Why do we work?

We work to pay the bills. Or at least that is the philosophy of many Americans. That philosophy seems to be about monthly payments, endlessly refinancing 30 year mortgages without ever paying it off, car loans, etc. So many people don’t realize that they don’t have to spend all of the money that they earn or that they don’t have to wait until age 60 or 65 or whatever the retirement age is today to stop working because no one taught them to save.

I alternate a lot between “savings is more fun than spending money” and the issues of lifestyle inflation. I have spent a lot of money this year for a single person – it will probably be close to $50,000 by the end of the year. On the other hand, I estimate that I will have saved about $65,000 this year.

Some days, it feels like it’s not a race to financial independence. Other days, I dislike getting up and going to work enough that I don’t want to keep doing this. Other days, I just like seeing my mortgage balance go down and my savings and investments balances go up.

My spending plan right now is around $3,800 per month. If I cut out most of the wants, that could go down to $2,600 including the mortgage! So…there’s definitely a fair amount of lifestyle inflation in here, to the tune of $1,200 per month. Taking that extra $1,200 out of my budget each month would shave 6 months off the mortgage, bringing it down to just under 3.5 years.

I think I’ve done a somewhat reasonable job of enjoying today (expenses) versus preparing for the future (savings). I max out my tax-advantaged accounts, plan to pay off my mortgage within 5 years, and hope to be financially independent within another 5 years after that.

Why do I work? Most days, I like my work for the intellectual stimulation. I would say that I enjoy the socialization, but then I realize that it’s forced socialization with people that I don’t necessarily like or get along with well and this crazy corporate feel. I could probably find good intellectual stimulation by reading good novels, by playing with spreadsheets, and working on personal coding projects. Sure, with personal coding projects, you can’t get as much done as quickly, but you have the freedom to work the hours that you choose.

Some days, I look at the higher level management and wonder if they need the money or if they are just at work for fun. I wonder how they’ve made the trade-offs between time and money and what they do with the, I’m assuming, even larger amounts of money than what I make each year. Do these people enjoy the politics of the office work environment? It’s certainly not for everyone. I’m not sure if it’s for me long-term. Personally, I’m not someone who needs a TON of socialization – work is definitely way too much socialization for me.

Readers, why do you work? How do you strike the balance between now and the future?

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  1. #1 by NoTrustFund on October 16, 2012 - 7:36 am

    This is a very timely post for me as I’ve been thinking about work, and what I get out of it, a lot lately. On paper I love what I do but sometimes I get overwhelmed by the travel, politics, and sitting at a desk all day.

    In the past year I have become very focused on financial independence and what it would mean for my work life. I don’t have any answers yet but we are working on reaching financial indepence. I am also very motivated at work by the idea of paying for college for our kids.

    That said, we do still spend a fair amount of money and I am ok with that. I enjoy dinners out and am willing to pay to out source certain things that make our life easier.

    But I am very thankful to have found a few like minded people like you that keep me focused on financial independence. Thank you!

    Oh and I definitely look at some older colleagues from time to time and wonder why they are still doing what they do. The two that I know the best had stay at home spouses and are working to pay for college tuition.

    • #2 by Leigh on October 16, 2012 - 8:31 am

      You’re welcome! I enjoy your thoughts on these matters as well :)

      To me, working on reaching financial independence is generally an incredibly slow process. I have a number thought out that I need in addition to the condo paid off, but who knows what life would look like once I reach that number and if it would still be valid then.

      I’m okay with spending a fair amount of money too.

    • #3 by Leigh on October 16, 2012 - 8:42 am

      Oh! So my idea for a honeymoon is to take a three month leave of absence from work and enjoy life, travel the world. I would want to spend one month in Europe, one month in Australia, and one month at home, enjoying life. I feel like a honeymoon is a legitimate time other than having kids to take such a long leave. Most people probably don’t do it because of the cost, but I think it’s completely do-able, provided that there is enough time to save up.

      • #4 by NoTrustFund on October 16, 2012 - 1:02 pm

        Sounds amazing. Nothing better than spending money on experiences. If you can get that much time off I work I say go for it- I felt lucky to take 2 weeks off!

  2. #5 by SP on October 16, 2012 - 8:06 am

    I really like my job, but I could create a life I liked equally (or rather, probably much better!) if I didn’t have to work at all. I have to do something and have projects, but they don’t have to pay or have any commercial value!

    But I work because I like it AND it gives me money to do other things i like. As far as management goes, I would consider pursuing that path mostly out of ambition and desire to keep pushing myself in new directions.

    Ever since I got my own office, I find the socialization aspect of work to be appropriate. I have the right amount of collaboration, teamwork, and occaisional social lunches, but I have plenty of “let me be” work time.

    I’m happy with my today vs. future balance. I’ve mostly addressed this via retiremet savings as we aren’t ready for a house, but we are (more slowly) building cash savings as well. The bigger sacrifice (for me) is being emotionally supportive of my husband’s career choice that took him to NorCal. It’s a fabulous opportunity, but is very much trading pain of being apart now for more happiness in our future life.

    • #6 by Leigh on October 16, 2012 - 8:34 am

      I’m with you on projects not needing to pay or have commercial value! I haven’t had a lot of time to work on personal coding projects in the last year or so, which saddens me. Those are far more fun because there’s no corporate bureaucracy hanging over them!

      I wish I had my own office…I think that’s something I will investigate when I change companies.

      Being apart is hard – I definitely don’t envy you on the long distance marriage.

  3. #7 by Early Financial Freedom on October 16, 2012 - 8:21 am

    I also thought about the same topic the other day and below was my answer to it.

    I have a simple question for you, but be warned since your answer may not be as simple as the question: What do you work/live for: status quo or your values?

    I would like to describe two families to you.

    Family #1:

    They live in a big house with high property taxes and enormous mortgage. They drive very expensive cars with large loans. They buy the latest and the greatest electronics for themselves and for their kids on credit cards. They wear the name brands without exception. They often dine outside in expensive restaurants. The kids enrolled into many expensive extracurricular activities that they barely have time to scratch their heads. The parents are also into many clubs and social activities that they barely have anytime in their life.

    Their lifestyle is expensive so the parents, who are both professionals, work hard, really hard. They rise with the sun and they barely come home before 9 or 10 pm in the evening. When they do come home, they spend at least an hour two working while home. Sometime, they see their children only in the weekends since kids go to bed before they come home. They are climbing the corporate ladder so they often travel overnight. They think that all of their efforts are worth since they are doing all these for their family’s future.

    In the meantime, the mom had to go back to work 2 weeks after giving birth to her children. The dad did take a day or two every time his kids were born. Remember, they are both climbing the corporate ladder, so they have to work hard and they don’t want THAT person at work get the next promotion. Therefore, the kids literally are being raised by nannies, daycare providers, coaches, etc.

    Family #2:

    This family lives in a modest house but the house is located in the same school district as in family #1. They drive modest cars. They wear nice cloths but they don’t buy them from name brand stores. The parents are also both professionals. They value family so much so that they’ve worked hard to get out of rat race by becoming their own bosses, establishing their own business on their own home. They did hire nannies to help with kids while they are working in the next door or next floor. They pride themselves for not spending a single night away from their kids on business trips, etc.

    By the way, family #1 may look down upon them since they don’t play with the same toys they do or they may think they have better education. Don’t be fooled by the appearance: the family #2 is a classic example of millionaire next door: they paid off their house in record time, they save almost half of income and they are in the top 3-4%!

    My family is family #2. We live in a school district with tons of family #1s. We have made our family #1 in our lives and are very proud of it.

    So, what do you work/live for: status quo or your values?

    • #8 by nicoleandmaggie on October 16, 2012 - 1:24 pm

      Having a lot of income and being someone also means that I get to take my kids with me to travel the world. Just this month we’re going to Canada, together, as a family. Except I’m on a business trip. In January the family and my MIL will be going to San Diego while I do another business trip. And it doesn’t kill a kid to learn to be away from a parent before the kid hits college. Just sayin’.

      I’ve been frugal and scraping every penny, and I’ve had a relatively high income, and I gotta say that following my ambition and making moneys is a much better lifestyle… and leave me less stressed and more fulfilled. One could easily replace the family straw men above with more realistic examples painting a very different picture.

      • #9 by Leigh on October 16, 2012 - 10:50 pm

        Agreed – I think that the picture EFF painted are two polar opposites, when there is also family #3 which is more balanced between the two. There are so many (stress-inducing) things that money can solve. Having an emergency fund means that when you need to pay out your car insurance deductible, there isn’t money stress on top of the car-broken-stress.

        Traveling the world with your kids is pretty cool!

      • #10 by Early Financial Freedom on October 17, 2012 - 6:23 am

        We are relatively young family, in our early 30s, and our son is still young (he is now 8) so we’ve prefered to be around him when he needs us the most. In addition, travel is nice and we as a family love it. Our business is wherever we are as long as there is internet connection so we do travel a lot. My son has flown about 40,000 miles internationally and has traveled about 40-50,000 miles on car within the US and Canada. By the way, my wife and I both work in our business shoulder-to-shoulder so there is no “the family straw men”,

  4. #11 by SWR on October 16, 2012 - 10:59 am

    Why do (will, really- still in school) I work? To provide for my family and be challenged intellectually on a daily basis. But if you ask my partner, it’s almost all about the impact he can have through that work, and the paycheck is just a (necessary) afterthought.

    • #12 by Leigh on October 16, 2012 - 10:51 pm

      I couldn’t imagine working at a job that didn’t stimulate me intellectually. I would just die.

  5. #13 by Joe on October 16, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    If you look around yourself at work, you are looking at people who NEED to be there. They’ve got bills to pay, they’ve led the Prole lifestyle.

    If you look around yourself in a PerFi blog’s comments, you’ll look at some debt bloggers who are in the same category as most coworkers. And you’ll see some wealth bloggers, who are actively building assets toward financial freedoms.

    “Birds of a feather…” so always pick your friends wisely!

    • #14 by nicoleandmaggie on October 16, 2012 - 1:06 pm

      That’s a very sad thought. However, it is untrue in my case. When I look around myself at work, I see people who don’t need to be there, but actively want to be there. Many of them have made sacrifices in order to be able to work where I work.

      Personally I like my job. I like being paid 6 figures too, but there are many other jobs that pay more that I could take if I were in it for the money. Alternatively, I could be a SAHM and we could move and let my husband play breadwinner. But I’d rather work. Or we could both quit and live ultra frugally off our reserves for quite some time, but that sounds like the opposite of fun. I enjoy being upper middle class and all the perks that come with it.

      And, unlike the straw men that EFF has portrayed, being upper middle class and high-flying has brought with it flexibility. As I type this I’m taking a nursing break from work with my baby as I work from home. There’s a lovely college student currently cleaning my kitchen while I take care of the baby. DH is sitting behind me in our shared home office doing his own paid work. A little before 5pm, one of us will get our oldest from after school care, where he will have finished his homework and run off some excess energy. Then we’ll make dinner together (shrimp and mushrooms tonight) and spend time together until 8:30 bedtime.

      And now back to work on a project that will have important policy implications in a years time.

      • #15 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:21 pm

        My dad described being upper middle class as having more “creature comforts”. Having the extra money provided us with plenty of options in life, including nice vacations, dinners together every night, my mom being at home with us not being a financial burden, enough money to play the sports we wanted to, etc.

      • #16 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:22 pm

        Sometimes, I actually wish that my job would pay me less money and expect fewer, more regular hours. I love what I do, but I don’t love the hours that can be expected of me whatsoever.

        • #17 by nicoleandmaggie on October 18, 2012 - 5:29 am

          When you’re higher up you may be able to demand more reasonable hours if you are valuable to the company.

      • #18 by Leigh on October 19, 2012 - 7:02 pm

        @hours It also depends on what part of the company you’re in, which is something I’m working on :) I would love to be able to work from home once a week on a regular basis!

        • #19 by nicoleandmaggie on October 19, 2012 - 7:23 pm

          If you’re awesome enough then either your company will bend over backwards to keep you or you’ll have to leave to work for a better company!

    • #20 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:35 pm

      I don’t think that’s the case for everyone. I work with engineers, many of whom have the mindset to save a lot of money. I know quite a bit about some of my coworkers’ financial situations and I’ve learned some useful tricks from them. It helps to have friends who have similar money mindsets AND similar incomes.

      There are some people at work who NEED to be there, but not all of them. There are many who are here because enjoy it.

  6. #21 by eemusings on October 16, 2012 - 1:35 pm

    I actually really like (love, sometimes?) my job. I never dread going to work. PLus my job has led me to some really awesome opportunities this year.

    That said, the creative industries are thankless to work in. There’s not much room for increases in earning potential. There’s always someone willing to do it for less. And you’re constantly being squeezed to do less with more.

    • #22 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:36 pm

      Hmmm. You’re right, I do mostly like my job – I’ve just started to hate it in the last six months or so, which definitely means it’s time to try to change groups within my company. I don’t usually hate my job this much…

  7. #23 by eemusings on October 16, 2012 - 1:37 pm

    Oh, and if I didn’t have to work? I’d obviously still write, as I do now, but take blogging more seriously, possibly, and look more into making some money out of it. Freelancing is definitely possible and common in my field but not a lifestyle I’d choose personally.

    If money were absolutely no object, good food and travel would be my top two priorities.

    • #24 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:39 pm

      It’s really hard to balance paying off the mortgage with wanting to travel :) Would you try to write a novel if you had more time?

      • #25 by eemusings on October 18, 2012 - 3:17 pm

        Probably not. That was my dream when younger. Not sure what I’d write a novel about now (certainly not YA – am past that stage of my life). As a journalist now I’d be more inclined to write something more prosaic. Essays? Memoirs? Hence why I love blogging.

  8. #26 by Harry Campbell (@PFPro1) on October 16, 2012 - 7:30 pm

    I actually like my job, I sit in a cube but I’m good at my job and I never get too stressed. But there are definitely many people at my work who are constantly stressed, underpaid, etc. I would never work in a job like that, luckily I found something that pays well and I like. That being said, I’m doing everything I can to boost my side income, real estate, passive income, etc. I would MUCH rather spend less now(and save more) so that I can semi-retire to something I really like by 40!

    • #27 by Leigh on October 17, 2012 - 10:40 pm

      Deadlines definitely stress me out a ton…I’m definitely starting to feel like external pressure makes anything I enjoy not really enjoyable anymore. My goal is to be able to completely retire by age 30. I think that’s not quite do-able, but 35 should be.

  1. Friday Reading: Why Do We Work?
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  3. Career purpose: money? Nope. « Leigh's Financial Journey
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