How Much Is Time Worth To You?

Work-life balance is one of the subjects that always come up whenever I’m in networking events or women-focused forums. I often find myself surrounded by women who are earning great salaries but have also dedicated so much time building their careers that they feel guilty about not being able to spend enough time with their families and feel selfish for wanting to have just a little bit of time for themselves.

So little time, so much to do...
So little time, so much to do…

I’ve grappled with work-life balance myself. I spend between 9 to 10 hours a day at the office, not including my one-hour lunch break. Factor in an hour of commute daily and that’s already 12 hours allotted just for my job. I need 8 hours of sleep to be functional. An hour goes to necessary daily human functions – eating, bathing, etc. So I have 2 hours left in the day to do as I please, but normally that gets superseded by more urgent matters.

The last thing I want to do at the end of an exhausting day is household chores. My husband tries to do what he can in the house; he takes care of our meals, often whipping up the best dinners for me to come home to. But he is terrible at cleaning (although maybe not as bad as I am). We are very, very messy people! We are always struggling with the law of entropy in our apartment: the amount of energy we expend can never reverse our home’s rate of increasing disorder.  It’s like fighting a tidal wave; you just can’t win.

When I finally had a chance to ask some successful female executives how they managed to balance both work and home life, one of the most frequent answers I got was to use money to buy time. Of course, the assumption here is that one has the money to spend in the first place. I initially balked at the idea given that to reach our financial goals, we were supposed to be saving money, not spending it!

To illustrate her point, one executive told the group that she didn’t mind spending money on taxis to get home quicker because the extra time it gave her to spend with her children was worth more to her than the taxi fare. There are two things that come to play here:

  1. How much you earn. If you work minimum wage, you’re not going to be willing to pay the equivalent of one hour of work for a quick taxi ride home. On my salary, it doesn’t hurt to spend $7 on occasion but it’s not a daily habit that I can afford in the long-term if I want financial independence. For an executive whose hourly rate is higher up the pay scale and can cover multiple taxi rides, then this price is cheap.
  2. How much you value the activity you spend that extra time on. The female executive above puts a premium on the time she gets to spend with her children. Others are willing to settle for a lower-paying but less demanding job simply because they want to have more time for their family and themselves. I don’t have children yet so at the moment, I put value on just having the extra time for my husband and myself.

After repeatedly being advised to outsource my cleaning work so I could finally claim some time for my own, I decided to give it a try. It was a difficult decision, not just because of the extra cost but because we live in a society where the woman is still expected to do everything in the house, even with a full-time job. I was slightly ashamed that I couldn’t take care of our home, but at the same time I knew how dated these expectations were. I’m not superwoman!

So we hired a housekeeper to come to our house once a week, taking care of most of the cleaning. It was amazing – in only five hours, this woman was able to transform our apartment from a disaster zone to a model home! It makes sense because this woman’s specialty is cleaning, after all. Still, it blows my mind how wonderful the house looks after just a few hours. We were never able to achieve the same immaculate state even with a whole Saturday of chores. We still do some cleaning in between her visits, but these are just to ensure that the house does not end up looking like a teenager’s room again. I do the laundry while my husband will try to tidy up and vacuum. I also still do the dishes after every meal that my husband cooks. But the bulk of the work is taken care of by the housekeeper during her weekly visit.

The fact remains that it’s a luxury to have a housekeeper in Japan. So while working on our 2013 budget, I began to evaluate whether we could keep the cleaning service, given the more aggressive goals we had set for the year. We pay close to 100 USD each week for the service, amounting to almost 400 USD a month. That’s a big chunk of money!

But on further reflection, this amount doesn’t just cover the five hours of cleaning. Chores used to take up a good chunk of my Saturdays and then I would be too tired to do anything else on Sundays. Having this work outsourced has therefore freed up my weekend. My husband and I began our Japanese language studies again (I had abandoned it before because I didn’t have the time). I’ve also been able to take a more active role in our church. Plus, I’ve had the time to work on this blog!

Having a clean house has also brought a greater peace of mind. At the end of the week, I can relax in orderly surroundings. I have been less stressed, which has actually helped my performance at work. Considering all of the benefits, the price of having a housekeeper has turned out to be relatively cheap.

Sometimes it’s difficult to look past the numbers and to quantify improvements in quality of life. Time is a finite resource – I’m just glad I was able to realize early enough in my life how much this precious resource is worth to me.