You Use Dollars to Budget? That’s Crazy!

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Most of us don’t figure out what an hour of our time is worth to employers or what an hour’s time will pay for. When I mentor I typically talk about long term and short term goals along with career management. As part of that I always bring up personal finance and budgeting. While budgeting may seem out of scope for goal setting, it is directly tied to career aspirations and goals. Most people don’t work to work, rather they work to pay the bills and support the lifestyle they want to lead. They want time to pursue their passions but don’t have a clue what an hour of their time buys.

For those who work to live, I ask them to consider using hours worked rather than take home pay as their budgeting device. For instance:

  • If I make $12.50 per hour and take home $10 per hour then one of my hours is worth $10.
  • f my rent is $600 per month, I am paying 60 hours (or 1 ½ weeks) for rent.
  • If I am buying or leasing a car at $200 per month, insurance is $100 per month and I am spending $100 on gas, then the car is costing me 40 hours plus any maintenance that is needed.     

There goes 2 ½ weeks of my month and I haven’t even gotten to other essentials, like utilities and food. Where it gets fun is if I smoke or like visiting Starbucks. I have to work an hour for a pack of cigarettes and if I am a 2 pack/day person I am working 2 hours daily to support the habit. So long as I only go to Starbucks once daily and get a moderate drink with no treats I am only spending 20 or 30 minutes of my time for a coffee drink.

Once you know what you time is worth to your employer and what it will buy you, you can start making decision based on how much time it will cost. You can also think of gaining skills and a way to increase you value and shorten the time you have to work to pay your bills. You can decide whether the new car is worth the hours you’ll spend to keep it in the driveway. You can also decide if the nicer apartment or car fits into your short term and long term goals. For instance, is a nicer place to live or newer car worth more to you than a vacation on a tropical beach? If you want to own a business, is going out for a cup of coffee or hamburger worth delaying your business by 5 or 10 years?

Two things you can control are the value you provide to a potential employer and how much you spend to survive. As you gain skills an employer wants you can increase your hourly pay. That means the time you spend learning something new provides you direct value. The money you don’t spend on something allows you to decide to take extra time off or to spend that money on something more valuable to you. Either way you are in control.

Do grow your skills. Consider visiting The US Government workforce website at This site provides information on what skills are needed for what jobs at what levels. A good place to start looking at what is possible and what skills will move you where you want to go.  

Do figure out what specific skills hiring managers are looking for. Visit APQC’s website ( and look at the process framework. This describes the process steps businesses need people they hire to perform. Determine what you know and what you would find interesting to do and start learning those specific skills. Figure out what industry sounds most interesting to you, or has the most jobs in your area and find a process you would be interested in doing.

By thinking about your time paying for things you want and need, you can start thinking about what you want to spend your time to pay for and how you can make your time more valuable to others. For me that comes down to whether I would like to go out for lunch now or to lay on an exotic beach this summer.

Andy Ruth 
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program