The Financial Confessions: “I Make Over $100k Year, And My Life Still Sucks”

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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?

-Annie

Image via Unsplash

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  • meep

    thanks for this perspective. i think it’s worth noting that for a lot of people like consultants or i-bankers in their 20s, yes you’re making 100k+ a year, but you also end up working so much more, whether its the travel time, weekends, or working through holidays, or whatever– that your effective hourly wage actually ends up being really low. i think someone calculated once and found that consultants actually end up making like $10 an hour if you count the number of actual hours they’ve worked on the job.

    • Jacob Zeigler

      If you’re making $100,000/year at effectively $10/hr that would mean you’re effectively working 27 hours per day. Which is probably pretty accurate with some jobs ^~^

    • I actually worked in consulting and ppl quit because they realized this. Those high paying jobs are high paying because it’s the only way they can get people to do them. The work life balance is really hard to find and maintain if you want to make six figures, have any type of career stabity and a life outside work

      • meep

        which is always why i internally LOL a little at people who are like i’m only going to marry someone making 6 figures so i can ~follow my dreams~ when girl, someone who makes 6 figures is going to be working all the damn time, and is probably working that hard so they can later quit and follow their dreams, they aren’t doing it to subsidize your lifestyle.

        • the joke is on you as not all 6 figure earners ‘work all the damn time’. people in lower paying jobs tell themselves this to help them sleep at night but it’s not true and it’s not sending a good message to younger people trying to choose a career path.

  • Stella St Page

    I think you could benefit on reading some of the blogs out there on early retirement, and saving way more than 30% of your income and be able to afford to retire in a few years. Then you can do whatever you want. If I were you, I think that’s what I would try to do.

    • Emma

      SERIOUSLY. This girl needs to get herself to Mr. Money Mustache immediately. You don’t have to follow his advice blindly in pursuit of total retirement at age 35; there’s plenty of gray area there, but sheesh, take back control of your liiiiiife honey

  • caitlin smith

    This reminds me of a quote from Mark Cuban about earning or coming into a large amount of money: “If you aren’t happy without it, you won’t be happy with it. But, if you are happy without it, you’ll be really happy with it.”

  • Like others have mentioned, you should definitely think about early retirement / financial independence.

    This article may help you figure out the kind of savings rate you need, and how soon it will allow you to become financially independent / retire early:
    http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/01/13/the-shockingly-simple-math-behind-early-retirement/

    And this article shows why you should strive to be financially independent even if you don’t want to “retire early”:
    http://www.thinksaveretire.com/2015/08/31/financial-independence-for-the-non-early-retiree/

  • Michelle

    Mo Money Mo Problems, this is what I keep telling my BF!

  • Nice article. Not all high paying jobs are stressful though. The work schedule you described is a lot more stressful than my job as an Engineer and I currently earn more. To be honest the hardest part about my job is the courses I had to take in college and maybe my commute when there’s traffic. I rarely work over 40 hours a week (neither does my boss or his boss) and overtime is paid. The low stress environment is not unique to just this position as this is my 3rd job.

    I think young people can benefit from knowing that money isn’t everything but going into careers that will work with their future plans can save a lot of headache. It’s easier said than done because a lot of college students don’t have it all figured out but if you want flexibility and family time, 40-50 hour weeks, then don’t go into finance. Suck it up in college and take the classes you need to get into the kind of career you want. The way I see it, you will have pay your dues somehow. Most ‘easier’ majors end up having very stressful work lives.

  • Megan

    I am in no way belittling your experience, but I do want to say that this is not universally true for high earners. I’m in my mid 20s making $170k a year, and I love what I do. Yes, I often work 80 hour weeks, but I find my job as a lawyer fascinating, challenging, and engaging. I know for many people a job is just a means to an end, but for me, my job is one of my main purposes in life. Making a high salary allows me to afford conveniences that make working these hours doable, and it also pays for multiple international trips each year, a nice apartment in a big city, dinner at amazing restaurants, etc.

    I guess I’m just saying, a high salary and long hours don’t always mean you’re unhappy and your job is soul-sucking. I would never advocate that anyone stay in a situation like that, but sometimes it seems like people equate the two and assume every high earner should be striving to get out of their jobs and retire early, and I think that’s a negative message to be sending young people.

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