Updated on 10.20.07

Your Money or Your Life: For Love or Money

Trent Hamm

YMOYLThis is the twentieth part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of Your Money or Your Life. Want to know more?

This chapter of Your Money or Your Life starts off by attempting to define what exactly work is, which isn’t an easy thing to do. I thought their various quoted definitions were quite interesting, particularly Kahlil Gibran’s definition: “Work is love made visible.” I think that’s an ideal that many of us strive for – we would all like our work to be an expression of the love inside of us, but for almost everyone, it’s not true.

This is followed by a history of work, with one interesting idea: in pre-Industrial Revolution times, people worked an average of three hours a day, and that time blended into family time, religion, and play. For example, the work might include hunting with your friends, gathering berries with the whole family, or carrying water up from the creek with your children. The tasks that needed to be done were done as an integrated part of one’s life. The Industrial Revolution introduced the idea of compartmentalizing work and non-work and set them as opposites, constantly fighting each other over your time. Then, eventually, as more and more people work, it becomes harder and harder to socialize, leaving many people to pursue solitary activities, which often leads to isolation, depression, boredom, and more work.

I found one question in this whole discussion to be particularly profound:

Why do you do what you do to earn money?

It’s really not an easy question for most people to answer. You’ll mostly get statements along the lines of “It pays well” or “It’s what I’m trained to do.” Those answers speak to an essential dissatisfaction with what one is doing with much of their time, and it’s really no wonder such people go home completely mentally exhausted.

Paid employment serves only one real purpose: getting paid. That’s it. You spend your time doing things decreed by someone else. However, that’s not the only reason to work: work can be emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually fulfilling, and those things have significant value as well. Perhaps their value can’t easily be expressed in dollar terms, but they do show up in your day to day well-being.

When I first read all of this, I was somewhat jaded. Emotional and intellectual well-being doesn’t pay the bills was my perspective on it. But reading it this time, I see exactly where they’re getting at, and it makes perfect sense that this chapter follows one on frugality.

Whenever you go charge up that ol’ credit card, you make a choice that you’re going to stay at your current job, whether you like it or not. You are requiring your future self to pay those bills, and to have that money, your future self is going to have to have a certain level of income. Thus, every time you buy something frivolous, you lock yourself into your job, whether you like it or not.

Being frugal breaks that bond between your income and your work. Sure, no matter how frugal you are, you’re going to need some minimum level of income, but you’ll find out pretty quickly if you really commit to frugality that your expenses are far lower than you thought they would be – and that means that likely, you don’t need your current job, especially if it’s draining you.

For me, this has been the most wonderful discovery of frugality. For the last few months, I’ve no longer even thought much at all about my paycheck at work because we have plenty in the bank to cover all of our bills. During the vast majority of the day, I do things because I want to do them. The big reason is that I no longer attach my work to my pay – because I know how to live well below my means, I’m no longer roped to my desk at work and scared that everything falls apart if I lose my job.

That, my friends, has been an enormous psychological weight, one that I didn’t even really see before. It feels truly great to have it lifted.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue with the seventh chapter, “For Love or Money: Valuing Life Energy – Work and Income,” starting with the subheading “The Stunning Implications of Redefining Work” and continuing until the “Step 7” subheading. This section appears on pages 232 through 246 in my paperback version of the book.

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  1. I think part of the problem is that we don’t graduate college and start out adult life with a plan of how to live a frugal, fulfilling life. All the typical person does is focus on how to get a job and what to buy first. That’s sort of the big reason we went to school, right?

    I think this frugal, fulfilling lifestyle can be obtained, but most of us have a lot of work to do playing catch up before we will get there.

    Maybe some of us can instill these ideas in our children and help them down a different path around that age. I know I could have made a lot of different choices then if I had a better understanding of what is truly important.

  2. Sunshine says:

    This chapter was very eye-opening for me. Your very brief summation, particularly where you refer to your future self working to pay for stuff you buy today, hits it on the head.

    I am slowly getting the missus to see the virtue of frugality and I am returning to it myself for the very reason you describe – not being chained to your job.

  3. Catherine says:

    I am so intrigued by your blog.. I love it so far. I am trying to catch up with this book- however there is a lot in it!
    thank you for doing what you do…for me,someone who is intellegent, creative,, etc… and has really failed in the money department. i am feeling intrigued, informed, and inspired.
    Thank you

  4. louiuse says:

    I have consistently made decisions study and work in the field that I was interested in. I now work in a job I love and have plenty of work to choose from. It is possible to suceed by following your passion, it just depends on your defintion of sucess, to me there is more to life than money. I get up every day and love to go to work. It is possible, but it means breaking out of the mold & mindset that work is all about how much income you earn.
    The more you love what you do, the more chance you will have plenty of work because you will do an excellent job.

  5. vh says:

    FinanceAndFat says, “All the typical person does is focus on how to get a job and what to buy first. That’s sort of the big reason we went to school, right?”

    Therein lies a huge source of confusion among Americans, and a major reason young college graduates are disappointed with their job prospects: there’s a difference between education and vocational training. Universities were not meant, at the outset, to be voc-ed schools. Education furnishes your mind, enriches your life, and trains you for clear and logical thinking.

    So, no…if you went to a university, getting a job and buying things is not why you went to school. Or at least, it shouldn’t have been.

    One reason people with degrees in the liberal arts start out with lower pay but over the course of their careers generally end up earning more than people with technical degrees do is that they start out educated and acquire their job training on the job.

    Universities, in their quest to bloat enrollments, now offer vocational training, which they layer atop their historic mission. Today you can get degrees in accountancy and construction and hotel management. The result is that many students are forced to spend time in courses designed to educate them — writing, for example, and various courses in Western and world civilization and history — and they don’t see the point. Folks who are highly focused on getting a job and buying things might be better served by a purely vocational school designed to provide job training exclusively, since the part of a university degree that entails true education may be lost on them.

  6. Minimum Wage says:

    Paid employment serves only one real purpose: getting paid. That’s it. You spend your time doing things decreed by someone else. However, that’s not the only reason to work: work can be emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually fulfilling, and those things have significant value as well. Perhaps their value can’t easily be expressed in dollar terms, but they do show up in your day to day well-being.

    Funny how the jobs which pay the least tend to also be the least emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, and spiritually fulfilling. My job drains me but I’m trapped.

  7. Peachy says:

    I have always been a big believer in having an emergency fund. I got laid off at the end of May. A lot of my coworkers and friends were shocked and worried for me. I knew that I would be fine as long as I could get another job, in the next couple months. I ride a motorcycle, and I went on a two week journey after I sent out tons of resumes. I went on an interview right before my journey. The day before I returned home, I had a message from the company saying that they wanted me to come back for a second interview. I ended up getting the job, but it was so nice knowing my bills were covered and I could go on vacation, and I didn’t fret about not having a job ONLY because I had my stash saved from when I was working. I’m glad you’re in the position now where you can enjoy working, but know that it’s not the end of the world if you do lose your job.

  8. Rob in Madrid says:

    I often tell my wife that if we can get our cost of living under X dollars per month she can leave the coporate world. It becomes a trade off, new clothes equals more years in the rat race

  9. rhbee says:

    What is work? Work is the thing you have to do. If you don’t do it someone else will. You can get paid for work, all the way from sweat equity wages to the billion dollar buyout. You can put off work, you can pay someone else to do work, you can enjoy work or deplore it, you can share work, or create work, and you can ignore work but still, it will still have to be done. That’s what makes it work. Otherwise we would call it play or sleep or being bored or eating. Not that those activities don’t need work. Sometimes the more you need the rest the harder it becomes to relax. The more something seems like something you have to do – ”I have to get some rest,” you say as you toss and turn – the more it becomes work to fall asleep. And eating, well unless you eat your food raw, someone has to cook, clean up, find the food, buy it – in no particular order, I might add. That makes those things work. Just about anything can turn into work. The trick is figuring out how to make work pay you back for all the work you put in to it. Pay for work is a key to work satisfaction.

    You can hate work but that won’t make it go away. I work so I can have more time to play.

  10. Kathy says:

    It is not work itself that I hate. I love to work. True, I may a lot work harder at something I am gifted at, but I am actually not averse to ANY kind of work. I can shovel manure just as happily as any other kind of work.

    It’s the SYSTEM of work that brings me down. It’s the political stuff actually underlying the job that makes it so deadly depressing. It’s the rigid mentality that things can only be done in one certain way…. even if it’s obviously a counterproductive way. It’s the rewards system that rewards its pets, and ignores its less popular members, even when they have made valuable contributions.

    The whole thing works together to make a sad, hopeless slave system…. makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning.

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