An old lawn mower in grass

The Valuation of Time

Let’s begin with a basic concept with which we should all be able to agree: time has inherent value. Nobody seriously questions this fact, what we argue is what that value is.

I was thinking about this while I was doing some yard cleanup this week and the lawn folks came by to mow. As the two of them swept in and back out in about 10 or 15 minutes, I found myself pondering the cost of that fraction of an hour in a very intellectual fashion…

“Are you fucking shitting me, that’s $100/hour to mow my lawn!” I thought, intellectually.

And that is certainly one way to apply a value to time; from the perspective of how much you are outlaying in exchange for the difficulty of the job. “Those people are doing such a trivial task for so much money.” You can see that line of thought being applied to all manner of things in politics today: “How dare fast food workers demand so much money for flipping burgers” or “how dare retail clerks demand the same salary as EMTs” for example.

There is another, more accurate way to assign value to time; from the perspective of what it costs to the recipient in exchange for NOT having to do that job. If I were to mow my own lawn at the same level of quality I currently get for $25 per week, I would need to:

  • Obtain a lawn mower and weed whip
  • Supply fuel to said devices
  • Provide maintenance for said devices
  • Actually move those devices around the yard in a meaningful way reliably

Having formerly done this task on this very yard, I can tell you that it takes me close to an hour to do the job; and that ignores the beginning and end of year maintenance and other miscellaneous chores that go along with the job. Is my hour worth $25? Absolutely. As it turns out, this was why my family opted to spend the money rather than do the chore ourselves. As it turns out, once you factor in the costs ownership, maintenance, and the time spent actually doing the mowing job, we were investing considerably more than that $25 in doing a job that we hated.

Those lawn guys aren’t asking ENOUGH. They could probably get $5 or $10 more out of me if that was the only option.

I use this line of thinking when I price my services as well; it matters what I want to pay for the service, but it matters even more what the service is worth to the recipient. When I started factoring that in, I started charging a much higher rate and found myself enjoying the work that I was doing considerably more.

So the next time you find yourself pricing out a job, ask yourself “what would it cost them to do it themselves” and surprise yourself with the actual in-house cost of such thing. And the next time you find yourself cursing under your breath at a drive-through at how much money these “lazy takers” are wanting, ask yourself it is worth the extra $0.50 you might have to pay not to have to obtain ingredients, cook and serve ingredients, and clean up afterward. If it’s not, go make yourself some food.