I’d love to help you, but I haven’t time.
I can’t accept, having no time.
I can’t think, I can’t read, I’m swamped, I haven’t time.
This poem comes from “The Harried Leisure Class,” by the late Swedish economist Staffan Linder. Published in 1970, Linder examined a puzzling paradox of modern life. In earlier eras, philosophers, religious leaders and other thinkers assumed that once society became wealthy people would enjoy lots of free time. Yet as America and other countries became increasingly affluent it was noticeable how “our lives are becoming steadily more hectic,” wrote Linder.
His solution was to look at time as the scarce commodity in an economy that produces a bounty of goods and services and leisure.
The biggest factor behind time stress is rising expectations over what it means to be a good person. Think about all the things the experts advise us to do. Work hard. Keep the home clean. Watch what you eat. Exercise daily. Become financially literate. Become a savvy consumer of medical care as employers embrace defined contribution health care plans. Talk to your partner. Stay engaged with your family and friends. Volunteer. Take advantage of leisure moments to learn new skills or read a book.
Exhausted yet? Did I mention I have a stack of New Yorkers by my bed I want to read?
The time crunch is real, and it has critical implications for managing household money. For one thing, be realistic about how much time you can spend on money finances. For example, a money management strategy that works well for the financially engaged semiretired teacher who enjoys matching wits with the market is probably too much to attempt for a new teacher building a career and raising a family.
For another, the typical time deficit we face is a major reason for stressing the importance of keeping household finances simple. The risks and rewards of relatively simple investments are easy to grasp and monitor and, better yet, they’re time friendly. It pays to “automate” the process of savings as much as possible. Have your bank or credit union automatically shift money from your checking account into your savings account on the same day every month. Develop the habit of a weekly money meeting at home to pay the bills and review goals.
Keeping household finances simple and nurturing a handful of good money habits will free up valuable time for activities that matter to you.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.