Budgeting your time

time money

In last week’s post I mentioned that my friend Sarah had given me excellent advice: “Time is like money”.

Sarah and I had both worked through an excellent budgeting book called The Complete Cheapskate by Mary Hunt and we both approach our money management in the same way. Mary suggests giving away at least 10%  first and then saving at least 10% for the future, then some money is put in a separate account for bills and such that you know are coming up, some put aside money to treat ourselves, and the rest spent on food etc. (She’s also very clear about getting out of debt as soon as is humanly possible).

Sarah was saying to me that, in the same way that I know I can’t give to every good cause, I can also not give my time to every worthwhile activity. I need to choose, and stand by my choice.

I have talked about giving away ten percent of my money to various excellent not-for-profit groups. I have had to think hard about where to give the money because I want it to go where it is doing a lot of good, and I don’t want to have to remake that decision every time I pass a stall in the street, or get a letter in the mail, or see a good cause on social media.

I have decided what I want to give to. It may not be the same decision as others have made for their money (I hope not – there are a lot of non-profits that need supporting). But it’s the list for me.

I need to approach my time the same way. First, I need to figure out how much time I am prepared to give away to other people’s important activities. At the moment, I am working four days a week and that limits the amount of time I am able to give. It cuts a massive chunk out of my time budget. (In the same way that the mortgage repayment cuts a chunk out of the money budget.)

Once I’ve figured out how much time I have to give – it might be two activities a fortnight, or three a month – then I can say yes to those activities within that budget that suit my personality. But once I’ve used up that time, then I need to say no.

I can’t say yes to all the worthwhile things that are happening, I don’t have that much time in my budget. Somehow I need to make a decision that’s in keeping with my personality and values and only say yes to a few things. Other people can make up the shortfall.

One recent activity where I had to say no was a Mothers Day high tea at church. It was run by our women’s ministry team and I felt especially pressured (by myself, not by anyone else) to say yes because I had led our church service the week before and had made the announcement about the high tea. It’s very hard to say, “Do come to this excellent activity” with any form of sincerity when you’re pretty sure you won’t be going yourself.

But I had had a huge week that week. I had led church, travelled to Launceston (about 3 hours away, depending on road works) and given two days of teaching at the university campus there, staying overnight to do so, and had a couple of coffee dates with various people as well as my normal workload. I knew I would be tired and I knew (as an introvert) that this high tea, while pleasant, would be exhausting. I decided not to go and removed the entry from my calendar.

I felt guilty – it was a great cause (Days for Girls was being supported by this event) and I also wanted to support the amazing women who make up our women’s ministry team, but my time budget was too stretched and I needed to be at home, pottering around, grocery shopping, washing things, reading books.

It turned out that one hundred and eighty women attended the high tea. They were in no way affected by me not going. I must have done a wonderful job of advertising it in the church notices! No, I’m kidding, it was nothing to do with me but it was a really excellent result.

It is just as stupid to blame myself for the success or failure of an activity due to my not turning up, as it would be to blame myself for a charity going under because my $40 a month was not going into their account. I cannot give my time to every worthwhile activity and I shouldn’t be trying. I need to budget time to give regularly, and save some time (and energy) up my sleeve for special occasions that might pop up.

One of the things I love to spend my time on is coffee with people. I love one-on-one time with people, deep conversation, time for encouragement, and I also love coffee. When I am with those who don’t drink coffee I allow them 🙂 to drink tea or hot chocolates. The choice of hot beverage is not really important, but the time is.

I like having coffee with people because coffee generally lasts an hour. Lunch can take up more than an hour – up to two hours even, and dinner is so open-ended it scares me, but coffee is a good short time when you can have a great conversation and then get back to whatever you’re doing.

If I could, I’d have a coffee with someone every day, but I’ve realised lately that even the one-hour coffee was putting a strain on my time budget, much the same way that buying your lunch every day can put a strain on your money budget. It all adds up.

I now limit my coffee time. I give a coffee to each of my parents every week, and I have allowed myself two more coffees each week but no more. This meant that when a friend came to me at church and asked if we could get together because she had something exciting to tell me, I had to put her off for three weeks. That felt really bad. (And it also meant that my husband found out the exciting thing before I did because it came up in a church meeting that he went to. He was very good and didn’t tell me anything, and it does show that there are consequences to our actions, but that’s by-the-by.) So yes, it felt bad to put her off, but it meant that when we did finally get together I was not exhausted, I was happy and eager to hear her news, and we had time to deeply share and pray about it, instead of me being rushed and needing to get back to work.

So yes, time is like money. We are responsible for using our time wisely, and giving it carefully. I haven’t even started on the issue of wasting it on TV of Facebook but I’m sure you’ve all heard that sermon preached before.

Have you thought about budgeting your time? What do you think about the idea of having an amount of time each week that is set aside to give away?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

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Time is like money

Beani of doom

I was talking with my friend Sarah one evening about how difficult it was to say no to worthwhile activities and she gave me a very good piece of advice.

“Time is like money,” she said.

Now we’ve all heard “Time is money” – that we need to make sure that we’re using our time to make money, or that the use of our time is worth money, but that’s not what she was saying. Instead, she was saying that just like we need to budget our money, we also need to budget our time.

Let’s start with money.

The other day I met with a friend for coffee in the city. I wasn’t exactly running late but I was on a tight schedule and I was eager to spend as much time with my friend as possible.

As I turned the corner to the door of the coffee shop I was accosted by a very friendly man with a large smile and a grey beanie. (It was winter in Tasmania, it was cold).

“Hi, nice to meet you!” he said with great enthusiasm and shook my hand and gave me his name and asked for mine.

My heart sank. I knew what was coming.

I don’t like to ignore people and just walk on, especially when they give me a warm and genuine smile. It is just rude to completely blank them and I find it impossible. But sometimes I wish I could.

He was a ‘charity mugger’ – you know, one of those people from a non-profit organisation who is out on the street and wants, not a donation, but a commitment of “just $40 a month, less than a coffee a day.”

What do you do in that situation? The needs in this world are huge, and if you are reading this you are probably one of the privileged few.

I love my cup of coffee a day. I would find it hard to give that up for any charity. I need to provide for my own family, pay my own bills, save for my future, and I also want to put aside some money to follow my dreams.

In one way I would like to give every cent that I have to help a child climb out of poverty, and to help a girl escape child marriage (this is what the guy in the beanie was about), and to help a woman in a developing nation start her own business, and to boost medical research. The list goes on and on. The number of charities in Australia is doubling every decade. Pro bono Australia counted 56,894 charities in Australia in 2016. We can’t give to them all.

What are we to do?

One of my major breakthroughs for this issue was to realise that it is not my responsibility to solve every problem in the world.

I can’t get my head around how many people there are in the world. There are so many people. My brain can handle the thought of ten, one hundred, one thousand people. I have at least a thousand people that I know personally. I think I can almost hold that number of faces, personalities, in my head. After that it gets fuzzy. When I’m driving home of an evening I look at all the cars and realise that each person in each car is a personality with their own dreams and trials and families, hurts and loves – I tell you it spins me out a little.

If I gave every cent of my own money to charity it wouldn’t help that much. But if everyone in the developed world gave a little of their money to these charities, then we could do a lot to make the world a better place.The charity-muggers are doing an important job if they get someone who is not giving to start giving. It’s a numbers game.

Let me tell you what I decided to do, not to blow my own horn but to maybe help you to make your own decisions. (And remember, we’ll be applying this to time later.)

I decided how much of my income I was going to give away. I’ve decided that 10% of my gross income is a good way to go. I’ve heard of someone who lives off 10% and gives away 90% and, to be honest, I’d like to get there one day. But 10% is a good place to start. Sometimes I give a little more out of my savings, especially when I feel like money is getting a hold on me. Giving is an excellent way to combat both greed and fear that God won’t provide. But that’s another story.

Once I had decided how much I was going to give I looked at my personal values and found a number of organisations that suited my values. I’m going to give you a general idea so that you can hopefully use it to make your own list. I give to local and to international mission, I sponsor some children in the developing world, I give to a non-profit that supports victims of child abuse and one that supports research into cancer, and I support my local church. That’s it.

I made the decision thoughtfully and prayerfully. I took my time over it. And I revisit it occasionally when I have time and brain-space. But for most of the time the decision is made.

So what did I do when the friendly man in the beanie attacked me with his very worthy cause? I said no.

At first, (and this turned out to be not a good idea) I tried to tell him that I gave already to five charities (yes, I forgot some) and that I had made my decision, but he was having none of it.

“That’s great! You’re just the kind of person I want to talk to! If you give to five, why not six?” he said.

Then I realised that I didn’t need to justify to him, or to anyone, why I was not giving to his particular charity, worthy though it might be. His charity was an SEP (someone else’s problem). I have decided where I am going to give and that’s the end of the story.

I’m sure he gets knocked back all the time and that he can deal with it. The person I have to live with is me. When I was trying to make each decision about giving on the spur of the moment I was pushed around by my own emotions, my guilt, my compassion. It was not pretty.

I’m very sure that God doesn’t want us living under a cloud of condemnation all the time. In fact, he says so: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

I don’t need to feel guilty because I can’t solve the world’s problems. Solving the world’s problems is not my job.

Giving is excellent. Giving is my job. It is good for me, it is good for each of us, and it is good for the world. Let’s make a decision about how much we will give, and where we will give. And then give. But let’s not get hung up on feeling guilty that we can’t be the saviour of the world.

“Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38

Next post I’ll tell you how I transferred this idea to my time management issues, how it helped me say no to invitations to worthy causes. In the meantime, do you have any ‘charity mugger’ stories? Have you been a mugger yourself? How do you feel about saving the world?

This post is part of a series I am writing about what I have learned about saying no. I’d love to have you join me on this journey. If you want to make sure you never miss a post, you can sign up on WordPress and the post will be sent to your email address every week without fail.

You’ll notice some special art in this series. If you want to see more of it you can find the artist on instagram @deteor42

If you would like to hear more about my writing journey as it comes to the pointy end with my first novel (a cosy mystery), please drop me a line on rijamos@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my newsletter list. The newsletters are more writing focussed – what I’m doing with my writing, and what I’m reading myself. I look forward to hearing from you.