You’d think taking a high-paying job would mean I would be able to save more money, right?
Well, that wasn’t the case for me. In fact, it was quite the opposite.
This is the story of how my highest-paying job cost me more money than it was worth. And how you can recognize the following four red flags in your own work life.
1. You spend money to combat negative emotions
Negative emotions can easily lead to spending, depending on your money personality.
How often do you grab a lunch out even though you packed, just to get away from your desk? Or go out for drinks with coworkers after work to vent?
My highest paying job gave me constant stress and anxiety. Teammates and I would often go out for coffee just to get out of the negative atmosphere. And I found myself perusing the local boutiques a little too frequently when I was having a really bad day.
Whether your job is causing you stress or a general sense of unfulfillment, you might find yourself spending more money for a pick-me-up.
Spending, after all, is an easy way to get instant gratification – gratification you might not be getting at work. But, done too often, it can seriously harm your budget.
By the time I walked away from that job, I realized that I didn’t save anywhere near as much as I wanted to. So I was miserable and I didn’t take advantage of the pay to reach my financial goals. Lose/lose.
2. You spend money just to get to work
Even if you love your job, there’s a good chance you’re spending money to get there.
For those who drive, there’s your car payment, insurance, gas, and possibly even parking to worry about. And for those who don’t, there’s the cost and time spent dealing with public transportation.
Working parents also face a really significant cost: childcare. According to a survey from CareerBuilder last year, 32 percent of participants paid $250-$499 per month on daycare. And, 26 percent paid $500 to less than $1000 per month.
I’m not yet a parent, but that seems like a huge chunk of money to lose on a monthly basis.
3. You spend money just to walk in the door
Once you consider the cost of being able to get to work, then there are the costs of being able to walk in the door.
While startups and remote companies with their lax wardrobe requirements are growing, there are still a lot of workplaces and professions that require (at the very least) business casual attire.
If you’re a man, that could mean stocking up on work pants and shirts, as well as dress shoes or even suits. Or if you’re a woman, the same goes but with the additional cost of hair, nails, and makeup. Then there’s the cost of dry cleaning these nicer clothes and buying enough to keep your wardrobe varied.
“When asked how much they spend on clothing, shoes and accessories for work in a given year, nearly half (47 percent) spend $250 or more,” according to that same CareerBuilder survey. “[And] nearly 1 in 4 (24 percent) spend $500 or more.”
I’ve been lucky in this area. I threw away my black pants when I left my Wall Street job years ago and now I have the luxury of working from home. But I still succumb to the makeup budget for all those video meetings – which can get costly.
4. You spend money just to do your job
Have you made it this far without accruing high costs? Great! The next step is to understand if you spend money just to do your work.
At that high-paying job I had, I noticed that my laptop mouse was causing carpal tunnel-like pain. I know how it feels because my mom has it, but I hadn’t gone to the doctor for an official diagnosis.
I found a mouse online that was made to help people with carpal tunnel, but that company wouldn’t buy it for me unless I had a doctor’s note.
The mouse was $90. In order to get a note, I would have had to see my general practitioner and then a specialist. That’s two copays of $30 each, for a total of $60.
Then I’d have to take at least two half days or one full day off from work thanks to lengthy subway rides and waits at the doctor’s office.
In the end, I bought the mouse with my own money. My pain went away, but so did $90.
This is hopefully a less common experience for others, as many companies diligently provide proper equipment.
But what about your favorite planners or pens or notebooks? Are those reimbursed? And what if you work for a company doesn’t have the budget to reimburse you?
Teachers have it really rough in this area. Even though teaching pays moderately low incomes compared to other careers (the average teacher in America took home approximately $57,000-$60,000 in 2015, based on the grade level), they also frequently buy supplies for their classrooms.
According to the Education Market Association, as reported in Time, “on average, most spent nearly $500 last year, and one in ten spent $1,000 or more.”
Can you afford to lose $500-$1,000 out of your paycheck just to be able to do your work?
How to stop your job costing you money
Solving this problem doesn’t happen overnight – and it’s not always as simple as tightening your budget. To understand how to rein in the spending, pinpoint which cost is plaguing you the most.
In my case, the spending was almost entirely due to unhappiness at work. While this is a problem that’s growing in America and costing both employees and employers money, I held on to the hope that I could find something better.
So I searched until I did – finding a job that didn’t pay as much but had a culture I could thrive in, both professionally and emotionally. No surprise, I got better at saving money at the same time since I no longer needed to fill a hole created by deep anxiety.
However, if your spending revolves more around the logistics of your job (transportation, daycare, etc.) then your actions might not need to be so drastic. You could ask your boss about working from home once a week, or look into carpooling and shared daycare with trusted coworkers.
The more you talk about your issues with those in your shoes at work, the more creative solutions you might find.
At the end of the day, we all have to spend some money to do our jobs. But it shouldn’t be so much that the pay isn’t worth it anymore. Keep tabs on your spending and the why behind it and you’ll know what you need to do to reach savings goals in the long-run.
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