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Time: The Non-Renewable Resource

Time. Everyone struggles with it, and no one ever seems to have enough. We know that it should be used wisely, and not squandered, but what does that mean? How do we know if we’re spending it wisely or wasting it?

Several years ago, someone (I can’t remember who) told me,

“Time is a non-renewable resource, it is the most valuable commodity anyone possesses. When someone decides to spend time with you, you know that they value you as a person. Once you spend your time, you can never get it back. You can never go back in time, nor refill what you’ve used. All you can do is to be aware of how, when and why you spent it, so that you know it was a worthy expenditure.”

This statement changed my life. I suddenly realized that I had squandered thousands upon thousands of hours doing things that were pointless, and made me look again at my life and how I use the 24 hours available to me every day.

The awareness of time means making choices. A choice that if we can afford to purchase something that will save a significant amount of time, we make an effort to purchase it. We’re not wealthy, and can’t always do this, but when a life-enriching resource is affordable, we tend to find a way to obtain it. This can be anything from museum or zoo passes, new curriculum from a family-run business, a new bicycle tire for one of our bicycles, or a special copy of The Hobbit for each of the boys.

If we can purchase that item from an individual or small business, then all the better because we’ve now helped ourselves and another family. Yes, we really do think this way.

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Why are you talking about money when time is the topic?

Well, time and money are inextricably linked. Whether we work for a paycheck, spend time to save money, or spend money to save time, the two are inseparable. If you’re on a tight budget like we are, you likely do all sorts of things to save money because it’s the more obvious expenditure. Sometimes though, we get carried away and wind up spending way more time than we should have, and didn’t get much in return. Ever had that happen? Those are the times that make me stop and ask myself whether I’m being frugal or cheap. There is a difference between the two, and being aware of it is important. Frugal is not spending money needlessly, cheap is just avoiding spending money.

I find that when I’m being frugal, I’m also being respectful not only to myself and my family, but to the people around me. In being frugal, I am showing that I respect and value their time and money just as much as I respect and value my own. I am choosing to spend money (or time) in a way that is important and worthy, in order to obtain something of value. This attitude enriches me and the people from whom I have purchased the item.

If I’m being cheap, I’m also usually being selfish. Selfishness may find short-term satisfaction, but it’s not sustainable over the long-term.

How do I choose when, where and why to spend time?

It’s fairly simple for me, and I follow this formula pretty carefully for the things we need for our home and family:

  • If someone else has created a product very close to what I had in mind (perhaps with minor tweaks), and we can come up with the money or sometimes buy a used edition, we purchase it.
  • What if it doesn’t exist in the form we want to use? We create it for our family, often using something else as a guide to make it go more smoothly.
  • Perhaps we could buy it, but it’s just more fun or healthy to do for ourselves (making soap, taking part in a milk share, making clothes fall into this category), we’ll often do that too. Let’s face it – sometimes you’re just doing it for the experience.

Here’s an example:

We want a particular math curriculum (or ELA, or science, etc), but can’t afford the $25 per book (times two!) at that moment. We can do one of two things, we can stagger the payments by buying it one book at a time, find it used, or we can try to create it. How do you go about creating a math curriculum for a year? If you’re a mathematician or math teacher, it’s a little easier. But if you’re not… or you’re a little concerned about covering everything necessary… what do you do? You follow a few steps:

  1. Decide on a set of grade/skill level standards to follow
  2. Find/create/print the hundred or so worksheets to build those skills over the course of a school year

This is a bit simplified, but gives you an idea. Once you find the standards you’d like to follow, you’ll also need to study them a bit to understand exactly what they’re asking. Afterwards, you’ll scour the web to find the worksheets or create them yourself. This takes hours upon hours. If you use a minimum wage model, figure $8 per hour of your time and you’ll probably be spending at least 8-10 hours. Minimum. That makes it cost quite a bit more than just buying the $25 book.

But I didn’t pay anything for my time, just the paper and toner to print it.

I disagree.

Your time is valuable, and even if you don’t have an income, you are valuable and so is your time. Treat it like the precious commodity it is and choose wisely where you spend it. If you do not value your time, no one else will either and you’ll wind up feeling taken for granted.

What’s the point?

If you can spend a few dollars on a product, saving hours upon hours to create, isn’t it worth considering? You can instead spend that time with your family or on special projects instead of quite possibly reinventing the wheel. We tend to make purchases of things that we need or want from companies and people we like and respect. My husband and I both feel that it shows respect for the work they do. It also helps ensure those companies we like will be around for a while. It also feels wonderful knowing that your purchase directly benefits someone you respect.

You may think that I’m advocating spending money – I’m not. I only want to point out that if you’re like me, you probably have more ideas than time. I’m also not saying that if you adore creating curriculum that you should stop (although I’d like to talk with you about offering it for sale in our store). As I said, sometimes we do things for the joy of doing them! I am saying that when you choose to spend time on a project, make it worthy of the time you’re setting aside – something that will bring joyful memories for a long time to come.

Today – we’re going to the beach in the afternoon for a low tide (tide pools) and sunset photos. This is time well spent as far as I’m concerned, and time that I would worry about spending if I needed to create curriculum for the boys.

Aside from this, learning to manage this non-renewable resource wisely is a valuable skill to teach to our kids. We hope they will treasure it as much as we do.