The Time Bank


How many of you saw the 2011 Justin Timberlake thriller, In Time?  It’s a clever little film about a future world where time is the currency.  Time is literally money.  Everyone in that world, including JT, has a countdown clock embedded in their wrist.  The good news is you don’t age past 25 and pretty much everyone is pretty.  The bad news is, once your clock runs out you drop dead.

Here’s the thing.  That was my idea, Thank you very much 20th Century Fox!  I came up with it in 2011 about a month before seeing the TV trailer for In Time.  I’m not kidding.  My wife can vouch for me.  To this day we can’t figure out how they busted into our house, stole my notes, wrote a script, shot a film, post-produced and distributed the film in 30 days.  I guess when you’re a big movie house you can pull all kinds of strings.

I was going to call the book The Time Bank and it would have been way better than that Timberlake flick, because there would’ve been real coins that look like this


and the watch would’ve looked like this


My point is, the goons at 20th Century Fox stole my one really good book idea and I’m bitter.  I’ve always wanted to write a best-selling sci-fi novel.

My larger point is, it’s fun to think of time as money.  And it’s important too.  Even though we don’t have these cool countdown clocks strapped to our wrist, it’s something everyone should start doing.  Not just in the abstract, like when important people impatiently tap on their watch when someone’s late for a meeting and say, “Time is money, man.  But actually convert your dollar bills into actual units of time to train yourself to think differently about money…

Turn every $2.00 into 1 second, to be exact.

The Time Bank Conversion

For every $2.00 I save on any purchase, I put 1 second into my Time Bank.

Now, I know you can’t actually save up time.  That’s what makes it so precious.  Our “Life Energy” (allotment of time on earth) is finite.  We can’t get it back.  Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin drove that point home in their wildly popular personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life.

But, we can save up free time, in a way.  And that’s what I’m putting in my little bank.  $2.00 = 1 second of free time.  Here’s how the math works:

Not factoring in paid time off (PTO) and holidays, we work about 175 hours per month (based on a 40 hour work week).  That’s 10,500 minutes, which is 630,000 seconds.  We work about 630,000 seconds per month.

Now, how much money do we spend each month?  This is a very personal question, but I’d feel comfortable spending about $4,200 each month.  I work 630,000 seconds to spend $4,200 each month.

How much money in investments would it take to earn $4,200 per month without working?  A fairly conservative 4% annual return gets us to $1,260,000.  We need $1,260,000 to earn $4,200 per month at 4%.

$1,260,000/630,000 seconds = $2.00 per second

For every $2.00 I save, I’m buying back 1 second of free time each month for the rest of my life.  For every $120 I save, I’m buying back a full minute.  And once I get to $1,260,000, I’ve bought back all the seconds and minutes I would have spent working each month.  In theory, I’ve got all my free time back.  I’m “retired”.  Or “financially independent”, if you prefer.

Of course, I’ve ignored compounded returns as a factor in this equation, just to keep it simple.  And the rate of return may be higher or lower.  I used 4%, because it’s widely considered the safe withdrawal rate for retirement, given inflation, market volatility and average market returns.  I used $4,200/month because it spits out a nice clean $2.00, and it’s actually really close to what my family is projected to spend per month this year.

Update:  No need to sign up to be on my email list! (Feel free to sign up anyways though)  Click on the image below to play around with my Time Bank Conversion spreadsheet in Google Sheets.  Change the numbers for “Monthly Spending” or “Annual Returns” to see how your money converts into time:  


You can play around with the monthly spending and rate of return to see how your money would convert into time.

Money Mind Tricks

Fellow Minnesota blogger, Apathy Ends would call this dollar/second conversion a money mind trick.  He lists several of his favorites, including one kind of like this one, in one of his recent articles.  It’s a very good read.

I love using money mind tricks to save extra money.  And the $2 = 1 second conversion is one I break out when I really need to lock down my spending in a certain area.  I don’t use it all the time.  I haven’t converted every single cent I’ve saved into units of time.  That would drive me insane.

But I did use this mind trick several times last year to curb spending.  For example, spending on work lunches.  So far I’ve earned 3 minutes by brown-bagging it!  3 extra minutes of free time just from bringing my lunch to work a little more last year.

That’s 3 extra minutes of free time I can use to write one extra sentence in an article like this (I write slow).  Or 3 extra minutes to come up with my next great book idea.  I’ll just have to guard my notes a lot more closely this time.

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  1. Great concept – and too bad they ripped off your book idea. I thought that movie was a little cheesy with all the “Just in time” one-liners; but it was a very cool concept and neat to see how you’ve applied it to your own spending and saving. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jay! Yeah, I was a couple years late on that idea. It was a little bit cheesy and I didn’t really care for how they exchange time with a handshake. Clearly, I would’ve done it way differently. I’m glad you like the concept. Even though $2 is ONLY one second in my conversion, it has really helped me make the more concrete mental connection between money and financial independence.


  2. Crispy,
    If you had one great idea, it is not a stretch to think there is another great one rattling around in your head. Great concept to help you measure how you will save and what each penny means to your retirement savings. I am always messing with spreadsheets and projections doing the same type of thing. I think it really helps me stay focused on the end game. Especially when I get up at 6 am and walk the dog in the Boston winter. Without hope, it would seem too daunting. you just earned another penny ! kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nope. Just the one. Pretty empty in here 🙂

      It’s true. These little “games” really do help you stay focused on the larger end goal. Some may consider $2 here and there trivial in the grand scheme and not worth the mental bandwidth. I agree to some extent. But if it saves me from making constant trips to the vending machine or supersizing that Happy Meal (things that aren’t good for me anyways), AND if it keeps me focused on mindful spending, I think it’s a good thing. As long as I’m not hemming and hawing over every puny purchase.

      Thanks for the comment, Brian!


  3. I loved the movie – it may not have been a big hit but I found the commentary on poverty to be really well played. They never had to overplay the time is money concept, they just swapped one for the other and everything flowed so smoothly.

    Great article too 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, It was a great movie… under appreciated, I think. I definitely drank it in.

      Your right, the comment on poverty shouldn’t be lost. It’s that much more powerful when you think of money in terms of time, not just for yourself, but for those less fortunate.

      Great callout, Ladyfire! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!


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