeffry Jones at 28 Mar 2014           

I had a friend during graduate school who would pay to have her laundry done by a service. She had two children, and was by no means wealthy. One day I asked her how she could even think of wasting money by having someone else do her laundry for her when she could just do it herself and save money.  She looked at me with a pitying stare and said, “There are two things in life that you can spend: time, or money, and right now I’m shorter on time.”

The time commitments to her family and her school meant having to pay for things that I had the luxury of doing in my down time. Compared to her, I was time-rich. This meant that I always budgeted to optimize for saving what little money I had.


Your graduate degree is going to take a lot of focus and energy. It’s going to mean long nights in the lab/library, meetings, deadlines, drafts, etc, etc. It’s going to mean missing social events, losing touch with old friends, fights with family, or even strain on your romantic relationships. Your degree is a big commitment with big rewards at the end, but it comes at a price.

You’re going to have to learn to budget with whatever resources you have left. Budgeting with only money in mind is conventional wisdom because we always see money as being the scarce thing. Depending on your program, school, etc, money will still probably be more scarce than you’d like, but the time you spend away from your desk at school is going to be more scarce than it should.


Money is inherently a lot easier to track. We can see it flow out of our accounts, we can cringe when we get the bill at a restaurant, or we can watch the meter tick away as our cab takes us home. Because it’s easier to track, its easier to worry about.

Time, on the other hand, slips by without us knowing. We lose it in so many ways we don’t even see. If we logged time like we log money, we’d notice they both drain far too easily. We only tend to notice time sliding away when we see strains on our relationships, when we lose touch with friends, or when we realize we haven’t picked up our hobby in a long time.


How you spend your time and money outside of school has the biggest impact on your life in the short term. I have seen people go months without taking care of the other aspects of their life only to realize later on that their grades have dropped, or they’ve been inattentive in the lab, or they’ve been messing up reports, etc. What you do outside of your studies impacts them immensely, and if you’re not keeping it in balance, you’re not going to do well in school or in life.

So how do you balance Time VS. Money to balance Life VS. School? It’s best to come up with some clear priorities. In the case of my friend, any moment of family time wasted was worse than flushing money away. My priorities lined up in a way that meant spending more time doing menial tasks in order  to save money. I could spend a night cooking my lunches for a week, and that would save me enough money for a night at the pub with friends.

In a lot of cases, spending one will save the other, but it’s not always proportional. You have to look to maximize your tradeoffs whenever you can. When you look at your priorities, decide which they take more of and allocate that resource to it.


Remember, if you’re budgeting time the way you budget money, it means you can get a loan. This might be extensions of deadlines at school or even taking rainchecks on social events. If you’re really desperate, you can get a mortgage. Time off from school or rebuilding your study plan to a more realistic scope can give you enough balance to get the most out of your degree and your life.

When you start, you’ll probably find that spending money to fix problems or save time seems like the best solution. Once you’ve stopped worrying about money as much, you’ll spend it more freely, but remember to balance it. I know a man who lived like a lawyer while he was still a law student and he’ll be living like a law student now that he’s a lawyer. Thinking about time as a resource doesn’t double your resources, it just gives you contexts to spend both in a smarter way.

Be smart about where you take time and money, and remember to be smart about where you spend it.

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