Money Calendars (a.k.a. Flows) Help More Than Money Budgets


By the end of this article, you will...
  • Have the tools you need to start valuing your time more than your money
  • Be able to track your money against a calendar (a.k.a. a Flow) instead of a traditional budget

Time is more value than money. Period.

To put it simply: Right now, the very moment you're reading this will never come again. Today, this week, this year, this life, will all never come again. No matter how hard you work, nor how disciplined you are, you will only ever have 24 hours in a day. There were 24 hours in a day 30 years ago, and there will be 24 hours in a day 30 years from now.

On the other hand, you can always make more money; by getting another job, selling stuff on craigslist, starting to freelance, etc. There are about $60-$75 trillion dollars on the planet right now, but that number was far less 30 ago, and will be more 30 years from now.

Bottom line: There are always things you can do to make more money. But you can never make more time. Period. Time is the most scarce, and thus, the most valuable resources you have.

Which brings me to the moral of our story: How to track your money against your time -- instead of against your spending, like in traditional budgeting.

There are two types of traditional budgeting strategies.

One type requires you to spend money, and then look back to see how much you spent (i.e. How much did I spend on groceries last week? Let me try to spend less this week.). I call this retroactive budgeting. 

The other type requires you to put a ceiling on future spending and try not to go over that limit (i.e. I'll give myself $100 dollars for groceries this week, and try to stick to that every week.). I call this proactive budgeting. 

Their are pro's to traditional budgeting (i.e. what you think  you spend money on is often different from what you actually spend money on, and traditional budgeting can enlighten you on you're really spending your money). However, it misses the most important asset you have. Time.

If time and money were to have a baby, it'd be an automated budget, which I like to call a Flow. <3 Ah, my heart flutters. #moneynerd

A Flow is a way to proactively plan for what you'll spend, and force yourself to only spend what you plan by having separate accounts for each separate priorities, and then automating it. My surrogate asian father -- the fabulous Ramit Sethi -- is where I first learned of budgeting automation, but then I added the element of time to it as well.

Here's what you'll need to do:

1. Calculate the value of your time.
2. Calculate the cost of your time.
3. Assign percentages (rather than dollar values) to your money.
4. Automate it.

Let's go through an example...

Below is a picture of yours truly posing like a superhero on the red carpet of my film premiere. It was super fun! #punintended

1. Calculate the value of your time.

Outside of my regular "Clark Kent" day job, I choose to do the "Superhero" work play of making art. I can choose to do almost anything I want with my time. I highly value making art. Therefore, it's what I choose to do with my time.

I value making art over clipping coupons, watching TV, doing laundry, or dare I say it, budgeting! Dun dun dun! Any time I spend doing the things I value less than making art, is time I don't spend actually making art. (Obviously.) In other words, if I spend 1 hour clipping coupons, that's 1 hour not spent making a movie, painting, writing (on this website!), or on photography. 

Now, for me it's art. But for you, it might be swimming, volunteering, rock climbing, or learning magic tricks. But the bottom line is: 

What do you want to be spending your time doing above all else?

Tip: Make a list of 10 ways you want to spend your time, and definitely put your biggest baddest dreams on there! Put that list in order of what's most important to what's least important to you, compare that to how you spend your time now. (keep reading for an app that will help you with this) Comparing how you want to spend your time to how you already spend your time will help you see how you are valuing your time. Are you using your time clipping coupons or creating value for yourself and others? 

2. Calculate the cost of your time.

My film that premiered a few weeks ago took about 45 hours to make over a 5 month period. Painting a portrait takes me about 6 hours. For each of these I have a rate that I charge per hour or per project (based on the number of hours -- amongst other things -- that it will cost to finish). Let's call that $X.

In my "Clark Kent" job I get a salary that isn't paid out hourly, but I calculate it anyway. (My paycheck before taxes divided by the number of hours I worked for that paycheck.) Let's call that $Y.

I charge $Y per hour for commissions, and earn $X per hour at work. Either way, I know what those numbers are per hour. 

So, when I make a purchase, or better yet, before I make the purchase I calculate how many hours of work/play it costs. Some examples: A chai latte tea costs me about 10 minutes of work, a new dress is about 2 hours of work, and my wedding is about a month of work (or 200 hours).

In the words of the great Oscar Wilde, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." I think Oscar Wilde would've loved Twitter. But I digress. 

Once you start thinking of the things you buy in terms of the time you had to work to get them, then you'll start valuing your time more.

Tip: Next time you're about to make a purchase, ask yourself, "How much time will this cost me? Is it worth it?"

3. Assign percentages (rather than dollar values) to your money.

As a baby, I spent my time like this:

As a teenager,  I spent my time and money like this:

As an adult, I spend my money and time like this:

Time (one day a few years ago)

These are my actual current spending percentages:

How you spend your money and time is a reflection of your priorities. Yes, there are things you "must" do. However, those things don't have to hold you back from what you want to do. After all, are the things you "must" do really taking up all 24 hours of your time?

There are 168 hours in a week. If you work for 50 hours, and sleep for 56, then you still have 62 hours left!

Tip: Track your time for one day and see how your really spend it. I used this app: aTimeLogger2 to track my time for a week (hence the chart above) and it was illuminating! Here's another great one that automatically tracks how much time you spend on your portable hard drive portal of time-suck...I mean on your phone: Moment.

4. Automate it.

This is better seen in video. Below is a video excerpt from The Guide to Getting Your $h*t Together, where I go into this in more detail.

But, to give you and overview, I write out the date each expense is due, and then set up my accounts to automatically divide by the number of paychecks I get per month (and if you're a freelancer, pay yourself as if you received paychecks. You're your own employee). For example, if I receive 2 paychecks per month, and my car payment is $400 due on the 21st of each month, then I put $200 from my first paycheck in a checking account and $200 from my second paycheck in the same checking account. (I do that via direct deposit so I don't actually move any money myself.) And, I sign up for auto bill pay for my car payment, and by the time the 21st of the month comes around the $400 payment is already there and automatically deducted from my checking account. It takes a month or so for this to all shake out, but once it's set, it's completely automated.

Way back in the day, like before I valued my time as much as I do now, I used to spend about 4-5 hours a week budgeting and counting pennies. I would literally spend time budgeting every day. Yikes! Now I spend 30 minutes per month; just to make sure my money Flow is doing it's thing. Glorious!

Here's a video of how I set this up and track it.
(See the video in high quality here. )

And finally, as a bonus, not only do I do this for the present, but I also do it for the future. I have a target future percentage of how I want to spend both my time and money and it's tiered as a "conservative" projection, "realistic" projection, and all out "dream" projection of how I'd spend my time and money in the future.

Here's an example:

Focusing on my future goals for time and money spending makes it so I'm not anchored to the past spending habits. Rather, I'm anchored in a vision of the future.

Make a plan. Automate it. Move on.

There are better things you can be doing with your time than budgeting.

What did you find most helpful?

If you loved reading this as much as I loved writing it for you, then share it with a friend! They'll thank you for it. 


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