There are a few really simple, kind-of-obvious things we’ve all heard before that I like to remind myself from time to time. Here are a few of my favorites:
You can do anything in the world, all it takes is either time or money.
Everything used to take time.
Before we had money, everyone just had to do everything themselves or tell stories to convince other people to work with them. Incentives were less clear.
Then some things started taking time and money.
People started offering services, charging each other for them. Suddenly you could leverage someone else’s time for your own benefit if you had money. And you could trade your time for money of your own!
Now thanks to automation, some things just take money. And somethings that used to take time AND money are now so easy that they’re completely free.
That progression is called economic growth.
Money is redistributed time. When we save people time or make their time easier or more fun, we make money. Capitalism.
Everyone has the same amount of time.
You can’t buy more time.
But you can buy other people’s time.
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And you can spend your own time in a way that gives you more money.
But most people never learn how to spend their own time.
Much less other people’s time.
Most people just learn how to spend their own money and nothing else.
And they don’t spend their money with leverage either, they just spend it and it’s gone.
The funny thing about both money and time is that there are ways to spend each of them that make more of both.
Spending money and time in a way that multiplies either is “leverage.”
There are 4 kinds of money and time, for the sake of this piece I’ll call them 4 of the economic forces.
- Your time
- Other people’s time
- Your money
- Other people’s money
The most precious of these forces to you is your time.
1. Your Time
You never get more of it.
And the only person who ultimately decides how to spend it is you.
Many people have obligations, and have made concessions about how they spend their time. Many people didn’t get a choice in these obligations to begin with (sick family members, government-mandated schooling, “bills to pay”), but each day we wake up and we make tradeoffs, often to continue to uphold our obligations.
In so doing, most people give that precious opportunity away. Often they do this for other things they value more. This is okay, and sometimes very necessary, good, and important.
Nevertheless, they let other people spend their time.
If you want to do anything you set your mind to, first you have to learn how to spend (at least some of) your own time for you.
This sounds easy but it’s hard as hell. How do you keep your own promises to yourself? How to you wake up before dawn and get to work when it’s only your own mind that you answer to?
Once you stop trading your time to fill the bucket that is “your money” and will only ever get full enough to keep you on a hamster wheel, you start figuring out that you can pretty easily spend your time to get more money than you need. Suddenly you can hire other people.
This is also called starting a company. Many people start companies before learning how to spend their own time. We’ve all met them, they’re pretty burned out. But that’s for another article.
So you have a company, now you can leverage a few other kinds of wealth at a much bigger scale than just buying a product or service.
2. Other peoples time:
Like I’ve said, companies exist because it’s easy to spend your time in a way that generates more money than you need. This is true of your employees as well, and also of team members, fellow volunteers, partners, friends, communities, churches, and families of all kinds.
Companies, as an example of one type of organization of “other people’s time” cover your expenses and tell you what to do to generate value, and voila. The people who own the company get richer in exchange for your security and peace of mind.
People who coordinate their time, even just small groups of them, can generate surprisingly big, sometimes world-changing results. I think Margaret Mead has a great quote about this…
That’s one great type of leverage.
3. Your money:
So I’ve said that people usually learn how to spend their own money.
At some point we have to pay bills and stuff.
But if you’ve ever read Rich Dad Poor Dad you get one very important distinction: you can either spend your money in a way that makes more money, or you can just spend your money like everyone else (and the companies paying for ads) expect you to: by throwing it away on things of temporary or decreasing value.
Investing is spending money and then being able to get that money back by reversing the transaction while making money in that process.
You can buy someone's time to build a company with you, then sell that company with the value they built in it, and reclaim that value as money later.
This is a form of buying time.
Or you buy an asset that people will tend to value more assuming the world becomes more wealthy and money gets easier to come by, like a nice car or painting or house or land, that you can resell for a profit.
This is essentially just parking money in a form of value that doesn’t experience inflation or depreciate. It’s essentially buying better money. It’s buying value that doesn’t depreciate with time.
That’s kind of all appreciation is really, which blew my mind when I realized it. Money is getting less valuable, the world economy is growing, and voila, the things that are still valuable at all are now more valuable. There are exceptions to this with things that appreciate really fast, but this is a generalization.
So anyway, put really simple: if you want to spend your money in a way that makes more money, you can buy people’s time or money that doesn’t inflate.
Or you buy just a piece of one of those two kinds of assets:
distributed versions of other people’s time and money.
Most people just buy things that have temporary value, and will eventually be worthless. Food that expires, houses and cars that need maintaining in excess of their appreciation, technology that becomes obsolete & experiences that are only intrinsically valuable and can’t be resold. Most people almost *never* get used to buying assets other than “investing for retirement”
Think about how strange that is.
We can put this in stark relief with a cultural cliche: buying Lamborghinis.
Most people never realize that many of the folks who own Lamborghinis make money owning them. Even if they crash them. (hint: it depends deeply on where in their depreciation curve you buy them and your insurance…)
People without the kind of mindsets to have designed around the depreciation of a car as expensive and relatively impractical as a Lamborghini don’t get to own them for very long.
In contrast, the attention the ultra-wealthy often pay to a fairly strict practice of only buying assets is the only reason they have the cash flow and capital to own silly things like Lamborghinis in the first place.
To cite another cliche: Warren Buffet doesn’t drive a truck because he’s humble, he drives a truck because driving it makes it a depreciating asset, and he’s literally the best in the world at mitigating his liabilities and buying underpriced assets. So he’s not going to turn a half-million-dollar car into a depreciating asset, it’s the opposite of who he is. He’s going to turn the cheapest car possible into a depreciating asset.
And that’s why so few people use their supercars as daily drivers…
4. Other peoples money:
Here’s a radical one people don’t think about enough, myself included. If you live in the developed world, you live in a country with insanely easy access to debt, which means essentially free money.
So long as you can spend it in a way that makes more, you can have as much as you want. This is the hidden-in-plain-sight secret that powers the developed world.
Very few people realize what a privilege it is to live in a country where everyone — even with no credit at all — can have access to a $40,000 line of credit almost no questions asked. And in kind, very few people spend that line of credit the way they tell themselves they want to.
And so very many people have a 10–20% interest payment on $40,000 of debt ($400–800) in addition to their house (300k @ 4%, $1500) and car (30k @ 6%, $500) payments which will be paid off at about the same time the asset has depreciated completely, and so that in addition to $2–6k/mo of expenses for a household (depending on income bracket) that about covers the average family’s cash flow! No more left to buy assets. And so the hamster wheel turns.
But there’s an upside to access to debt for people who learn how to spend money profitably:
Almost anything that you can prove will turn a profit, you can get funding for, especially if that funding is debt (where you promise you’ll pay it back, even if you’re wrong).
This is why debt in countries like the US can be had for single digits, and in places like Japan sometimes less than 1% per year interest. Think about that. Essentially free money.
But very few people understand that there’s a fifth component of these forces, where they combine:
… see there’s also economic force #5
5. Money’s time.
5. The Time Value of Money
The time value of money is a distributed representation of ALL other people’s time and money.
This is also called interest.
Just like you and other people have time, so, too, does your money.
And it matters how your money’s time is spent.
A counterintuitive aspect of modern money is that over time, left as just undeployed capital, it decreases in value. Inflation. (It’s designed to do that, but that detail is, again, for another article)
But if you deploy money in the form of spending people's time, and you do that reliably on something profitable and value-creating like a business, product, or service, your money can make more money. Interest.
In fact, as a planet, we do this with remarkable consistency. For round about 200 years or so now (wiki link to world GDP throughout history), through booms and busts, the world economy has grown 2–3% a year since the industrial revolution, and daily life for the average person has gotten remarkably better as a direct result of everyone getting really really rich.
“I’m not really rich!” you say, marveling at all these pictures of yachts.
What’s wild is if you have internet access you’re now in the global elite, essentially. You can reach an unlimited number of people and make money without anyone’s permission, by offering whatever value you can come up with, with an audience you can just buy with social media ads. Those are insane levels of economic mobility. Just because you’re not doing it doesn’t mean it’s impossible anymore.
Standards of living now for even the poorest 50% of the planet in some ways (like access to information) beat the ease and convenience of the richest person on earth even just 40 years ago, which is so wild I have to really think about it for it to make sense.
That means that after everything washes out: every unicorn investment like Facebook, every Enron-scale corporate dumpster fire, every family that pays off their mortgage, and every local grocery shop that goes out of business, we’ve all collectively managed to invest our money (and spend our time) in a way that made things on average 2–3% better, cheaper, and easier than last year.
GDP per capita in England since 1270
This chart is part of a collection of research. For more information, see Economic Growth. Adjusted for inflation and…
That’s all economic growth is. Humans incentivizing each other to make life better. That’s what generates the compound return that billionaires like Warren Buffet talk about, and Einstein famously labeled “The most powerful force in the universe” Compound interest is nothing more than people choosing (or being paid) to spend their (and other peoples) time to make the world a better place.
And the focal point of this global economic growth (for now) are public companies, which have averaged 5–12% annual growth over the past 100 years.
And you can participate directly in that growth (all of it at once even) by buying into an index fund.
The people we culturally idolize are often very good at making all 5 of these forces work FOR them.
But in contrast, the average person works FOR these 5 forces, maybe without ever having consciously realized it.
They work for money
They work so they can have free time
They work to free up other peoples time
They work to generate other people money
They spend their money in a way that requires them to continue working, instead of spending it in a way (like index funds) that reliably, with low risk, puts other people to work for them.
Billionaires, as an example of people who are unusually good at doing things the rest of us don’t do, are experts at practicing these two things that make them very good at avoiding the 5 traps above:
- Spending their personal time in a way that gets other people to work toward their goals.
- Spending their money in a way that gets other people to work toward their goals.
It’s not sustainable for us to continue to design a world where 99.999% of people work for the other 0.0001%.
By paying closer attention to these 5 forces and how we choose to employ them in our own lives, we can choose to leap from the part of the population of the world that continues to get poorer and begin an upward trend. All you have to do is hop on the exponential growth curve at some point, and the sooner the better.
It’s an individual choice. That’s all it is.
Back to self-made billionaires, who are great at this:
They spend everything they have incentivizing other people to join them on their mission. That single distinction eventually makes people of singular focus billionaires in many cases.
And that “billionaire” status we afford them is just a representation of the fact that they’ve effectively gotten hundreds or thousands or millions of people to generate tens or hundreds or thousands or millions of dollars of value in pursuit of a single goal.
And wonderfully, that process of building a billion-dollar company supports hundreds or thousands of families, creates jobs, and often results in products or services that make things remarkably easier in our day-to-day lives.
So what if instead of trying to tax them out of existence or break them up like they’re doing something immoral, we focused on building a culture, education system, and society where like 10% of the population could build such empires and increase everybody else’s wealth along the way?
How much faster would life get easier for everyone if we enabled millions of people to become billionaires that instead of the measly ~2,000 out of 8 billion people who are now?
What if more of us designed missions for ourselves that we could invite other people to join us on? The kinds of missions that would change the world?
What if we felt like we could do anything?
That’s the kind of world I want to live in.
That’s leverage. That’s how you can do anything.
Think about these 5 kinds of wealth and how you’re leveraging them in your life right now:
Who do you know who is leveraging these 5 forces for themselves? How can you spend more time with them and learn from them?
How can you make these changes in your own life?
How are you leveraging the time value of money?
How are you leveraging other people’s money?
How are you leveraging other people’s time?
And most importantly at first:
How are you leveraging your own money?
How are you leveraging your own time?
Here’s the best conversation I’ve ever seen on leverage, team building, and doing “economic growth” together:
Thank you for spending your time with me :)
This was written by Steve Moraco. You can learn more about him (and ask him why he writes 3rd person bios at the end of his posts) at Mora.co or on his twitter or instagram.Please click follow, and if you liked what you read here, scroll down and clap or click like or whatever the kids are calling it these days.
Did you know “claps” on medium max out at 50? I just learned this today. try it. (this is me leveraging your time, see?) ;) lol.