While at a networking event the other day, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between two guys. The first guy was complaining about how much he hated his job. He said he couldn’t stand the job, the people, the commute, the stress, the hours, or any of it. The only thing he liked was the money.
“I make great money. I couldn’t go anywhere else and make this kind of money.”
“Well, money isn’t everything,” said the second guy. “If you hate your job that much, maybe you need to think about getting out.”
“Oh, no,” said the first guy. “That kind of money lets me drive the Jag and take my family on vacations to Hawaii and Sun Valley every year. We’ve got a big house and all the latest stuff to fill it. I love the money and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I don’t get to spend much time with the wife and kids, but I guess the money makes up for it.”
The second guy kind of shook his head and wandered off, but the conversation got me thinking: When is money not worth it?
A lot of us feel like we have to make a lot of money. We “have” to have the latest gizmos and the greatest vacations. We “have” to send our kids to the greatest private school and make certain they have everything (and more) that their peers have. We “have” to have the biggest house and swankiest car. Yet by clinging to that notion, are we not signing our own order for a lifetime of misery?
Everything you buy represents the time you spent earning the money to pay for it. This is what makes paying interest so bad. Not only are you sacrificing time to earn money for the retail price of the item, but you’re also sacrificing future time to pay for the interest that accrues on top of the regular price. So if you buy that cool handbag for $100 and you make $10 an hour, you had to spend ten hours at work to pay for that bag. Was it worth it? Could you have spent that ten hours doing something else like pursuing a favorite hobby or hanging out with your kids? Of course you could. But you chose not to. If you really love that bag, maybe it was worth it but if, like most people, you toss it in the closet after one season and never use it again, it probably wasn’t worth it.
Maybe this doesn’t sound so bad when we’re only talking about one bag, but remember that most people buy many things they don’t need or even really want. If you buy a bag for $100, a new TV for $600, a great dress for $100, a pair of shoes for another $100, an appliance you’ll never use for $200, a fancy computer for $1,500, a camera for $200, a home theater system for $800, a Blu-Ray DVD player for $300, and a bunch of DVD’s for $200, you’ve spent $4,100. If you’re still making $10/hour, you’ve just spent 410 hours (or just over ten, forty-hour weeks) to pay for it all. That’s two and half months worth of work. And we’re assuming you paid cash and didn’t finance any of it. If you did, your time to earn the money will be even longer. Was it worth it? This is a valuable question to ask when purchasing anything. How much time will you have to work to pay for it all and is it worth it?
The reason this question is so important is this: Many people say they want to spend more time with family, or pursuing hobbies, or just relaxing. Yet they are out there every day buying more and more things that require work and time away from all of those fun things to pay for them. If you have a bunch of stuff and, especially, debt, you’ve tied yourself to that desk you hate for even longer. Every dollar you spend separates you further from your goals of relaxation and time with family. The more you have and the more you’re spending to maintain what you have, the more work you have to put in to keep up. The bigger the mortgage, car payment, credit card bill, subscription fees, etc., the more time you need to work just to keep up with it all.
Yes, there are some expenses you can’t avoid so you’re going to have to work at least some. You’ll probably always have to pay for power, phone and water and, at least for a few years, a mortgage or rent. You have to buy food and clothes and medical care. But beyond those things, the other items you pile on (and if you make the necessities as extravagant as possible by buying a huge house and expensive car) merely add to the “life sentence” you’re giving yourself. You’ll be working longer and harder to pay for all of the extras you thought you wanted.
If you hate your job, this becomes even more of a life sentence. The guy at the party clearly hates his job, but he has trapped himself into working there forever by relying on the money it pays to fund his extravagant lifestyle. No matter how much he hates it, he can’t leave unless he seriously downsizes his life. He’s working all these hours at a job he hates when he could be spending those hours doing things he loves (and working a job that makes him happier) if he wasn’t using all of the money to buy things that don’t really matter.
It seems like such a waste to me to spend a life trapped in a job you hate, miserable because you would rather be doing something else. Sometimes we have to do this for a short time because we have no other choice due to extenuating circumstances but a for lifestyle choice over a number of years, it stinks. People like the guy at the party complain that they miss their families and they never get to do the things they want to do, but yet if you suggest that they ease back on the spending throttle in order to free themselves from the job they hate, they say that there’s no way they could live without the fancy car, the house or the vacations. And that’s their choice. But I doubt they fully realize how much those things are really costing them.
There’s nothing wrong with earning money or spending it, as long as you are aware of what you’re spending and how much it is really costing you in terms of time needed to earn that money. If you’re okay with how that equation works out, then by all means buy whatever you want. But if you’re not okay with the answer to that equation stop and think about this: When you reach the end of the road, you probably won’t think about that handbag, sweater, or TV. You’ll probably wish you’d spent more time with your family, or that you’d taken that chance and written that novel you knew was inside you. You’ll probably wish you’d spent more time just watching the birds or tried that activity, like bungee jumping, that always looked like so much fun. You’ll remember those years that you stayed at the job you hated in order to pay that big mortgage and car payment, and you’ll probably regret that you couldn’t do the things you wanted.
In order to avoid this scenario ask yourself, when purchasing or financing something, whether or not the hours you’ll have to work to pay for it are worth it to you. If you answer that you’d rather spend that time doing other things, put the item back on the shelf and walk away. Then go out and play with your kids or write that book. You’ll be one step closer to freedom and further away from misery.