Buying time

When I started my first blog, Bargaineering, I never thought it would become a business. I knew I could make a little money but I famously told my wife that it'd be nice if the site could pay for a nice vacation each year. It was a hobby and anytime you can make money on a hobby, rather than spend money, you're winning. The amount is almost immaterial.

Eventually, the site did earn money. As it grew, it earned more and more until it was a multiple of my full-time job's income. It was literally unbelievable.

When I quit my well paying, fulfilling job writing software in the defense industry – I had to convince myself I was making the right choice. I enjoyed the work, I enjoyed the people I worked with, and I felt well compensated. I was leaving a good stable situation for a great unpredictable situation and it was not an easy decision.

In my head, I had this concept of “buying time.” The money the site earned “bought” me more time to pursue a risky side businesses.

Today, I no longer run Bargaineering, but I run Wallet Hacks and $5 Meal Plan – two projects I very much enjoy. They're two projects that give me control of my time, time I can spend on work or time I can spend with our kids or with my lovely wife. The income they generate gives me the freedom to continue pursuing them.

I see a lot of similarities with my path and the financial independence movement. If you've never heard of it, the basic premise is that you achieve financial independence when your financial assets, invested wisely, are able to pay for your expenses. You accumulate financial assets through aggressive saving and smart investing. Eventually you reach a point when you can decouple your expenses from your income and tie it to your financial assets; that's financial independence.

FI, as it's often called, is a powerful framework because it puts healthier rules on the broader game of life and money. I firmly believe that human beings need to be working on something long term. If you aren't working on something productive (advancing in your career, raising kids, tinkering in your “garage”), you may be tempted to work on something unproductive (beating the Joneses). FI gives you something productive to work towards.

These two ideas are different sides of the same coin – freedom of time.

FI gives you the flexibility to leave your 9-to-5, if you want to, because your savings can fund your expenses. You drag your retirement date closer to you because your savings can fund a longer period of “retirement.”

MyFI views the income from my side businesses as a proxy for a full time job, thus freeing up my time now so I can pursue anything I want. In both cases, smart financial management means freedom. Money is freedom.

Whether you get extra income through saving or earning, that income represents more than dollars and cents. For me, the business bought years I didn't need to work for another company. With FI, your savings or side income buys years you don't need to work. If you have debt, it can get you closer to being debt free which then lets you flip the script and buy your future rather than pay it back.

You turn your time into money. Don't let “excess” money turn into things without careful deliberation. Turn it into your time, your only non-renewable resource.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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    • Jim Wang says

      Exactly! The goal isn’t to stop, it’s to stop the stuff that one dislikes and doesn’t help you grow. 🙂

  1. Brian @ Debt Discipline says

    Such a different way of thinking for so many people. Most look at it as I work for a certain period of time 30-40 years, than I retire. a great reminder that we need to continue to flip the script on this old way of thinking.

    • Jim Wang says

      We aren’t working in factories and on an assembly line, our concept of retirement has to evolve with our concept of work.

    • Jim Wang says

      Yes — so when you have multiple projects you can have growth in *something* that day. Maybe there’s a big project for work and you don’t feel you have much progress, you can hit PRs in the gym or some other physical activity; there’s always something feeling like you’re going forward.

  2. Sam @ Financial Samurai says

    Buying time is exactly my main purpose for building up my passive income streams. I don’t want to have to work for someone if I can spend time being with family.

    The irony is that the WORSE or more DIFFICULT your job is, I think the more motivated one will be to try and achieve FI. So in that way, I’m thankful I got my ass kicked in NYC in my early 20s!

    Sam

  3. Mr. SVD says

    Great message. Kind of reminds me of a quote from Wall Street 2. Gordon Gekko (ironically enough) said, “money is not the prime asset in life, time is.”

    • Jim Wang says

      When you have money, and more free time you aren’t devoting to earning more money, you can start thinking about it and how everything fits into the big picture. If you are saddled with credit card debt, working two jobs to make ends meet, it’s hard to “think” about these types of issues because you’re exhausting all your energy earning.

  4. The Money Wizard says

    Love hearing your insight Jim. Such an inspiring story.

    As someone deep into the financial independence movement, I find this sort of thinking critical to stay motivated and financially disciplined. I’ve posted before about how money at its core is a unit of exchange for time. As a salaried worker, every purchase can be framed as a hypothetical deal with a genie who asks for your time in exchange for a good or service. You have to ask yourself, “How long would I have to work to buy that?”

    It gets to money’s most powerful feature – the power to buy time. If you can pass on a purchase or score a good deal, you’ve instantly added time to the bank which can later be cashed in for freedom.

  5. Dividend Growth Investor says

    I really like the concept of buying time Jim! I view the dividend income generated from each investment I make as buying time for myself and my family.

    I have faced the same dilemma you faced in the past – should I dedicate myself to my side project, or to my traditional work? I have just done both for the past 8 – 9 years. I have enjoyed the diversification of various income streams ( dividends, salary, side income), knowing that there isn’t one event that can result in total loss of income.

    I really like the fact that you have built up a business, sold it, and now you are still working hard. But I bet that, you are having a lot of fun probably, and it doesn’t even feel like work.

    DGI

    • Jim Wang says

      Thanks DGI!

      I see dividend income in the same way too, it replaces hours of work in my day (but not completely, I need the portfolio to grow).

      The tricky part about work is that it’ll be the biggest engine you have. Side projects are nice but it’s like pushing a wheel, your job already has momentum while the side project has none. If you can get over the psychological hurdle, the side projects can start to move too. 🙂

      You’re 100% right, it’s fun problem solving… not work at all!

  6. Matt @ Distilled Dollar says

    Great post and an excellent reminder!

    I never understood why some people defend a 40 year career so passionately. I don’t see why some people view frugality as a sacrifice, despite spending an extra several decades working a job they don’t 100% love.

    The old method of 40 years of work also reminds me of cattle being put out for pasture. Back in the day, there wasn’t much to do past a working career, and life expectancy was a bit shorter. Nowadays, we can seek FIRE and still put ourselves in a position to give back thanks to the internet and other luxuries of the modern era.

    • Jim Wang says

      I think the people who defend it hardcore are either 1) 10+ years into it, so they have a hard time accepting the sunk cost; 2) don’t know any different.

  7. Isabelle Mishaw says

    Nice! your message is clear and I completely agree. I’m trying hard to follow this plan as I would like to reach FI. My biggest road-block has been the expenses on kids. I am still working hard to spend reasonably to take care of my kids’ needs and working hard to teach them a whole other way (& much better way) of living within our means while feeling confident and empowered about being savers and not spenders like society at large pushes us to be

    • Jim Wang says

      The fact that you’re aware of it and actively trying to teach a message of confidence and control speaks volumes. They’ll be bombarded by a lot of other messages, from their friends, from marketing, from everywhere; so we need to work extra hard to make sure the good lessons are the ones that stick.

  8. Syed says

    Great post Jim. The key to having as much time as you need is to have a reliable stream (or streams) of income. That can come in many forms, be it rents from real estate, drawing from a large investment portfolio, selling a business, side income etc. Building that constant revenue stream without having to physically be there and work with your hands and head seems to be the ticket to financial freedom.

    • Jim Wang says

      Yes, that income can come from anywhere and it often takes quite a bit of time to grow. Frugality is great in the short term but it has limits, to really “buy time” in bigger strides will come in building or acquiring something of value.

  9. Fred says

    The older I get, the more I realize how valuable time is. FI has other advantages than just freeing up time, such as stress reduction. Anyone who has ever worked for a bad boss or a bad organization, or worked around bad co-workers know what I’m talking about.

    • Jim Wang says

      Age definitely plays a huge role, I just turned 36 so I’m still relatively young… but I never thought about my time when I was 25 or 15.

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