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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What Would You Do With A Million Dollars?

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It’s not about the money. It’s never been about the money. This is why.

If you’ve been with us since the beginning, you’ve already read 99 posts from us about frugality, optimizing our career lives, setting up side hustles, losing 10+ pounds effortlessly, house hacking, and how to set ourselves up for retirement. It’s been over two years, and I’d like to thank you all for accompanying me on this crazy ride towards being the healthiest and wealthiest humans we can possibly be. This post is our 100th post on Unconbentional, so for once, let’s dream a bit and remember why we’re doing what we’re doing. There’s a point to all of this, so stick around for some not-quite-obvious advice. If you want to live like a millionaire now, this is how.

We’ve all thought about it. With unlimited money, how would our lives be different? Almost a year ago, I challenged you to define your ideal day and — spoiler alert! — pursue exactly those goals and pastimes for the rest of your life. Some of us realized that happiness was within our grasp all along. Some of us realized we weren’t quite there yet, but that was okay too. What I discovered was I needed to set aside my “When I reach ________, then I’ll be able to ________!” mentality. Heck, I didn’t even wait until I had $500,000 in the bank to pull off a mini-retirement, and I learned a lot from it! I still have ambitious dreams though, and I’d like to share them with you now. Here’s a quick rundown of why I want to be a millionaire.

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My main hobby now is cooking. If I were a millionaire, I could cook every day for my friends. Heck, I might even pay someone to do my cleanup! (I wouldn’t though, because I know there’s value in doing what you hate.) Every night, I could roll out something ambitious and crazy like stuffed pig’s trotters or rigatoni con la pajata, and I could be creative and well-fed all the time, surrounded by friends at the dinner table. That’s Dream #1 and every day, I get closer. Sure, I might still be on French onion soup, but we all start somewhere.

Dream #2 is helping my friend “D” start a brewery. I’m more a drinker than a brewer, so I’d mostly look to finance it instead of actually working there. He’s been a loyal friend for over a decade, and if I were a millionaire, my dream would be to make his dream come true. For me, friends > money, every time.

Meanwhile, unrelated to food and drink, I’ve got a whole pack of friends who love cars, fixing them up, and drifting like maniacs. Basically, if a car’s going forwards or backwards, it’s boring. Driving sideways is their jam. (I think they’ve just seen too many Ken Block videos.) Dream #3 is going in with them to buy a cheap piece of land in the boonies, and owning just enough to put in a bit of dirt track. Those car nuts can go sideways forfuckingever. Again, happy friends make me happy.

The fourth and final dream is a pretty common one: World travel. I’d love to see Mexico, Spain, Argentina, and Australia. A loose goal I set myself is seeing 20 foreign countries by end-of-life. Dream #4 will be a lifelong pursuit, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

That’s why I want $1M.

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The money doesn’t actually matter though. It’s just a tool to buy the dreams you really want. $1M in the bank doesn’t do anything except generate some profit from investments. Done properly, you can Retire For Good this way, but if you’re a loyal Unconbentional reader, you might realize full-on retirement might not be the world’s greatest goal either. Instead, for once, I urge you not to think about your dollars too much.

Instead of using only money as a metric of success, I’ve started quantifying the completion progress on my dreams. Since I’m an efficiency kook, I started looking for ways to increase my progress with as little money as possible. I quickly realized “When I reach ________, then I’ll be able to ________!” was just an excuse to delay working on goals. Supremely motivated people like you or I know we can start whenever. Here are examples.

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Dream #1 (40%)I cook once a week already, and I’ve gone up to four large meals in a week before. That week almost became a problem! With both my roommates working all the time, they can’t commit to at-home dinners seven days a week anyway. The last beef bourguignon I made even led to some food waste because we ate through it slower than we thought we would. Can you imagine if I cooked every day? I think I just need more friends to feed!

Dream #2 (10%) — Not much I can do about this one yet. I need to take care of my own money before I drop tens of thousands on a brewery. However, “D” became the assistant brewer at a 2,500-square-foot brewery recently, so maybe I can just visit him and strut around pretending I own the place.

Dream #3 (0%) — I mean, I’m researching lots to buy, but this ain’t happening soon.

Dream #4 (50%) — With a little advance planning, I can almost always leave on a weeklong trip. With contacts in Mexico and Australia, my vacations there could be cheaper than I thought. I’ve also already visited 10 countries; France, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece, Denmark, UK, US, China, and Japan! Getting to 20 in this lifetime should be a cinch!

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I’m not saving to reach $1M. Not really. I’m actually saving to max out on my dreams. Here’s the thing: Without even spending all that much, you can work on your dreams every day. That’s what I want you to know. No more “when ________, then ________”! You’re not saving money; it’s more like dream fuel. The best part is real dreams are rarely tied to money. If your dream is to own a house someday, you might think you need $3M — (I live by Vancouver, okay?) — but with a little digging, you could also find a €19,000 property in Sicily! Money’s not the goal because your dreams are! Sometimes, a little bit of knowledge or even reading a blog post can fulfill an entire goal for you!

Gary Vaynerchuk once said, “People are chasing cash, not happiness. When you chase money, you’re going to lose. You’re just going to. Even if you get the money, you’re not going to be happy.”

This might be a personal finance blog, but it’s not about the cash. It never was. Find out why you do the grind. Work on your dreams now, every day. Look beyond the bank account, and remember why you want those numbers healthily high. Imagine what you’d do with a million dollars, and start doing that thing now.

It turns out I just want to cook for my friends. What dreams are you delaying for no reason?