The Time Value of Money

I sometimes think that one of the most important lessons a young person can learn is that $1 today is worth more than $1 tomorrow. It is amazing to observe that many young adults don’t learn this, one of the most critical principles of finance, until they reach university. My goal with this post is to make it easy to understand why money today, this month, or this year is worth more than money in the future.

Why is money today worth more than money tomorrow?

Simply put, because money can earn interest (and have less purchasing power due to inflation).  If I receive $100 today and can earn 5% interest annually, my money is worth $105 is one year. $105 a year from now is worth exactly the same as $100 right now for me as an investor. That being said $100 today is worth more than $104.99 in a year from now.

Why is this important? 

Making personal financial decisions is something that we have to do every day. If we know that it is better to pay in the future (because money is worth less at that time) then we would surely take advantage of times where people let us pay later rather than now. My favorite example of this is a car loan. Many car dealerships will offer you 0% or a very low interest rate to incentivize you to buy a vehicle from them. If you had $10,000 to pay for the car outright, is it still better to finance it? Yes! Simple math can show you that if you have no borrowing cost, but can earn interest that your $10,000 car could cost you much less!

You could pay $10,000 today for that vehicle, or you could pay $275 a month (for example) for 3 years and pay off the car. If you take time to pay off the car, your cash that would have been used to pay the whole balance can be in an investment earning you 5%. After one year, you will have paid $3,300, and used the remaining $6,700 to earn you $340 in interest, making the care effectively cheaper.

This principle is one of the fundamentals of financial theory and will affect the way that we calculate the value of things today versus in the future. There is a formula which can be used to describe the relationship between dollars today and dollars tomorrow. It is shown below.

PV = Present Value (value today)

FV = Future Value (value after one period)

r = The discount rate for the period (interest rate with or without inflation included)


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