Time Dilation

Time Dilation

We’ve all been there. “Why am I spending eight hours every workday in the office? I could be doing something a lot more useful or fun!” If you’re like me and you think that trading up to 1,800 hours every year simply to make a living is ludicrous, you’ve probably heard of financial independence already.

In a nut shell, financial independence is all about amassing enough assets or building enough passive income to sustain your lifestyle without having to work for money. Others define it as maximising happiness by balancing wants and needs, while some folks out there think of financial freedom as taking back time and making it their own.

Of course, all of these views on financial independence appeal to me. Having enough wealth to never have to work again sounds plain awesome in the same way that living a happy and balanced life sounds like a dream. However, the idea of making time my own again draws me most towards financial freedom.

Time shoud be mine and I should be able to use it as I please.

It’s often said that time is the only thing we all have equal amounts of – we’re obviously making abstraction of the fact that some people simply live longer. It’s true that we all have 24 hours in a single day, but that doesn’t mean we all value time equally.

Albert Einstein, who almost single handedly conjured up the theory of relativity, understood this perfectly. While he is often credited with the famous quote “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world – he who understands it, earns it; he who doesn’t, pays it”, to me his understanding of time relativity and time dilation is infinitely more important to grasp the concept of financial independence.

Time Dilation between two observersTime dilation is the difference of elapsed time between two events as measured by two observers who are moving relative to each other. Wikipedia explains it best with two space ships carrying calibrated atomic clocks on board:

“When two observers are in relative uniform motion and uninfluenced by any gravitational mass, the point of view of each will be that the other’s (moving) clock is ticking at a slower rate than the local clock. The faster the relative velocity, the greater the magnitude of time dilation.”

The image on the right illustrates this effect beautifully from the point of view of the observer holding the blue clock. Without going into the nitty-gritty of special relativity theory, one of the basic effects of the theory is that the faster you go through space, the more you’ll slow down time around you. When you approach the speed of light, time will slowly grind to a halt.

Financial independence works very much in the same way.

When your savings rate approaches the absolute limit of 100%, you’ll find that time isn’t an absolute given, but rather a relative thing you can make your own. You can make your own retirement clock move at a faster speed than everyone else’s simply by saving tons more.

I’ve used this very same reasoning before. In a post called There’s a New Currency in Town I managed to link time to earning power, but we can just as easily compare it to savings potential. As we all know, saving trumps earning for people looking to become financially free, so it makes sense to do so.

Imagine for a second two people, the first one saving a mere 10% of his income with the second person stashing away about 70% of his income every month, just like me. While the first person needs over 50 years to retire, I’ll be home free in under 10 years. That’s a time gap of 40 precious years! Who ever said that time travel doesn’t exist?

By saving 70% of my income I’m basically expanding my own free time – time dilation at its finest.

A metaphor often used by financial independence bloggers comes from the Matrix trilogy where Morpheus offers Neo a blue and red pill. The blue pill will allow Neo to remain in a fabricated world called the Matrix, while the red one grounds him back to reality. For these bloggers, the red pill stands for an active choice to change their ways and to embrace financial independence instead of remaining consumerist cavemen.

Instead of a red pill though, I prefer a red clock running circles around everyone else, thus slowing my own time compared to theirs. That way I get to maximise my free time in the future at no loss of life enjoyment at all in the present. The forty year time jump will do the rest.

Travelling at a pace near the speed of light might not be possible yet, but saving a massive percentage of your paycheck is. So until physicists figure out how move at a near 300,000 km/s, I’ll remain dedicated to putting away over 70% of my income on average.

How about you?


  1. Thanks for the insightful post NMW. Glad we’re on this journey together. It’s a lot of fun saving and investing for our financial independence! We’re get there eventually. I know so. Keep up the good work bud. Take care and see you soon.

    1. Tyler,

      As long as we put in the works and save enough of our income on a consistent basis, we’ll surely make it to FI one way or another. Glad to have you with me!


  2. Nice post, NMW. I get the feeling you were having a potter around Wikipedia’s theory of relativity page and got thinking…thinking deep about your own Fi journey!

    It is a nice way to think about it. Maybe we can all use the extra time we earn ourselves to add our own little contribution to humanity like Einstein. Or just work on emulating his crazy hair. Up to you! Each one to their own!

    1. DD,

      Ha, a train ride home after work actually got me thinking when sun rays were reflected all throughout the train! I admit I needed Wikipedia to put my thoughts into proper sentences though. 🙂

      To me the entire endeavour of financial independence is about time. I want to be able to decide what I do with my time without having to trade it away to afford a living. Maybe I’ll continue working once I become FI, maybe I won’t – it doesn’t matter, because I’ll at least be doing what I want to be doing, not because I have to.

      Wait until you see me getting out of the shower; Einstein-like hair assured!


  3. What a fascinating perspective NMW – you’re literally taking control of your own universe by creating more time! The physics of my finances don’t allow me to travel at your speed right now, so I’m more focused on trying to enjoy my little part of the universe (which I am to a good extent, even some of that fixed ‘work’ time) and squeeze as much free time out of my current days as possible, even if it means travelling at a more ‘normal’ pace.

    Can’t wait to hear your own perspective of how it looks on the other side once you get there!



    1. Jason,

      Everyone must decide for themselves at what speed they wish to reach financial freedom. It’s useless to compare our situations (single guy versus an entire family household), but I’m glad that we both enjoy our time to the fullest.

      Once I get to financial independence you can be damn sure I’ll be there cheering you on to reach my universe as soon as possible.

      Best wishes,

  4. I called it buying my time. Basically I just don’t own my time which is why I have to work for it, but once I save enough that I don’t have to work for money then I will essentially own all of my time and can then choose to do with it what I want. I also once made the analogy that people suck at saving while they are young, lots of people don’t really start until their mid 40s. At which point the panic and have to save a lot to make up for not saving, so I just decided to fast forward and start saving like I’m 50 and I only have another 10 good years of work left.

    1. Zee,

      Your way of looking at it makes a lot of sense too. It’s how most people experience financial independence, I believe.

      All around me I hear friends tell me how hard it is to save money, which is normal when you go on city trips and luxury vacations all the time. They’ll probably belong to the folks that get a kick in the teeth at forty and only then start to save like madmen. By that time I’ll be miles ahead and they won’t be able to catch up even if they wanted to – compound interest is time’s best friend.

      Hope you make FI in under ten years!

      Best wishes,

  5. Hi NMW and commenter,

    I love all these analogies that you are taking to compare our quest to FI, it’s making me smiling (just before work, thanks) and inspire me to save more and making more good investment to reach FI.

    Thank you all and have a good weekend.


    1. RA50,

      Glad to have put a smile on your face, even though you were on your way to work! 🙂

      Keep it up over there. You’re doing exceptional too – I don’t think many people in Switzerland have achieved what you have so far.


  6. Well said! I think it starts with having the belief that it is possible to save such high percentages and to actually retire early. Once I internalized those facts, I definitely started to think about my time differently. I realized that I can effectively buy “more” time for myself by spending less money. True, it’s the same amount of time, but it will be used in pursuits that are valuable and meaningful to me–not just in slogging through a perpetual 40-hour work week.

    1. Mrs. Frugalwoods,

      Even though it’s the same amount of time, it’ll feel like there’s more of it simply because your master of your own time. Nobody will be able to take it away from you.

      You hit the nail on the head by stating that understanding and internalizing the possibility of saving a large percentage of your paycheck is the first step towards early retirement. Many people don’t even dream of becoming financially independent simply because they can’t see that saving a high percentage is a possibility.

      Best wishes,

  7. NMW,

    I got a chuckle out of time dilation (mainly because I am a scientist). I read a lot of sci-fi and many touch on it though not all do. Plus there are some theories that exist in physics, specifically quantum mechanics that might allow for travel faster than anything ever, due to particle switching. Still its all theory or only seen at a molecular level.

    Either way you hit the nail on the head with Einstein’s quote. The most important part of that quote is the 2nd half. “He who doesn’t pays it.” That means, wise up or you will work until you die. We both I can tell do not have the desire. Cheers to us for wanting to live life as close to 100% as possible.

    – Gremlin

    1. Gremlin,

      Glad to hear you found my post entertaining and that it didn’t contain any glaring erros. The theory of relativity isn’t easy to understand, but writing about it in a different language is even harder. 🙂

      Many people would do well to heed Einstein’s advice. Instead of having interest work against you and accumulate debt until eternity, why not harvest its power and build an evergrowing pile of money with it?

      I’m happy to have you in the saving and investing camp with me!


  8. That’s a pretty sweet post. I also like how you equate time with money, so that you can really see if that iPhone is worth a week of your life or not. You have your priorities straight, which is rare for a 25 year old. And as you keep at your plan, you keep saving, investing and reinvesting, you will achieve your goal probably sooner than later. I just hope we get low prices so that you can buy more shares and retire faster.

    1. DGI,

      Thank you for the kind words – I’m glad to hear you like the post!

      The adage “time is money” is very true in my case, but not in the usual way. Money buys me more time, whereas most people would just use their time to make more money. Since I’m only 25 years old I have more than enough time to accumulate enough money and make time my own. The high savings rate I currently enjoy will only speed things up.

      Even though I don’t worry too much about stock market levels, I understand your desire for lower market prices. I always try to reach a yield on cost of 2% after taxes, but it’s getting harder and harder to find good deals in the market these days without going under that limit.

      We’ll see what the future brings us, but I know I’ll be ready when the market dips!


  9. You’re such a nerd NMW!

    Love the analogies to quantum mechanics, it’s an interesting way of viewing things. Maybe you should pioneer the field of quantum investing? 😛

    Also, that GIF is mesmerizing. Can’t stop looking at it haha!


    1. Alex,

      It takes one to know one! 😉

      Even though I’d love to be a pioneer in quantum investing, I’m not that good at quantum physics or anything physics related. I truly enjoy the field, but sometimes I just can’t wrap my head around their theories. Transposing them to investing… bad idea.


  10. Haha, what a coincidence! On the same day wrote about something similar: My plan/wish to escape 9 to 5. https://eurfi.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/my-9-to-5-escape-plan-wish/

    Your quote “Why am I spending eight hours every workday in the office? I could be doing something a lot more useful or fun!” really resonated with me. It is the feeling I get every single (working) day. (I also used the “red pill” metaphor, but in a different way.)

    My dilemma is this: Do I really have to continue for 10 more years? Or can I maybe achieve something similar to FIRE in the next few years. It would involve earning money – but that is something I like. It’s just my job that I (no longer) like.

    1. Eurfi,

      Funny coincidence, especially since we both refer to the Matrix analogy.

      You mention an interesting point I’ve thought about too myself but haven’t found a concluding answer yet. In 2015 I’ve earned enough money already to cover the rest of this year’s living expenses, so why not just take the rest of the year off?

      On the one hand, this solution would be very tempting as it gives me the opportunity to immediately FI, but on the other it still means I’d have to go into work at least three months every year for the rest of my life. On top of that there’s the practical issues.

      Some good food for thought…

      Best wishes,

      1. I wouldn’t mind working a few months a year. Actually I’m thinking about going freelancer and just working a few months a year.

  11. Great post NMW! The Matrix is still one of my favourite movies and I liken the time when I discovered the PF/FI blogging community to the time when I swallowed the red pill and my eyes were opened!

    I think in my mind, I have a better concept of time because I have a plan for FI. I’m also very aware I’m not getting any younger so don’t want to deprive myself from having a good life – just need to maintain a good balance!

    1. Weenie,

      You’re not the only one who feels like Neo from the Matrix when they were first introduced to financial independence and early retirement!

      Even though saving a ton of money remains a priority to me, balancing things out remains of the essence. As you know I don’t feel anything for early retirement if that means sitting around all day without being able to do anything simply because you don’t have the money. What I’ve gathered from your posts tells me that you feel exactly the same way!


  12. NMW,

    Wonderful and thought provoking post. I’m all with what you have to say. Trading away 1,800 hours is ridiculous, and with school it is even worse. I remember the good old days when I was a young kid and I didn’t have to worry about much. That’s basically what were all working towards now. I actually made a post last week about how people who have the make the most money end up spending the most, and the people who save money will retire first. It’s all about what you save. You’re a great role model for me, and I can’t wait to continue reading your posts.


    1. D2R,

      Glad to hear you enjoyed the post and thought it interesting.

      If you’re combining school with work, I can imagine that you’re trading a way a lot of time – although I’d consider following an interesting school programme a good investment in yourself.

      Funny that you would mention your time as a young kid. I always tell my friends that age 16 was the best time ever: nothing to worry about, school was easy, lots of free time, tons of friends, ample money for fun activities, … I’m secretly hoping that early retirement comes close to that time.

      Thank you for the kind words. I’ll definitely check out your post too as it sounds interesting.

      Best wishes,

  13. The speed of light is even faster; 300,000 km/s. Even more reason to focus on saving more to travel time 😉

    1. Benoit,

      You’re absolutely right! I must have been tired when I pressed the “publish” button because it’s a really silly mistake to make. Thank you for pointing it out.

      Best wishes,

  14. Nice post. I only wish I could save 70% of my income. You are doing quite well for yourself. Also, because you are doing this at such an early age, your chances for success are extremely high. Keep up the good work. Good luck.

    Keep cranking,

    Robert the DividendDreamer
    AKA –Seeking Dividends

    1. Robert,

      I’m just a single guy fresh out of university, so saving over 70% of my income isn’t too hard. You shouldn’t compare our savings rates too much because we’re living very different lives; besides, you’re doing extremely well for yourself!

      Thank you for your support and keep it up over there.

      Best wishes,

  15. I cannot wait until I wake up and am bored because I have so much time to do everything. My journey will take longer than yours but I will get there and pass that knowledge (and portfolio) on to my kids.

    1. DFG,

      Ha, being bored is not really my goal, but I understand what you mean. When I was a student a couple of years ago I had so much time on my hands that I could literally do anything I wanted in any order I wanted. Those were the days.

      Don’t worry about your journey taking longer. You’re trading off a higher savings rate for a beautiful family, which is admirable and very unique in its own way.

      Best wishes,

  16. … or find a fulfilling job that you are passionate about and like doing. Am I the only one here who actually likes to work an who could imagine working till 65 or so? This, however, does not hinder me from investing regularly.

    1. Samuck,

      The funny thing is that I really do enjoy my job, but I hate the fact that I need to have a job in order to sustain my lifestyle. I don’t like the idea of having a job even though I enjoy doing it. I know that’s quite contradictory, but it is what it is.

      I’m glad to hear that you are passionate about your job and don’t mind going into the office until 65. If you continue to invest at regular intervals you’ll be one well-off fellow by the time you reach retirement. All the more power to you!

      Best wishes,

Join the conversation!