Time is a priceless asset

Learning how to invest has completely changed how I perceive the values of things and make decisions. In the investment world, different asset classes like stocks, bonds and commodities have their own risks, scarcity and potential return. You have to proactively assess the dynamically-changing risk factors of each asset class, and put the right amount of capital to the right asset classes, in order to balance and grow your portfolio. What interesting to me is that one asset class can be converted to another one, and such move can make a dramatic difference.

When I’m getting older, the ticking of the clock comes as a revelation to me — time is actually an asset class. Not only that, it’s the most valuable and scarcest one. The older you get or the more urgent it is (the less time you have left), the more perceivably valuable your time is. A dying person is willing to pay the life savings for treatments to live a bit longer. An employee who is running late to work will catch a taxi without hesitation. People trade their no-so-valuable money for invaluable time.

It becomes even more fascinating if you regard time, knowledge and career as assets in addition to monetary assets such as cash, stocks and bonds which can be exchanged for each other and whose values can appreciate.

  • You study hard to acquire knowledge (time -> knowledge)
  • so that you will get a better job (knowledge -> career)
  • or save your time when performing certain tasks with your skills (knowledge -> time).
  • You can earn more money with a better job (career -> money).
  • With the money, maybe you can buy a car and drive to anywhere you want. That will save your time (money->time).

Understanding the interchangeability of assets will open your eyes and let you see things through the lens of the rich: time is priceless while money is kind of trash. The rich will do whatever they can to gain time, such as:

  • paying for “expensive” products or services that save their time
  • paying other people to do the work for them
  • earning more money by investing the money
  • invest the time and money to become more knowledgable

On the contrary, what normal people do are:

  • paying for products or services that kill their time, e.g. games, entertainment
  • paying by time and attention for “free” services, e.g. social media
  • ditching paid options and researching for “free” alternatives using their precious time
  • working hard for the other people in their lifetime
  • saving money but not investing them
  • learning from “free” online resources and “experts” although they need to take their time to filter out noises

If a day is represented by a coin in the wallet, a person only has 26,718 coins in the lifetime to expend on average (average life expectancy: 73.2 years), which are so scarce that all the people should have treated time the same as the rich does, but it doesn’t happen.

Most people weren’t born with money, so it’s understandable to study hard, work hard, and make your first fortune at the expense of time. And that’s one of the possible paths to financial independence. But the mindset of most people does not evolve along with growth of their wealth, and don’t make good use of time. They still do what normal people do unless extreme situations come about such as critical illness or depression in which they suddenly perceive the invaluableness of time, and realize that they should’ve traded other assets for it at any cost to appreciate its value.

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