Weekday Misery, Weekend Pleasure

Since starting The Simple Dollar, friends and family and neighbors have started coming to me regularly to chat about money issues. Most of the time, the questions are pretty simple and the answers come quickly. What intrigues me about these conversations, though, are the little things that people say that reveal bigger truths about their experiences with money.

One refrain that always seems to come up is what I like to call “weekday misery, weekend pleasure.” To put it simply, quite a few people who speak to me hate their job. They absolutely loathe it. Yet, because the job pays substantially better than anything else available to them, they stick with it.

This creates a lot of misery in their lives, and they find various ways to placate that misery. Quite often, this involves “playing hard” on the weekends – going on entertaining day trips, engaging in expensive hobbies, and ending both days with a significant party. It also often means “softening the blow” of the day by doing things like going out for breakfast before work.

I’ll take one person in particular – I’ll call him Ralph. Ralph’s education ended with a high school diploma, so to a degree, Ralph’s opportunities were limited. Ralph had a slightly-more-than-minimum-wage job that he really enjoyed. The work was enjoyable and fulfilling, the workers were friends both on the job and off, there were plenty of overtime opportunities, and the employer was very flexible with time off when it was needed.

Yet Ralph eventually applied for a much higher paying job. He went from earning about $9 an hour to earning about $22 an hour. At the same time, though, Ralph gave up work that he loved and a lot of time spent with friends. He gave up a lot of schedule flexibility. He gave up overtime opportunities, too. Even worse, the new work was terrible – it basically left him feeling depressed and empty most of the time.

The only benefit? More income. Yet it wasn’t as much of a boost as he expected. During a normal week, his paycheck roughly doubled, but at his previous job, he would often spend his evenings working overtime with his friends, meaning his old paychecks were often not that much lower than his new paychecks.

Another problem came up: his new work environment was filled with people who were talking all the time about the stuff they were buying. At his old job, most of the people there were happy just to make the bills and have a $20 in their pocket. At the new job, everyone had expensive cell phones. Many of the workers had ATVs that they rode around on during the weekends. They all had shiny new cars, where at his old job, most of the people had rusty old trucks.

So he felt the need to upgrade so that he could “relate” better. Of course, this added greatly to the monthly bills.

At the same time, the new work made Ralph largely miserable, so he started doing expensive things on the weekends. He took up a handful of expensive hobbies – that’s what his new coworkers were doing – and went out on the town regularly on weekend nights.

In the end, Ralph wound up with a job he was less happy with and less money in his pocket than before.

Where can Ralph go from here? Here are five suggestions for you if you’re in a “weekday misery, weekend pleasure” situation like Ralph.

Get in touch with the work you would really enjoy. Ralph is lucky in that he already knows what he enjoys doing. Many people do not – they just know that their current job makes them unhappy. Invest the time to figure out what you’re passionate about. What do you really enjoy? Seek it out. You might also need to work on how to turn that passion into income.

Communicate with those around you. Tell your spouse about your burgeoning change of heart about your work. If you’re unmarried, talk to your closest friends or your parents. Talk through both sides of the equation with them – making a change or staying where you’re at. Quit often, the people you care the most about – and who care the most about you – will have powerful insights that you didn’t consider.

Identify the places where you could cut spending in your life. One big challenge with making a move like this is figuring out where you could actually reduce your spending. Look for the big things you can cut. Also, look for the spending you’re doing that’s directly tied to your job (like clothes, stopping for food each day, doing things with coworkers, or “keeping up with the Joneses”). Another good place to cut is the “one time” things – things you can do once that cut your required spending over the long haul.

Build up an emergency fund. As the possibility of moving to a more fulfilling career position becomes more real to you, you need to build up an emergency fund to help you through the rough transition. Set up an automatic transfer from your checking account to your savings account every week, as much as you can muster. Doing this serves a secondary purpose, too: it convinces you to start making gentle cuts to your spending now.

Set a “target date.” This is the big one – it made my choice to “downshift” to a more personally meaningful job much easier. Select a date that you’re going to walk away from your painful job and make the big switch. Put that date front and center in your life – put up reminders all over the place. That date becomes a psychological lift – it makes you want to make the big push. Cutting back on things seems much easier than before. Building an emergency fund becomes fun rather than drudgery. Instead of burning your free time, you feel pushed towards using that time to pave the way for the transition, meaning you’re finding ways to save money instead of spending it. A target date can really ignite the kind of change you want to make in your life.

Remember, a little more money isn’t worth a lot more misery.

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