Time is Your Most Valuable Asset

You can’t create more time. The time you took to read the last sentence – you are not getting it back. 

You can create more money. In some situations, you can improve your health. Your home may be a valuable asset, but it is not the most valuable. 

Time is your most valuable asset. 

Someone with Parkinson’s told me the other day, “I used to think I had this huge portal of time and opportunity left. Now, it feels like a magnifying glass.” 

Take a moment and read that sentiment again because I think most of us think and behave as if we have a huge portal of time left, but it can change in an instant. You can measure life in many ways, but growing up in the Pacific Northwest, summers are a magical time of year. Temperatures are in the mid-70s, it stays light until past 9 p.m., and there are more mountains and bodies of water than you can enjoy in a lifetime. There is literally more than you can ever experience. 

If I am lucky, I may have 40 or 50 more summers to experience. If I am unlucky, this could be my last. I never know. 

How many summers do I have left with my dad? This could be the last – or it could be many more. We already had four more than anticipated given his Stage IV Lung Cancer diagnosis five years ago. 

How about with my mom? Statistically, about 10 more. 

And with my fiancée? Another 40 or 50, and she will likely have a few more to experience after I am gone. 

But, that could change. Accidents happen. Cancer occurs. Pandemics hit.  

The woman with Parkinson’s statement about her life feeling like the narrowness of a magnifying glass was another reminder about how limited our time is on earth. I was reminded of how you get one life to do everything you want. 

One. That’s it. 

What does that have to do with money? Everything. Read on. 

Starting Early Allows for the Miracle of Compounding

Although the miracle of compounding may appear in nearly every personal finance article in the internet, I’m going to beat a dead horse and talk about it more because it’s that powerful. 

Let’s assume Samantha starts saving $6,000 per year at different ages and earns 7% per year. The numbers are not important. You can use any numbers you like and the point will still be made. 

I’ve assumed she starts saving at age 20, 25, 30, and so on. Next, I’ve listed how many years until age 65, followed by the value at age 65, and the total contributions.

Finally, the last column shows the total earnings. That’s the column that shows the miracle of compounding. 

AgeYears Until Age 65Value at Age 65Total ContributionsTotal Earnings

Let’s compare Samantha who starts saving at age 45 with Samantha who starts saving at age 25. Samantha at age 45 makes $120,000 in contributions while Samantha at age 25 makes $240,000 in contributions. She saved exactly double; however, Samantha at age 45 only has $245,974 at age 65. Samantha at age 25 has $1,197,811 at age 65. It’s a difference of $951,837. 

Although Samantha at age 25 saved double, she ends up with about 4.8 times more in money. 

Nothing changed other than time. Samantha at age 25 had time, her most valuable asset, on her side. 

Samantha’s example is a purely financial perspective, although much could be said about her discipline, patience, and sacrifices to make the regular contributions. Let’s look at an example having less to do with finances. 

Time is also your most valuable asset when it comes to learning a new skill. Remember the first time you rode a bike? I do, and I remember how long I had to stay with training wheels. Riding a bike did not come naturally to me, and being a timid child, I did not want to fall! 

It took repetition to learn how to ride a bike. Evening after evening finding balance and getting comfortable until one day, the training wheels came off. From there, it took more time to master riding a bike. 

There were no shortcuts. I had to be on the bike practicing regularly. 

The same can be said for swimming, soccer, or any other childhood activity. 

Today, it’s easy to ride a bike because of the time spent practicing as a child. I remember a few years ago when I had not been on a bike in probably over ten years and although I was unstable at first, it came back to me – all because of the time spent on a bike as a child. 

Some people estimate that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. 10,000 hours is hard for me to conceptualize. If we assume you spend eight hours a day on a new skill, which is highly unlikely, that’s 1,250 days, or about three and a half years. 

Said another way, if you do something full-time, it takes about three and a half years to get really good at it. 

If you only want to spend two hours a day, it will take nearly fourteen years to master it. 

If you are already 70, it’s unlikely you have fourteen years to master something new. Again, time is your most valuable asset.

If you are thirty and want to spend two hours a day mastering something new, you have fourteen years to do it and likely another few decades to enjoy it. 

The moral of the story? 

If there is something you want to do, start it. Don’t delay. Even 30 minutes a day will compound and build momentum. Want to lift 100 pounds? Start with 5 push ups a day and increase the amount over time. The hardest step is usually starting. 

Saying “No” Creates Opportunities to Say Yes

One of the things I did in my 20s was say yes to many things, and although I am thankful for what it created; a wide range of experiences, interesting work projects, and hearing many different ways of accomplishing tasks, it also reduced other opportunities.

For every yes I gave, I was saying no to something else.

Sometimes I knew what the something else was, and other times I did not, but by saying yes to the first thing, I did not give myself the opportunity to say yes to a second alternative. 

I don’t necessarily regret saying yes as much as I did. Professionally, I was fortunate to see a wide variety of financial planning scenarios and hear many life stories – a true gift. 

At the same time, I’m reminded that time is my most valuable asset and as I get older, saying no can also create tremendous opportunities. 

Saying no allows me to create my own opportunities and wait for the tremendous opportunities that excite me the most. Sometimes an excess of time purposefully not spent on something leaves room for the mind to wander into something great. 

Morgan Housel writes about the advantages of being a little underemployed and how some of the most important work happens not at work – when people have time to think and unplug. 

If you are constantly going from one thing to the next, you don’t get time to reflect. You don’t get time to take a walk or just sit and watch the world go by. 

I was reminded of this the other night as I sat alone on the deck of my family’s cabin. It’s a very old property on the water and watching the wildlife is an incredible sight, but I have not done it for the past few years. I was too busy saying yes to everything else – work priorities, family get-togethers, and outings with friends. 

As I was eating dinner, I noticed a bird in the water hobbling along. I grabbed the binoculars – it was an eagle! It had caught a fish and was dragging it to the shore with its talon. 

It took a good five minutes to get the fish out of the water and then proceeded to eat it. I’ll spare you the bloody details, but it was fascinating to watch it. It was the first time in a long time I had taken that much time to do nothing, and it felt great. 

In that moment, I remembered how much I enjoyed photography and how every time someone asked me if I still took photos, it pained me to say no. After a couple days of thinking, I decided to buy a new camera and will prioritize photography again.

That moment of nothing was the tipping point. Had it not happened, I probably would have continued with life as normal, missing a key ingredient that had been missing. 

I tell that story because sometimes the smallest moments of saying no can lead to good discoveries. I realize saying no and getting back some of your time is a privilege. Not everybody can do it, but many of us can make small shifts. I chose not to watch a television show that night. It could be scrolling 10 minutes less on Twitter. My main point is that saying no does not have to be a grand gesture – it can be a small no leading to small changes. 

Remember, every yes you give is a no to something else. With time being your most valuable asset, be sure you are saying yes to the right things. 

Other Ways to Say No

Since time is your most valuable asset, let’s go over a few tips to potentially save you time to say yes to the right things.

  • Email: check it at designated times throughout the day. Unless your job absolutely requires you to be plugged in every 30 seconds, turn off your notifications. By blocking off time, you are not pulled in multiple directions each hour, which is a drag on your time. Each time you check your email, it takes at least five minutes to get back into the task you were doing. 
  • Cooking: I’m a huge fan of batch cooking. Sundays are my dedicated day to creating meals for the week. It’s much easier to spend a few hours one day a week cooking and cleaning than spending the time each night. 
  • Walks: Go for a walk at least once each day, preferably during the time of the day when you have low energy. Walks are great ways to unplug, think, and come back less drained. 
  • Hell Yes: If it’s not a “hell yes, it’s a no.” I’m not sure where the phrase originally came from, but it’s a mindset you can employ as you think about what to say yes to. 
  • Block Time: If you don’t make time for it, there won’t be time. It’s the same way that if you don’t save when your paycheck hits your account, there likely won’t be money to save at the end of the month. Block time on your calendar for what is important – be it a date night, visiting family, or time for yourself to do nothing. 

If you have other ideas, I’d love to hear them. 

Summary – Final Thoughts

Time is your most valuable asset. You can’t create more of it. It can look like you have plenty of it until one day you wake up and you don’t. Life comes at you fast. 

Time allows for the miracle of compounding, whether it is allowing your investments to compound over many decades or in learning new skills. 

As you go about your life, remember that saying no to one thing is saying yes to something else. That something else could be life changing. Or, it could be as simple as ten minutes to yourself. 

Disclaimer: This article is for general information and educational purposes only and should not be considered investment, financial, legal, or tax advice. It is not a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security or investment advisory services. Please consult your own legal, financial, and other professionals to determine what may be appropriate for you. Opinions expressed are as of the date of publication, and such opinions are subject to change. Click for Full Disclaimer