How many times in your life have you ever thought to yourself, “this isn’t a big deal, this [insert purchase] only represents [insert number of hours] of my life.”
The most common example I can recall is going out to eat. Let’s say you want to go all out and get that $50 steak, and you think to yourself, “I make $50 an hour, this only represents one hour or my life, totally worth it!”
There’s only one problem with that example, each hour of your time at work isn’t actually worth $50, it’s worth a fraction of that amount. It’s my goal in this article to illuminate how exactly misguided the initial question posed in this article is.
I’ll use $50 per hour rate, which breaks down to $104k a year, which I realize is well over average, but it’s easy math. We’ll assume this imaginary employee, we’ll call her Charlie, she works 40 hours per week, which totals 2,080 hours per year.
For simplicity’s sake we’ll just assume that Charlie will lose 25% of everything she makes to Uncle Sam.
That takes Charlie’s $50 down to $37.50 per hour.
According to U.S. Census data the average commute is 26 minutes (which I’ll round up to 30 minutes). Basically, Charlie’s 8-hour work day is actually a 9-hour work day. That means instead of making $37.50 an hour, Charlie is making $33.33 per hour.
As much as we would all like to make the more economical (and often healthier move) of packing our lunch to work, that doesn’t always happen every day. For that reason, we may find ourselves eating out more than planned.
According to Making Sense of Cents, the average work meal costs $11. Instead of assuming Charlie eats out everyday though, we’ll conservatively take half of that number $5.50, to factor in those days where she does manage to wake up early and pack her lunch. I’m sure some of you could get your lunch bill down to $2-$3, if that’s the case then it would impact your hourly rate even further.
This takes Charlie’s hourly rate down to $32.65.
As we all know, commuting doesn’t just take your time, but it also requires money as well. You have to pay for your car, gas, insurance, registration, etc. According to this study, the cost of commuting is $2,600 per year on average. This further reduces the hourly rate by $1.25, bringing the new total to $31.40.
Without the need to commute 30 minutes a day that would drastically change your transportation needs. You could consider having 1 car or eliminating your car altogether depending on where you live.
Wind down/recovery time
I typically get home earlier than my wife. When she gets home I often want to talk to her or need something from her, but her common response is “I need time to unwind first.” Many people have a spouse and kids waiting for them when they get home, so they don’t have the same luxury to just “veg out.”
Even if you can’t totally tune out, you’ve been at work all day, you’re feeling drained and you probably want a break. But that break isn’t free, you wouldn’t require that time had you not gone to work in the first place. We’ll assume that the average wind down/recovery period is 1 hour. $27.91 per hour is Charlie’s new rate.
It’s nearly impossible to factor in all the costs associated with going into work. Here are a few more that I’ve come up with that are much more difficult to quantify for a broad population:
- Professional/work related clothing
- Happy hours
- Team lunches
- Gifts (birthday cards, white elephant gift exchanges, other celebratory occasions)
- Required continuing education courses
- Technology (cell phone, laptop, at home workstation)
- Health (the health costs are very real, I just had a physical therapist tell me how much of my lower back pain stems from sitting all day, not to mention staring at a screen for 8 hours a day)
- Outsourcing home duties (cooking, cleaning, yard work, repairs)
- Retail therapy (if you’re like many Americans and buy things to ease the stress of work)
- No time to develop your own side-hustle that you would actually enjoy doing
I just threw a lot out there. Daycare alone would dramatically increase your costs, but we’ll just assume a flat rate of $250 per month for a combination of all of these things.
$26.47 is what Charlie ends up with.
How much does the steak cost now?
I started this post by using an example of going out to eat. Initially, Charlie was happy to buy the steak when it only cost 1 hour of work, but now that steak costs her 2 hours of work.
By going through this little thought experiment, we basically chopped Charlie’s hourly rate in half. As a W2 employee myself, who commutes 20ish minutes to work every day, this hurts me as much as it probably hurts you. Our time at work is far less valuable than we give it credit for. I’m sure there are many people out there who are hit much harder by the costs associated with having a job.
I invite you to go through this exercise for yourself, that way you can be better informed of how much your working hours are actually worth.