One of the most painful realizations I had when I started getting my financial life in order was that my job didn’t really earn me as much money as it seemed.
My salary at the time of this realization was about $40,000 a year, so let’s use that as a baseline.
Now, on the surface, that’s really good money. If I worked 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, I would be earning $20 an hour, right?
Well, that’s not entirely true.
First of all, we have taxes. Federal income taxes, state income taxes, and FICA taxes. Federal taxes would eat about 11% of my paycheck, state taxes would eat about 4% or so, and FICA would eat about 2%.
Second, I had to pay for my commute. This was about ten miles each way, and it was the primary reason I owned a vehicle. So, let’s tack on top of that a monthly car payment of about $200, about $40 a month in gas, about $30 a month (prorated) in maintenance expenses, and about $40 a month in insurance, just to keep that car on the road.
I also had to wear a nicer wardrobe. I spent $200 a year to make sure I dressed appropriately for meetings, conferences, and the like – and that’s a low-end estimation.
There were at least two meals eaten out a week, costing $10 each. There was travel about three times a year where many of the expenses would be challenged, meaning each of those trips set me back about $100 out of pocket.
Not only that, there were a lot of times where I would put in extra unbilled hours to meet a deadline. I easily averaged 50 hours a week there.
the time spent traveling – another 50 hours spent places where I didn’t want to be per trip. There’s the time spent commuting – about 40 minutes per day. There were also work-related meals and other activities to attend, eating down another four hours per month.
When you start running the math on this, the equation starts to change.
After receiving my $40,000 salary, I’d pay out $6,400 in taxes each year. I’d pay out $3,720 in commuting costs each year. I’d pay out $200 in wardrobe costs each year. I’d pay out $1,000 in extra meals each year. I’d pay out $300 in extra travel expenses each year.
Suddenly, my $40,000 salary became $28,380, just like that.
Now, I’d work 40 hours a week, totaling 2,000 hours per year, right? On top of that, I’d add ten hours of unbilled work a week (over 50 weeks), three hours of commute a week (over 50 weeks), 150 extra travel hours a year, and 48 extra hours of activities a year. This would bring my total up to 2,848 hours, or an average of 57 hours a week spent devoted to my job.
My job is suddenly paying me less than $10 an hour.
Of course, there were other job benefits that had some significant value, but frankly, I wasn’t actually using them. My wife and I sat down and compared the health insurance offerings at our two jobs and her insurance was far better than my own, so we used her insurance. I had no use for their life insurance option, either, and their retirement plan wasn’t particularly strong. These things do have value when you’re comparing jobs in this way, but only if you’re using them.