NEW YORK – Time is money, the old adage goes. But many Americans value their money more than their time, according to a new survey from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). The survey explores whether Americans are more likely to opt for extra money in their pockets or extra time on their hands. Whether it’s paying a service to clean your home while you’re at work, taking a more expensive direct flight to save time, or driving a longer route to avoid tolls, everyday people choose between spending their hard-earned cash or their valuable time.
While a majority of Americans (59 percent) say cost and time are equally important when it comes to purchasing decisions, nearly three times as many say the cost (30 percent) is more important than time and energy involved (11 percent). That’s according to a new telephone survey of 1,018 adults conducted in March 2017 for the AICPA by Harris Poll in support of National Financial Capability Month.
Coming off a recession, it is not surprising that we see so many Americans favoring cost, cautiously making decisions to protect their money. In fact, while most Americans (61 percent) say budgeting time and finances are equally important, Americans are more likely to say budgeting their finances (24 percent) is more important than budgeting their time (15 percent). Fascinatingly, this approximate ratio holds up across all generations and stays fairly consistent regardless of retirement status and household income.
“Every day, people make purchasing decisions which factor the cost to them in both time and money. Advancements in personal technology, coupled with the rise in services that offer ways to outsource or expedite tasks, have ushered in an on-demand culture that has the potential to lure them into spending beyond their means for the sake of convenience,” said Greg Anton, CPA, CGMA, and chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “It’s long been advised that people who struggle with impulse purchases pay with cash instead of credit or debit so they have a more tangible sense of the cost. With many websites and apps now allowing you to store your credit or debit card information for easy one-click purchasing the cost can become even more abstract.”
The use of personal technology, such as smartphone apps, for purchases is surprisingly high across all generations (Millennials: 98 percent, Generation X: 96 percent, Baby Boomers: 94 percent). Almost all Americans (95 percent) have used personal technology to make a purchase, and they are seeing the benefits. One-in-two (50 percent) say personal technology has allows them to better budget their time and 47 percent say it’s helped them with their financial budgets. In addition, nearly half (46 percent) say that availability of personal technology has made them more likely to save money.
However, if people aren’t careful personal technology can be a double-edged sword – particularly with so many options available to pay a little extra to save some time. In fact, two-in-five Americans (41 percent) say personal technology has made them more likely to pay extra for convenience. And more alarmingly, two-thirds (67 percent) of Americans say it makes them more worried about the security of their personal identity.
“Any conversation about the financial implications of personal technology would be incomplete without mentioning the potential for identity theft. Americans need to be careful with their purchasing decisions when online and using apps,” said Anton. “With a world of goods and services available at the tap of a screen, technology has the potential to save consumers both time and money. However, if they are not careful that convenience can come at a significant cost.”
The AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission offers up the following advice for Americans on how to be smart about personal technology, stay within budget and maximize the time they have to spend doing the things they enjoy:
Creating a budget allows you to determine where your money is allocated and prioritize where you spend your disposable income. Creating a budget for your time will give you a better sense of just how busy you are, where your time is spent and opportunities to save time. When the two are viewed together, it can help you decide if and when it might make sense to pay a little extra to save time.
Look into email and text alerts from your bank or credit card. These can help protect you from fraud and help track spending. For example, you can request alerts for large purchases, items purchased without your card being present, or even “two factor verification” where you get a text message on your phone to confirm that it's really you making those purchases.
Personal technology allows Americans to shop online 24/7. The convenience can save time, but the ease can cause you to buy items you may not need. And although it may be slightly inconvenient, avoid saving your credit or debit card information on shopping sites—the extra step of entering your information each time will give you another beat to reconsider if the purchase is truly necessary.
Free wi-fi in coffee shops, restaurants, and other public places is a great convenience – but think twice about using your phone or laptop on a public network to access your bank account, use credit cards, or provide any sensitive information. Public networks may not be secure, which puts your information at risk of being stolen. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, Americans lost $15.4 billion in 2014 as result of identity theft incidents.
Make personal technology work for your finances with IFTTT (If This, Then That), which can automate tasks. AICPA’s Feed the Pig program offers a channel to help curb impulse purchasing and to make sure your budget stays on track.
Additional information on how to avoid online shopping mistakes is available on the AICPA’s 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy website.
360 Degrees of Financial literacy (www.360finlit.org), is a national volunteer effort of the nation’s CPAs to help Americans understand their personal finances and develop money management skills. The AICPA, in partnership with the Ad Council, has also developed Feed the Pig, a national and localized PSA campaign designed to improve financial literacy among Americans aged 25–34 by encouraging them to make savings a part of their daily lives. Both programs are free to the public.