How to use money to buy back your time
I have a friend who earns more than $750,000/year. He loves his job but if you ask how he’s doing, his #1 response will be complaining about how busy he is.
So I found it interesting when I visited him and noticed grocery bags sitting on his counter.
“I just got back from the grocery store.”
I paused. “Have you ever thought about having someone do your grocery shopping?”
He looked at me like I was a nut. PAY to have someone do his grocery shopping? What kind of elitist would do that?
Here’s a $750,000 entrepreneur behaving like he still earns $60,000. Why?
In other areas of life, we change as we grow: our clothing style, where we live, where we eat. Yet in the area of how we use money and time — especially for entrepreneurs — why are we so resistant to change?
I’d like to take you behind the scenes of one of the most powerful productivity concepts I’ve learned as a business owner: buying back your time in both your working and personal lives.
(Buying back your time is part of my productivity system, which I wrote about on our sister site I Will Teach You To Be Rich here.)
Think about it: When you start your business, you have more time than money. But as your business grows, that reverses — and you’ll soon have more money than time. Most people in the world will never face this problem. It’s likely that growing up, your parents and family never encountered having more money than time, which changes the calculus of many decisions in a way that few can understand. As a result, most entrepreneurs are unequipped to recognize this and then change their approach to work.
To paraphrase author Brian Tracy, “As I got more successful, I couldn’t afford to do some of the things I used to…like mow my lawn.”
It’s an uncomfortable truth that many people claim they value time over money, but if you look at their calendars, you’ll find the opposite.
For example, I remember being 15 years old and reading tons of PC magazines as I learned how to build my own computer, figured out which Pentium processor to get, and compared the video cards that would let me play Duke Nukem best. Now? I just buy a Mac.
I could share a million other examples from my own life: Like me scoffing at flying business class or shopping at Nordstrom vs. T.J.Maxx (shoutout to TJ for outfitting me for years).
I still find it difficult to know when it’s “right” to spend money or time on something. But I’ll share what I’ve learned along the way.
The subtle reasons people find “buying your time back” distasteful
This concept of “buying back your time” might seem foreign — but you already do it!
- Eating at a restaurant (instead of cooking)
- Getting your car’s oil changed (instead of doing it yourself)
- Taking an Uber (instead of walking or taking public transit)
- Paying full retail price for an item rather than spending hours hunting for deals on the internet
I’d bet you do some of these every week and don’t view any as “buying back your time.” The calculation probably happens at a very subconscious level, and we don’t view any of these as being crazy extravagant.
Yet for some reason, we hesitate to apply the same principle to our business. I’ve talked to students who earn multiple six figures but are nervous about hiring an assistant, someone to answer technical support emails, or someone to do their laundry. Why?
Here are a few reasons I discovered by examining myself — because I was one of the people who refused to change!
We value being busy. We secretly love the subtle status that being busy communicates. How would you feel if you asked an entrepreneur how he was doing, and he said, “Great! I’m really relaxed with my business.” Not that impressive.
We think we’re Special Snowflakes. You wouldn’t believe how many entrepreneurs give other entrepreneurs advice about productivity, “paying the problem away,” and delegating…until it comes to their business. “Yeah, that might work for her,” they say, “but my business is different.”
- “It would take me too long to train someone.”
- “We have a unique thing we do…”
- “I don’t know where to start.” (Answer: So? The first step is figuring that out.)
Our upbringing affects the way we think about time and money. We internalize at a very young age what our family considers “worth the money” or “a waste of money.” Think back to your parents: They taught you some very explicit money messages about what “too flashy” is. In your personal life, these embedded beliefs can be charming or eccentric. But in business, misaligned beliefs on time and money can cost you dearly — while getting aligned can become a force multiplier.
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We lack understanding of scale. When I used to scoff at spending on business class, I never really considered who was sitting up there (I just said, “LOL, stupid people….we’re all getting to the same destination!”) If you earn $40,000/year, spending $5,000 on business class would be crazy. If you earn $450,000 as a CEO, it makes perfect sense. It’s really important to consider who — and why — someone might spend what seems like an insane amount of money on something (like a personal trainer, your wedding, travel, food delivery) that some people would view as wasteful. More often than not, these people are not stupid. They understand value in a different way than I did.
Examples of buying your time back
Ultimately, as your business grows you have a choice to make: Do you want to stick to time management techniques that feel comfortable and got you to your current level — but will likely cause you to plateau — or do you want to go through the discomfort of developing new beliefs about time and money?
To see what I mean, simply take a look at people whose businesses are one to two levels larger than yours. Notice how they spend money and time. Is it different than your spending? I bet it is. It’s no surprise that the more successful an entrepreneur is, the more differently they think about time and money. If they didn’t, they would never make it to the next level.
I believe that you should consciously think about buying back your time, and the more successful you become, the more important this question becomes.
Knowing when to buy back your time
When I was in college, I didn’t really understand phrases like, “As I became busier, my time became more valuable.” But as my business grew, I started to understand. I only had 24 hours in a day and I found myself doing things that I would have done as a poor college student…only now I was running a business.
Yet learning when to buy back your time is something most people only learn the hard way. So let’s try to put some finer rules around when to open your wallet and when to keep doing it yourself.
Double down where you add massive value. Do you know the one to three things you’re truly great at? Double down on those. Delegate the rest. For example, I’m value-positive when it comes to writing a long, detailed blog post that will attract Top Performers to our site. Like THIS ONE on productivity or THIS ONE on the numbers behind our 1,000 best customers.
Delegate the value-neutral areas. I’m value-neutral at copy editing every line of our emails and blog posts. I’m okay, not great, and I feel neutral about it. As a result, we created a QA team at my company that does an amazing job. And they love their job.
Also delegate the value-negative areas. I’m value-negative at planning event logistics. I remember reading the feedback from our Forefront conference. One of the attendees left a comment saying that she was disappointed in my response when she asked me who chose our gala event space. I said I didn’t know and she found it condescending — like I didn’t care. In reality, that’s a decision that is completely out of my hands. Why? Because I’m value-negative at planning event logistics, I know it, and more importantly, my team does an incredible job. Therefore, I empowered them to make the right decision. As our business has grown, I’ve had to give up the idea of being in control of every aspect of our business.
If you’re working hard, you should be able to buy back your time. If your business is growing — let’s say it generated an additional $50,000 or $500,000 this year (common to students of our courses) — your question should be: What do I get? Do you get three hours/week of your time back? Do you get to fly your parents out to visit you and you put them up in an amazing suite? (If you are Indian, the answer is no: They will be staying with you.) Do you get to never have to answer another technical support email again? If you’re working hard, you should always ask: What do I get? Then you should make it a point to use that money to improve your Rich Life. Here are other ways I buy back my time.
Buying your time doesn’t mean you’re arrogant. The concept of “buying back time” rubs some people the wrong way. Maybe it’s our puritanical views on doing everything ourselves. Maybe it’s an unfamiliarity with putting these principles into practice because, by definition, buying back your time is for people who have more money than time. Think about how lots of entrepreneurs — even highly successful ones — are uncomfortable with the idea of hiring an assistant. It’s the old “too big for my britches” concept — it strikes some people as showing off. My rule of thumb: At $150,000, you should have a part-time assistant. At $250,000, full-time.
Yes, you could do it yourself. But you don’t have to. I’m into fitness. I could theoretically read a ton of material on bodybuilding, structure my diet, and follow through myself, saving tons of money. However, I know I’ll never be as efficient as my trainer, who lives and breathes fitness. His knowledge compounds, while fitness would just be a secondary focus for me. But by paying him, I can trade money for time and get the best outcome — efficient training, great results. Again, I could do this myself…but I don’t have to.
To start, save one hour per week. Marketer Eben Pagan has a terrific concept where he recommends aiming to save one hour a week. I love this concept as an easy introduction to the concept of buying back your time. I recommend starting with areas in your personal life that you hate — usually this is laundry and grocery shopping — where there are great solutions available to outsource the work. As you get more advanced, you can tackle trickier topics like scheduling, email management, and entire project management. When I’ve worked with students on this, it’s startling to realize you can save 20-30 hours a week through deep examination of where you spend your time.
Business owners: I’d love to hear from you. Please share a moment when you realized you should begin buying back your time. It can be small (like realizing that you spend 3 hours a week buying food so you started getting groceries delivered) or big (like hiring someone to send all of your marketing emails after you realized you weren’t good at it).