I had to laugh a few months ago. I was riding with a time-strapped friend and we were chatting about the latest pair wheelset that promised to give you an extra 10 watts (or rather, save you 10 watts). She had a big race on the schedule in a few months, and she was considering shelling out the $3000 to get a pair.
“It’s free speed,” she told me. Then, we both cracked up, because actually, to be precise, it’s $3000 worth of speed. While that may have been no problem with her budget, for many people, that’s a lot of cash. Especially when you’re already a few hundred bucks deep for the race entry, other gear, hotel room, travel, et cetera.
And more to the point, even if she wasn’t cash-strapped, the fact that we were out for a ride that was already being cut short because of another commitment she had, it clearly demonstrated that she was time-strapped.
In some ways, we’ve gone away from the idea that time equals money. Despite the fact that she was time-poor, it didn’t occur to her that $3000 spent on wheels could be spent to buy back time instead.
$3000 for a wheelset might save a few watts of work, sure, but $3000 worth of housecleaning? That’s a year’s worth of cleaning time that could equate into extra training. $400 shoes might buy back a minute on the marathon course, but $400 worth of babysitting? That could potentially buy back 30 hours of extra training (or naps, meal prepping or other recovery), which would likely translate to a much greater return on investment on race day. And with either example, if you’re an hourly employee or freelancer, that could be a day (or days) of work you could skip in order to train more or have a clearer race week.
Maybe the wheels or shoes are worth it. But whatever the price tag in question, the question I like to ask is: “Should I buy time instead?” Sometimes, the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is that I do need the new shoes/wheels/watch/whatever. But it’s a good question to ask before hitting ‘buy now.’
There are a few ways to look at the idea of buying time:
Purchasing time back
Whenever I’m considering a purchase, especially a pricey one, I try to consider it in terms of time, not just dollars. You can look at it as a cost-per-use, how many hours of work it will take to afford the item, or consider what helpful service you could buy for the same amount.
For instance, this summer, we bought a Roomba. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a $500 athletic purchase, this seems like a household expense. But… we have a dog that sheds, a carpet in our condo that we’re required to have, and two very sweaty, dusty athletes who traipse in after workouts daily. We were easily spending two to three hours a week on vacuuming and sweeping, and still weren’t on top of keeping the floor grit- and fur-free.
Enter the Roomba. In the now four months since we’ve had it, it’s saved us around 40 hours of vacuuming and sweeping. That’s a lot of training that we’ve gained back! Sure, it’s only about an hour a week for each of us, but that’s actually huge in the context of an annual training plan. That’s an extra 52 hours of training per year, with one $500 spend.
We have good friends with two kids who pay a babysitting for every single Thursday night so that they can have their date night long ride together. They may not have the latest and greatest mountain bikes or shiniest, speediest new gear. But they do have an extra three hours to ride together every week, and that’s because when they were working out their budgets, they realized they’d rather pay a sitter every Thursday for a year than to buy new bikes that they’d never be able to ride together.
Saving time by skimping
The flip side of this equation revolves around working less. (Woohoo!) Now, not everyone will have this option, I realize. There are plenty of people who are locked into their hours at work and simply don’t have the ability to cut back. But if you’re freelance, gig-based, hourly, or have the option of taking unpaid leave time, then this may be a way that you can buy back time.
Simply put, the idea here is that you figure out how to save money in your household/lifestyle budget so that your need for cash decreases and you’re able to work less hours/take on less gigs or assignments to give yourself more time for training, recovery, et cetera.
This is a great route for younger athletes hoping to go pro—working bigger hours in the offseason, then potentially taking fewer hours during base phases, and even taking time off altogether in the biggest weeks of racing. But there are plenty of adult recreational athletes who have this option available to them. We just tend to… hate this idea, really.
It’s a tough one, especially for women who tend towards being overachievers, or are the type of women who want to say YES to everything. It’s easy to say yes to those couple extra hours, that one extra article, the one new client, the one extra consult. But those yeses come at a price: You’re saying no to a few hours of training or sleep or meal prep. You’re saying no to everything that isn’t that job.
Is it worth it?
I’m a huge fan of looking at current expenses—I like using Mint, a free app that can pull info from all of your accounts together to give you a better look—and noting if there’s a lot of fat to trim. Maybe you only bought one pair of running shoes this year, and $400 made sense. But maybe, you’ve spent thousands on gear that you didn’t need.
You may even notice that you’ve been spending a ton on ‘convenience’ like takeout meals because you’re so busy with the extra work you’ve taken on. What if you stopped taking on extra projects, and effectively bought back the time to cook healthy meals for yourself again? (This, by the way, is me.)
Buying new gear may be a priority for you. But if you are on any kind of budget or are constantly feeling time-crunched, it might be time to think about how you’re spending, and if there are other ways to prioritize dollars to buy back time on and off the race course!
Before you go, for more on new gear purchases, check out our book, Becoming A Consummate Athlete, right here: