Throw Money At It

“There just isn’t enough time in the day,” explained Jennifer, a new patient. Jennifer had initially come to see me because of a conflict with a co-worker but it had become increasingly clear to me that the conflict was amplified by Jennifer’s ongoing daily stress. In addition to having a full-time job, Jennifer felt bogged down by the many other responsibilities in her life. Because of the “time famine,” she felt she never had any time to spend with friends.

The bottomless “to do” list was a major source of angst—doing her laundry, buying groceries, vacuuming, changing her sheets, and cleaning up her closet were ongoing demands and drains on her energy and time.  And those were just the “basics.” The list was always growing with more tasks—pick up a present for three year old nephew, drop off the sweater she borrowed from a friend, take computer to Apple store for repair, and on and on.

The daily grind was taking a toll on Jennifer’s wellbeing and she is not alone. Many people I know and patients I meet feel pressed for time and overwhelmed by the thankless demands of daily life.  People with “time stress” have lower life satisfaction, more anxiety, poorer eating and exercise habits and more difficulty sleeping.  In a study entitled The Burden of Stress in America, running errands and doing household chores were not surprisingly among the top ten daily events that contribute to stress. Handling car problems, commuting to work, and handling household repairs are also high on the list. These mundane but necessary activities of everyday life hang over our heads and gobble up precious time.  

If you feel overwhelmed by life’s daily demands, a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a suggestion: throw some money at the problem. The researchers found that people are happier when they spend their money in ways that help them save time. In a survey of over 6000 people who earned a variety of incomes, those who outsourced household time-sucking chores reported greater life satisfaction.

To better understand why buying time boosts happiness, the researchers gave $40 to 60 adult participants to spend on two separate weekends. During one weekend, they were asked to use the cash for time-saving purchase, like hiring a housecleaning service or having groceries delivered. During the second weekend, the same people were give $40 to spend on a material purchase like clothes or games.

Spending money on time-saving purchases put the participants in a better mood. Why? Because it provides a sense of control according to researcher and Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans:

“The more stressed you feel, the less control you feel over various components of your life.  And the less control you feel you have over your daily experience, the less happy you feel. Money is a tool that allows you to purchase that control.”

Given its benefits, why don’t more people spend their money on time-saving purchases? Feeling embarrassed about hiring someone to do something they could easily do or not wanting to be seen as lazy may explain why people don’t outsource more. Women, in particular, bear the burden.  After a full day of work, many feel obligated to take on a “second shift” and complete household tasks even when they can afford not to.

You don’t have to do it all.  Ordering in dinner, calling a cleaning service, and hiring someone to run errands for you isn’t wasteful.  Nor should it ever make you feel guilty.  If it minimizes irritation and buys you time, it is worth every penny if you spend it wisely.

Just ask Jennifer. Instead of spending a weekend painting her bedroom, she hired Task Rabbit. What did she do with the recovered time? She had a time feast with friends.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman