It’s a question as to what you value most in your life. Do you care more about spending the time to save money, or spending money to save time?
According to a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, if happiness is the goal, you’ll be a little looser with your bank account.
“People who spent money to buy themselves time, such as by outsourcing disliked tasks, reported greater overall life satisfaction,” said Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and lead author of the study, which was based on a series of surveys from several countries. Researchers did not see the same effect when people used the money for material goods.
For the first phase of the study, Whillans and her colleagues surveyed nearly 4,500 people in the United States, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands on well-being and timesaving purchases, such as taking an Uber ride, ordering takeout food, paying someone to run an errand, or hiring household help. In the next phase, using a broader definition of such purchases, they surveyed about 1,800 other Americans.
Of those surveyed, about 28% of respondents in the first phase and a half in the second phase reported spending money to save time. In both cases, those who made such purchases reported greater life satisfaction than those who did not.
And interestingly, household income didn’t matter: People benefited from buying time regardless of where they fell on the income spectrum.
Elizabeth Dunn, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and an author of the paper said in a statement, “if there’s some task that just thinking about it fills you with dread, then it’s probably worth considering whether you can afford to buy your way out of it.”
Results of the survey established a link between buying time and happiness, but researchers wanted to determine whether one causes the other.
To do so, they provided 36 Canadian participants with $40 on two consecutive weekends to spend, as directed, on either timesaving purchases or material purchases, like board games, fancy wine, or clothes. Then, they asked the participants their mood at the end of the day.
Results confirmed what the researchers predicted, spending money to save time appeared to reduce time-related stress and increase well-being, while spending on material goods did not have the same effect.
But, despite its proven benefits, the practice of buying time is not as popular as one might expect. Even among more than 800 Dutch millionaires surveyed, all of whom surely could afford to do so, only a slight majority spent money on timesaving tasks.
Professors Whillans and Dunn offered a couple hypotheses as to why, at least in the United States: a Protestant work ethic that values being busy or guilt over paying someone for a task that people could easily do themselves, for example.
“We want to seem like we have it all together and we might be therefore resistant to spending money on timesaving purchases even when we can afford it,” Whillans said.
Do you spend money to afford yourself time? If not, perhaps you should reallocate your household budget. It might make you a happier person.