Buy more time

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Spending money on time-saving services may result in greater life satisfaction, according to a new PNAS study:

An international team of researchers surveyed more than 6,000 men and women across the United States, Canada, Denmark and the Netherlands about their spending habits.

Those in the study who spent money on services to buy time — by paying other people to do the cleaning or cooking, for example — reported greater happiness compared to those who did not, regardless of their level of income.


“Some of our results are intuitive,” she continued. “For example, people should derive some satisfaction from outsourcing things like scrubbing the toilet or cleaning bathrooms. Yet just under half the millionaires we surveyed spent money to outsource disliked tasks.”

One factor that could explain why more people who could afford to don’t purchase these time-saving services could be guilt, the study authors suggest. Some people may feel guilty for paying someone to do tasks they simply don’t want to complete themselves.


“Busy-ness has become a status symbol in North America,” Whillans explained. “People want to feel they can manage all components of their lives.”


In addition to the first large study, Whillans and her colleagues performed a second, smaller experiment in a group of 60 working Canadian adults, giving them $40 to spend on a time-saving purchase one week and $40 to spend on a material purchase the second week. People who decided to spend money to save time, the researchers found, reported greater well-being than when money was spent on a material purchase.

“Here is a blind spot in human decision making: we don’t see the unhappiness from small annoying tasks,” Ariely said. “Part of it is we don’t experiment much. In order to figure out what works best for you, it’s not enough to have an intuition. You need to try out different things, whether for your health, relationships or saving money. The same goes for finding happiness.”

But it wasn’t easy for people in the second study to choose spending money on saving time — only two percent reported on the spot that they would make a time-saving purchase. The authors said part of the reason may be long-standing cultural and gender roles.


  1. Graham says:

    This is the most counterintuitive bit:

    “Here is a blind spot in human decision making: we don’t see the unhappiness from small annoying tasks,”

    Seriously? Are there people not irritated by such things?

  2. Bomag says:

    small annoying tasks

    We should account for the level of perfectionism: perfectionists are unhappy with other people doing their stuff; and perfectionists carry a high base level of unhappiness.

  3. Graham says:

    Agree with Bomag on that last.

    I still hate people doing my stuff but have reconciled this by accepting that many things never get done. It keeps the base level of unhappiness constant but moderate…

  4. Wang Weilin says:

    Graham, I’m irritated by the small annoyances and because of that have replaced 2 cycle lawn trimmer, blower, chainsaw and hedge trimmer with cordless 40 volt battery tools. Grab it, pull the trigger….job done without tinkering or mixing fuel.

  5. Graham says:

    Wang Weilin,

    I expect you meant that literally but it’s also good advice on a metaphorical level.

    How many problems can be solved with some cordless 40 volt battery tools, grabbing them, pulling the trigger and not wasting time mixing fuel?

    It’s advice for the ages, I think.

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