Time is money, lunch is time

Angela Benedetti pointed me toward an interesting exercise in considering money as time, money as money, and how writers convert time into money by spending time. Camille LaGuire makes a point about the time spent doing something as mundane as making a brown-bag lunch costs writing time, and a meal purchased out can be a relative bargain. In part, she says:

But writers are in the business of creating assets.

We don’t have to buy them with money. We can buy them with time.

Therefore the time and effort involved in brown-bagging it to save a few bucks on lunch could cost you in terms of your ability to write a book. I did a calculation once that the time and effort that goes into making a bagged lunch — shopping, fixing and cleaning up — costs me about 500 finished words of writing time, and if I valued that book at $5000 in bonds (5k being an average advance I could expect to get for the book) the darned bagged lunch cost me $40.

We won’t even discuss the likelihood of a writer in my genre getting that sort of advance. We’ll stick with discussing time. The rest of Camille’s discussion is here.

I don’t know how she arrived at that figure in terms of time, because I’m not looking at the sandwich and fixings as the only time-consumers in the transaction. I think those are incremental costs on something I’m going to be doing anyway.

I have a family: they go through a substantial amount of milk, bread, and whatever else is going into the meals for the week. They are a hungry lot, so I’m in the store anyway, because no matter what my time may be worth in current or future earnings, my cash is limited and the Marital Unit inclined to buy five-gallon containers of things we will only eat in pint quantities, “because it’s a bargain, honey!”

How much time extra does it take to drop the packet of sliced turkey in the cart? Surely not enough time to write a paragraph. The bread is already on my list and I own the mayonnaise. Building the sandwich is a moment’s work at home.

The Locusts I Live With want dinner on a regular basis, I like to eat too, and cooking is a creative outlet for me. The time shouldn’t be counted against writing time. Besides, I fling a pan in the oven and the next thirty minutes are mine! Since neither the MU nor I are especially adept at portion control, there’s almost always a serving or two of dinner left, which goes to work with me the next day. Where’s the incremental time in that? Particularly since the Junior Locusts are the clean-up squad. This option isn’t available to all writers, but trust me, I’d rent them out real cheap some days.

There’s an argument to be made as well on cooking preserving one’s writing ability, if one reads The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. To sustain your creativity, she explains, you must replenish your artist’s soul with small treats and expressions of creativity. That’s a pretty good argument for a nice meal in itself, since cooking is edible art for me, and brownies maintain my soul, if not my waistline.

So, Camille, I will leave you to your lunch out, which you value differently than I do, and Julia and I will enjoy what’s in my brown bag some days, and a lunch out the other days, when it’s a treat. And we’ll save you a brownie.

3 responses to “Time is money, lunch is time

  1. Hi, PD — thanks for the mention of my blog!

    I responded on Goodreads (which is where I saw your post) but since that doesn’t post over here, I thought I’d post here too.

    I think you missed an important aspect of my point — I wasn’t talking about pleasures or lifestyle choices. I was talking about the things you do explicitly to save money. For some people that will be packing a lunch, for other it will be other things. (I assure you I spend much more time cooking than I do writing — always. It’s passion #1.)

    The point of the overall post was that most writers undervalue their work. They do things to save money which costs them in terms of writing time, because they don’t consider their work to be as valuable as the money in question. (It was part of a series about getting ready to write full time to make a living, or choosing not to.)

    • I have read several of your posts on this series, and think the Aunt Una exercise is interesting. And I do understand about false economies regarding time–I hire someone to clean because I loathe scrubbing bathrooms and generally write or edit to the sound of someone else running the water. However, I also have the discretionary income to do so. Your example came across as severely overstating what you can accomplish in those few minutes you’ve saved, and completely disregards the time spent to do it the other way. If I go out to lunch, deduct travel time out and back as completely unproductive, though it may be social, a benefit unrelated to writing. Even if I have the laptop open on the far side of the plate, the atmosphere and noise further diminish productivity. I spend a few minutes preparing, and then I can have peace, quiet, lunch, and without travel time, twenty additional minutes of quality writing. I spend five minutes to gain forty, and keep current dollars in my own pocket. All in all, I think I and my brown bag come out ahead.

      Thanks for dropping by.

  2. I see where you’re coming from, but that’s not what i said either.

    In any case, the point of your blog post is well taken — it is critical to look at _your_ life and _your_ needs. And your point about flinging a pan in the oven and “The next thirty minutes are mine!” is exactly what I’m talking about. It’s NEVER going to be the same for all people.

    (I wonder if I was clear — the whole thing about the sandwich was “what should you do if you have the money to invest?” and not at all “how do you save money?” And I did make a big deal that it only matters if you can convert the time. Maybe I should revisit that post this Tuesday, because the sandwich thing it was not given as a recommendation for what anyone else should do, and I’m really surprised at the reaction. I must have dropped the ball completely.)

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