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Convert Purchases from Dollars into Time

One strategy that seems to work well for people looking to conquer bad spending habits is to convert purchases into hours of work. A $4 latte, the classic enemy of frugalists everywhere, doesn’t seem too expensive because it’s only four dollars. If you only earn minimum wage [3] of $7.25 an hour, that’s nearly half an hour of work before you take taxes into consideration. Is a cup of coffee worth half an hour of your life?

This is why the strategy works and here’s how you can start using it.

When calculating how much you earn per hour, it’s not important to know the exact number. It’s good enough to be close enough, since it probably won’t matter if it costs you five hours or five hours and ten minutes. The easiest way is to find your last tax filing and do a straight calculating of your taxes divided by your income. You’ll find that, after deductions and credits, it isn’t anywhere near what you’d guess based on the IRS tax brackets [4]. I did this a few years ago and while I was in the 25% marginal tax rate, my actual tax rates [5] were far lower because of 401(k) contributions, FICA deductions (like Social Security), and other credits.

If you don’t want to dig through tax returns, here’s another way. Take your take home pay and divide by the number of hours it covers. If you’re paid every two weeks, take your after-tax salary and divide by 80. That’s your earning power per hour and you can use it to decide how badly you want something. The pay check should say how many hours you’ve worked that pay period.

Once you have that number, you can start converting all your spending into hours of work. Your rent or mortgage payment goes from a nebulous dollar amount into actual hours. $1,200 a month for rent and you earn $20 an hour? That’s 60 hours – a week and a half of work. Is that a lot? Is that a little? That depends entirely on you, but at least now you have something more concrete than numbers on a screen to compare it to.

Do you do this? Do you think it works to help save you some money and curb your spending?

(Photo: rafaelnc [6])