The 20-Hour Pair of Jeans



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Would you work 20 hours to get a pair of jeans?

The Story of the Jeans

I asked this question to one of the young adults I was working with at a runaway shelter many years ago. I was working on my master's degree in mental health counseling and psychology, and as part of it I worked with kids who were in the shelter’s addictions management program, as well as some of the kids with anger issues.

One of the kids I was talking to that day was telling me his troubles: how he didn't have enough money to buy cool stuff for his girlfriend, and then have some fun outside as well.

I said, “Tell me something. You’ve got some nice new jeans there. Did you steal them?”

He replied, "No, no, I didn't steal them."

“Okay, are there any sales going on?” I asked.

"No, Mr. Wade."

“Okay, how much did those jeans cost?”

“The jeans cost $100.”

“Okay, how much do you make per hour?”

I think the number was somewhere around $6.50, $7 an hour. Bear in mind, this was about 20 years ago. Then we figured that it was about $5 after tax – I'm rounding it to make life simple here.

So I said, “Okay, so if you make $5 an hour, how many hours does it take you to get a $100 pair of jeans?"

"Oh, man, Mr. Wade..."

I said, “Yeah, you just worked 20 hours, dude. It took you your entire week just to get your one pair of jeans. You’ve got no money to take your girl out. You’ve got no money to buy other cool stuff. All of this for this pair of jeans that you didn't even really want in the first place.”

I'd heard him talking about the jeans before, how he didn't really like the jeans. He thought they were kind of cool, but he wasn't sure. He’d bought them almost as a dare, because someone had told him he couldn’t afford those jeans.

He had just spent 20 hours of his life working for something he really didn't care about that much. He wasn’t clear on what he wanted, so he’d wasted his money and couldn’t afford to do other things he did want.

What's Your 20-Hour Pair of Jeans?

I want you to ask yourself: what's your 20-hour pair of jeans? Not in terms of dollars, but in terms of the hours you worked? What are the things you're buying costing you in time?

This is one of the concepts that I was able to make a connection with years ago as I was studying many different authors, everybody from Henry David Thoreau, who went to Walden and lived deliberately in the woods, to books like Live Rich, Die Broke by Stephen M. Pollan. 

I was trying to get a sense of what I really wanted to do, and how much it would cost. As an entrepreneur, I simply need to make enough money to afford my lifestyle. Once I can afford my lifestyle for the month, I don't need to work anymore.

But every purchase I make that I don't really need means I have to work more time.

Now, if you've got truckloads of money and it doesn't matter to you, then you don’t have to worry. But most of us make a certain amount of income per month, and after that we’ve got to really hustle for stuff.

If you're an employee, maybe it's the amount you already get paid versus what you need to do extra work for. It's your salary versus sales commissions, for example.

If you're an entrepreneur, maybe it's your steadier business that you know you can bring on a regular basis, versus the business you really have to work for. It might only take you 20 hours a week to maintain your steady business income if you're a solopreneur, an entrepreneur or a small business owner. But to go a lot above that, you've really got to start hustling and working extra hours.

Your Money to Time Calculator.png

Thinking in Terms of Time, Not Money

When I look at any sort of expense – let's say it's a $500 car payment – I don't see $500. I see a certain number of hours. When I used to make $25 an hour, I saw a $500 car payment as 20 hours of my time.

Depending on what you make, it might not matter as much. If you make $500 an hour, you might think, "That's just an hour of my time for my car.” In that case, no problem. It all depends where you're at in life and in your business.

However much you earn though, the question is really whether you want to invest that amount of time. You quickly start realizing that you have a limited amount of time; there are only a certain number of hours available for you to simply live.

Another point to remember is that if you're operating at a certain level of income, whether it’s a fixed salary or an income that doesn't change very much, once your expenditures go beyond what you're making, you start building up debt. And that debt is earning interest, which at some point in the future is going to steal time from you.

What it all boils down to is this: when you're looking at a purchase that you're not sure about making, think about how many hours it's going to take you to earn that money. With that in mind, do you really want it?

If you start asking yourself that question with every purchase you make, especially the big ones like the house or the car, you might surprise yourself with how much money you save.

Where Are You Investing Your Time?

It's so easy to get so caught up in thinking “I want this," and "I need that," and "this is the greatest car ever.” But as somebody who routinely keeps cars for usually at least 10 years, I can tell you that the sexiest thing about a car to me is when it’s working fine and there’s no payment left on it. 

I encourage you to look at your expenses and see what each thing is costing you in time.

If you use software to track your spending, such as Quicken, don't just look at your expenses and how much they cost you, look at whether they are worth it. Is it something you want to invest your time in?

Say you make $10 an hour after taxes, and that DVR feature cost you $10. That's an hour of your time. If those premium cable channels cost you another $50, that's 5 more hours of your time. If you go to happy hour and you get three drinks for $30, that's 3 hours of your time just to get those 3 drinks

People say time is money, but the reverse is true: money is time.

When you buy something, and especially when you commit to longer contracts such as a home loan or car loans, make sure it’s something you really want to commit to.

Maybe you’ll decide to rent a house for a little bit, to see if you like it. Or maybe you could lease a car for a while, to see if you really need one. Even if it costs a little bit for the weekend, it can help you see if you really like that car enough to invest all the time it takes to buy it.

Moving Forward

I hope this serves you. I hope that when you see things for sale, you don’t just see the price tag, but you also see the time tag. What is it going to cost you to afford the things that you most want?

If you'd like a tool that can help you with this question, you can go to You'll find a time-to-money calculator there that will help you work out how much time it costs you to purchase, own and enjoy the things you want.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you really enjoyed it, make sure to let your friends know about the 4-Day Work Week, so you have someone to enjoy your Fridays off with! If you haven't already, subscribe to the audio or the video of the podcast.

As always, I look forward to helping you make more money in less time, doing what you do best, so you can create your 4-Day Work Week Lifestyle to enjoy with your friends and family, and have fun more often.




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