Investing vs. Spending Your Resources

Screenshot of “Age of Empires 3,” a game where you have 3 types of resources (food, wood, gold) which you want to be continually investing. (Life gives us similar opportunities to invest our personal resources, but also tempts us with frivolous ways to spend them.)

Concept of the day: you can either be spending or investing with regard to each resource you have, in every area of your life.

Spending” is trading one resource for another.

When you spend, you lose something to gain something else, and the transaction is complete.

Can you think of some expensive item you bought (particularly one that you didn’t end up even liking much?) That’s an obvious financial spend. Money lost, item gained, nothing else significant happened.

“Investing” is trading a resource for the ability to get more resources (or another type of resource that’s worth more).

When you invest, you start by doing something that looks a lot like spending, but then you ultimately end up with more value then when you started.

Financially, if you invest, you trade money for the reasonable expectation you’ll eventually acquire more money.

Unlike spending, investing can be stacked, or repeated. For example, if you’re a clever, responsible investor, then theoretically you can invest, get more money, and then invest that money, and so on.

At the end of the day, both transactions involve resources and trades – but investing can be done recursively (repeated in a compounding fashion).

None of this is particularly new when you’re talking about money, or financial resources.

However, I’d like to broaden the definition of “resources” today.

Because, in fact, you can be investing or spending in every area of your life, with many types of resources.

And many of what I would argue are your most important resources are not physical or tangible. Unlike money, they might not be easy to quantify.

(But don’t let that be an excuse to overlook or undervalue them.)

Here are some of what I consider to be your foundational, critical resources, listed in no particular order. Like money, they can all be invested wisely, or spent frivolously.

(If low on time, feel free to just read the headlines, or jump around. You’ll still get the gist of the article.)

Physical Energy

(We’re going to start really basic here. But don’t discount the importance of this resource.)

Question: How are you spending your limited amount of energy per day? You only have so much of it, so you might as well prioritize your energy spend.

But you also have another option. Like with money, you don’t have to simply spend – you have the ability to invest it to get more of it.

To illustrate “spending” vs. “investing” your physical energy, let me ask:

Are you someone who’s trying to exercise, but you’re really just spending all of your energy trying to outscore everyone else at Crossfit, and then feeling exhausted throughout the week? (Because I’ve done that.)

Or, are you training in an intelligent way – using exercise as a part of your self-care – as an investment to actually increase your energy throughout the week? (See Goldilocks Training.) This is probably a wiser mindset to have.

Further, if you want to increase your physical energy, and you consider other resources at your disposal, you could invest your time, money, mental energy, etc. into deliberately improving your sleep. (That would almost certainly increase your physical energy – and would be an exceptionally wise investment, in my opinion.)

Physical energy is foundational and extremely valuable, as it will help you in regard to virtually every other resource I will mention.

This is a resource I highly recommend prioritizing.

Social/Emotional Energy

Are you a fairly introverted person who already has plenty of social time in your life, and now someone else (who you don’t even like that much!) is trying to get you to spend time with them? Seeing that person would be a social energy spend (it’ll drain your social energy).

On the other hand, are you a fairly extraverted person who isn’t quite getting enough time around others, and now someone (who you actually do like!) wants to meet for coffee? That’s a social energy investment. (You’ll actually feel more energized afterward).

(I’m kinda oversimplifying here with polar opposite examples, but see Introversion, Extraversion, & Energy for more detail.)

Anyway, consider spending carefully – particularly if you’re introverted – and investing intelligently, to overall maximize your social/emotional energy levels.


Are you doing some job that simply takes time and energy, without helping you learn anything or providing you with new opportunities? If so, you’re spending time (a resource we’ll touch on later), and skills already acquired, in return for money.

(Nothing wrong with that, I’d just classify it as a spend, or resource trade, rather than an investment – unless you really enjoy what you’re doing, which we’ll also touch on later.)

On the other hand, are you taking a class or doing some job that teaches you new things, helps you meet new people, and/or provides opportunity for advancement? That’s a skills/opportunity investment.


Are you investing money, time, or energy into improving your health (which will then create more physical energy, well-being, earning power, etc.)?

Or are you spending your health to get some other resource, like money?

Your health is one of those foundational things that will almost certainly affect everything else on this list, so I highly recommend prioritizing it.


Did an earlier “spend” of time, money, energy, skills, etc, actually make you significantly happier, preferably (but not necessarily) in a repeated fashion?

Then maybe it’s not a spend after all, but an investment – with a genuine R.O.I. (Return On Investment) in terms of overall happiness.

I will say, buying physical objects usually counts as a spend.

But (just as an example) if this amazing pair of running shoes I’m wearing makes me really happy, every time I put them on – and helps me get out the door and improve my health – then in my mind, that particular purchase is actually more of an investment than a spend.

Similarly, you could be doing a job that doesn’t particularly improve your skills or provide new opportunities, but brings you a sense of purpose/satisfaction/meaning. That would almost certainly improve your happiness/well-being.

(On the other hand, you could take a job that makes you miserable but pays a lot; i.e., you could, with the right job, spend happiness to get money.)

At the end of the day, you’re going to want to always keep in mind how other investments or expenditures will ultimately affect your happiness.


Time is a resource that we usually either spend or invest for other resources.

For example, you can invest some time into improving your skills, which may in turn be invested for money and happiness/well-being.

However, you can also invest time (as well as mental energy) to make time – for example, taking a little time to plan or streamline a system to make subsequent work go faster. You can also invest money for time (by paying someone else to do something for you, freeing up your own time).

And, by investing time into your health, you may end up actually increasing the total amount of quality, healthy time you have on this earth.

Mental Energy

“Mental energy” – is this starting to get too abstract and intangible? Then let me ask you some questions:

How much actual, focused, difficult problem solving can you do in a day?

How many smart decisions can you make in a row, before the quality of your decisions starts to falter (you experience “decision fatigue”)?

Similarly, how much self control can you exert, when exposed to repeated, varied, highly tempting stimuli, in succession? (And then offered a doughnut?)

If you’re a human, there’s a finite amount of all of the above. This is mental energy.

Either prioritize your spend wisely, or invest it (in, say, using your intelligence to try to figure out how to improve your health or get better sleep, which will in turn increase your mental energy.)

Social Connection/”Network”/Relationships

In terms of simple career success, “network” can be invaluable (i.e, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”). Both typical work acquaintances, but also more informal family, friends, and other connections can all be considered valuable resources.

But even setting aside career success, in terms of life in general: if you want to lead a happy, meaningful life, then people/connection/family/friends/relationships are some of your most precious resources.

Investing time, physical and mental energy into your relationships is generally a very wise move.


You already know about money. It’s great to have and typically valued very highly.

But ultimately it’s just one of many types of resources that can be spent or invested.

Okay, well, those are some examples of what I consider to be some noteworthy resources.

(Tip: try to avoid over-focusing on one resource – like money – to the point of experiencing both a) diminishing returns in that area and b) significantly neglecting other areas.)

Also, try to avoid just frivolously “spending” your valuable resources.

Instead, ALWAYS BE INVESTING your resources, to create either:

a) more resources


b) different resources that are more valuable.

Then repeat the cycle.

Published by Dolan

Relentless self-optimizer, biohacker, traveler, reader.

2 thoughts on “Investing vs. Spending Your Resources

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