Thoughts on Work, Personal Life, and Frugality

I strive quite hard to create a dividing line between my “work life” and my “personal life.” Generally, that means setting pretty strict hours for work and for personal time and striving as hard as possible to not let either side cross that line.

Let me give you an example of what I mean, drawn from a day last week. I woke up around 6:30, brushed my teeth, ran a comb through my hair, and woke up the kids. Obviously, I’m on personal time here. By 8:30, both of the kids are at daycare, so I settle down for several hours of work. I close the office door, turn off the ringer on the phone, and dig in, only stopping long enough to eat a quick lunch around noon.

By 4:30, I’m done. I step away from the office, go downstairs, and begin to work on supper. Personal time again. My wife and my kids arrive at home, we eat together, and then enjoy a few hours of fun in the yard and in the family room. I put the kids to bed, then my wife and I spend some time together (actually curled up side by side on the couch, reading) followed by bed.

It’s easy on one level to see how I separate the two parts of my life – a physical thing, right? Is the office door closed with me inside?

But it’s not that simple.

Take the reading, for example. I’m a writer – the simple act of reading is a subtle way to improve my own writing ability. Semi-consciously, I take notice of how various writers use language, and I incorporate that into what I’m writing. Quite often, that reading that is theoretically purely for fun inspires ideas for my writing.

So is that reading personal time or work time?

One could start applying similar litmus tests to meals, to time I spend with my family, and to shopping trips, all of which regularly tie into my work.

It’s not just my current job, either. At my previous job, I would often spend time on weekends doing work-related things – more than once, those work tasks on weekends interrupted family events. I’d also spend personal time reading things related to my work – scientific journal articles and so on.

Beyond that, I’ve never had a job that didn’t float into my mind many times a day when I wasn’t actually “working.” I’d think about the tasks I needed to do, the actual topic I was working on, my relationships with my coworkers, and so on.

What I’ve come to realize is that the real distinction between work and free time is in your head. Your thoughts.

When you’re at work, you’re being financially rewarded to focus your thoughts on a certain area. Sure, some jobs allow you to mentally wander, but your attention must consistently be on a certain range of topics in order to actually earn the money you’re being paid.

When you’re spending your free time, you’re not being financially rewarded to do anything. You can think about whatever you choose. Some people choose to avoid thinking about their jobs at all because, frankly, they don’t enjoy thinking about it – when their job crosses their mind, they try to block it out. Others spend that time thinking quite regularly about their work because they do enjoy it.

The truth for all of us is somewhere in the middle. We enjoy some aspects of our jobs and loathe others.

When we think about our jobs during our free time, we have two routes to follow. We either think about all of the aspects we enjoy – which lifts our moods and gets our juices flowing. Or, we can focus on the negative aspects – the coworkers we don’t like, the tasks we hate – and end up loathing our jobs.

Unhappiness and happiness at work bleeds throughout your life. Your job fills so many hours of your day that your mind can’t help but reflect on it quite regularly – and that reflection can either be positive or negative. The more positive the reflections, the more positive your overall thoughts are. The more negative the reflections, the more negative your overall thoughts are.

That positivity and negativity of thought affects everything in our lives. If we’re miserable in our jobs, that misery gradually flows through our life. If we love our jobs, that joy gradually flows through our life, too. That affects everything throughout your life – your health, your personal relationships, and eventually your job, too.

Conclusions on Work, Personal Life, and Frugality

1. A job that you feel positively about has intangible benefits.

You feel happy at the end of your day. When your job inevitably crosses your mind, you feel happy about it, and that happiness is reflected in your interactions with others and your personal health and attitude. You want to have many aspects of your job in your personal life.

2. A job that you loathe has intangible negatives.

You feel drained and empty at the end of the day. Your personal relationships suffer and, often, your health suffers (especially if you begin eating worse and exercising less). You loathe even thinking about work, and you often find ways to completely distract yourself from it.

3. Many people take jobs they loathe in order to earn more money.

People take jobs they hate for the money. Quite often, that extra money is spent in various ways to distract yourself from this work that you hate. You buy lots of entertainment items, eat plenty of expensive food, and sometimes indulge in other things, too.

4. Frugality makes income less of a requirement.

A conscious focus on minimizing your spending cuts the amount of income you actually need. You can use the reduced spending to contribute heavily to debt repayment, dig yourself out of any hole you’re in, and further reduce your monthly bills, thus further reducing the actual amount of income you need to live.

5. Frugality thus enables you to choose a job or career you feel positively about.

Over the long run, that same frugality enables you to walk away from a job you loathe, or take advantage of something you dream about.

6. Thus, frugality is one potential path to a more positive life.

A job you enjoy more simply fills your life with more positive thoughts. You enjoy the hours you’re working more, and when the inevitable thoughts about work float in throughout the rest of your day, they tend to be much more positive than before.

7. If you hate your job, today’s the day to start going frugal.

Don’t go home tonight and follow the same old routine. Your future doesn’t have to be like this. Here are 100 ways to get started. Most important: when you’re tempted to spend on something unnecessary, think twice about it. Make the choice not to spend until it becomes familiar and comfortable – then use that money you’re saving to get out of debt and build yourself a future you can be happy with.

Good luck!