Focus Less on Net Income and More on Net Time

Money used to buy me stuff. Now it buys me time.

We’ve all heard the phrase before. “Time is money.” When I was much younger — single and without children, of course, money was tight, but time was plentiful. And life was good.

low cost 401kThese days, the tables have turned. I have all the money I need to live the life I want to live, but there are never enough hours to do all the things I’d like to do. I don’t know exactly when we crossed over, but I now fully appreciate the fact that time is money, and money can buy time. Life is still good, but life is passing us by too fast.

Dr. Peter Kim, another anesthesiologist with a couple of young kids, has come to a similar realization. He encourages us to focus less on our money and more on our time.

His essay on time and money first appeared on Passive Income MD.

Focus Less on Net Income and More on Net Time

 

We all understand the concept of net income or net pay. If you’re an employee, it’s what you see deposited into your bank account after Federal & State taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare taxes, etc. are all withheld. If you’re self-employed, it’s what you’re left with after you set aside the funds for many of those same taxes plus paid off your business expenses.

In real estate, the term is referred to as net operating income. It’s the bottom line after taking your gross rents and subtracting out all operating expenses including management fees, repairs, property taxes, utilities, etc.

Gross income and gross rents are important, but at the end of the day, we all know that it’s the net income that matters because it’s that number that determines how you live your life.

We seem to focus our efforts so heavily on our net income, but how many of us give that same energy and thought when it comes to our time. Sure, we all have the same gross time, 24 hours or 1440 minutes a day, but how much net time do you have?

This is the time you have left over after chores, obligations, commuting, necessary sleep, eating, working, and other things you don’t enjoy doing. What remains is time that you can spend doing whatever you choose.

 

 

 

 

 

Many physicians are faced with dropping reimbursements, increasing overhead costs, and greater costs of living. . . what seems to be our solution? We work more. We trade more time for money, and though we might be able to maintain the same level of income or perhaps an increase, we’ve done so by giving away large chunks of our net time. We’re suffering from a drastic reduction in our net time.

 

Focus on Gaining Net Time

 

When people want more time to do things, the first thing we usually give up is sleep – we stay up later and set the alarm earlier. But that only ends up hurting your health, your mood, and your energy. In my opinion, this solution is not sustainable.

Instead, think about being more efficient. Think about how to reduce those things that cut into your net time.

Let’s consider each of these.

Automate and Outsource

 

One of my favorite books that talks about the concept of net time is The 4-Hour Workweekby Tim Ferriss. He’s a huge advocate of automating and outsourcing whatever you can to be efficient with your time.

Are there things in your life that you could automate or outsource? Here are just a few examples:

 

Shopping

 

set for life insuranceAs a family, we tend to buy the same things every trip to the supermarket or to Costco. With a growing family, we go 1-2 times a week, each time taking an hour all-in. Well, we had no idea that we can just have it all delivered for free (over $25) with prices essentially identical to what’s in the store.

We’ve been doing that for Costco deliveries but we literally signed up today to have our groceries delivered to us from now on, which should save us 1-2 hours a week and 4-8 hours a month at no additional cost.

 

Paying Bills & Tracking Finances

 

If you’re not automating your bill pay for recurring bills, that’s wasted time. Set up automatic payments for everything and move on. Yes, I understand it’s important to review your credit card statements, but we look at it once briefly every month.

Do you go look through multiple websites to find all your financial info? That’s wasted time. Throw it all into Personal Capital and login once.

 

Cleaning

 

How many of you enjoy cleaning your own house from top to bottom? Honestly, my wife and I do not enjoy it at all. We’re a dual physician family and we’ve both cut down our clinical times quite a bit, but we did that to spend more time doing the things we love with our family. We decided that we’re going to outsource our cleaning. It takes a professional crew about 3 hours and to us, it’s so worth the cost.

 

Assistants

 

On the advice of Tim Ferriss, I’ve hired virtual and real-life assistants to perform tasks from time to time. I’m happy to have someone else do some of the tedious things I would normally have to do myself.

This allows me to do useful things with my time, like running and planning my businesses and educating myself further. I consider the money I spend on assistants an investment. Best of all, these assistants allow me to spend more net time with my family and friends.

What do these assistants do, exactly? Creating spreadsheets, scanning, dropping off packages, helping to figure out travel plans. . . the list goes on. The more I use them, the more I find ways for them to be helpful and ultimately the more free time I create.

 

 

Minimize Commuting or at Least Be Productive

 

I’ve heard other bloggers like the Physician on Fire praising the benefits of living close to work. I also really enjoyed this article by the Washington post titled, The Astonishing Human Potential Wasted on Commutes.

 

 

The average person spends 9 full days dedicated to commuting each year and it’s getting worse every year. Is there a way to reduce this? Some people are willing to commute a long way for a little more pay. Is it truly worth it?

lucidity locumsI recently talked to a physician who was mulling a change in job for an increase in salary. The problem is the commute was 90 minutes away. That’s 3 hours of commuting every day! He told me the downside would be that he would never get to see his young children during the week as they’d be asleep by the time he got home. Is the increase in salary worth the loss in net time?

I’ve considered getting rid of my car altogether and using a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft exclusively for my commutes to work. According to AAA in 2017, the average cost of owning a car is almost $8500/ year or $706/month when you include, gas, maintenance & repairs, and depreciation. But they didn’t even include monthly payments for a car. If you factor that in, a car could cost you $40-50 a day.

Considering this, daily rideshare seems more appealing, especially if I could be productive on that commute, taking care of some things I would normally have to take care of during other parts of the day, again creating some free time.

 

Decrease Working

 

Don’t work for your money, make your money work for you. We’ve probably all heard this saying but how many of us actually follow it?

Early on in our careers, making money relies on our own human capital, meaning we have to put the time and effort in to build up some savings. For physicians, that truly starts when we finish our training and get paid attending salaries.

According to the White Coat Investor, the first few years out we should be focusing on getting rid of our student loans. I’m a huge believer of that, but I also believe that you could and should start thinking about creating multiple passive income streams at the same time.

I personally set aside at least 20-30% of my income to do just that. I do invest in the stock market, mostly within tax-advantaged accounts. However, for cash flow, I focus on investing in real estate – direct ownership, syndications, crowdfunding, etc. My ultimate goal with these investments is complete income replacement and total time freedom.

I’ve also been fortunate to be able to create some businesses that are flexible in time and location, like this blog. Because of the cash flow from these businesses, I’ve started gradually retiring, cutting down my clinical time significantly but remaining at the same income level or higher.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the most precious commodity is time. If we think of time as currency, something we spend and can never get back, then how we use it becomes even more important.

Many people see wealth as having a certain threshold of money, but I see true wealth as having the freedom to do whatever you want with your time. The most powerful thing about money is not the objects you can buy, but it’s the time you can free up – net time.

 


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How much net time do you have? Have you figured out a way to gain more net time?

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22 comments

  • Yup.
    Time is now my scarcest resource.
    It no longer makes sense to wait in long lines at WalMart.
    Or spend hours a week cleaning my house. Thank you Merry Maids
    Or grocery shopping. Thank you Shipt.

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  • Time is the great equalizer. I started buying more and more online years ago because of exactly what you mention in your Costco example. And I live near DC where going anywhere in your car presents a constant risk of being stuck in traffic. If I can bike to the store and get what I need I do it, but some stores are too far.

  • As a new father and attorney, I can certainly appreciate the concept of net time. Caring for a newborn made me realize all the time I had before she was born.

    I wouldn’t trade that loss of personal time for a second, but as you point out, there are things I can do to create more time to spend with her, and create more time for myself.

  • I have had a housekeeper since residency. I have never owned a lawn mower or edger. Some things I knew from a young age that I wanted to outsource.

  • It is so true about having more time when we are young, but not enough money. Now that I am in my early 40’s and close to FI, I don’t have the free time I once had. I am an employee for a healthcare organization. My new goal is to use up all of my PTO every year. As a saver, I like to save everything. I realized that I do not need to keep hundreds of PTO hours in the bank. I vacation every year and take days off, but not enough. That is one simple way that I am going to give my self more time to enjoy life.

  • Wait But Why (https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/12/the-tail-end.html) hit this topic in a way that really resonated with me. I’ve been thinking about this article a lot since having a baby. My mom will be staying with us in our 1 bedroom 600sqft apt 2.5 a week to help with Baby Kpeds. It will be hard having her stay with us because of the small quarters but I’m getting back all this new time to spend with her. Good stuff.

  • Susie

    One of my favorite time gainers is to hack my commute. I purposely take public transportation even tho it takes 20 minutes more each way and thats time away from the family. It’s because I find driving to be one of the greatest time sucks of all time.

    While sitting on the train, I have been able to meditate for 10 mins every day, work on a few crafty projects which I love, catch up on personal email and texts that I never seem to get to otherwise and listen to 50 audiobooks a year! Even though 40 extra minutes a day is significant over a year, its very much Me Time that feels precious and best of all, All Mine 🙂

  • PoF, your introductory rumination on the time before kids brings to mind the poetry of A Tribe Called Quest:

    Back in the days when I was a teenager
    Before I had status and before I had a pager

    We spend our teen years leaning heavily into adulthood, only to spend adulthood lamenting the passage of our youth. As time-strapped physicians, doubly so.

    Better to modify the job to suit our need for the time.

  • Amazing how much of this is impacted once you have kids. I had so much more net time when I was working FT+ with no kid than I am working 80% time with one. And the value of that time has skyrocketed, hence why I’ve never once regretted taking the pay cut that went with the reduction of hours.

  • Mom MD

    The net time spent on children’s activities is more precious to me than almost anything. I loved sniffing baby heads while rocking, reading to first graders, going on field trips, driving all the little league games and listening to the chatter in the back seats, and hiking with scouts. Football mom is the bomb. The energy of all those boys devouring your refrigerator contents is just the best.
    You can substitute your children’s activity at will. Make the time. You will savor it over and over.

  • Definitely preaching to the choir here.

    Time is the most precious commodity and the worst part is we really don’t know how much is left.

    I can go to my checkbook and figure how much money I have. There is no such thing as a time checkbook (if there was it would make retirement planning infinitely easier).

    And the way we are conditioned is that we sacrifice the beneficial stuff (like sleep) to increase productivity chasing that dollar. Everyone has increased the amount of patients they see to compensate for the declining reimbursement climate we are in. That can only go so far.

    My passive income streams have finally starting making some significant contributions. To the point where I can take a day off each week without any financial impact. As it grows would like to continue that trend.

  • Many of us would like to outsource menial tasks like mowing lawns, pulling weeds and cleaning our homes, however these jobs are usually performed by immigrants. With the current administration’s focus on restricting immigration, many of these positions are getting harder to fill. Only two years ago, I was able to find a plumber at $40/hour, now you can’t find one to work for less than $90. Individuals working in manual labor jobs are so busy that sometimes they don’t return phone calls.

  • Excellent thoughts. Net time always trumps net income. This post reminds me of that classic book, “Your Money or Your Life”.

  • Oneyearwonder

    one contrarian thought: I get it –time is money, but…

    if most “doctor’s kids” grow up with a housecleaner, a lawn service, and other services, then they may grow up to think that “everyone” has these services and that’s normal for most families.

    they may never learn to do these skills for themselves or see it modeled. see the WCI thread about docs not able to do basic home maintenance and bemoaning the difficulties they find to get qualified, trustworthy labor, when some of those jobs could be done themselves. Mr Money Mustache would eyeroll for an hour.

    I understand that time w/ kids/family is “money” but time working with them–them helping me, me helping them learn these skills –is money they may need to keep in the future if they are not high earners (one of mine wants to be a teacher). it also teaches that life is more than sports/fun. hard physical work in the yard can be a good thing.

    mine are 7-9-11 but they help in their own ways, even if it slows me down

  • Awesome post as usual. I guess instead of talking about time value of money, we should talk about money value of time.

    For minimizing commute, this is one I wish I could have avoided in undergrad. I lived at home and took a 2 hour bus to college and 2 hours bus back. If I missed the bus, then it was like 3 hours. So an average of 4-5 hours of commute a day. Perhaps all those A minuses could have been As .

    So what is your recommended average commute time? 10 minutes a day? Perhaps one can convert this to useful time like listening to podcast?

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  • FamilyIsMedicine

    Thanks for the post PoF, and I really enjoy the site.

    One contrasting point of view that has been on my mind lately, though: what about net energy?
    With so much to do and balance, it can be overwhelming–especially for any of us struggling with burnout–to find the energy, motivation, and drive to accomplish all that we desire.

    Thanks for being a positive force for the common good.

    Best

  • What a great reminder. Sometimes I get so bogged down in frugality and reducing my expenses as much as possible, that I forget reducing my expenses by $10/week and spending an hour each week doing that is just not a good return.

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