Time-money irrationality

Calvin Chu
Dec 27, 2017 · 3 min read

If I asked you to trade a $20 bill for your $20 bill, you’d look at me and say I’m crazy — what difference does it make? There’s no point. Maybe I’m trying to scam you and give you a fake bill…

But this is exactly what people do when they work hundred-hour work weeks at the expense of their family, and then pay for things like a housekeeper or babysitter to clear out time back in to their schedules, except even worse — people are often trading something they would love to do, and instead volunteering for something they don’t love — work.

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time might => money, but money is ≤ time

When it comes to school, to internships, people say they want to gain experience, and are willing to forego plenty of other options, accruing opportunity cost in hopes of cashing in down the road. They trade a couple years of tough work schedules and no life for some promised future path that leads to retirement.

We’re irrational.

When I went to New York over Thanksgiving 2016, I tried to buy some food from a Halal cart — the guy said he had no change, so was trying to upsell a soda to me for $3 and keep the change. I was trying to save my money on my trip, so I decided it’d be better for me to go to the Citibank around the corner and see if I could get change — instead it was closed, and the ATM only dispensed twenties. And thus I was tasked with the strange, impossible task of asking New Yorkers to break my $10. The few people that were willing to stop when I asked them all happened to be carrying only $1 or $2 if they had any cash, or larger bills, assign of the times when everyone has electronic payments or credit cards and thus don’t carry cash. It took me until I found another two customers at a different food truck (probably should’ve stayed at the same one and might have had some luck, in retrospect) who had $2 and $3 respectively, and were willing to trade for a $5 I had, and then settle their debts amongst themselves.

Money is only as valuable as it solves the everyday cost of transaction. In this case, I saved my $3, at the expense of 25 minutes, walking 5 blocks, and bothered countless other people (and even walked into a McDonalds & a Pret à Manger that both refused to give me change without buying anything). The promise of digitization of money through cryptocurrencies not only gets us away from these problems of change and transaction, but it can actually help the everyday small business to better transact and get paid for the things they’re serving.

In studying cryptocurrencies, I’ve realized now that time is the only thing that we have in our wallets, and that we accumulate money to buy time to do things we want. it’s the same switcheroo that we denounced as irrational at the beginning here.

I’m super good at penny-pinching, but terrible at time-pinching, or at least time-optimizing. It’s time to switch that.

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