Are You Worth Your Wage?

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Okay, don’t close this window yet. There’s a point to all of this. I know many people have adversarial relationships with their employers, but this will help shed some light on how they see you as an employee, which will ultimately make your working relationship better. This will most likely lead to raises, promotions, happy working conditions, and more control over how you work. Worst-case scenario: You lose three minutes, and decide you deserve a better job. That’s valuable to know too.

First off, most employees have no idea how much they actually cost their employer. In this fantastic article about salary negotiation, Patrick McKenzie writes, “[G]et into the habit of seeing employees like employers see them: in terms of fully-loaded costs.  To hire someone you need to pay for their salary, true, but you also have taxes, a benefits package, employer contributions to retirement, healthcare, that free soda your HR department loves mentioning in the job ads, and what have you.” Depending on a variety of factors, for many jobs, “a reasonable guesstimate is between 150% and 200% of their salary.” You cost more than what you see on your paycheck. When I say it like that, it seems obvious, but it’s a significant jump. Your $20/hour is more like $30/hour. This is just a quick aside, but keep it in mind if you didn’t know this already. Let’s get to the meat of this article.

Let’s say you have a below-average job. It’s not too stressful, and you spend one of your eight hours a day just Facebook-ing. Regardless of how you spend your time, every three minutes, someone from accounting walks by your desk, taps you on the shoulder, and hands you $1. “Thank you,” you say in this absurdist scenario. “See you in three minutes. I’m gonna watch a cat video now.” Here’s the thing: From an employer’s point of view, this is exactly what’s happening. If you make $20/hour, by the numbers, this isn’t an absurdist scenario at all. It’s just math! Now, I get that you can’t be directly productive every minute you’re at your workplace, but I started asking myself, “Am I worth what I’m being paid? Even at my (now-)$16/hour job, am I actually making my employer $1 every 3m45s? Not only that, but am I making them profit that will also cover the cost of keeping the lights on and the store open? Is it notably better than the 7% they’d be earning in an index fund instead?”

When you think about it that way, simply employing you is a goddamn risk. If the position is a mutually beneficial fit though, you’ll be earning them boatloads of money using a passionately developed set of skills, and they’ll be paying you well to develop those skills until you’re making boatloads of money too! Remember how we talked about going “above and beyond in work and business”? I’ve been using real-time pay calculators as a motivational tool at my day job. When I see it tick up $10 and I know I’ve actually done nothing, I don’t particularly feel good about myself. It’s a gentle nudge towards productivity, and I’m thankful for that. I always strive to do more now, and I’m certain it shows.

This is even more insane with my wedding photography. To a client who’s paying me ~$400/hour to shoot, I’m getting paid $1 every nine seconds. Am I creating art worth $1 every nine seconds? I damn well better be to charge my rate. Knowing this helps me kick ass at my job!

Think about how you make money for your company. Would you hire you, or are you being a leech? Would you be more productive doing something better? Are you worth $X every X minutes? If you’re not, it may be time to find a better fit.

As both an employee and an employer, I’ve seen it from both sides. Are you worth your wage?

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Rich People Live Longer

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“The study divides Americans into five income groups and finds that each income group is healthier than the one below it and sicker than the one above it.” Full article here.

Well, no surprise there. I think it’s more correlation than causation, and this is likely to stir up a debate in the comments, but it’s not about the money. Rather, I’ve found the people who succeed financially tend to have healthier habits than people who make less. Tom Corley analyzed “Rich Habits and Poverty Habits” and it’s easy to see how wealthy habits are also healthy habits that lead to longevity. Take care of your money, and you’ll take care of yourself too! Don’t believe me? Read his article, and let’s go through the list. Buckle up.

#1 is “Live within your means.” I had trouble doing this, and many aspects of my life were suffering. I was drinking too much. I was eating so much, I was overweight. I spent heavily on sedentary entertainment. I put myself in debt, which added to my overall stress. “Live within your means” is such an obvious piece of advice, but what’s not obvious is how much damage you can do if you ignore it. I spent so much on gluttony and indulgence, my BF% was 28.6 at its highest. (The average for men is 18-24%, and I’m at 23.4% now.) Simply by overspending, I was overindulging. It was bad news. If I’d saved more wealth, I would’ve had better health. It doesn’t stop there.

#3 is “Read every day.” This alone is how I learned to accumulate wealth. If I’d never read “The 4-Hour Workweek”, Mr. Money Mustache, Marcus Arce’s “Half Retire”, or Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules”, I’d still be broke, unhealthy, and trapped in a 9-to-5. Constant education might actually be key to longevity. It keeps minds active — book lovers live longer, by the way — and it provides me with valuable information on how to live a better life through optimized personal finance, health, and happiness. If you’re reading this now, you’re on your way to a long and happy life. Read those books I linked to above, and you’ll be even wealthier and healthier. I promise.

#6 is “Network and volunteer regularly.” Here’s a TED talk linking social integration to longevity, but there are benefits from interacting with your community that can benefit you now and not just when you’re trying to eke past 100. Looking at my 10+ years of doing professional photography, my most profitable years were when I was volunteering on fashion creatives, meeting with colleagues for drinks, and handing business cards to anyone who made eye contact with me. The more of yourself you give, the more you tend to receive back. Having been reminded of this, I made a point of attending a networking event this week. My mental health and career outlook immediately improved, and a simple night of drinks might lead to a $3,000+ wedding booking. Hey, it’s happened before! Many times, in fact!

#7 is “Go above and beyond in work and business.” How this leads to longevity is slightly less direct. I posit that high achievers in the workplace are also serial optimizers who bring their skills home. They’re the same ones who know an exercise routine in the morning sets them up for productivity in the office. They’re the same ones who read to excel. They’re the same ones who eat homemade quinoa for lunch when Matt from accounting goes out for Burger King. Sorry, Matt, but I know who I’d bet on for longevity. Enjoy your extra pickles.

#11 is “Avoid toxic people.” Corley writes, “[Y]ou need to evaluate each of your relationships and determine if they are a Rich Relationship (with someone who can help you up) or a Poverty Relationship (with someone holding you back). Start spending more and more time on your Rich Relationships and less on your Poverty Relationships. Rich Relationships can help you find a better job, refer new business to you or open doors of opportunity.” I fully agree. My stress levels were lowest when I started spending less time with my naysaying family, and more time with disproportionately successful friends. The Other Ben has been a godsend to me. If it weren’t for him, I’d most likely have fallen into the same trap my mother fell into — believing low-end wage labour was the only method of wealth accumulation. That feeling of being stuck? No bueno for stress levels, and as we all know, stress kills.

#16 is my favourite: “Know your main purpose.” Here’s a talk about ikigai and the centenarians who believe in it. I reevaluated my purpose in life recently, and realized I just want to take care of my friends. Someone who doesn’t know their main purpose might just work themselves into the ground — literally, I might add; see: karōshi — or they might have a bunch of money and spend it in a way that doesn’t bring lasting contentedness. (The Ferrari-crashing, money-flashing fuerdai are just one example.) In my case, knowing my purpose allows me to say no to things that don’t serve my goals. I don’t need a big house, so I’m not working towards one. I don’t need fine wine every night, so I stopped buying them months ago. What I do want is better friendships, and the wealth and time to help cultivate them. I also want meaningful work, and I’ve found that in wedding photography and slinging beer. My goals, purpose, and steps to achieve them are all in alignment! Though I’m certainly not the highest earner in my circles, I feel like my healthy habits will lead me to wealth in the long run.

Finally, an obvious note: Having enough cash to take care of basic health is something everyone deserves. For many, it’s not as simple as changing a few habits. That’s why I urge you to be a “Rich Relationship” for somebody. I recently helped my roommate “D” land a dream job, and I’m equally happy to connect as many compatible working relationships as possible. If you’d like help with anything, ping us on Facebook.

Let’s all get rich together and live outrageously long lives to enjoy it.

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After writing this article, I consulted “A” for additional commentary. This was some of what she said.

“It’s a lot easier to avoid toxic people if you have money and are not reliant on said toxic people. People are more likely to value reading if they had parents that were educated and valued education & learning & reading. Poor people don’t necessarily have the time to volunteer, it’s hard to think about your purpose if you’re depressed and in survival mode, social exclusion can make networking hard, etc. So these habits you’re writing about are hard to start or maintain if you’re not already in a semi-well off position.”

She also noted, “By writing about this though, the implication of the article is that you think that wealth doesn’t have an important effect”.

Admittedly, there were points I’d failed to consider. I decided to preserve the original article anyway — it may prove valuable as I learn more about privilege and poverty — and I invite you to chat with me in the comments about it.

What do you think? Let’s dive in.