While heading in to Walmart last week, I noticed a woman arguing a price in the checkout lane. I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to grab the few items I came in for.

Ten minutes later, I headed back to the front of the store to pay up. I noticed the same woman, now a bit more hot-tempered, demanding to know how much longer before the manager was going to be there.

While paying for my items, the manager arrived and I overheard a summarized version of the issue at hand. The confusion, it turned out, was over a perceived $3.00 mistake on her receipt.

From the time I entered the store up until the moment at hand, a minimum of 15 minutes had passed.

At best, this woman had put a price on the value of her time at $12 an hour or less. In the 15 minutes she chose to take a stand for $3, she could have headed home, stretched out on her bed and read a few pages from a favorite book.

She could have taken a walk outside and enjoyed the evening air while letting go of all the stress in her day. She could have popped open a brewskie and watched a little TV – whatever she wanted to do for those 15 minutes.

Time, Money and The Matter of Principle?

You might be quick to point out that while three dollars isn’t that important, this was more a matter of principle so the woman was justified in her argument.. or just flat out right.

time value quoteThe entire argument is subjective so there’s no right answer here. In fact, I understand both views quite well.

I used to be the young man who would argue the slightest perceived injustice against me. I know for a fact that I would stayed and fought for a $1 mistake well past an hour if it was in the name of “wrong-doing”.

These days, my views have changed. I’m a much older version of myself. I think I’m a much wiser version. You might think I’m a guy who’s lost my edge.

That’s fine.. but here’s the thing…

For me, a “matter of principle” is arguing over our far more important matters and letting go of the little things in life.

I’m fine to let a few dollars go here and there. It’s part of life. No doubt, I’ll lose a lot more than that amount to people and undeserving causes before this ride is all over.

A matter of principle is defending my views on my country’s military occupation in another country. It’s defending the lower-class kid down the street when I see him being taken advantage of other “well to-do” kids in the neighborhood. It’s waiting my turn and ultimately spending two hours at a student-teacher meeting to ensure that my child is getting every advantage I can afford him.

I don’t get actual money for those things but the potential return of each is worth far more. In some instances, the return isn’t something that will likely ever affect me directly, but it’s what’s important to me.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t argue over a wrong-charge on a receipt. There will still be times I afford myself that opportunity, but this is about thinking ahead to those situations where maybe your time is simply more important than the few dollars at hand.

By putting a focus on the value of your time, and defining how much it’s worth to you, you’ll live a much richer life in the end.