Updated on 05.09.11

The Second Job Paradox

Trent Hamm

Amy writes in:

I’ve been a paralegal with the same law firm for four years. I love the job and the work that I do. I feel like I’m genuinely helping people.

In October, my boyfriend and I sat down and looked at our finances as you suggested. We came to the conclusion that we needed more income, so I took on a second job in the evenings at a local Home Depot.

Since then, the extra income has been very useful, but now I just come home at night exhausted and I have to practically drag myself out of bed in the mornings. I don’t have any energy with my paralegal work and my boss has started to notice. We had a one-on-one meeting about it. He asked whether I was committed to the job. I told him that I didn’t have enough money to make ends meet and had to take on a second job.

I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid of losing the paralegal job, but I’m also afraid of losing the income we really need to get out of our financial hole.

Amy hits upon a major concern for anyone working multiple jobs. You only have so many hours in a day.

I’ll show you what my own schedule looked like when I was launching The Simple Dollar as a side business. This was a normal weekday.

4:30 AM – Wake up
4:30 AM – 5:00 AM – Shower, hygiene, breakfast
5:00 AM – 6:30 AM – Writing
6:30 AM – 8:00 AM – Get kids up and ready for child care, take them there, commute to work
8:00 AM – 4:30 PM – Work
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM – Commute home, prepare supper
6:00 PM – 10:30 PM – Writing
11:00 PM – Sleep

Simply put, I was burning the candle at both ends and this caused several problems.

I had limited time for leisure activities and activities of self-improvement. There was no time for anything other than work and minimal family time.

My performance at both my regular job and my early writing suffered. It was difficult to write good articles. It was also difficult to take on challenging tasks at work. I could muddle through, but I’d have to be blind to not see that the situation was having a negative impact on my work.

I was exhausted and I got sick quite often. I used to fall ill almost every other week, making it even harder to catch up. Today, I haven’t had any sort of real illness in almost a year.

How did I resolve all of this? It was really a three-step plan.

First, I set a clear deadline for myself a few months down the road where I would choose one job or the other. When I realized that something had to give – as Amy has – I set a deadline for that final decision. For me, it was almost exactly three months down the road.

Why wait so long? This gave me time to reflect on my situation and make the correct decision. It also gave me time to get my financial house as ready as I could for losing a significant income stream.

Second, I lived incredibly lean during the period leading up to that deadline. I cooked everything at home. I made sack lunches. I didn’t do much of anything outside the apartment (of course, it’s not as if I had a lot of time for it anyway).

During that period, I beefed up my emergency fund with all of the money I saved through living lean. Thus, when I was ready to choose, I knew that I had some support against the loss of the income stream.

I would highly recommend that Amy follow this same path. Eventually, she will lose one job or the other, so she should take the choice into her own hands. She should set a deadline, live as lean as she can until then, and then make the choice.

Finally, when I did make my choice (which was writing), I redoubled my commitment to it. In Amy’s case, if she chooses the paralegal work, she should start off by meeting with her boss and simply stating the facts of it. She made a difficult financial choice to stick with this job. She should also look for a plan to maximize her chances to increase her income at the job that she chose.

Which job should one choose? For my situation, I chose the one that I felt would give me the best opportunity to spend time with my family. Both paths seemed to afford me the basic income I would need and both provided work that I found enjoyable. The difference really came down to how my family was affected.

For many people, however, and this includes Amy, the decision should come down to which job offers the best income potential if you commit yourself to that career path, unless that choice is deeply untenable for some other reason (an uncomfortable workplace, unethical work, etc.).

Working exceptional hours over a long period is untenable and negatively impacts your performance. Set a deadline for the hard choice you’ll have to make. Conserve your resources as you lead up to that deadline. Then, make the leap into whichever situation is the best for you.

Even if that path doesn’t lead you exactly where you hoped, you’ll at least be able to tackle that path with energy and a clear mind, which are the greatest tools you can bring to the table when it comes to your career.

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  1. chuck says:

    Trent, your answer seems to suggest choosing between the 2 jobs. I don’t think Amy is even considering quiting the para job and taking the home depot job.

  2. chuck says:

    I think the answer is Amy should work toward quitting the home depot job by doing either or both of 2 things:
    1. Can Amy get a raise at the para job to make up some of the income she needs from the home depot job. Or maybe look for a better paying para job.
    2. Can Amy cut her expenses so she doesn’t need the home depot job: cut cable, cell phone, eating out, sell 2nd car, install a programmable thermostat, etc.

  3. Katie says:

    I know a lot of paralegal jobs can come with significant amounts of overtime. Amy, can you tell your boss that you’re available for more overtime and do that in lieu of the Home Depot job (exhausting but at least you wouldn’t have to be switching jobs in the middle of a long shift, which must take a lot out of you)? Or search for a job at a different law firm where overtime is more readily available?

  4. Tracy says:

    If the boss has already noticed that there’s a problem, enough so that they had a one-on-one meeting, it sounds like it’s already hitting the dangerous point of making a decision. It would really suck for Amy to lose a fulltime paralegal position in exchange for a part-time job, even if it could go full time.

    Amy should 1) find out if there’s an option to work only on weekends (or Friday-Sunday) at Home Depot. 2) Seriously talk with her boss about the possibility of a raise

    But there’s a significant difference between a second job to make ends meet and a job that will transition you to a totally new career, and I think you missed that completely in your post.

  5. Sonja says:

    Hold the phone. What about Amy’s boyfriend? Her letter says they looked at this together and decided THEY needed more money and SHE got a second job and is exhausted. Maybe Amy can keep the HD job, but drop some hours – maybe just work weekends there for awhile – and boyfriend can pitch in and do the same. Also, the law firm will not put up with substandard work for long. She needs to shape up while she is there and perform or someone else will make the decision for her. Amy should talk to her employer pro-actively and tell them what steps she is taking to improve her performance and ask for regular feedback if she wants to keep that job, even in the short term.

  6. Johanna says:

    Yeah, Trent, I don’t think your experience in this case is especially applicable to Amy’s situation. You were launching your “side business” because it’s what you love to do. Amy’s working at Home Depot because she needs the money. If quitting one job or the other was an option for her, she wouldn’t have a problem.

    To add to chuck’s suggestions:

    Is it possible for Amy to arrange things with Home Depot so that she’s working fewer hours? (If not, can she find a different evening job with fewer hours?) Or does she need all of the Home Depot income to fill the gap in her budget?

    Is the need for more income temporary or permanent? If it’s temporary (if she’s using the extra income to pay down debt that will be gone soon, for example), then concentrating on the light at the end of the tunnel might help her find the energy to pull through for those few more months.

    What does Amy’s boyfriend’s schedule look like? Is he also working long hours? If not, then maybe he can use some of his extra time to make things easier for Amy – by doing more of the housework, by giving Amy a ride to work (so she can sleep or relax in the car), or something like that.

  7. Dee says:

    Sonja said exactly what I was going to say. Where is her boyfriend in all of this? Whose debt are they paying down?

    She should absolutely not compromise her day job for a side job. I was doing what she is doing: I had a full-time job and then would go work retail at night. It was incredibly draining. My boss didn’t call me in or anything, but I could tell it was negatively affecting my work performance. I scaled back my hours and reduced expenses so that I didn’t rely on the extra income as much.

    Also, the side job added to my expenses (gas, different clothing needs) that weren’t helping.

  8. valleycat1 says:

    I agree with the others. Amy needs to figure out the best way to be able to focus her energy at her primary job, and she needs to let her supervisor there know that she’s dedicated to the job and doing what she can to work things out. The way her comments are written it’s hard to tell whether she was working to make ends meet or to get debts paid down – there’s no information about why they decided they needed to increase their income. And, yes, if it’s the case that the boyfriend isn’t also putting in more time & effort to get the added money coming in, he needs to step up to the plate as well, or they need to learn to live on the lesser income.

  9. jessie says:

    I echo a lot of these points, and will add one more: Amy, maybe you have too much debt. If your BF can’t work more, AND your quality of life is shot to the point where you can’t give up the extra income and do a decent job at your full-time job, you may need to consider bankrupcy or a significant re-evaluation of your goals. Maybe the goals you wanted to achieve with this extra money have to be given up or pushed back. Maybe you just took on too much debt and need to declare. Either way, IF YOUR BOSS HAS CALLED YOU IN TO HIS OFFICE, YOU ARE ONE MEETING AWAY FROM BEING FIRED- and your poor performance at work is NOT going to get you a raise, if one is possible.

    Unlike Trent, I would say: quit home depot tonight! Your boss calling you on your bad performance means you don’t have time to make any decision other than “don’t want to lose my full time job”. Then, sit down with your BF and consider the other options discussed here. Good luck!

  10. Dee says:

    YES to what Jessie said.

  11. Sharon says:

    Second jobs are exhausting. A few things Amy can do…
    Ask for overtime at her regular work. Because her rate of pay is higher than HD and she will get time and a half, her financial return per hour worked. She may then need to work fewer hours.
    She may also want to look at the type of second job and find a less demanding one. Home Depot looks like it might be physically and emotionally demanding. It might be better to do some babysitting on the side if it is less draining.
    And while I suppose technically illegal, I would consider doing something like babysitting or “people sitting” under the table. A few hundred a month without taxes can make a big difference.

  12. Dorothy says:

    Jessie is spot-on. In many firms, by the time your boss addresses an issue, you’re close to being on the way out the door.

    I also echo the questions about what the extra money is needed for, and where the boyfriend fits into all this. Of course, since Amy and the BF are not married, he has no legal obligations to her.

  13. con says:

    Yes, if Jessie loves her paralegal job, then she needs to keep it. Like others have said, I don’t think asking for a raise at this time is a good idea. She just needs to KEEP her preferred job. Quit Home Depot or just work weekends if she can. Too much work is weary, though. I personally would either have boyfriend (if he can) help with some of the overload or I would cut expenses.

  14. kristine says:

    I third Jessie’s response, and earlier notations that the advice was irrelevant to the questioner.

    Do NOT lose the full time job! being left a job search, and part time Home Depot- would be a real hole to fill.

    Can you move to a cheaper place if you rent? Or if you own, can you rent a room?

  15. Gretchen says:

    Yet again, not really comparative circumstances- you WANTED to leave your job.

    Cut the HD hours, get the BF to pitch in (maybe he is!), try to get more hours at paralegaling.

    What did the boss say when you said you needed more money? (paraphrase)

  16. marie says:

    You should never compromise a full time job in your field for a part-time job that is only there for extra cash. If your boss has talked to you, you need to show them fast that they can count on you, otherwise you will be in a worst pickle than before you started the extra part time work.

    I would either scale way back the hours spent at Home Depot, or just quit, and take a few months focusing on just your job and doing the best you can there and living as frugally as possible. Also, instead of burning yourself out working part time, are there any extra courses that you could take (maybe subsidized by your work) that would then help you get a raise?

    Also, its hard to say the best course of action when we don’t know why you are short of money? Are you having trouble making ends meet, are you trying to put money aside, do you HAVE to have the money from the part time job every month to ‘survive’? If yes, then you might need to reevaluate bigger expenses and downsize.

    Finally, in the mean time, while you go back to just one job, try to sell some stuff you don’t need.

  17. jim says:

    I agree with Jessie and the others. The boss sounds like he may be a step away from firing her. NOT a good time to ask for or even think of a raise.

    Amy should dump the 2nd job NOW and focus on your real job so you make sure you keep it. Better to assure your day job then risk losing it and ending up with a small fraction of your income.

    I too wonder what the boyfriend is up to. How exactly did the two of them decide the solution to their money woes was that Amy would work more? I hope he’s already working the equivalent of 1.5 jobs for the team effort.

    If boyfriend is doing his part and Amy still needs more money then find other ways to make money. SOmething she can do on the side when time permits or has a more flexible schedule.

  18. deRuiter says:

    Cut down to fewer hours at Home Depot. Your boyfriend needs to get a part time job. You two need to spend less, cut out the frills, cook at home, run some yard sales to raise extra cash. . Get a checkup with your doctor to make sure there isn’t a physical cause for your feeling tired.

  19. Luke G. says:

    “Amy hits upon a major concern for anyone working multiple jobs.”

    To me, Trent seems to be using Amy’s question as a springboard to get to the notion of working two jobs in general. Then, he’s discussing the principles that come into play when someone chooses to take on such a lifestyle.

    That’s different than telling her to dump her primary job and go to HD, which some seem to think he’s advising.

    Trent is trying to teach a lesson that would benefit others in this case, instead of directly answering one girl’s personal question.

    That’s my $0.02 anyway.

  20. Adam P says:

    Luke, it’s fine that he did that—but when you get asked a question by a reader and post it on your blog with an answer, it is not unreasonable to expect the answer to be to that question.

    My mundane comment has been awaiting moderation since yesterday. This has been happening a lot lately. Trent, fix your gizmos or at least go and release comments now and again or your readers will bail.

  21. Maureen says:

    Amy isn’t choosing between two careers, as you were. She has to decide if earning extra income from her second job is worth risking her first job. Amy should absolutely focus and protect her day job. A full time job that she loves easily trumps a part time job at Home Depot. I really doubt that she needs a long period of time to consider her options. I doubt that her she even has the luxury of time to ponder. She needs to fix this asap.

  22. JH says:

    I’ve never been in a situation like this, but she should clearly quit the Home Depot ASAP. Tell your boss that you quit the 2nd job.

    After quitting the Home Depot job, spend that time looking for other paralegal work. Once you find one, use that as leverage to get a raise.

    I hope the best for her.

  23. gail says:

    If possible, Amy and her boyfriend should work weekends so their day jobs are not affected by exhaustion from late nights from the second job. Even though it is tough work, catering, waitressing, and handy-man jobs pay more than a minimum wage job at Home Depot, and that type of weekend work is always in demand.

  24. KarenJ says:

    Sometimes when people are looking for part-time work, they automatically seek out traditional jobs that require a certain number of hours per week, but there are plenty of contract and freelance jobs that one can take on, where you have some flexibility on how much and how often you work. As a paralegal, she has skills that are in demand and could command more money. Sites like ODesk, Elance and Sologig have people looking for professionals for freelance work. Perhaps if no OT is available at her job she can find out if another attorney needs a few hours of her expertise. I certainly hope the boyfriend is working a second job also!

  25. jim says:


    I agree that the point of Trents article was to discuss the issue of choosing between 2 jobs in general. He used Amy’s email and example as a springboard for that topic. But Trents situation and Amy’s situation are very different so it is easily confusing and makes people think that he is applying the solution for his situation to Amy’s problem.

  26. con says:

    This seems to happen again and again. Trent has really good advice on alot of things, but if he is going to post a question and answer it, he at least needs to address the question as it is relevant to the one asking the question. So many times it seems he skims the question and just applies a cookie cutter answer that is relevant to his life.

  27. cynthia says:

    Since it sounds to me as if the Home Depot job is simply to help with increased income/debt reduction, I wonder if Amy could find a weekend job. It may not be as grueling and, at least, she could be rested for her job/career. And, maybe if she could find a job with a caterer or at a restaurant it could cut some of her food costs. In any case, I wish you the best in a tough situation.

  28. Kate says:

    Additional jobs are good in the short-term to achieve a goal and I think that is what Trent is driving at. It is over the long-term that additional jobs eat into other parts of life. And when one is tired, it is quite easy to forget that one does have choices. If appears that Amy already has had one meeting about her performance as a paralegal so if she does not figure out a less tiring way to make extra money or to cut expenses, the decision to keep that job will be taken out of her hands.
    Example: I work with a woman who HAS to work two part-time jobs in addition to her “main” job. The extra money she makes doesn’t go towards paying down existing debt, though. It goes towards cruises, new clothes, eating out (many justified as things she deserves because she has to work so hard). She is always tired and grumpy AND complains about the lack of money and how hard she has to work. It is hard for me to be sympathetic because it appears that it is her “choices” that have forced her into that path. Unless she changes her decision-making, it is pretty much guaranteed that she will HAVE to work additional jobs. The circle will continue, unbroken, until she either loses her main job because of poor performance or she decides to make some changes in her lifestyle.

  29. Katie says:

    Amy, have you considered dropping Home Depot and doing some weekend tutoring instead? Your hourly rate would almost certainly be higher, and if you can handle kids and parents who are frustrated with school, you might enjoy the experience. The hours will almost certainly be more flexible than Home Depot as well.

    EIther way, good luck!

  30. Maggie says:

    When our daughter went to college, I started working at the local grocery store 3 evenings a week after my full-time job. We thought it would add some extra income to help us pay tuition. What it really did was give us just enough income to put us in another tax bracket and we ended up paying more taxes. The extra dollars did not go as far as we wanted and the store kept asking for more hours – can you stay a little longer tonight because xyz called in sick, etc. Finally, I just became overwhelmed and quit. We managed okay without the extra money by cutting back other places, less groceries because one teen-ager and friends were not eating at home, downgraded our cable and took the bus when we could. We made it work. I hope Amy can find some other cost-cutting strategies so she can maintain her health and her paralegal job.

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