There’s been a lot of talk on TFD recently about earning more or less than your partner, or dating a man who makes over six figures (or not doing it), and lots of other general talk about being a high-earner. It has motivated me to write in about my own life and experience as a single woman who, at just shy of 30, is currently earning a gross salary of $128,000/year. I’m not in any kind of tense dynamic with a partner about money (because I don’t have one, lol!), and I also don’t feel any kind of anxiety about how much I earn one way or another.
I’m generally pretty smart with money, have robust savings and retirement funds for my age (as well as other investments), and I think that I am generally doing very well by the standards of this blog, financially. I don’t necessarily feel beyond the discussions here, because I still do a lot of dumb stuff with my budgeting and spending (and love a lot of the non-money content), but I also know what stocks are and have them, and I am able to save about 30 percent of my monthly take-home pay very comfortably. So in this way, I think I can provide a pretty different experience from a lot of people here.
All of this to say that, when it comes down to it, my life still sucks despite my comfort (or, perhaps, because of it in some ways). I, like many of you probably do, had a lot of big mental images that go along with the six-figure number, and expected that certain things would happen when I reached it. I took out almost no student debt (got a scholarship to an already-cheap state school), so I was in an even more prime position to enjoy the spoils of my success, so to speak. But despite my ease with money — and I don’t disregard the base level of comfort and security that this provides me — I am not a very happy person day-to-day. I’m not very fulfilled, and I wouldn’t describe my life as “fun.” Let me explain.
I work doing financial analysis for a boutique firm in a second-tier city (which I love), where my $2,000/month rent gets me a pretty great apartment to myself in a great neighborhood. My job is, in so many words, to go into a company and break down their finances so they can be improved, and I live a consultant’s life (if that’s not technically my title). This means that I travel almost constantly, have a new client every few months, and live for stretches at a time out of a suitcase.
Most of my clients, I can’t stand. We are not treated with respect, and given that we are going into a lot of entrenched, old-school corporate cultures, my being a young woman doesn’t help that dynamic. They know that we could be the harbingers of imminent layoffs or restructuring, and that we’re the assholes who think that we can come in and, after a few days, do their jobs better than them and find out how they’re wasting money. (The first part isn’t true, but the second part often is.)
And beyond that, I just don’t feel passionately about my job. I rarely have a client whose work inspires me, and my day-to-day is usually very tedious. I’m exhausted from constant travel, and often either too tired or too busy to use many of my hotel and airfare points. I know that these are all very much first-world problems, but they still leave me looking at job openings all the same, considering positions that would be huge pay cuts but feel like something I could actually be excited about every day.
This isn’t true for every high-earning job, but for many of them (I’d say the majority, from what I’ve seen looking at other companies’ books every day), long, tiring hours are the price you pay for this money. There are relatively few positions that offer freedom, fulfillment, a good work/life balance, and very high earnings, and if you find one, God bless you. I don’t have one of those jobs, and pretty much no one I know who earns as much as I do has one, either. We simply work very demanding white-collar jobs, browse Tinder at happy hours, and spend long hours commuting: the upwardly-mobile millenial tragedy, I guess.
I’ve chosen to look at this as an opportunity and a privilege, in the sense that I can save very aggressively over the next few years and then change careers, and I will have a decent amount of options when I choose to do so. Regardless of their day-to-day satisfaction, people with high salaries have the option to save aggressively in the way a lot of people don’t, as long as they don’t let their spending habits outpace their earnings (which a lot of people tragically do). We have options that other people don’t have, and we should be grateful.
But no one should kid themselves into thinking that a six-figure salary is a ticket to happiness or comfort, because it’s not. You can easily still be dumb with your money, you can find ways to waste and fritter it away just like you can with half that, and you can leave every work day feeling exhausted and unfulfilled. It might be a pie-in-the-sky number for a lot of people, but for many of us who have reached it, the next question is: how do I get out?
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