When we evaluate our work we usually look at how it suits our skill-set, whether the schedule fits our needs, and if the salary is fair. We may not consider how much a job is costing us. I’m not talking about the intangible aspects of a job like health or commuting time. Sticking strictly with dollars and cents, every job has a cost. Weighing the costs against the benefits can give us a better idea of what the job is really worth.
I learned this lesson the hard way. When my husband returned from his second deployment, I took a job with a company 40 minutes from where we lived because we needed the extra money the income would provide. Some of the money was needed to simply cover the living expenses we had, but I also hoped to pay off some debts with what was left over.
When we found out I was pregnant with our fourth child, we started planning my exit from the company. I was four months pregnant when I left. I was exhausted, discouraged, and sadly, I was no better off financially than we had been just over a year earlier when I had started the job. It was time to do some nitty gritty reflection to figure out why. Here’s what I began to realize.
The job cost me a lot. It took my time, and it took massive amounts of energy. By the end, I was so exhausted that I could barely leave the couch on the weekends (which, of course, was made worse when I was in the first trimester of pregnancy). It cost gas in the car for the commute two ways and childcare expenses for our three kids (ages 6, 4, and 1 at the time).
With our efforts to keep the schedule going, we ate more packaged foods or ate out to save time or just because we were too tired to cook. There was more wear on the car, which required more maintenance because of the daily miles to and from my job. Plus, our costs for gas increased significantly as well. Finally, I had to buy specific outfits to fit my work environment. With every expense we endeavored to be frugal, but the costs still added up.
After a little over a year, the job had enabled us to stay financially afloat, but we had not made the financial progress I had envisioned because I failed to take into account the hidden costs of the job. When I left the job, I didn’t know how we would make it financially, but I knew that path wasn’t a good plan.
In their book Your Money or Your Life, Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez outline several areas where a job may cost us. They offer a sample breakdown of what each main category costs in terms of time and money. The chart below is based on their categories and estimates plus a few of my own (see Your Money or Your Life, pp. 90-93).
|Category||Time per week||Money per week|
|Commuting (transportation to and from the job)||7.5 hours||$100|
|Clothes (suits, uniforms, etc.)||1.5 hours||$23|
|Meals (coffee or breakfast on the go, lunches out, business dinners, etc.)||5 hours||$40 +|
|Daily Decompression (treats after work to make up for the stress of the job such as a special drink, dessert, etc.)||5 hours||$30|
|Escape Entertainment (outings and activities to recharge from the job)||5 hours||$40|
|Vacations and Expensive Playthings (time to get away from the pressure of work and daily life)||5 hours||$30|
|Job-related Illness (stress, fatigue, injuries and other health issues related to a job)||1 hour||$22|
|Childcare and Education (expenses for a nanny or daycare, possibly private school tuition)||10 hours||$200+|
|Certifications, Continuing Education, and Professional Development (whatever you need to stay current in your field)||1 hour||$25|
While this is not an exhaustive list, it gives you an idea of the types of items your job may be costing you. You should make your own list that is specific to your situation and your job, then plug in the real numbers when you calculate each expense. Once you have done this, simple math will reveal how much the job is costing you compared to how much it is paying you. Subtracting the costs from the salary (weekly, monthly or yearly) will reveal how much your job is really worth.
Of course, our work has value beyond monetary computations, but it is fair to take a realistic look at the real income the job provides when these costs are factored in. If your job is personally fulfilling or serves as a step toward a larger goal, congratulations! Unfortunately, many people do not go to their jobs for the enrichment it offers to their lives. They go for the money – the income the job provides.
Taking a detailed look at what our jobs cost us is a vital step in making strategic life choices. For instance, you might decide to take a job with less pay that is in a closer location because you figured out that the cost of commuting makes up the difference in salary. Or maybe, like me, you’ll decide that the cost of childcare, meals, and “escape entertainment” outweighed the benefits of working outside my home. This led me to find work opportunities that I could do from my home. I now teach online college classes from anywhere I have my computer and an Internet connection. Whatever you discover when you add up the costs of your job, the information will equip you to make adjustments in your work, time and finances to plan your future.
Tell us what you think by adding your comments below. What job-related costs did you uncover? How will you use the information to plan your future?