Tactics of resource use for reproduction are an important feature of life-history strategies. A distinction is made between "capital" breeders, which finance reproduction using stored energy, and "income" breeders, which pay for reproduction using concurrent energy intake. In reality, vertebrates use a continuum of capital-to-income tactics, and, for many species, the allocation of capital towards reproduction is a plastic trait. Here, we review how trophic interactions and the timing of life-history events are influenced by tactics of resource use in birds and mammals. We first examine how plasticity in the allocation of capital towards reproduction is linked to phenological flexibility via interactions between endocrine/neuroendocrine control systems and the sensory circuits that detect changes in endogenous state, and environmental cues. We then describe the ecological drivers of reproductive timing in species that vary in the degree to which they finance reproduction using capital. Capital can be used either as a mechanism to facilitate temporal synchrony between energy supply and demand or as a means of lessening the need for synchrony. Within many species, an individual"s ability to cope with environmental change may be more tightly linked to plasticity in resource allocation than to absolute position on the capital-to-income breeder continuum.This article is part of the themed issue "Wild clocks: integrating chronobiology and ecology to understand timekeeping in free-living animals".