We don’t buy things with money, we buy them with hours from our life.

Or, as Henry David Thoreau put it, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

This is a life-changing principle. When we begin to see our purchases through the lens of exchanging life, rather than dollar bills, we can better appreciate the weight of our purchases and understand their full cost.

For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to take a hard look at how much life some of our purchases actually cost us.

For the sake of conversation, let’s use the median US household income. In 2017, that number was $61,400. For simplicity’s sake, let’s round down to $60,000 annual income.

If your household income is $60,000, working a typical 40-hour workweek, here is how many hours of work are needed for the following purchases:

  • Grande Starbucks Cappuccino ($4.00) = 8 minutes of work
  • Pair of Wrangler Jeans ($24.99) = 50 minutes of work
  • Coach Brand Purse ($119.99) = 1/2 day of work
  • 55″ FlatScreen TV ($711.00) = 3 days of work
  • 256GB iPhone XS ($1,249) = 1 week + 2 hours of work
  • Dinner at a restaurant for your family of four ($80.00) = 1/3 day of work
  • Dinner at home for your family of four ($17.00) = 1/2 hour of work
  • New Living Room Furniture Set ($1,983.94) = 1 week + 3.5 days of work
  • 2019 Ford Fusion SE Hybrid ($26,550) = 5 months + 10 days of work
  • 2,500 square foot house (10% down payment, 30-year mortgage of monthly payments, $303,000 purchase price) = 11 years + 6 months of work
  • 1,600 square foot house (15% down payment, 30-year mortgage of monthly payments, $196,000 purchase price) = 7 years + 2 months

Keep in mind, the amount of work needed for the items above is based on an annual salary of $60,000. If your annual salary is $30,000, the work time will be doubled. If you make $120,000/year, the measurements should be halved.

Of course, there are alternatives to exchanging our hours and lives for material possessions…

  • It takes just 10 minutes to tell your child a bedtime story.
  • 45 minutes for an evening walk with your spouse.
  • 60 minutes to help your son/daughter with homework.
  • Or 2 hours/month to volunteer at your local soup kitchen.

The money we earn is ours to keep and we can spend it as we wish. But it can be a helpful exercise to realize how many hours of our lives go into each purchase we make.

And it is always wise to remember we can spend our hours pursuing items of far greater value than material possessions.