Is Time Really Money? (USA TODAY)

Below is my column, which is in today’s USA Today.


by Laura Vanderkam

Most small businesses in the USA stay small — or fail. Few grow to have $1 million or more in revenue. So when the non-profit Count Me In organization, which provides support to women entrepreneurs, started seeing former finalists in its Make Mine a Million $ Business competition actually cross the seven-figure mark, the staff wanted to know why. What made these women different? Did they go to Ivy League schools? Maybe they didn’t have families to distract them?

The answer might surprise you.

When I caught up with Count Me In founder Nell Merlino at the competition in Newark last week, she told me that these women had something else in common: They all used grocery delivery services. Before they made their millions.

Strange? Sure. But I soon realized that it made sense — and that all of us could benefit from the same mind shift in how we view time and money.

For starters, few of us ask whether we’re spending our hours in the best way possible. While grocery shopping can be enjoyable — if you’re making a special meal for company, for instance — most of the time you’re battling traffic just to stick the same gallons of milk in your cart as you did last week. This is inefficient.

For a fee (FreshDirect here in NYC charges roughly $6 and people tip $3-$4; Peapod, Safeway, Netgrocer and others serve different regions), a grocery service will let you automatically refill the cart and put the driving time on the delivery guy. Not you.

A new financial equation

Now, $10 a week isn’t much, but it isn’t nothing either. Much of the personal finance literature we’ve gobbled up during this recession tells people to identify small recurring expenses, cut them and invest the money instead. Ten bucks a week for a year is $500. Invest that $500, and in 10 years you’ll have … about $500, if your time frame was 2000-10, but that’s another story.

Million-dollar business owners view things differently.

“I was overwhelmed by their clarity of understanding of the value of their time,” Merlino says.

Time spent on one thing is time not spent on something else. You’re unlikely to build a million-dollar business spending an hour you could be chasing a $50,000 contract in line at the grocery store in order to save $10. You grow your assets by being “focused on what you’re best at” — both at the office, where these entrepreneurs had learned to delegate tasks, and at home, where they outsourced grocery shopping, and sometimes cleaning and laundry, too. Even during the start-up phase when they were watching every penny. They knew that you can spend time to save money. Or you can spend small amounts of money to save time, and use that time to earn a lot more.

Time for a bigger return

That’s an idea we could all stand to consider. Yes, Americans need to be better about living within our means. But if we want to boost our household finances, we could spend more time on routine household chores — cutting coupons and making our own laundry detergent, for instance. Or we could spend those hours learning negotiation techniques to ask for a raise, updating our résumés, or even taking on freelance projects.

The first set of actions may be easier, but the latter can generate a bigger return. After all, there’s a limit to how much you can cut. But, at least in theory, there’s no limit to how much your income can grow if you value your time and use it well. Just ask the million-dollar business owners.

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

3 thoughts on “Is Time Really Money? (USA TODAY)

  1. The point is they weren’t millionaires when they had their groceries delivered. It is a good point — especially for women who are working and are still largely responsible for doing these tasks.

  2. I wonder if the grocery service link might have another explanation –

    Grocery service, per se, is a new phenomenon. These are women who are aggressively open to not only hearing about new ideas, but adopting those new ideas.

    In business, deciding to adopt a useful technology/practice quickly makes the difference between excellence and mediocrity.

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