How Much Money is a Few Minutes of Your Time Worth?

Yellow excavator digging a heap of coins

Yellow excavator digging a heap of coins

I was near the copy machine at work the other day and one of my colleagues was scanning a receipt to submit for expense reimbursement. She said it was for the same trip we both made the same day by car to our headquarters. I never have to scan receipts because I only request to be reimbursed for gas mileage, which is reimbursed at the going rate. However, if you request reimbursement for anything else, it’s a few extra minutes of scanning receipts and sending a copy to the accounting department. I asked her what else she was submitting aside from mileage and she said, “the toll, of course!” So, there’s a single toll for one dollar going to our destination. I said, “Oh, I don’t submit an expense report for the toll, it’s only a dollar.” But then she reminded me that if it only takes two minutes to complete the added activity — that’s a rate of $30 an hour! So, that got me thinking about other things in routine life that may or may not be worth it. Here are a few to make you think:

  • Saving on Gas – We’ve all been conflicted over whether to just pull over and get gas at the closest place or drive a few miles to save 10 cents per gallon. This is not really a cut and dry answer, even if you had all the time in the world, since the cost of gas and depreciation on the car alone is a factor. I usually go by a rule of thumb that I’ll drive one mile for every 10 cent difference in gas if the car is on empty, so I get the full bang for my buck. I use a smartphone app to check, or you can just use a desktop to compare prices if planning in advance.
  • Picking up Change – This one is debatable. While it doesn’t really take much time at all, it can make you look somewhat cheap or even like a thief, depending on the circumstance, if you’re going around picking up change behind people. I generally tend to pick up everything larger than a penny. For a penny itself, I may not go out of my way. I’ve found certain places tend to have loose change lying around, like in parking lots and also at my gym (change falls out of people’s pockets). The time involved is probably no more than two seconds, so that return on your time is great — it’s just the discomfort and awkwardness of bending down picking up coins that deters many people.
  • Comparison Shopping Online Rather than Buying in a Store – Again, if you really worry about what strangers think about you, you may not be apt to comparison shop in a store. However, when I’m in a retail store, I often scan an item with my smartphone and check out what the price is at major stores online, so I know if it’s worth spending a few extra minutes to order online and wait for the item to arrive versus buying it in real time.

Life presents many other situations like this where it makes you question what your time is worth. Perhaps these examples will give you some ideas on pursuing some small money-saving activities or just deciding your time and effort is too important.

Darwin is an engineer and MBA who takes an “evolutionary” approach to finance, writing about adapting to evolving financial management, tax, investing and savings opportunities. Making more money and saving more money is an adaptive process – join the evolution! He blogs at Darwin’s Money and ETF Base. Follow him on Twitter @ Everyday Finance.

Darwin – who has written posts on CashNetUSA Blog.

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