As someone who has spent a significant portion of her postgrad life freelancing, I’m fascinated by the concept of overtime: you have the option to work longer hours than you signed on for, and you’re going to be paid more? What kind of dream world is this?!
When I started full-time freelancing, I worked well over 40 hours a week just trying to make ends meet. Writing a well-researched 500-word article in the beginning was something that might take over an hour. Translating what I was paid per piece to an hourly rate made my income seem pretty laughable. I would end up working significantly more hours than I would have in a traditional 9-5 position, but my rate was a fixed price — I didn’t reap any benefits from the extra work. Now, of course, I can do the same thing in less than half that time, and I can charge a rate that’s much more fair to my experience and the level of quality I can deliver.
When is working overtime not worth it financially?
So when I hear about the option people have for overtime work, I can’t help but feel a little envious. That is, until I hear about how it’s not always optional, and occasionally not even compensated. I have salaried friends who end up staying late and going into work early just because their job duties demand it, and they don’t even receive a financial benefit for all those long hours. Contrarily, I had one friend who worked in media buying and received time-and-a-half pay for the (significant) overtime hours she worked, but she hated everything else about her job and ended up quitting without much of a plan.
We hear a lot about work/life balance, and I fully believe in the importance of having leisure time. Of course, being part of any brand means having a social media presence, and working in media necessitates occasionally putting in some non-traditional hours. The idea of working tons of overtime, though, means much more than just putting in the extra work here and there: it cuts into your ability to maintain a schedule outside of work. I love what I do and generally don’t mind maintaining a fuller schedule, but I also know the importance of making sure what I’m working on is truly worth it, both personally and financially.
That’s why I’m so fascinated by what drives people to work overtime, especially in unfulfilling jobs. This Reddit thread, in particular, piqued my curiosity. Dachshundmom posed this question for other users to weigh in on when they were deciding whether to accept an offer for a particularly demanding position with a lot of OT:
I’m looking at a job offer where it would be very high stress, and a lot of (paid) overtime (minimum 20 hours on average, with much more during busy times). The pay is $18/hour for 40 hours (approx $36k) plus full benefits (health, dental, 401k, PTO) which we could really use. I’m concerned about burnout, but the opportunity is there to make a significant impact on our financial future.
If you have or have had a job where you consistently pulled a lot of OT, was it worth the stress and time lost with your family? Would you do it again? What kind of goals were you able to accomplish because of it?
Thanks to them posing specific questions, community members weighed in on their own experiences working OT-heavy jobs and whether they think they were worth it or sustainable. These personal anecdotes provide some sound advice for individuals considering a position or career change, and they serve as an always welcome reminder that you need to consider every aspect of a job — beyond just the salary — when deciding whether or not to accept an offer.
How to calculate if overtime is worth it
1. “I work a job in banking that is 50 hours minimum, 55 is most common and occasionally goes up to 60-70 (working weekends, etc.). It’s moderately stressful — would be more stressful but I don’t really care too much. It pays really well (low six digits).
How do I feel about it?
I fucking hate it. Just today doing an annoying task that I had neither interest in nor felt it has any impact, I was thinking that if they fired me today it would actually be quite nice. I’m only in it for the money — the thing is that I both don’t need it (or at least don’t spend it) so don’t get much out of it and also desperately need more because of how much it costs to buy a flat here. I also hate the fact that I’m trading more than half of my waking hours commuting to or sitting in the office – there should be more to life. All in all it’s quite miserable.
Now, want to know when I was happiest in life? When I was juggling 3 different work and work-like activities — that combined took probably no less than 60 hours and often 70+. And it was bloody stressful too…I loved it all.
The difference was that I enjoyed what I was doing back then as opposed to now — didn’t feel like I was wasting my life in return for money. Also that money back then made a difference and felt more ‘impactful.’” – rand652
2. “I once had a job at 19 where I made $700 a week after taxes as a newbie dog groomer. Faster groomers averaged $1000 A WEEK. I have never been so miserable in my life working 11-12 hour days often six days a week. (It was all on commission just FYI).
It was absolutely worth it for ONE year. I saved a stack of cash and bought my first car in cash and took a trip to Europe. Was it sustainable? Not in the least! I missed every holiday with family, lost all my friends, and was miserably exhausted. There was only time for work, sleep, and bubble baths. I can’t imagine sustaining a relationship or even a S.O. let alone an entire family with the hours you’re talking.
Money is important in real life and this is a great opportunity. Consider taking the job for one year. Discuss it with the fam — plan date nights, look at all the excess income over your current budget you can save. You can do most anything for one year. Then decide if it works for you all as a family. If it ends up being too much, you’ll have another great mark on your resume and money for retirement/college down the road. But one year is not a lot.” – drivebyhug
3. “I work very hard at a stressful job that regularly puts me into lots of overtime. I do this for 2 reasons: A) I like my job. I like what it is I actually do. This may be more important than many seem to realize. B) I have many goals centered around my financial standing. So I push around 60 to 80 hours a week pretty often. When it’s slow however (rare), I can do as low as 28-30 hrs. (I can more or less make my own schedule during these times.)
While I regularly do lots of overtime, I easily can live the same way I do off of the 30hrs/week, so alllll that overtime money goes to achieving my goals. I get to enjoy the fruits of many of those goals in my time off, and when I’m working those 30hr weeks. The long and short of it is, it’s worth it for me because I have long seen what some hard work and intelligent investing can do. You don’t have to be a CEO to be a millionaire and enjoy those perks, but you do have to work hard.” – doublenutted
4. “I worked 3 years at 18.50 an hour for an average yearly of 50 hours a week (meaning sometimes 60-70, sometimes 40, and we had a month of paid vacation). I think I was taking home 60k with monthly bonus. It was nice and bad. I was grumpy and tired somedays but I appreciated my free time more. It helped me to have a large savings to pay off all my debt, support my wife while she is a full time student and build up my 401k. I took an office job that is straight 40 about 9 months ago; I do regret it, as overtime is not even an option. I make 48k now and the bonus here sucks, and I had to borrow money from my 401k.
Anyway, if I was you, and you have some shit you’d like to pay off. Do it as long as you can, find a straight 40 hour job if you get burned out. All that working will give you plenty of time to beef up your resume, too.” – johnnytexas
5. “I started working at my current company at 18.00/hr with lots of overtime opportunities and a big pile of student loans to work through. I resolved to work every available day of overtime until my loans were paid off in full, which was fairly lucrative but 12-hour days made that a pretty frequent 84-hour work week with little to no days off for the first year. Because of that, I was able to pay off over 30k in student loans in under a year and still have 15% go to my 401k and max out a Roth IRA. For me, it was absolutely worth it, but your results may vary. As a side note, I do enjoy my job so that probably made it a lot easier.
As an added plus, I was able to get multiple raises and then a promotion within my first couple years for putting forth the extra effort, even if it was purely for personal gain!” – Jg1989
Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at email@example.com!
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