Feb 06

Chained to Your Work?

student debt survivor

Do you ever feel like you’re chained to your work? Can you be chained to your work if you’re not a, “big earner?”. I think so.

An individual earning $30K per year might not be, “golden handcuffed”, but they’re certainly “ball and chained” to their job if they need that income to survive. Lower and middle-class individuals can be “stuck” in their jobs just as much as higher earners (and maybe even more so). If you earn $30k per year and need to make $30k per year to pay your bills and keep food on the table, then you’re stuck at your job, or at an equivalent paying job.

Since I work for a non-profit agency in the social services sector, I’ve never really seen myself as a, “big earner”. But, now that I have my masters degree and have worked my way into lower management, I’ve been thinking a lot about next steps in my career. I’m not making so much money that I couldn’t leave, but obviously I’d like to make at least the same salary (hopefully more) when I do make the transition.

The stress of the work with challenging clients, combined with the hours I work (and am on-call) are certainly disproportionate in relation to the salary that I earn, compared to those who work in the for-profit world. And when I think about my future career path, I don’t envision myself being able to do this type of work indefinitely.

Here comes the “chains”…but if I don’t continue working my way up the career ladder at my current company, where would I go and what would I want do? My sister and I had a conversation about this very dilemma and she encouraged me to find a less emotionally demanding job, even if it means making less money. I think this is probably good advice, and it’s certainly advice I would give to others. But if I take a job making less money, what will that mean for my/our financial goals? Less money obviously means less savings and less retirement contributions. There are pros and cons of both options and I’m starting to carefully weigh them.

What do you think? Have you ever chosen a job with a smaller salary because it provides you a better quality of life?

Are you Chained to Your Work?


Image: StockMonkeys.com


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  1. I definitely chose my job to get a trade off between good salary and prospects, with a good quality of life. It is as about competitive money and opportunity wise as you can get in the UK without living the 14 hour workdays that the bankers do in the city. Work to Live not Live to Work!

    1. 14 hour workdays ugg. Thankfully I’m nowhere near that bad. Work to live is exactly how I feel about my job right now. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, but it pays my bills and gives me an opportunity to save a pretty good amount each month.

  2. I have not chosen a job with a smaller salary for flexibility. I would love if my current job offered more flexibility, or embraced things like work from home. I don’t like driving all the way to work and then leaving at the end of the day realizing there was no point in me physically being in the office!

    1. That’s the worst, when you know you could do everything from home but they don’t let you.

  3. Oh man…I am going through this exact thing right now. I am looking at taking jobs for a lesser salary for far more flexibility and better hours. I totally hear you, and I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet either.

    1. Keep me updated of your progress. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one contemplating this right now.

  4. I really don’t enjoy my job, but the pay is pretty decent so I stick around. I think that once my mortgage is gone I will move on to something that probably pays less but is more enjoyable.

    1. That makes sense. Once you have the house paid for you won’t have to worry about losing your job, or taking a job that pays less because you’ll be in a more stable financial spot. We’re a ways from that, so part of me just wants to work as much and hard as possible to pay down the mortgage as fast as possible, but even if I did we’d still be at least 10 years out (we just bought last spring and housing here is crazy expensive).

  5. We chose for me to stay home after my company’s mass layoff nearly 10 years ago. For us, having less income was worth it, even though it’s been difficult financially. Maybe you could make a financial plan where in a pre-determined amount of time your financial situation would allow for you to take a lower paying, less stressful job? Good luck with whatever you decide!

    1. Thanks Laurie. That’s exactly what we’re trying to figure out. We’re thinking about whether we should chose an event (like having kids) or a monetary goal (certain amount of money saved etc).

      1. That’s a good way to look at it. I’d be curious to know what you end up deciding. Each event has a different cost, you know?

  6. I divided my last salary by 4 when I chose freelance writing, but the freedom is incredible! Since then, I have gotten back to that last salary level with passive income. I was lucky my costs were low in the meanwhile to allow me to afford that plunge.

    1. Sometimes I think the freedom is well worth taking a pay cut. Plus, as you’ve proven, when you work hard and are good at what you do, they money will follow 🙂

    • Brian on February 6, 2013 at 10:31 am
    • Reply

    I wouldn’t say I am chained, but I make plenty of money for the little amount of work I do and my job is extremely secure. So it is hard for me to justify taking a job where I would have to do more work for the same or less money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind working hard, but there would have to be some sort of incentive (or promotion path) for me to leave my current situation.

    1. Makes total sense. If I were doing less work or making more money I might feel differently.

  7. I can’t really pick and choose what type of job I get. There isn’t much out there for my field. For me, 100% of any income I make will go towards paying off (the biggest mistake of my life) student loans, so yes, I will be chained to whatever work I do find (currently unemployed). I’m approaching 28 and have never had a career…and probably never will if I go the path of doing what makes me happy/what I’m good at.

    1. Many of the most successful business people in the US (and I’d guess the world) started their careers well into their 40’s, so there’s still hope! I know it’s hard to feel that way when you’re drowning in student debt (believe me I was there).

  8. I haven’t gotten a raise in a few years and while that sounds awful, one of the big reasons that I haven’t done anything about it is because my work is fairly low pressure. Even on a high visibility / high responsibility job, I can typically work a 8-9 hour day, leave when I normally leave, and not have a lot of stress during or after I leave. Those are huge things compared to some of the other horror stories you hear about.

    1. I don’t think that sounds bad (my company only gives raises based on the number of years in a position, not based on how well you do your job, don’t get me started on how demotivating that is). If you’re happy with where you are and the workload I wouldn’t change anything either.

  9. I worked at a job I wasn’t really happy working at because the hours were flexible which was compatible with my husband’s work schedule since his job required a longer work shift. Everybody makes decisions on what works best for them at the time, but it’s not always easy!

    1. Yup, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. I worked a job with nighttime hours for almost 3 years. I never saw my bf and was pretty miserable and mega stressed. Thankfully at least now I’m working daytime hours.

  10. I was chained a couple of years ago, but not anymore. I quit my job last year to do freelancing, even though I have not made even 10% of what I was earning in my full time job in the last year I am much much happier. I was able to take care of my father when he had surgery, take much better care of my health and overall my husband & I are much happier with the situation. I would like to make as much as I made before of course, but we are poorer but happier now.

    1. Good for you for taking the chance and doing something that you like and gives you a better quality of life. Ditto for being there to take care of dad. If a family member needed my help that would be a very easy decision for me. Poorer, but happier doesn’t sound so bad 🙂

  11. I’m married to my job, but I’m only chained to it in needing the income. I work an insane number of hours (also disproportionate to what I make) and it sucks, but most days I at least like what I do.

    1. Well that’s half the battle, I guess. It’s pretty hard to work insane hours and be underpaid, but if you like what you do that does make a difference.

  12. I chose a job/career because I like it! It turns out it provides a better quality of life because of the number of hours I work. I am a teacher after I already achieved financial independence.

    1. I feel like it’s so rare these days to find a person who likes their job/career. Good for you for doing what you’re passionate about and making a living doing it.

  13. Oh, my gosh, I so agree with your argument that you’re tied to your job more if you’re in a lower salary bracket. You can’t build up savings to up and quit and go on a job hunt or pursue more education. Because there’s gotta be food on the table.

    I’m going into the field I’ve chosen to study because I LOVE it. It’s not going to make me a millionaire, but I’ll be paying bills and enjoying what I “have” to go do every morning. A passionate life is much better than a monetarily wealthy one. (Not that you can’t have both.) I consider myself so incredibly lucky to have found something like that.

  14. Great thought provoking article here KK. I don’t think I have ever felt chained to my work yet, but I do know that when I was working as a bank teller I felt “stuck”. I couldn’t leave because it was right after when the economy tanked and I was suppose to feel lucky to have a job at all. Mostly I just felt unhappy. I’m at a different job now and feel much happier with my life overall. I only regret not leaving earlier.

    Because we spend so much time at our jobs, I personally think it is worth the cut in salary for a better quality of life. Just my two cents 🙂

  15. This is a great post….I am chained to just finding a career job. I had a nice one BEFORE I went to grad school (oh, irony) and now I can’t seem to find a full time job, even with being fairly flexible within my field and having a master’s. Unfortunately, we need money to survive and being in massive debt like I am, it can be a desperate, heart wrenching search.

    IF I had a job, I’d be willing to get paid less AFTER I’ve accomplished some major financial goals. I feel like after you have what you feel like you need, you have more freedom to take risks.

  16. I am chained to my work due to the money I make, which is the original reason I chose the gig in the first place. I do not enjoy it, although some days are better than others and lately I have noticed that most days are now “neutral” as opposed to “horrible”, which is an improvement that is depressing. I have not been able to justify a job switch that would bring about a pay decrease, because I have decided that I will never be at my happiest in a corporate atmosphere. So taking a pay cut no longer falls into my game plane. I am lucky to make enough, I have realized, to both save a lot for retirement and a lot towards other investments designed to pull me out of the corporate game. That has re contextualized my relationship with my job, and has made a huge difference.

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