[ Question ]

What are your favourite ways to buy time?

by willbradshaw1 min read2nd Nov 202131 comments


Personal developmentTime-money tradeoffs
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I'm a big fan in principle of spending money to save time, but I've only recently started to really search for new ways to do it. I think the Forum community in aggregate probably has a lot of great ways to buy time that I haven't thought of yet, and I'm keen to collect new ideas.

What are some ways you buy time that you think are particularly effective? What are some ways you buy time that you think other Forum users might not have thought of?

I'm especially interested in interventions you've tried and found valuable that are a bit wacky/out-there.

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13 Answers

  • Order groceries online! Maybe this is obvious but I have the impression not as many ppl do this as they should. Saves me at least 1 hr (usually closer to 2) for < $20
  • Pay for a bunch of disk space. I find it generates a lot of overhead to have files in different places. For me, the solution has been a high performance workstation plus remote desktop forwarding to my laptop when I travel so I can always have the same disk and workspace
  • Buy more paid apps/ premium upgrades/ digital subscriptions. I haven’t done the math on this so might not be as good as I think, but I have the impression that time spent watching adverts ads up and that in general apps are underpriced/ people have irrational behavior around eg not buying the $5 app they would have been excited for if free. A big one for me is Premium Youtube which lets you listen to videos with the screen off and gives me access to all youtube lectures as if they were podcasts (there are a surprising number of high quality informational videos that can be listened to!)
  • Related to above: make slack time more useful by listening to stuff. Mix of podcast, audiobooks, youtube and text to speech of articles. I use a mix of Pocket, Speechify and Voicedream for the latter. I invested in noise-cancelling earbuds and (separately) found some pretty cheap earbuds you can wear in the shower
  • extra battery packs and unlimited data plan to allow for work time in more places. For same reason, laptop with long battery life. I couldnt find anything better than the newest macbook pro M1.
  • pay for flights at times which work better and reduce time in transit. Your comfort/ restedness affects productivity. Also plane wifi.
  • give yourself a budget for productivity experiments that feel speculative. Many of the above were discovered by spending that budget, a lot of other things failed but its worth it for the wins
  • stop worrying about late fees (within reason). Most of the time the fees for things like late registration at a uni are small relative to not needing to occupy your brain with those sorts of deadlines
  • pay for excercise/ hobbies that increase your wellbeing + energy. For me this is climbing
  • buy extra of things you lose frequently. This is an embarrassing one but I cannot for the life of me keep track of sleep masks, for example. I have like >6 pairs now lol, but there is usually one when I need it. If you are scatterbrained like me, this is worth it for cheap things.
  • corollary of above: don’t waste time looking for cheap things you’ve lost, just buy another.

I think I have a few more I’m forgetting but I will stop there for now.

50% of why I got YouTube Premium just now is because of your recommendation. Thanks!

3eca25dWell I hope it works out for ya! Thanks haha In case you are looking for content and have interests similar to me I like the following for audio: * Institute for Advanced Study lectures (random fun science) * Yannic Kilcher (ML paper summaries) * Wendover Productions/ Kurzgesagt (random probably not as useful but interesting science and econ funfacts) * LiveOverflow (Security) And i find that searching for random academics names is more likely to turn up lectures/ convos than podcasts
3BrianTan25dThanks for the recommendations! I don't think I'll listen to these, though Wendover Productions looks cool. I might try listening to some EA Global videos or GPI lectures via audio on YouTube premium.

+1 for ordering groceries online - Tried this for the first time last week. For me, not having to expend the time & mental energy searching for the things I need was well worth the small financial cost. For those in the US and Canada who still like to get out of the house, Instacart offers grocery pickup.

Hire a cleaner.

My own personal cleaner update: If you buy more cleaning time than you actually need, you can have them do assorted cleaning-adjacent tasks, like making beds and taking out trash.

Today my cleaners broke down my Amazon boxes for me and I am so happy about it.

At the recent EA Global conference, I decided to experiment with getting a hotel very close to the venue, rather than a cheaper Airbnb further away.

I think this paid off very well. I had more time at the conference, got more sleep, and didn't need to carry nearly so much stuff around. I was much more able to go back to the hotel and work when I had downtime in my schedule. I think I probably saved 1-2 hours of low-value time per day.

In addition to the time saved, having a room across the street from the venue also saved significant cognitive effort / attention, which noticeably improved my conference experience compared to, say, a 20-minute commute. Overall I would probably pay at least $100/day in future to have accommodation very close to conference venues.

[Edited to increase the amount per day I would pay.]

  • Delivery: for groceries (from Instacart), restaurant food (from ubereats), convenience store stuff (from Amazon), etc
  • Automation/outsourcing: more prepared food (either from restaurants or grocery stores) instead of cooking
  • Redundancy (so I'm not caught off guard and in need of doing an errand): for batteries, chargers, extra food, etc; also if you need something to be productive and you're not sure which version you need, just buy a few versions at once and eat the costs instead of buying one at a time
  • Comfort (so I can work harder/longer without getting distracted): good chair with back support, good mattress, large desk that can convert between sit/stand, acuvue oasys daily contacts
  • Home workout equipment (so don't need to waste time driving to the gym)
  • Upgrades to avoid wait times/ads: Youtube premium, ubereats premium, etc
  • Not searching for great deals but instead just buying quickly and eating the difference in cost
  • The big one: a place that has the following features:
    • no roommates (less distractions and easier to sleep)
    • in a quiet area
    • large-ish/multiple rooms (less claustrophobic feeling/easier to focus, and also easier to compartmentalize by room)
    • close to a park/other green space or blue space (I like going for walks in these sorts of areas, and closer means less time to get there)
  • Minimising travel time by
    • living closer to work
    • working from home
    • taking more expensive but faster/nearer to you flights
  • Minimising years I need to spend working by "buying" perpetual income/lower living costs by putting money in index funds or a mortgage
  • Paying for faster services instead of using cheaper free alternatives. e.g: getting a video appointment with a private GP instead of waiting weeks and hours on  the day for an NHS (UK public health) appointment
  • Choosing to work at a lower paying but lower time commitment job (40hr vs 55hr work weeks are a big deal)
  • Buying a $15 sleep mask + ear plugs = higher quality sleep = less time spent sleeping


I think saving money and putting it into index funds perhaps the best way you can buy time with money. It will literally save you decades of 40 hour weeks over the course of your life.

Get the fastest internet you can with good service. 

High-quality laptops of course.

If your job involves a lot of videocalls, get at least a decent headset with a microphone, and maybe a professional standalone microphone too. I know people with $300+ headphones but use their laptop's built-in mic, which feels irrational to me.

I know lots of people swear by external monitors, though I haven't found them that helpful myself.

I know people with $300+ headphones but use their laptop's built-in mic, which feels irrational to me.

This seems easy to explain with people caring about their experience much more than the other person's? (Or, less cynically, it's easy to notice and fix things that annoy you, rather than things annoying someone else)

6Linch1moI think this makes sense if you're in an office environment. If you WFH and you are frequently in 1-1 internet meetings, your microphone quality should impact the quality of the call at least as much as the quality of your headphones, realistically probably more since $10 earbuds are "good enough" and the built-in mics very much aren't. And the call quality doesn't just impact your partner, it makes your work and social interactions harder too! Especially for someone like me who has a pretty high opinion of the quality of my own words. I do have an accent so maybe this is more salient to me, but I have certainly been annoyed by native speakers' low-quality/non-existent microphones before, and I expect it to have decreased their productivity at the call at least half as much as it decreased my productivity. This seems more plausible to me. Another possibility is that people spend lots of money on headsets for reasons other than videocall quality, eg for listening to music or for white noise cancellation, which again seems more likely pre-pandemic and in an office setting.

Hiring an outsider (e.g. a coach or a psychologist) to go through all relevant and most time consuming parts of your work / life. Just explaining each stream to an outsider is likely to help clarify your priorities, leave out less important ones and make sure you really are doing the most important things.

Also, hiring someone to support working on any addictive tendencies. Intentional and supported work to improve your self-directedness is likely to pay off.

These might not save time immediately but save a lot of time over the years.

I'm curious to hear more on an example of hiring an outsider, if you have one. I'm not sure I can see the value of it. 

I've done therapy and it had immense value for me to work out through my issues. However, it seems like you're talking about a different scenario here. Perhaps more in the life coach realm? 

Some ideas I came up with when I previously researched this question. Sorry if these are redundant with other answers. From a US suburban/urban work-from-home perspective:

1.) Get a dishwasher if you don't have one.

2.) Get the fastest possible laptop (assuming most of your work is done online).

3.) Instacart - ~$40/mo, to save me ~3hrs/mo (good idea as long as you value your time at >$13/hr)

4.) Uber/Lyft instead of driving, to save time spent driving and parking - ~$200/mo to save ~4hrs/mo (good idea as long as you value time at >$50/hr)

5.) Cleaning service every week - ~$550/mo to save me ~9hrs/mo (good idea as long as you value your time at >$60/hr)

6.) Use GrubHub more (~10x a month, ~$30ea) - $300/mo, to save ~5hrs/mo (good idea as long as you value time at >$60/hr)

7.) Get other chores done via Taskrabbit - ~$180/mo, to save ~3hrs/mo (good idea as long as you value time at >$60/hr)

Meal replacement shakes like Queal, Huel, Soylent or Jimmy Joy are a big one for me.

  • I mostly have the sweet flavors for breakfast and save maybe ~15 minutes each day
  • (different brands have very different tastes imo, so just try out some)
  • (pro tip: you can also prepare the shakes with little water and eat a creamy version of it - add nut butter or berries for perfection)
  • (Queal was co-founded by an EA and I think they still offer discounts for GWWC members and group organizers)

Relevant website for those who have specific dietary goals or requirements (formerly DIY Soylent): https://www.completefoods.co/

Day care for Jeremy the two year old!

Have you hired a digital assistant? Multiple of my coworkers have, though I think reviews are mixed.

I'd definitely be interested in talking 1:1 with someone who's had success finding a good digital assistant. This (and other "hire a person to do stuff" solutions) seem to me like they require a decent amount of tacit knowledge to pull off successfully.

Use flightfox to buy flights. Opt for a human to book your flights and trust them to make decisions about money.

Surely not for everyone, but visiting a sex worker from time to time helped me to be less distracted from and more relaxed about dating. It’s legal in my state, and my experiences were pretty wholesome, so ymmv.

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I think it'd be cool if someone pulled the ideas from answers here into a spreadsheet, maybe categorised them somehow, and other people comment with +1s or -1s (if they've tried the thing and found it worthwhile or not) or any tips. Then the maintainer of the spreadsheet can sometimes reorder the items by which one has the most net +1s.  

(This is something me, at least one other EA Funds person, and I think at least one other Rethink Priorities person previously thought we'd find useful.)

Here are other lists that would be worth consulting for that purpose:

(The quoted bit is quoting from the first link's list of other links.)

Yup, agreed some sort of collation sounds useful (the +1s thing is a nice extra but might not be worth the additional effort).

I think I'm getting reasonably good at noticing opportunities to avoid physical tasks via money (cleaner, laundry service, Uber, buy duplicates of everything for travel, etc.). My biggest time sink right now is digital admin tasks (finances, weekly review & general planning infrastructure, emails). I find these more difficult to think of good solutions to, so if anyone has concrete, detailed suggestions for how to circumvent these it would be very valuable to me.

Possibly of interest to people here: An abandoned first stab at drafting a post on "What stops EA-aligned people spending money on themselves?"

Good catch! Should work now.

(Given that info, it appears that just the title alone earned me a strong upvote, haha. Hope that person isn't disappointed by the tiny scraps of actual content.)

We have someone doing some of our household-work (cleaning, some ironing, folding clothes, etc) for us. It‘s only 6 hours a month for her. We „save“ rather 10 hours - she‘s faster. Even with less money, I would still love to pay her a good wage, because it really saves some time.