Money Isn’t Everything

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I know this series is about productivity and success, and both of those underlie the perfectly understandable and broadly popular effort to increase income. But the truth is that money isn’t everything.

There’s health and happiness. Morals and values are extremely important. Relationships are critical to life satisfaction. And many of us are driven – without reference to earning any income – to work toward certain goals, or to utilize hard-won skills or special gifts with which we are blessed.

So while a certain amount of income is necessary, no amount of income is sufficient to make us feel all the time that our life is meaningful and worthwhile.

That’s why I’m offering here some ideas on why you might intentionally give up all or part of your income – actual or potential – in order to gain other kinds of benefits or rewards.

Here’s a partial list of things that might be worth more to you than what W.C. Fields called spondulicks:

Career Change or Opportunity

Career advancement and commensurate income simply aren’t linear. It’s rare to climb a single ladder all the way to the pinnacle of your career. Many times, you must change jobs, organizations, even career paths to open up better prospects for the future.

And when you do, you often encounter the need to accept a pay cut.

While a pay cut itself is not desirable, if you believe it is the price of admission to a better way forward, you may well decide to accept it.

Better Work-Life Balance

There’s no “one size fits all” for the best balance of work and non-work time and opportunity. What does “fit all,” however, is the dissatisfaction and potential burn-out that results when your work-life balance is out of whack.

That’s why it’s often a good choice to give up some income in order to re-organize your work and your life in ways that make you feel better about what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, and why.

After all, it’s hard to put a price on time with your family and friends, time for yourself, time to grow or indulge in favorite activities, and so forth.

A Dream Come True

A chance to pursue a dream opportunity is relatively rare, so there’s a strong argument to be made for giving up some income in order to follow your heart.

Even if the dream opportunity doesn’t pan out, the dollars you forgo will almost certainly fade from importance in future years, particularly when compared with the regret you would feel every time you remember the opportunity you declined.

Other Forms of Compensation

Another reason to give up some of your income, or to decline an increase, is to arrange for another form of compensation you value more highly.

This could be anything from more days off or more flex-time, to remote work opportunities or a different base of operations.

More than raw bucks, you might prefer a title change, a shift in responsibilities or reporting relationships, an opportunity to learn to new skills, or other perks that suit you.

Start Your Own Business

If you have the dream of working for yourself or taking a shot at a new business venture, you might well decide that a steady stream of income feels more like a restraint than a welcome means of support.

Of course, going out on your own nearly always entails accepting a world of new risk, new responsibilities, and new problems. Nevertheless, you may decide these risks and rewards constitute a better deal than some or all of the money you’re currently receiving.

Of course, choosing to give up income requires some in-depth thinking. Before you take this step, you ought to consider whether a variety of real-world factors are aligned with your plan to earn less. These factors include:

Expenses: How much is your monthly “nut” – the minimum you’re obligated to pay on a regular basis. This includes food, rent or mortgage, other debt service or obligations, and all the rest. If you can trim these down, you can relinquish some income with less danger of financial embarrassment, poverty, default, bankruptcy, and the like.

Reserves: How much money do you have on hand, or at least readily accessible? The bigger this number, the longer you can maintain a satisfactory lifestyle with a reduced income.

Timing: If you’re expecting a baby, buying a new home or car, locked into illiquid investments, or otherwise facing a heavy demand for cash, this may not be the right time to voluntarily reduce your income. On the other hand, if you’ve just won the lottery, cashed out of a skyrocketing investment, or see no heavy expenses on the horizon, this may be a good time to go for broke.

Prospects: It’s difficult and dissatisfying to live without an adequate income. Before you give up some or all of your current source(s) of income, consider your prospects for replacing it/them with something different. You can’t know the future for sure, but you can position yourself so you feel you’ll be able to make ends meet under a wide range of likely and unlikely scenarios.

Backup Plans: The best laid plans of mice and men…. Since you can never be sure you can pull off your primary plan for the future, it’s helpful and comforting to have one or more backup plans to which you can turn, if necessary. The more likely and viable these backup plans, the more sensible it will be for you to try your exciting Plan A.

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