Time is money, but money can’t buy time

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

“This broken water heater is going to set us back.  If it costs $2,000 to replace, that’s an extra two weeks of payments towards our student loans.”  Please, tell me I am not the only one who thinks like this?  For a while, my monetary mindset revolved around our biggest financial goal: Paying off our refinanced student loans. Time is money, and I didn’t have the time for costs that slowed our financial progress down.

It is important to realize, though, that money is a means to an end. It is not the end itself.

This is a common concept that many struggle with in medicine, particularly if you work in private practice or you work in a shift work specialty.

Time is Money

The first person to use the phrase “Time is Money” was Benjamin Franklin in his book “Advice to a Young Tradesman, Written by an Old One”.

The original quote is actually the following:

Remember that Time is Money. He that can earn Ten Shillings a Day by his Labour, and goes abroad, or sits idle one half of that Day, tho’ he spends but Sixpence during his Diversion or Idleness, ought not to reckon that the only Expence; he has really spent or rather thrown away Five Shillings besides. ~Benajamin Franklin

The point that Benjamin Franklin was trying to make is that for every moment that you do not work, this will cost you money.  Of course, this is only true if there is a job that would pay you during times that choose not to work.

Shift work and The Problems it Entails

For those of us that do shift work, this idea hits close to home.  For example, I know that if I get sick and cannot go to work that is going to cost me what my shift normally pays.  As a physician who earns a lot of money, getting sick just got expensive!

Or what about that week of vacation you want to take to the beach?  That week, for me, is five days of missed work.  So, that beach trip costs more than just renting the house, buying the gas to drive the cars, and the cost of food.

It is also missed opportunity cost from not working.  Most of the time our beach trip costs more than twice what we paid for it.

Speaking of vacation, I know that in many private practice groups people will have to pay others to get a day off.  All of this costs money.

Money is a Means to an End

As we contemplate all of our decisions and the opportunity cost involved, I want to encourage you to think differently than Benjamin Franklin.

What’s the purpose of money?  Many of us work for money in order to buy something else.  It’s not like we cherish the feeling of cotton (or plastic) in our pocket.

We use money on college degrees, weddings, vacations, and essential items (food, water, housing, etc).  All of these things have an intrinsic value.  Your time has a certain value, too.

The point is that you can work your whole life to make money just to find that you missed all of the life opportunities to spend time with family and friends.  Money is not the end all, be all.

Trust me when I say no one on their death bed wishes that they had worked more, made more money, or spent more time away from their family.

How Do We Decide About Time Off?

This begs an important question.  How do we decide whether to say yes or no to something? Remember, It’s not all about the benajamin’s (I guess Benjamin got it wrong twice).

For me, it has to do with being valued.  In my mind, this means being valued with money (being paid more), time (off), or recognition.

If I am not getting one of those three things, then whatever opportunity I am considering is usually not worth it to me to be away from my family or hobbies.

Enter here my Hell Yes Policy where I say no to everything unless it is something that makes me say, “Hell Yes!”  Anything that doesn’t meet that criteria, including extra work shifts, isn’t likely worth my time.

Take Home: Time is Money

When you are deciding whether to pick up that extra shift, don’t forget why you are trying to make money in the first place.  Or, if you are considering the opportunity cost of missing work for vacation, just remember the point of obtaining money in the first place.  It’s just a resource.

Time is money, but money can’t buy time. Time is precious. And you only get so much of it in this life.  So, use it wisely and spend it well.

Do you have a shift work mentality? Do you tally up the money lost when you don’t pick up a shift (or miss one)?  How do you view time and money?  Leave a comment below.





  1. Accidental FIRE

    Great post Doc. I don’t think most people start recognizing the limit of their time on Earth and the ramifications until either someone close to them dies or until their health starts failing. The problem with the latter is that sooo many people now are going through their younger years being obese and unhealthy, they won’t “have that moment” when they realize their health is failing. It was never there in the first place….

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      It’s definitely a tough situation. I agree that most people don’t realize that time is a precious commodity until an external clock of some kind (failing health, failing finances in retirement, etc) makes it obvious. By that time, it is usually too little too late.

      I am a believer that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We have to get the word out early!

  2. Side Hustle Scrubs

    I measure the cost of everything in shifts. Cars, vacations, groceries, you name it. It may be wrong, but that is automatically where my mind goes. The good thing about shift work is that when I’m off I am truly OFF. No pager, no call schedule, just home with the family.

    I just need to work 3,000 more shifts and I’ll be ready for retirement!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I am going to have to make a convert of you, SHS! Your time is more valuable than money.

      Have you read the book by Vicki Robins that many say started the whole FIRE movement (Your money or your life)?

      And once your website takes off it’ll only be 2500 more shifts 😉

  3. Xrayvsn

    I used to have the same thoughts early on in my career. I factor not only the cost of the vacation itself (travel, lodging, food) but the money lost if I had worked instead (which could be quite significant).

    Unfortunately that line of thinking caused me to work than I should have and take vacations a lot less than was needed (I went through a couple of years where I didn’t take a vacation at all).

    Soon came to realize that this was leading to a path of ultra fast burnout and in the end I would lose way more money if I ended up being burnt out and leaving medicine early.

    It also helps to have some established passive income streams going that continue to provide income while you sleep or on vacation to lessen any perceived financial impact those activities would cause.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I think that’s the path that many people take. We give too little credit towards the idea that a less burned out doctor is actually more productive when they are on. We have to take breaks and view that time as valuable.

      If we shift our mentality to think of time as the commodity instead of money, we really start to make the best decisions for us.

  4. half life theory

    Great post! I am always thinking about that when i make decisions… Do i really value this? If so, why?

    Money is a tool, that’s it, the moment we try to make it more than what it is, we start making questionable decisions… and perhaps sacrificing more than we should.

    Thanks for the reminder… Cheers!

  5. Dr. MB

    I am a mother. “No” is the first word out of my mouth all the time. Actually, saying no has always been my position. Not out of fear but mainly out of pure laziness. I usually have to find a really good reason to actually do something.

    I like you three reasons. Time, money or recognition. You are unabashed at what you value and you seem to be honest with yourself about it.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I completely get that, Dr. MB, about saying no.

      I am an incredibly honest person. To a fault, even. I told my wife when we started dating, “I will never tell you what you want to hear just to make you feel good, but when I tell you that you are smart, creative, and beautiful you will also know that I actually mean it. You’ll never have to wonder.”

      It’s served me well so far. People know that if they want a real honest opinion about something who to ask.

  6. Doc G

    It’s a hard balance. Especially when we are young, we gladly trade time for money. As you get older you feel time slipping away. Even now, in FI, I’m still trying to work this one out.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I hear ya!

      This must be near and dear to your heart with what you do at your main gig, but I just can’t imagine regretting that I didn’t earn more at the end of life with what I know.

      Now, dying poor is a huge problem, but it seems mostly to be a problem for people who didn’t know better along the way. The financial education just wasn’t there.

      Now, if your production at work is how you find meaning in life and you happen to earn a paycheck doing it, then by all means keep up the good work!

  7. Bull...

    I don’t think that working every minute is the best thing to do. Though when you’re younger and have the energy, you should take all the work you can handle. I worked 90+ hour weeks in my early twenties which has set me up for life. I wasn’t in any particularly high paying position(unlike medical), with an electrical trade specializing in machine repairs and modifications(working for somebody else).

    I was totally in the ‘Benjamin Franklin Quote Mindset’ – If I wasn’t working, I was missing out. I became addicted to the work and the money, A completely unhealthy mentality. I wound up sick, exhausted and lonely – not the best situation to be in at all. These effects have still impacted my personal life to some degree today.

    While It’s a bit different being an apprentice/tradesman, I really don’t think to do this level of work is appropriate for every profession. I would not want a burned-out doctor offering me any advice or performing surgery! It can offer a leg up for more blue-collar oriented professions, however. It’s really all about finding the best balance for you and your profession.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I hear ya.

      The hard part about this in medicine is that you have to study a bunch in med school while paying someone else to do that. Then you work 80-100 hour weeks in residency to get paid the median income in this country. Working more during that time doesn’t result in more pay. The same for fellowship.

      By the time you get out, it’s probably a good idea to work like a resident for a couple of years to make more money, but people have to be careful. Otherwise the balance is never found and their life ends up in shambles.

      I agree with you that it’s different for every profession and that a balance must be struck regardless.

  8. John B. Robertson

    As for vacations I was 25 years into my practice before I took more than a week of vacation at a time and no more than four or five per year because of the anticipated loss of income. I’m in private practice and share a staff of 18 with another physician. The added workload the week before and after my time away from the office was excruciating.
    I finally took a two-week vacation and found that the emotional rewards were much greater and the anticipated decline in income actually did not happen. I can Identify two major reasons. The first is that my staff are expected to take their vacations generally when I do although they are not required to do so. And they are only allowed six hours per work day when I’m gone. Secondly my patients squeezed into more appointments before and after my time away similar to my 1 week vacation. The difference was that I was actually able to truly have a vacation and relax more when I took two weeks versus one week. After discovering this amazing mathematics I have begun taking two week vacations several times per year and am taking twice the vacations I took earlier and still making the same income.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      It sounds like you found the happy medium in between where you get your vacation without losing income! That’s awesome.

      Given the length of time it took for you to realize the secret, do you look back and regret not finding that out sooner? What advice would you give the younger docs out there?


  9. Ray

    Great post! As with just about everything in life there is a balance and you always have to keep in mind the cost. Too much time off and your family doesn’t eat. Too much work, and you may not have a family anymore. The balance point is different for everyone, and finding it is something we should all be constantly striving for.

  10. John B. Robertson

    I have quite a few business related Private Practice regrets.
    There so many things I would change had I to do it over again. My best advice for younger Physicians is to find an excellent accountant that specializes in physician practices so knows the mistakes many of us are app to make in our business.
    Secondly don’t let fear of loss of income interfere with a clear path to a better lifestyle. Yes my income dropped by 20% when I stopped doing hospital work and devoting myself to outpatient practice only but my lifestyle improved by double. When I turned 50 I reduced my practice to 4 days per week with minimal income loss and 3 day weekends are fantastic!
    My next challenge is how to cut back to 3 days a week at 60 y.o. and maintain 75% of my current income. Unfortunately overhead does not decrease at the same rate. For example, rent and utilities are still at 100% of full-time cost. Therefore my income will drop disproportionately as I decrease my hours further. My practice model has to change again. I hate to abandon the autonomy of private practice but it may be time to explore Locum tenums or some other form of employment. The problem is that those don’t pay as well as a well run private practice. Again I’m facing my fear of change and potential loss of significant income for a better lifestyle!

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I think that’s exactly right. You are just looking for to get a good return on your investment. Instead if it being money, the return on investment is lifestyle. Having a three day weekend every week sounds amazing to me! I would absolutely sign up for that if I earned less.

      I wish you the courage to take that next step of going to three days per week. I can imagine the fear of doing that and what it might look like.


  11. Thomas

    I recently lost my mother.she lived with me for 55 years. I’m the youngest of her two kids. She was generally in good health. She was 81 years old when she died. She was a major part of my life coaching, guiding and grooming me. Priority wise My wife was only second to my mother and my children came last. Such was the power my mother had over me. She had become a widow at a very young age and managed to be a single parent to her two kids for nearly 35 years. She was mentally very active, always plotting against my older siblings to give me all the family inheritance and dedicating her time to my betterment at the expense of others in the family. Little did she know that such deeds and stress diminish the length of ones life and the flame snuffs out itself when the best part of her adult kid’s happiness in their lives was just about to blossom – marriage of the grandkids. She fought to live the last 20 minutes of her life. But the million dollar home she annexed from my oldeR siblings or her good deeds to me or the money in her bank could not buy an extra 10 years of life in the end. I couldn’t help her to survive either. But I know And she told me so that she wanted to Live not die. Her bad karma got her in the end.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That sounds like a tough lesson to learn. Money is not the ultimate goal in the end. Time doing what we want with who we want, how we want to do it… That freedom is the goal. It does take money to get to that goal, but it can quickly become an idol we let it.

  12. KW

    Money can absolutely buy time. Money pays for the person to clean your home, mow your lawn, complete that project sooner, and perform tasks that you don’t want to so you have more time to do the things you enjoy.

    I definitely agree with your post – the “shift work”/opportunity cost mentality can be dangerous, but it can also be an opportunity to think about how to use your money to regain some of your time. There can be wellness in thinking that your time is so valuable that you must spend something in order to preserve it! I want to FI, but most importantly I want some freedom along the way. Finding the right balance is crucial.



  1. Side Hustle Spotlight 6.24.18 – Side Hustle Scrubs - […] and you can’t spend all of them pursuing income.  The Physician Philosopher reminds us that Time is Money, But…

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