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Golden Handcuffs: Money Isn’t Everything

I recently had the opportunity to apply for a position in my company that would have been a pay increase.  Who doesn’t want a raise?

I didn’t apply.

Why not?

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely did consider it.  The idea of a bigger paycheck is always nice.  But to me, the more important part was the work I would be doing.  I really enjoy my job right now.  The pay is good (could always be better), but more importantly, I enjoy the day-to-day.  I’m not one of those people who says “Oh, my job is so great, I would do it even if I didn’t get paid.”  Because let’s be honest – my favorite part about my job is the paychecks.  If I were volunteering, there were many other things I could be doing.

But looking at this new job opportunity, it just wasn’t worth it.  It was work that I’m not very interested in.  And the money would have been nice.  I thought about all the things I could do to my house that I’ve been saving up for.  (Okay, so it wasn’t THAT much more money, but every bit helps.)  However, what’s the point in having money if you’re miserable while earning it?

While in law school, I learned about the idea of “Golden Handcuffs.”  Basically, that means that you go into a high paying job where you work your tail off doing tasks you don’t really enjoy, but you make a good amount of money.  So you have more money to spend when renting or buying your home, buying a car, taking vacations, and doing all the other fun things you do with your money.  Of course, you have less time at home, so you’re probably paying for services as well, be it a maid service or a lawn service or extended child care.

Then you see an opportunity for a job you would enjoy much more.  But unfortunately, the pay is also significantly lower.  You could take it, but that would mean a change in your lifestyle, and are you really ready to give up that great apartment?  If you’ve bought a house, maybe you can’t afford to make less money because you won’t be able to pay your rent.  And you can’t see giving up the awesome vacations you take every year.

That’s what we call “Golden Handcuffs.”  You find yourself stuck in your situation because you have a too lavish lifestyle.

Is it worth it?  Some people would say yes.  They love being able to spend their money and so they’ll suffer through the terrible day-to-day.

For me, it’s not worth it.  I spend a lot of time at work.  I’m lucky to have great coworkers and a pretty great job.  I can’t imagine spending 8 hours a day (or more, in my case) being miserable just so I can make more money.  Sure, sometimes you have to do what you have to do – you can’t just quit your job because you don’t like it.  You do need some sort of income.  But as you’re looking around, or thinking about applying for that better paying job, take everything into account, not just the paycheck.  Golden handcuffs are a hard trap to escape.

1 comment to Golden Handcuffs: Money Isn’t Everything

  • It’s interesting because I go through this discussion a lot. My position pays pretty well but I know that there are other opportunities in my field that would probably pay 10-25% more. So far I haven’t applied very seriously. Why? A few reasons. First, I’d probably get 1-2 weeks less vacation per year. Second, I’d have a longer commute than my current 2.5 mile drive. Third, even in the most stressful of situations, right now I rarely work over 40-42 hours per week. This likely wouldn’t be the case.

    Bottom line, my pay could increase but there would be costs, largely based in time, that would offset some of the gains. It’s basically asking whether a 10% raise is a raise if you’re working (or traveling) 20% more?

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