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How This Life-Changing Truth Made Me Rethink the Way I Look at Money

profileJoel Koh

Have you watched the movie In time?

Source: 20th Century Fox

If you haven’t, I won’t spoil you, but here’s a bit about the movie.

In the year 2169, the human race was genetically engineered so that people would not grow older than 25. After their 25th birthday, a 12-month countdown on their wrist starts, and when the timer drops to zero, the person will time out and die immediately.

As a result, time has become the only currency that can be transferred between people or deposited into time capsules or banks.

Although this principle comes from a Sci-Fi movie, it is a truth we often forget; as American author, poet, and philosopher Henry David Thoreau would attest:

The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. 

In other words, the VALUE of anything is the amount of life you pay for it. 

This truth can be life-changing as when we adopt the perspective that we buy material things with time from our lifespan instead of dollars and cents, we can fully grasp the gravity of our purchases and comprehend their full cost.

This truth can be applied to our lives by examining how much life we are exchanging for the material things we buy.

Time Money Conversion in Singapore

To facilitate this thought experiment of how much time you are giving up for purchases, I will be using the median annual income of workers in Singapore.

Source: Giphy

In 2023, the Median Gross Monthly Income from work, inclusive of CPF contributions of full-time employed residents, is $5,197. I will be rounding it up to $5,200 for simplicity’s sake.

Singaporeans work an average of ~44 (43.6) paid hours per week in 2023. Also, most Singaporeans work five days a week which equates to ~9 (8.7) hours a day.

For 2024, the average number of workdays in a month (excluding holidays) is about 21.83 (~22) days a month.

Assuming you earn $5,200 a month, work 5 days a week or 22 days a month and 9 hours a day; you will be making:

~$0.44 a minute

~$26.26 an hour

~$236.36 a day

$5,197 a month.

Here are how many hours of your life each of these common Singaporean purchases and some ostentatious purchases will cost:

ItemMonetary Cost (SGD)Working Time Cost
Regular Coconut Shake$4.40~10 minutes
Jeans$49.90~1 hours 54 mins
Apple AirPods Pro$379~1 day 14 hours
2D1N Staycation at The Ritz Carlton$700~2 days and 23 hours
Samsung Galaxy S22 5G (128GB | 8GB)$1,178~7 days
Toyota Corolla Altis Standard (Gold Price With Guaranteed COE)$134,888~ 2 years, 1 month, and 28 days
Average of Median Price For Resale 4-Room Flats (Q4 2021)$511,450~8 years, 2 months, and 13 days

Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Personally, I was shocked by the time needed for an HDB flat, while other things like a coconut shake look less expensive after this exercise.

Think About How You Are Spending Your Life

At the end of the day, the money you worked hard for is your own, and you can spend it in any way your heart desires.

However, it can be beneficial for you to do this exercise and understand how many hours of your life you are trading away for each material item you buy.

Time Cannot Be Replaced

When it comes to money and time, both can be considered commodities as there is only a limited amount that we can own. Once it has been spent, it is gone for good.

As such, we would naturally want to get our money’s worth and maximise the value you get for each dollar you spend.

However, there is one major difference between money and time. Money lost can be earned back by working more, taking up side hustles, and spending time to invest well, all of which can be done so long as we are healthy.

But, unless you are a time traveller who can bend the rules of time and space:

Source: BBC | Giphy

TIME SPENT CANNOT BE REPLACED!

Every human being is only given 24 hours a day; once it is gone, you cannot replace it.

My man Thoreau wanted us to grasp that our every action is a tradeoff that requires the use of the limited amount of life we have.

I also see that things can add time—eating healthy food, meditation, and staying active make us live longer and improve our quality of life. In a sense, we can actually ‘increase’ our time in the long term.

This does not mean that we should be worrying and obsessing about maximising our precious time. Instead, I think we should seriously consider what we are trading these precious hours for.

Personally, this helped me reconsider my purchases and made me a bit more resistant to the siren song of sales.

It also made me more mindful of how I spend my money as I give up my life for it.

Alternatives 

There are other things you can trade your time and life for.

  • 15 minutes to carry your newborn child and marvel at the beauty and purity of life.
  • 30 minutes to listen to your child’s story about what happened in school today.
  • 2 hours for dinner with a friend to listen about their life and troubles.
  • 3 hours for a date night with your partner to preserve the spark in your relationship.
  • 10 hours a month to volunteer at whatever cause you feel passionate about.
  • 1 day with your grandparents to spend time with them while they are still around.

But at the end of the day, I understand that your goals are different from mine. If there is one thing I want you to take away, it is this:

Please carve out some time to think about what you are trading away your precious time for…

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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. I hope to help people make better financial decisions and not let money control them.
You can contribute your thoughts like Joel Koh here.

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