How to Not Be a Wage Slave

by Philip Brewer on 2 March 2012 8 comments
Photo: ElvertBarnes

Choosing to be a wage slave is very different from choosing to be a debt slave, because it's a choice you make every day. (See also: The Best Way to Avoid the Worst Financial Problems)

One doesn't become a wage slave with one decision, the way a single choice to take on debt can color your life for decades. The only way to become a wage slave is to make the decision to be one day after day.

It starts like this: You get a job, find a place to live, buy the stuff you need — and without much thought going into it, pretty soon your lifestyle demands the continued flow of your wages or salary.

Of course, just earning wages doesn't make you a slave. It's only slavery when you lose your freedom. But when your boss asks you to do something unethical, and you feel like you've got no choice but to do it — that's slavery.

It's a gentle sort of slavery. No one makes you go to work every day — and yet, you do not have the freedom to say, "Today I think I'll go fishing instead."

Many people seem to think this is a good thing. Many people are afraid that, if they didn't have to go to work, they wouldn't go to work, and that that would be a bad thing.

It's not just a fear that they might lose the lifestyle to which they become accustomed. It's a fear that they'd find a more meager lifestyle acceptable, that only the goad of keeping up with expectations keeps them from being slackers (or worse).

The hard part of escaping wage slavery is making this mental shift — to stop choosing wage slavery every day, simply because it's what people do.

Once you do that, the key moves are easy:

1. Be Frugal

Don't let your cost of living rise until there's only one job in town that pays enough to cover your bills.

2. Avoid Debt

...except perhaps to finance the purchase of a productive asset.

3. Earn Some Non-Job Income

Even small amounts of extra income — from a small business you run on the side, a hobby that makes a little money, interest or dividends on your investments, rent from a piece of property — can cover an important fraction of your bare minimum expenses.

4. Expand Your Skills

New skills that would let you find a job in another field give you much more flexibility than just better skills in your current field.

Even when people out there were warning against freedom because it enabled sloth, to my mind choosing freedom was always the right choice. And I think a lot more people have come to share my view. When jobs are plentiful, you can work for wages and still be fairly free. So what if one employer goes out of business, or one boss turns out to be a psychopath, or one career turns out not to suit you — you can always find another job.

With the financial panic and recession, a lot of people were reminded that you can't always find another job.

When there's only one job, the shackles of wage slavery start feeling pretty tight. (And, of course, when there's no job, it's even worse.)

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Guest's picture

Great article, Phillip! Most people are wage slaves, or slaves of money. Its the only thing most people know, since it's been taught to us since day one. Go to school, get good grades, get a good job w/benefits and save for retirement. Unfortunately, this idea is no longer as smart as it once was. When struggling for a job right out of grad school, I started a side business (your #3) and soon it covered my monthly expenses. Two years later, it's what I do full-time, without needing a job. I love the lifestyle it provides.

Guest's picture
Dave

Well said, Ryan. This is spot on. People in Gen Y need to understand this concept.

Guest's picture

I use to tell my kids to save for retirement. Retirement had no meaning to my young kids. I now tell them to save and invest for financial independence. They get it. "Of course we'll do that, its obvious."

Guest's picture
Carl Lassegue

I really enjoyed this article. I think the most important point is to be frugal. If you live well below your means, you will be less likely to be a wage slave and let money have control over you.

Guest's picture

You are absolutely right about how your expenses creep up on you and you become a slave without even knowing it. But as you suggest, you can beat the system. Be conscious of this fact and fight back by not letting your lifestyle get out of control with debt and greed. I definitely back looking for alternative forms of income whether it’s from hobbies, investments, or hopefully both.

Guest's picture
Dave

Philip,

The hardest thing for people to overcome sometimes is their pride. People will work themselves to death and be "wage slaves" so they don't get questions from family, friends, or peers when they ask -- "Why don't you live in X?" -- "What happened to your high-paying job?" -- etc.

If somebody feels comfortable at a certain income level -- and they're bringing in more than they're spending -- that's all that matters.

Great article. Great advice. This is something people in my generation (Gen Y) need to come to embrace.

Thanks,

Dave

Guest's picture
Andy

We all say that better not run after wage which is correct, but sometimes we have to be like keen after our financial issues which makes us the wage slave.

Guest's picture

I agree with your idea and points. I wish this post had more practical information for people who disagree with being wage slaves.

I know I'd like to know more, because starting a small business isn't simple, when the rule of gov' is becoming more aggressive and the market is becoming weaker and hazardous.