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OPINION | SAVE YOURSELF: Money is servant of time in strategy to Save Yourself

by Sarah Catherine Gutierrez | March 29, 2022 at 2:37 a.m.

Dear "Save Yourself" readers, I am excited to let you know that this column is moving to the second Sunday of every month.

In a reductive sense, Save Yourself is a financial column. Sure, from time to time I extoll the virtues of basic math for achieving a life below our means, but many people can live miserably below their means. Remember that "miser" is the heart of that word.

Save Yourself is occasionally about discipline, often a necessary ingredient to saving, but certainly not the goal. James Clear, the expert on habits, likes to remind us that anything that requires constant motivation is doomed to fail: hence, an obsession with promoting automated saving. I could care less if your act of saving is heroic or accidental. I just want you to save.

Save Yourself is not about coupon clipping or credit card travel hacking. There are plenty of columnists covering such things.

Save Yourself is not even ultimately about the act of saving for retirement. Sure, we save first and always. But, again, with automation, saving for retirement becomes as reflexive and normal as payroll taxes.

In truth, Save Yourself is about time, something far more precious and finite than money.

In the modern consumerist era, time is the servant of money. But it's not new to our era. Seneca had a lot to say about the tradeoffs of time and money from the Roman times, in fact. We see time in our era generously wasted away and sacrificed via overtime, overstretching, over-activity for the pursuit of money and the buying of things.

But in the Save Yourself world, money is the servant of time.

Let's take retirement for example. When we say we have a fully funded retirement, that means we can withdraw 4% of our financial assets and be able to support ourselves without making any major lifestyle changes. That 4% withdrawal rate is a widely-used rule of thumb to estimate the amount you're able to take out each year without running out of money, assuming you withdraw 4% of your savings in the first year of retirement then adjust that amount every year for inflation.

But what is fundamentally happening with that 4% spend-down? Is it buying your home repairs, your next car in retirement, your food, your clothes, your plants for gardening, your plane tickets to travel?

Sure, but what is it really buying?

Your time! That accumulated money is buying the ability to not work someday in the future when you might not be able to do the work you used to, when you may be too sick to work, or when you might be too tired to work.

But the layers go deeper.

Many readers have commented along the way that they love their jobs. Early retirement or even normal age retirement is not a goal. One even asked why I seem to hate work so much.

Oh gosh, no. I love work. I love my work so much that it doesn't feel like work, that I could do it for free. Maybe you do, too, and what a lucky thing to love what you do.

I remember hearing a statistic once that only 15% of people love their jobs. I shudder at what this might feel like. So one goes to work, spending the majority of their waking, alert, most valuable hours doing something that makes them stressed, bored, angry, sad, or carry feelings of insecurity or incompetence. Maybe sometimes those hard feelings make them seek pleasure and joy in the few remaining awake hours, with a fancier car, or wearing fancier clothes or buying a fancier home, where possible.

Sadly, the very outlets for escape from work they loathe then have this devastating impact. Such a lifestyle traps and handcuffs them to that very job causing so much pain.

I know by experience personally and as a financial planner that living below one's means is a great escape from such an existence. People making choices to save first into retirement and then into savings accounts for themselves frees them from the physical shackles that locked them into their paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

The real freedom is mental. I have seen people in previously miserable work existences walk away from their jobs and find better ones. The very presence of money in the wings gives their brains the expansiveness to imagine pursuing a better life in the first place.

To be more clear, the wealth isn't about the physical ability to walk away but rather the mental freedom to even imagine walking away.

I spoke to a couple who had for a short time lived below their means. They then moved to a much more expensive part of the country and found themselves suddenly stretching into a cost of living that was at their means. In a matter of months a new kind of stress that was once foreign to them, financial stress, began to weigh heavily on their marriage and daily existence. One of them remarked, "I don't want to live this way, having to worry about every small thing I buy." I reminded them that they have the power to change their circumstances, to give themselves space again.

When we live below our means and accumulate wealth we buy the right to live our lives in the present of our own design. We also buy the ability to live with less stress. Think about it, there are so many stresses in our lives that are beyond our control. For those with the financial means to support "enough" basic human needs, why wouldn't we do everything in our power to avoid money being another major stressor?

But time doesn't alone complete the circle of money and happiness. We have to start striving for contentment. In the recently released book "From Strength to Strength," Arthur Brooks gives a simple formula for life satisfaction. It is derived from the formula of "what we have" divided by "what we want." Our ability to reduce the denominator, "what we want," enhances our life satisfaction. The ability to desire to buy or acquire less and less makes what we already have feel like more. This is contentment, the satisfaction that improves the space within the time we create for ourselves.

Ironically, the act of minimizing our needs and wants has the incredible effect of reducing the need for money, naturally, thereby creating more time. What a wonderful cyclical substitute to the hedonic treadmill.

So, no, Save Yourself is not just a financial column. It's a column standing at the intersection of money, time and contentment. My intersection and your intersections will be different but worth the journey. I look forward to walking it alongside you.

See you Sunday, April 10.

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also author of the book "But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life," published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at

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