Career purpose: money? Nope.

After talking about why we work a couple of weeks ago, I’m going to talk about why I’m not in my career for the money.

I absolutely love saving money. There have been points in my life where saving money was the only interesting thing going on. Putting money into savings or investments or paying down the mortgage and watching my net worth go up has always been really exciting to me. But, I have always put money aside for the future pretty much no matter how much money I made. I’ve always made savings a priority.

Back in high school when I decided I wanted to major in an engineering field, I didn’t have any idea that it was a well-paying career. It was just really interesting to me. I love the “brain work” and the logical/math part of it. I’ve worked in food and retail and both were pretty boring compared to the engineering jobs I’ve had over the years. When I go on vacation and don’t do much “brain work”, I get so bored. I need to have a way to keep my brain active pretty much all the time. No matter what sport I’m playing, I’m always analyzing it. You can’t shut my brain off while playing sports.

When I got my signing bonus for my first job, I never at any point considered spending it; I only ever considered putting it into savings. When I started getting regular bonuses, again, those immediately went to savings without much thought. When I got a pay raise, the money of course went to savings. (And then was eventually eaten up by increased housing expenses, but that should be less of a problem going forward.)

There are, of course, times that I hate my job, but for the most part, I absolutely love the content of what I do. I think that I would be happier if I worked in a less corporate environment (a smaller company) or I could be happy doing projects completely on my own terms (I definitely have in the past). What I do really comes down to throwing technology at life’s problems and making things easier for people. I absolutely love this way of solving problems with code, of thinking through how we do things manually and how we can solve that with software. I don’t always love working with people or working more than 40 hours a week (it’s way too mentally exhausting), but I do mostly always love writing code.

When The Finance Buff linked to my post about why we work, his simple test was:

If the employer cuts your pay in half, do you still show up?

My answer is yes, I would still show up for half my pay. Hopefully I would have the mortgage paid off if that happened and I would never consider working more than 40 hours a week doing this for any less than I’m paid right now. Sure, my RSUs are a nice extra, but even if they disappeared, I would still do okay. One of my life plan ideas actually involves moving to a city with lower pay in another ten years or so. I would estimate that that would be a 50% pay cut, but being able to sell my condo here and use the proceeds to buy something in cash there, plus having a large sum invested would make a huge difference. Then again, maybe at that point, I can just quit completely and live off of my investments.

Then again, I feel like I’m severely overpaid for my level of experience. I’m happily taking the money that they’re giving me and banking it, but I definitely wonder some days why I’m worth so much to my employer.

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18 thoughts on “Career purpose: money? Nope.

  1. I could not live on half my income in this city (which would be less than minimum wage).

    But the other way people often put it is ‘would you do your job for free’? Of course not – I have to make a living. But in terms of the general gist of what I do – writing and editing – I would do that nonetheless for my own pleasure, which I also do now.

    • I like that way better, almost, and your way of wording it. I love the general gist of what I do and definitely would (and sometimes, though I don’t have the time as much lately) do it for my own pleasure.

  2. Also, I have huge admiration for web designers and software engineers. It blows my mind that you can take a mockup of a site, or an idea for a script/app/something that actually DOES something, and code it into reality.

    • One of my favorite things about this field is when I work with customers/clients who don’t code and they express opinions like yours because it just makes me feel so valued in my work!!! :) Thanks!

      • So you should! I gave Codeyear (javascript) a run earlier this year – it was awesome being able to actually write stuff that made things happen. I didn’t really enjoy it though and wasn’t really good at it – in my line, front end design stuff is probably more immediately valuable (my basic html and scraps of CSS are very useful, and I should learn more on that side).

  3. I love this test- definitely makes me think for a minute. Especially since in an ideal world I’m not working just for the paycheck and I also am a big believer in the idea that finding meaningful work is the key to long term happiness but also long term professional success.

    I’ve had a job right out of undergrad where I felt overcompensated for my experience. My strategy then was ‘save when you can not when you have to’ and I was able to get a huge head start on my savings. Clearly you are already doing this.

    I don’t know exactly what your job is right now but someone I know well does something that sounds very similar. It is extremely hard to find tech talent right now. So maybe you are overly compensated for your experience or maybe you just found a field with an extreme lack of supply and are good at what you do! I’m guessing you are good at what you do and are being fairly compensated for the current market environment.

    • I love your strategy to “save when you can, not when you have to”! I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that.

      I think I found a field with an extreme lack of supply and am good at what I do, but I was lucky in finding that field and where our stock price was when my RSUs were granted, making them worth significantly more now than when they were granted.

  4. If my paycheck was cut in half I’d move to a university. I’m already underpaid about 5K below my average market value. If all professors in my field had their paychecks cut in half, then I might no longer be in academia given that my paycheck is already 75 to 50% of an industrial paycheck. If all paychecks for all people with my degree everywhere were cut in half, then I would probably stick around with what I’m doing, but I might not work as hard and take up some side incomes.

    • Also: When I started out I felt like my paycheck was way too big. Now I feel like it’s not as big as it should be. It’s not that I’m hurting for money, but that I want the market to value me at my worth.

      • Interesting analysis.

        That makes sense because I think employers tend to recruit stronger externally and then once they have you, your pay eventually levels out. I agree with you on “not hurting for money, but [wanting] the market to value [you] at your worth.” I think that for the first couple years I was underpaid for my experience and that I’m paid closer to market now, but it still feels like a ridiculous sum at my age, you know?

  5. I work for a not-for-profit, arts company where I’m already underpaid (as are my co-workers, and my managers). To put it blatantly, the education I needed to get this position cost me nearly 2 year salary. If my pay were cut in half, I would be below the poverty line, and therefore my answer is “NO” – I would not be showing up. I’d be better off working in fast food.

    But like your first commenter said, I would still do similar things for my own pleasure, likely by volunteering.

    • Wow, that’s an expensive education / salary ratio! I don’t think I could work for an arts company, that simply isn’t in my personality as I have a hard enough time going to shows! I think it’s probably a pretty amazing job for someone who enjoys it though :)

  6. i would show up for half my pay. Or rather, if EVERY company was cutting pay for my work in half. If it was just my company, I’d probably look for work elsewhere. Financial security is important to me and is one of many reasons I chose my career path. But not the main reason.

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