The Gift Of Time

Please give a warm welcome to Mama PoP for her first post!  



One of the PoP’s best times. =)

Time is that special gift that everyone receives. Some of us get more of it, in terms of longevity, but we all get the same amount on a daily/yearly basis. For me, one of the hallmarks of a happy and successful life is making the best use of your time.

I think that it is easy to become so busy that there is no time to evaluate our use of time. After all, sometimes there is so little discretionary time that it’s not really useful to reflect on how to use it!

But, I’ve got a big birthday coming up (the kind that has a zero at the end and marks some life-changing milestones) and that has allowed/caused me to reflect on what I want to do NEXT. To figure that out, I’ve been thinking through the past and trying to identify the work that was most fulfilling, useful to others, and best contributed to my long term goals.


It Was The Best of Times, It Was The Busiest of Times

When our two youngest boys were born (Mr PoP was one of these babies), I took a leave from my full-time job to raise them. This was without a doubt the happiest time in my life as well as the busiest. We were broke, of course.  We shopped at flea markets for the children’s clothing and toys, and lived on venison from the woods adjoining our property and trout that the big boys caught in the local streams and lakes.

(Editor’s Note: The “big boys” here are Mr. PoP’s older brothers who were teenagers when Mr PoP was a baby.  They’re now men in their 40’s, but Mama PoP still collectively refers to them as the “big boys” sometimes!)  

Papa PoP had a great job with very flexible hours, and our lives were full. He had a huge garden and I cooked and preserved vast quantities of food to save money. Think BIG pots of soup! I don’t remember eating at restaurants or shopping in real stores much during this time, but we didn’t miss it. Papa PoP and the big boys were building our house from the ground up (nailing EVERY nail) and everything was DIY. I guess you could say that we were building our family, building our house, and building our relationship and our happiness in every part of our activities.


And Then I Made Those Times Even Busier

One of the things that made this time of my life so busy beyond all of the family activities was my involvement in an effort to improve the education that was offered to our children.

This volunteer work took up an enormous amount of time and energy but had just a modest and temporary effect. At the time, I believed that I was helping lots of children to get a better education, but it is impossible to know if that really happened. I consoled myself that perhaps our boys would learn from watching that it is worth fighting for things you believe in.


Was Volunteer Work The Best Choice?

In retrospect I think it may have been more efficient to use that time and energy to earn the PhD that I knew I would need to get my next job. Earning the doctorate then would have consumed a similar amount of time and effort, and perhaps I would have re-entered the workforce sooner and with a higher salary.

Does this mean that my volunteer work was not worth doing? Were all of those thousands of hours wasted? I certainly wasn’t earning any money for the family either for current use or for investment. Should I have pursued a more selfish goal?
Note From Mrs. PoP – I hope you’re not beating yourself up about this all these years later, Mama PoP! Hindsight is 20/20, and the eventual success or failure of a volunteer endeavor feels like an inadequate measure of whether or not the time was “well spent”. But for what it’s worth, Mr. PoP definitely remembers your volunteer work with pride and loves to recount the days when his parents told his teachers they were “bad educators!”


How do you determine what is worth doing with your most precious resource, your gift of time?  

46 comments to The Gift Of Time

  • Sounds like the classic American Dream story. And I don’t think anyone looks back at their life and really says, “I tried to help other people too much”

    • Mama PoP

      You make an important point and I’m not actually beating myself up about the choice I made then to do the volunteer work. And certainly that work strengthened my leadership skills and they have proven to be helpful in my current job. But might it have been possible for me to help people and also contribute an income while doing it? I didn’t explore that option at the time, because my primary goal was raising the boys.

  • Of course it was not a waste of time, I am sure you earned a lot humanely, built a strong social network around you and there is no money that can sum that up. So cute that the whole family is now contributing on the blog :)
    Pauline recently posted..Make money with your gardenMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Thanks, Pauline. I don’t really mean that I think that value and effort should always be measured in money. I do wonder if a better choice for my discretionary time during that period might have been getting the advanced degree that I would need when I returned to the workforce.

  • I certainly doubt is was a waste of time. Whether there might have been a “better” use of your time is another discussion, but I would guess it’s largely irrelevant. It sounds like you felt like it was important at the time and that you’ve been able to live a happy life, so what more is there really to want? I think we all have to make tough decisions about our time and the best we can do is make them as consciously as we can in the moment with an eye towards what we feel is truly important.
    Matt Becker recently posted..What Determines Your Investment Performance?My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Wow, what a wise and generous perspective you offer. It is important to me to reflect on these choices as I will have new “discretionary” time if I do retire this year, and I am trying to puzzle out if I should go the popular volunteer route or the probably more difficult route of creating a different income stream.

  • A waste? You’re kidding right?

    You made a difference for others, not yourself. That’s an increasingly rare pursuit and I admire you for it.
    No Waste recently posted..We Killed $30,000 In Student Loans (Part II)My Profile

  • Welcome, Mama PoP, and what a great entry. I don’t feel you wasted your time, especially if you were working towards something you genuinely believed in. Just recently, I reached out to an old high school teacher to thank him for believing in me enough to get me started in AP classes (and I graduated in the 90’s). Students might not recognize the impact you have made right away, but over time I think people are bound to reflect on those that make a difference, and I wouldn’t be surprised if students remember the good fight that you fought during your volunteer work!
    anna recently posted..Honeymoon or Forever House?My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      It’s so nice to hear that you thanked someone who had been so influential in your life. You’re right, I do believe that it is important to work for what we believe in. It is a belief that Papa PoP and I share as he was an integral part of that effort to improve the schools.

  • Time is definitely our most precious resource. I am always trying to use my time as wisely as I can while still trying to relax. It’s a tough balance, but it can be done. I think your volunteering was a great choice. I know I really enjoyed anytime my mom and dad volunteered, so I’m sure your kids did as well.
    Jake @ Common Cents Wealth recently posted..How to Save Money on GroceriesMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      I’ve never actually thought of asking the boys if they enjoyed my efforts in this regard – maybe I will ask them. You are right about the importance of keeping a good balance.

  • The good thing is you still got your PhD,and you’re now a professor!
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..House Shopping Is Disappointing- The Fruit Tree HouseMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Yes, there is that. The professor gig was a goal from the minute I realized what it was. It did take me a long time to get there, but it’s all that I’d hoped it would be.

  • That doesn’t sound like a waste to me. That’s the sort of thing that matters. If not the things we believe in, then what?

    Great first post and I look forward to more.
    Done by Forty recently posted..So Long, PerkstreetMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Thanks, Done. I do agree that we should work for things we believe in.

      There is an “opportunity cost” to everything and that’s what I’m musing about. See this link for the opportunity cost related to college

      In this case, I was delayed in re-entering the workforce by an extra 2 years because I didn’t get my degree during the time I was occupied with my crusade to improve the kids’ schooling.

      Yes, I would probably make the same choice now, but this time I would probably calculate the opportunity cost relative to my life and family goals.

  • Meg

    My coworkers gave me a lot of flack for not owning a television. I said I was going to die someday, didn’t have enough time for the stuff I wanted to do, and wasn’t prepared to add another time-draining hobby to the list.

    They said this was a bleak way to think of the world. On the contrary, it’s really empowering. When I got very sick, I was forced to reconsider my priorities in everything I did. Now I think about if I want to spend the time on something before I take it up.
    Meg recently posted..Domestic Wednesdays: Designing a Knockoff SweaterMy Profile

  • I don’t think volunteering is a waste of time if you truly enjoyed helping others out. It is really difficult to evaluate how we spend our time. When the weekend hits, all I want to do is relax, but I know that things need to get done. Then I end up going crazy with a to-do list and find myself on Sunday night dreading the next day. Feels like I haven’t had any time to recharge, which is important! It’s great to be able to identify what makes us the happiest, and then make time for it.
    E.M. recently posted..Save More, Spend Less, or Earn More, Spend More?My Profile

  • Great post! I think it’s something you always have to evaluate as you go. It’s a balancing act that constantly must be examined for the amount of give and take involved. It you are giving too much of your time if more important things come up, then It’s always good to take a step back.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Gimme a Break!My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Somehow I find that in the midst of the daily madness, I forget to do that evaluation. Then I find that I have really over promised and have to make myself crazy to deliver.

  • If you’re working toward something you really believe in, even if it turns out to be the wrong thing, I don’t necessarily think it’s time wasted. I’m sure you learned many things that maybe helped with other situations down the road. Like Mr. PoP said, hindsight is always 20/20.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Three Ways Life Insurance and Marriage Intersect That You Didn’t Think AboutMy Profile

  • What a great story of a family that came together to get the job done.Building a house from the ground up, the gardening, preserving, flea markets etc. Times have sure changed but in many ways we still do the same things. My time is valuable to me and to be honest I do think about where I spend my time. I’ve been doing lots of thinking lately. I can’t think of any one time in my life where time was the best time that I spent as I try to make the most of every day, every event, every memory.
    canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..You’re cheap if you decorate rooms frugallyMy Profile

  • First like to say welcome and great first post Mama PoP! I like that you still refer to the kids as the big boys. Ill be 60 and my mom will still call me her baby. A mothers love! As for time wasted I would not think is was a waste however in the end it only matters what you think. We can’t get time back and because we can we tend to question those things that we are not sure about. What if I would have gotten my PhD instead but your life would be different that could be better or worse. The real question is how did your life turn out and are you happy. Those times and memories will last forever.
    Thomas | Your Daily Finance recently posted..August Half-Time Update Preseason is Almost OverMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Thanks, Thomas! I certainly did enjoy those times. Challenging the school district to improve was very challenging for me. Fortunately, Papa PoP was right beside me all the way.

      When I did get to work on my PhD, I was more mature than some of my classmates and that probably helped. Also, the boys were older so they were more independent.

      I’m really trying to use this experience to figure out my priorities for my retirement activities.

  • CincyCat

    Wow – what a great first entry, Mama PoP! I am seeing a bit of myself in your story… :-)

    I have two grade schoolers, I volunteer with their school board, I work full time, AND I had this crazy idea to get an MBA in my “free time” (I just graduated). Good grief! I’m sure some day, I’ll look back on this point in my life and wonder what on earth I was thinking! LOL!

    • Mama PoP

      Congratulations on earning your degree! I’ll bet that sometime you will look back and wonder what you were thinking but also you’ll remember how much fun it all was. :-)

  • Great post Mama PoP! Being busy is great, especially when working on things that you’re passionate about. It might seem crazy and hectic but at the end of the day, even though you’re tired, it’s that good tired. It’s the kind of tired that makes you feel fulfilled and content.

    BTW, building a house, the garden, fresh fish, that sounds like my dream!
    GamingYourFinances recently posted..How To Pay Off The Mortgage Early?My Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Yes, I agree that we were very fortunate. A lot of that good fortune was due to Papa PoP’s DIY work ethic and my good sense in marrying him! We were able to do so much more with so much less because we were willing to do the work ourselves. The really hard work was done by Papa PoP and of course all of the boys. When we were building the house, Mr. PoP’s job was to collect the empty soda bottles in his wagon from the work site so they could be recycled. He was about 2 years old but took his responsibilities very seriously!

  • […] POP from Planting Our Pennies- The Gift Of Time (it’s […]

  • I think it’s great that you chose to put your family first and make raising your boys a top priority. Couldn’t have made a better investment, IMHO. I’m smack dab in the middle of that life right now, (the kids are 13, 10, 8, and 7) and need to learn to enjoy this time more instead of freaking out so much about my to-do list. Thanks so much for sharing a wonderful story, MamaPoP!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..7 Tips to Ensure You Never Pay for ShippingMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Hi Laurie,

      I think there is no more important work/complete joy than when you are spending time raising children that you love. I found that setting my timer for 15 minutes and doing a project that long helped me to get things done. The children grow up so soon – remember to take lots of pictures!

  • Wow, what an interesting story! Thanks for sharing these experiences.

    I also lived in the time when staying home to raise kids was an option, at least for middle-class women who still had husbands. In that department, I can’t imagine that the volunteer work was in any sense a waste — it was altruistic, and it helped other people’s kids as well as your own.

    In those days, as women were starting to move into the workplace and more opportunities were coming open, some employers would accept certain kinds of volunteer work as job experience. I had a friend who parlayed a decade or so of active volunteering for nonprofits into a very nice paying job for the American Red Cross. And having completed a Ph.D. more or less on track and found it didn’t do much for my earning potential, frankly…sometimes I wish I’d done something better with that time. 😉

    • Mama PoP

      Dear Funny,

      Did having your PhD qualify you to take a job that you like? I know what you mean about the earning potential. Sometimes the degrees don’t mean that you will get more money.

  • This post really hit home for me. Lately I’m not thrilled with how much time I’ve been spending on my work (instead of with my friends and family). As you said, time is really precious and I don’t want to later look back and wonder if I should have moved out of this job quicker.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Vacationing in VacationlandMy Profile

    • Mama PoP

      Hi KK,
      It’s good that you are thinking things through. Lots of people don’t take their jobs home with them or stay late at the office.

  • […] PoPs now have a second generation of writers at their site – and I can’t even get my parents to read sometimes.  […]

  • […] PoP from Planting Our Pennies presents The Gift Of Time, and says, “Mama PoP reflects on time spent volunteering and staying at home as a young […]

  • I agree with 99% of these comments: it certainly wasn’t not a waste of time – personal growth is hugely important. Also, its great to read about the family coming together to achieve the same goal! recently posted..Frugal living is better living – Part II: Alternatives to the gymMy Profile

  • Hi Mama PoP,

    Thank you for the post! What a great article. Personally, I choose my family as my top priority so if there is something that I can do to make them happy, I choose that first. I have the luxury of a flexible job that allows me to do that. I know that everyone cannot make that as their first priority – I’m blessed.


    Karla Twomey
    Karla Twomey recently posted..How to Pay off Credit Card Debt Fast!My Profile

  • […] PoP @ Planting Our Pennies writes The Gift of Time – Mama PoP’s first post looks back on some of the ways she spent her time as she looks […]

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