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What If Time Was Currency?

What if, instead of paper currency like the almighty dollar, time was actually the currency? Not just time in general, your time. Your life.

What if that was how you paid for things?

Things like coffee, not $3 anymore, but 15 minutes of your life. Car loan? Not $20,000, but 3-5 years of your life instead (in monthly payments of course). Fyre festival concert tickets? 20 YEARS! (only for the ultra rich to be conned obviously).

For those who are movie buffs or Justin Timberlake fanatics (guilty) you may recall this was the premise of the 2011 movie, In Time.

Though the critics may not have loved it (37% on Rotten Tomatoes), I found the concept of the movie to be fascinating and one that really has had me thinking.

This isn’t a movie review, I’ll save that for the professionals, this is merely taking a look at the concept and how much life would be different than it currently is.

What If Time Was Currency?

In the movie, time controls your life. You’re given a set amount when you are born, only beginning to tick down when you hit working age. When you run out of time, you die.

With this concept, “time is money” takes on the literal definition.. When you work, you get more time, when you don’t, your life is just ticking away.

All your expenses cost time. Your home, food, transportation, entertainment, everything. Spend your money (time) poorly and you may find yourself literally clinging to your job, completely dependent on that paycheck simply to live.

How would this change your spending habits? If you knew that by overextending yourself and not being able to cover your expenses that you’d risk death?

When you are out of time…

Would you get that massive house that is bigger than needed? How about that fancy sports car, or up to date latest tech gadget?

Do you think it would feel good to be sitting in that big house, or driving that nice car, while seeing that you only have a weeks worth of time left to live, just waiting for that next paycheck to come?

Sure, there are those with more time than they need, and they will lend you their time if you need it so long as you pay it back eventually (with interest of course).

But extend yourself too far, or lose your ability to work and earn time and that’s it. Your life is over.

How would this change people’s spending decisions?

Do you think they would choose to actually live life paycheck to paycheck? Or would they make smarter choices and save up some of that time to give them cushion (longer life) in case of an emergency?

Wait… Isn’t Life Already Like That?

Well, not exactly. Real life isn’t quite so morbid as the dystopia presented in the movie. No, you will not die if you go into debt and can’t make your payments.

But how about the rest of it? How do you actually earn the dollars in your bank to pay for all your monthly expenses? For a vast majority of people, it is with time, of course.

What do you mean by this?

For most people, the way you earn money is through your job. No matter what your job is, you need to spend time doing that job in order to make money. You then take that money and pay for all those expenses you have in your life.

Can’t pay all your expenses? Well, you can go into debt for that (credit card debt, personal loans, etc). Eventually though, you will need to pay those off. And how will you get the money? Through a job, which means even more of your time.

So while not direct, in a way, for most people time really is the currency.

While people living in debt, or paycheck to paycheck are not at risk of their lives (like in the movie), they are tethering themselves and their time to a job, always needing that paycheck to get by.

Win The Game, Save Your Time

There’s good news though, there is a way to break out of this cycle and get your time back!

You see, this whole assumption has been that in order to make money to pay for your living expenses, you need to spend your time at a job for that. But what if there was a way to make that amount of money without spending your own time on it?

You’re in luck! There is!

No, I’m not talking about the government paying everything for you or getting a large windfall from a relative. What I’m talking about is saving money and investing it.

When you save and invest the money you have leftover after covering your expenses, this money starts going to work for you, bringing in income of it’s own through interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.

If you can save up enough in investments over time, eventually all this money could return enough money of its own to cover all your living expenses!

At this point you are Financially Independent. You no longer have to spend your time at a job in order to pay your living expenses. The money you saved over the years is doing that for you!

Who would have thought, by saving all that money while you were at your job it eventually would come around to save your time after the fact.

In parting, the the movie character JT plays states one of my favorite lines in response to a question:

Other Character: “If you had as much time as I have on that clock, what would you do with it?

JT: “I can tell you one thing. If I had all that time, I sure as hell wouldn’t waste it

Don’t waste your money (time), save it, and free up more of your time later.


What do you think of this concept? Is time actually money?

19 thoughts to “What If Time Was Currency?”

  1. If time is a currency then, from a certain perspective, real life is worse than the movie! Time is the master resource, it waits for no one, it takes no prisoners. Everything in human life requires time, nothing we do exists outside of it.

    You can get more money, but never more time. Once spent it can never be refunded, once lost it can never be reclaimed.

    Use your time wisely…


    1. Haha very true, and well stated. I have that thought very often if I should continue the path I am on, or shift to something else that pays less, but gives me back more of my time. I’m sure this will be a debate that rages on in my mind until I eventually make a decision either way haha

  2. It’s a very delicate balance between saving up money now (spending time to make that money) but also spending your time wisely/not waiting for the future to live life. I’d like to think I’m doing a decent job walking that balance now (although obviously less time spent working on the weekends now would be extremely ideal).

    Adding this movie to my list, I think. Maybe everyone on Rotten Tomatoes panned it because they haven’t discovered FI yet and don’t know how apt of a metaphor it is! 😂

    1. Agreed, it can be so tough depending on your priorities and what you want to do. Less time working on weekends sure would be nice!

      Haha that’s so true though! These critics must be big time consumers and not savers 😂

  3. Awesome post man. I’m not a movie guy so I had never heard of that film, but it sounds like it SHOULD be a good movie if they did it right because the premise is cool.

    I think people would definitely change their habits of they had to pay things with time, and it’s a great way to actually think about the cost of something.

    1. Thanks Dave! Yea I’m no movie buff either, so I have no idea if the movie critics are right in their comments, but I liked the premise and plot enough!

      When I rewatched this after learning about FI, the similarities with Your Money or Your Life and how Vicky talks about how we are paying for things with our life was uncanny. People need to start making that distinction!

  4. There’s a reason they say “time is money” and the most valuable resource for highly successful people is their time. I certainly don’t mean to sound morbid, but technically every second we are alive means we’re one second closer to the end of our lives. It’s without a doubt the most valuable thing in life in my opinion.

    Financial independence is the most efficient way to save that time and ensure maximum enjoyment of life. Life is too short to spend 30-40 years working. The one exception would be for someone who TRULY enjoys every aspect of their job. Someone who gets up every day and looks forward to working, someone who wouldn’t see a purpose without the work they do. Let’s be real, maybe that’s only 1-5% of the working population, if that.

    A good way to approach your spending is to look at every purchase and really think about how much time you spent to earn the money needed to make the purchase. Let’s say you’re looking at a $1,500 television and you make $60,000 per year. That means it took you approximately a week and a half of working (more after Uncle Sam takes his cut!) to get that television. Sure makes you think twice, doesn’t it?

    1. 100% agree with you there, time is so crucial, much more so than anything else. Finding that perfect job where you love it would be ideal, but yes I think that there are so few people out there that have a job like this.

      So true though! If people thought this way they wouldn’t be getting those super fancy cars when they can’t afford it!

  5. I absolutely loved the concept of this movie and I didn’t understand all those negative reviews either. It’s such a great reminder that time is a limited resource.We all trade our time for money in one way or another. Vicki Robin’s book “Your Money Or Your Life” points this out so elegantly. Investments certainly provide the key to earn more while working less, but I would argue that we have to consider time-suckage throughout the entire day not just during our working hours. In fact, many of us are more productive at work then we would be with 8 hours of free time. Time is perpetually wasted especially since the invention of the Internet. We must stay vigilant to avoid wasting it.

    1. Right? So confused by the poor reviews! But I totally agree with all you just said.

      I actually just wrote a different post about my need for structure out of work, as I’ve found I’m so much more productive during my time at work than I am outside of it!

  6. I first heard about FI from Joe Dominguez in the 80’s. He talked a lot about how money is actually just a measure of Life Energy. It is a similar idea. If you make $10/hour then realize you will need to work maybe 60 hours to pay for that iPhone. Is it worth it? It is great to keep things in perspective.

    Also, when I was young and broke I had more time than money. It made sense to wait in line at WalMart and shop around for the best gas price.

    Now I’m older. Time is my scarcest resource. It makes sense to trade money for time. I pay handymen, dry cleaners, house cleaners, lawn mowing companies etc. That gives me time. To do important things. Like type this comment!

    1. That is such a great way to put things in perspective, and it’s exactly why I got my siblings that book to read for Christmas!

      Amen to all that! I totally agree too, right now I don’t necessarily mind doing the dirty work, or spending a little time to save some money, but I can imagine a few years from now that I’ll be the complete opposite and I will be paying a bit more on some things in order to get the most out of my time!

  7. Time is a great proxy for money to reframe purchases and sleep on them.

    Since time waits for no man, however, it can be used to justify some purchases because you never get another chance to take Junior to get ice cream when he’s turning three. It’s just gone.

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