What's Worth More: Your Money or Your Time?

My banker husband has always said, "Time is money." I understood the point but never put the old adage to the test. We all probably have a different bottom line when it comes to how much our time is worth, so I did the math to determine mine. The answer, I learned, depends on both the person and the situation.

I was presented with the choice of flying or driving 500 miles to visit my family. It would take approximately eight hours to drive and about half that to fly nonstop (including time spent at the airport and traveling to and from). A plane ticket cost about $250 per person, for a total of at least $750 for my husband, my daughter, and me to make the trip by air. If we drove, I would spend about $3.50 per gallon of gas and, at 25 miles per gallon, it would cost $70 for all three of us (not counting depreciation on the car).

Removing time from the equation, the choice seemed like a no-brainer. But when I considered that it would take four more hours to drive than to fly, I realized that would be four fewer hours spent with my family, a calculation that added another layer of intangible value to my decision tree. In the end, I still decided that spending a net $680 to fly instead of drive ($750 for airfare minus $70 for gas), the equivalent of $57 per person per hour, for four extra hours wasn't worth the trade. If I had been traveling alone, I might have opted to fly; driving would have saved me only $180, or $45 per hour.

To get a firmer handle on what my time is worth, I thought about my daily activities outside of my job. On average, I spend about one hour per day preparing dinner. I figure the cost for that meal -- enough to feed a family of three -- ranges from $10 to $15, and sometimes even less. Dining out, by contrast, costs us at least $30. By eating a home-cooked meal every night, I save a minimum of $15 to $20 per day. In this situation, where dinner is a daily occurrence, the dollar savings from at-home meals are worth my time and afford the opportunity for an occasional splurge on a night out.

Laundry is my nemesis. I was almost afraid to investigate what kind of deal I'd find that might induce me to farm out the family's laundry. Laundry services in my area charge, on average, $1 per pound to wash and fold 12 pounds of laundry. Adding about $1.50 for supplies brings the total to $13.50 for a chore that takes me at least two hours to perform. The answer, to me, at least, is clear: My time is worth more than $6.25 per hour, so I will definitely be calling the local laundry service.

I also explored the cost of hiring someone to take over my cleaning chores. I spend a little time every day "maintaining" the house and two to three hours per week doing a deeper clean. Altogether I spend close to five hours per week cleaning. Paying a housecleaner would cost about $150 per visit, be it weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. If I chose a monthly professional cleaning, I'd still have to do the daily maintenance but could skip the deep cleaning and save about two hours per week. Holding on to eight hours of my time each month would cost me $18.75 per hour. After very little thought, I concluded that spending more time with my husband and daughter was worth the hit to our budget.