Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Cost of Working

I’ve been searching for a job for a while now, and one of the things I’ve been carefully considering is the “cost of working” for each possible job. There may be more…or maybe I should say less…than meets the eye when looking at the bottom line.

Often there are hidden costs when you work. Your salary or wage may seem generous at first glance, but after evaluating these hidden costs, it turns out to be not so generous after all.

For example, the corporate position I’ve interviewed for twice in the last few weeks will require business casual attire and dressy shoes that I do not currently own. Some of the new clothes may need to be dry cleaned. Being in the public eye, I may decide my hair needs to be cut or colored more often. There maybe be non-reimbursed luncheon meetings I’m expected to attend. It’s likely I will want to go out for lunch once in a while instead of bringing my own, or maybe there will be “food days” when I’m expected to bring a covered dish from home. There will undoubtedly be bridal/baby shower collections, charitable donations, birthday or retirement gifts and holiday festivities that I’ll both want and be expected to participate in.

The job would be reasonably close to home, but there would be commuting costs to consider; not just gasoline, but wear and tear on my van. If time is money (and in many ways, it is), then there would be commuting time, time spent getting ready for work each day, and the non-paid time I’m at lunch to include in my overall equation.

Subtract those expenses from the base pay, and then divide by the total number of hours related to the job in any way, and the hourly wage goes down quite a bit.

In comparison, the government job I’ve also applied for offers a lower hourly wage, but by the time I weigh all the variables, the gap closes considerably.

Benefits are an important consideration as well and can be converted into a dollar value. I’m fortunate enough to have excellent health insurance through Shane’s job, but still need to evaluate things like retirement packages, 401k funds, long- and short-term disability, etc. With a four-year-old in the house, being able to take sick or personal time off if she is ill is very important. Before I make a decision, I need to know if there is paid time off, and if so, how it accrues and how soon it's available to me.

Finally, there are non-pecuniary “costs” involved with any job. Is the work fulfilling and enjoyable? Will I learn and grow in the position? Will I get along well with my co-workers? Will there be opportunities for advancement? Will the commute be too stressful or tiring? Will I look forward to going to work? At the end of the day, will I be generally happy or am I likely to be grouchy and miserable? Does my potential employer believe in a personal life for employees or will they frequently ask me to stay late or take work home with me?

While these intrinsic values are difficult to anticipate and measure, I think they are important. Life is too short to take or stay in a job that keeps me from my family and/or makes me miserable.

BTW—these are also good tools to use when you are thinking of changing jobs or if you or your spouse are considering leaving work altogether to become a stay-at-home parent. For more detailed instructions how to calculate the cost of working, see Joe Dominguez’ book Your Money or Your Life, or Amy Dacyczyn’s Complete Tightwad Gazette


Tug said...

GREAT post! You have no idea how many times I've stopped looking for a job because right now I can wear whatever I want. Seriously. No heels, no dry cleaning - shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, flip flops. And my vaca time is built up, Corporate KNOWS me & what I can do...it all adds up. Again, great post!

Annie Jones said...

Tug: Thanks! I'm kind of torn right now. I expect I will get a job offer from the corporate job, and I will probably accept it, but part of me is really drawn to the gov't job that is so informal. I don't think shorts are allowed there, but when Jean worked there, they could wear flip-flops and even pajama or lounge pants. I also like the idea of the seasonal work there, because days off to get things done at home or play with Kat are always nice. But the corporate job will get us out of debt more quickly.

DadGuy said...

Just don't put the "get out of debt quickly" over things that would make you not like your life. Sounds like you're on the right track though.

Annie Jones said...

Dadguy: You always comment with good advice. I'm trying to figure out what the right balance is. But first, someone has to offer me a job. :)

Nobody™ said...

So far my experience has been that private industry just can't compete with gov't jobs when it comes to benefits. I don't pay a nickel for my health insurance, and it's damn good insurance! Plus their retirement can't be beat. I'll be able to take full retirement when I turn 57, and they'll pay me 60% of my highest salary until I drop dead.

Annie Jones said...

Nobody: I know it's hard to beat, or even match, those benefits. Some of the larger corporations and labor unions come close, but most of those jobs are in the cities.

Still, I've known people (particularly at a corp. where I used to work) who were truly miserable at their jobs, but became lifers because they couldn't see giving up the benefits. Instead they gave up some of the joy in their lives.

Every person's situation is different, but I'm not sure it's always a good trade.