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I am a University student in my final year. I had a paid internship over the summer which has turned into part time work throughout the year.

Recently I have noticed myself placing a monetary value on my time. If I have to run an errand, I’ll be thinking about however much money I could have earned in that time.

I have no partner or children, so not much of a reason to give myself leisure time. I also really enjoy my work.

While money is somewhat tight because I’m a student, I don’t need to work these hours - there’s no need for me to be focusing on the opportunity cost for everything I do.

How do I stop placing this value on everything I spend time doing?

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    I am afraid this is a psychology question, and not quite PF. – JoeTaxpayer Oct 9 at 17:59
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    I have no partner or children, so not much of a reason to give myself leisure time - Let yourself be selfish. Leisure time can be about what you want, not just about other people. – dwizum Oct 9 at 20:45
  • @dwizum definitely agreed, but the only person holding me accountable is me. Perhaps I need to organise activities with people who will question why I’m absent... – Tim Oct 9 at 21:37
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    Is it ‘pretend’ lost earnings, or would you have actually been able to do some work during those excursions to earn money? If it’s pretend earnings, consider treating it as a rounding error on the pretend earnings lost during the 8h or so that you sleep. – Lawrence Oct 10 at 0:20
  • @Lawrence it varies. Occasionally I’ve had to leave work early when there was still plenty to do. Most of the time it’s optional. – Tim Oct 10 at 1:03
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Stop pretending your time is valuable and get a hobby.

Your time, actually, is not valuable. You have some skill-set that an employer will pay some amount of money to you in exchange for you to perform that service to your employer's benefit and it's very common for employers to purchase that service in blocks of time. Your time is not valuable, your service is.

Just because you make $60 per hour (for simplicity) doesn't mean it costs you an extra $15 to drive 15 minutes out of your way to buy gas. It doesn't cost you anything to drive 15 minutes out of the way apart from the expenditure of the fuel in your car that will be used in that drive and the wear and tear on the vehicle; your time isn't part of that. No one is paying for that time. No one is paying you to sleep. No one is paying you to eat. Time is not valuable; skills, services and products are.

You would be way better of just sleeping during the time you spend calculating how valuable your time is when you're making decisions about groceries.

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Curing your OCD is probably off-topic for Personal Finance & money, and I'm not sure I can do it anyway. However, I propose redirecting your thoughts.

When you're running that errand, and start "thinking about however much money (you) could have earned in that time", ask yourself instead: "Would I actually be at my money-earning job if I weren't running this errand?"

If you would be, then ask yourself if the opportunity cost of the errand is higher than the dollar value of working those hours.

But if you wouldn't be working anyway, force yourself to contemplate the opportunity cost of running this errand vs., for example, washing the dishes, playing video games while drinking beer or even exercising.

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Agree with RonJohn. Only other thing I would add is that you need to value the errand itself accurately as well. e.g. Presumably you need clean clothes, if you go and do laundry and view that solely as a cost you need to account for what the alternative would be-- are you hiring a laundry service to collect your clothes and wash/dry and fold them? What about the value of exercising, presuming it enhances your health and well being and possible increases your life expectancy how much is that worth to you? Buying groceries-- what's the alternative? Are you eating out every night? How does that affect your health?

Also valuing leisure time as a way of reducing stress and improving your mental health is a good idea too.

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As much as this may be an unpopular opinion on PF & M, you need to make sure you're managing your thought process based on what's important to you as a person - and that may not be money. Ultimately, money is a means to an end, not the end itself. Many people place a lot of focus on finances - and while that may be arguably better than the opposite (placing no focus on them) it can also be very consuming. Remember - Dollars is not the only currency you're spending. Thought bandwidth is currency as well. The mental time you spend every day trying to figure out if an errand is "worth it" from a finance perspective is mental energy you could have spent on anything else you want.

If you're doing well enough financially to live a life you're comfortable with, and you understand the financial risks you are (or are not) taking well enough to be comfortable with them, you need to decide: Are you pursuing financial optimization to the extent that it's costing you elsewhere in life? Or are you pursuing it because you actually find it enjoyable? If it's not enjoyable, stop doing it. And get a hobby - find something you are actually passionate about and it will naturally start to consume your thoughts and your spare time.

  • This makes a lot of sense - I do lot to avoid mental tax (e.g. have a fairly strict meal plan for each week so I don’t have to decide what to buy and cook and eat). I think worrying about what I’m doing to this level is something I need to try and move away from as well. – Tim Oct 9 at 21:36
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Opportunity cost can be an important factor in decision making. Decisions generally involve trade-offs. Even a "free lunch" costs your time of attendance.

However, the cost is not always monetary. There are non-monetary opportunity costs as well. When you are at work, you are not doing other activities.

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