Long Hours and Other Employer Demands
You probably know someone who works ridiculous long hours — 60, 70, 80 hours a week. Maybe you do yourself. There are good reasons to do so, but there are also bad reasons.
Some people work long hours because they love what they do. I've known people like that, and loving what you're doing is a great reason to put in long hours. Another good reason is "to get something done." When I was first working as a software engineer it was quite ordinary to work long hours for a couple of weeks at the end of a long project to hit a deadline. (In later years those deadlines became increasingly frequent until we were trying to hit a deadline pretty much all the time.)
There are also a couple of "okay" reasons. Some people can work long hours because they're at a point in their life where it's not a hardship — they've finished school, perhaps, and haven't started a family yet. If you've got a short-term contract to work overseas (or on an oil rig, or at a remote research facility), it may make sense to just structure your life around working lots of hours on a temporary basis — you can earn a whole lot of money pretty quickly, and working so many hours means you've got no time to spend the money. It can be a great way to accumulate some capital in a hurry.
After that, though, I only find bad reasons. People work long hours because in tough times they're not sure they could find another job. People work long hours because they're hiding from their empty lives. Those are both bad.
Worst, to my mind, are the people who work long hours because they've structured their financial lives so that there's only one occupation that pays enough to cover the bills. They've put themselves into a predicament from which their only hope of escape is to cut their expenses — but since they've probably committed themselves to long-term contracts (student loans, mortgages, car loans, etc.), there's no easy way to cut. So they find themselves running as fast as they can just to stay where they are. They're terribly vulnerable, because they have to do whatever their boss demands or else see their financial lives collapse.
This is the most important, most fundamental reason that I advocate frugality: Because it gives you the freedom to walk away from abusive work situations.
It's not that hard. The key is to structure your finances so that the bills are easy to pay: Live in a small house or an apartment (or a small apartment); drive an old car that gets good mileage; hesitate before signing a service contract that adds a new monthly expense.
You don't need to deprive yourself; it's the recurring bills that have the potential to trap you in a job where you feel pressured to work long hours. Once you have your emergency fund topped off, you're free to spend as lavishly as your income allows — as long as you're not locking in future expenses.
This is actually even more important than choosing your career. There are careers where workers get more or less respect, and all other things being equal, it makes sense to choose one where workers get more respect rather than less. But that strategy has many limits. It's more important to do work that you find interesting or that you feel to be useful than it is to do work that society finds worthy of respect. In any case, what's respected changes over time — forty years ago physicians were automatically leading members of society while nowadays they might as well be working in a sweatshop.
Keep your fixed expenses modest and keep a comfortable emergency fund. Then you're in a position to push back when an employer demands something that you're not comfortable with, whether it's working long hours or doing something that violates your values.
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