Why Working a Little Less Can Save You Money


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For years my goal seemed to be saying "yes" to every request and every project. How many of life’s grace notes did I miss during that time?

Ever seen the Pixar film “Up”? In the how-Carl-and-Ellie-met montage is a moment when the two of them sit side by side, reading and holding hands.

That was my life partner and me on Sunday, reading and hand-holding in adjoining easy chairs. It was so nice to do something fun for a change.

Usually we’re nonstop busy even when we’re not at work: cooking, washing clothes, doing yard or garden work, running errands, giving people rides (a number of friends are carless), tackling home improvement chores, watching my niece’s kids.

When we’re sitting still we’re usually doing something useful at the same time: paying bills, dealing with insurance issues, balancing the checkbook, handling his father’s estate and, of course, writing (we both freelance in addition to our day jobs). Yet there we were, reading non-work-related books and smiling.

For the first time in who knows when, we were observing a sabbath. I don’t mean that in a strictly religious sense, but as a day of rest. A chance to recharge. A dozen hours of peace. The opposite of obligation.

The trouble with working so much isn’t just that you wind up tired. It’s that being tired costs money.

Overwork leads to overspending

Long work hours mean less time for frugal hacks like cooking at home, taking care of your own chores and searching for the best prices. Hyper-busy people too often rely on takeout, hire housekeepers and focus on expediency rather than deal-seeking.

Fatigue can cost in other ways, too. That fender bender that happened when you were so tired your reflexes were shot? Thank goodness no one was hurt, but auto repairs aren’t cheap.

Or what about being so overworked that you have neither the time nor inclination to exercise? Not only do you feel lousy 24/7, the sedentary lifestyle plus too much fast food can mean health issues later on.

Most troubling is the impact on your personal life. You don’t spend much time with your partner and/or your children, and when you do you’re too often short-tempered or simply too tired for much interaction. So you assuage your guilt by overindulging the kids and  showering your partner with gifts. (Hint: They’d probably rather you spend time with them than spend money on them.)

It’s a cinch you no longer do the things that once brought you joy: swimming, playing the piano, meeting friends for coffee. You can’t seem to fit in time for fun, or maybe you’re just not up to it. Instead, you poke around on Facebook (remember when you had real friends?) or zone out on the couch with a bag of chips (see “health issues later on,” above).

A day of rest

I work at home and it’s way too easy to let business hours bleed over into evenings and weekends. Unfortunately, Saturday and Sunday have also become the days into which we cram everything we couldn’t finish – or even start – during the week.

Just about everyone I know is in the same boat. Although their obligations vary (parenting, home improvement, second jobs, continuing education), they feel their time is not their own.

When do any of us stop? Too often, we don’t.

The etymology of the word “sabbath” is likely from the Greek sabbaton and/or from the Hebrew shabbath — forday of rest.” What a delight to see my partner rest, and to feel a few deadline-free hours of my own.

We spent that day doing only what we wanted: eating cottage bacon and homemade buttermilk biscuits, playing the piano, listening to the rain, napping, reading, taking a walk when it cleared up late in the evening.

We should do this every week, but we so seldom can. Let me rephrase that: We so seldom can make it a priority. Neither of us feels completely secure with our retirement plans.

If we had to stop working tomorrow we’d manage — but simply squeaking by and pinching every penny isn’t enough. We want a reasonably comfortable life and we also want to leave something for our kids.

The forced march

For years my goal seemed to be saying “yes” to every request and every project. How many of life’s grace notes did I miss during that time? And even though I’ve jettisoned a lot, how many am I missing now?

Forced marches become habit. Our days are like stuff sacks, crammed with as many achievements as we can possibly shove in. As noted above, however, that eventually leads to exhaustion and a sense of despair: Where did the time go?

Put another way: We can focus on doing important things well, or we can do a ton of things half-assedly. If we schedule every free moment, we’ll get a lot done but none of it done very well.

So, yes, we want more sabbaths. (More of those buttermilk biscuits, too. Dang, they were good.) Whether or not we can make that stick is yet to be seen.

But something has to change. My partner and I know that we need to learn to drop some commitments, lest those commitments ultimately drop us.

Readers, does overwork end up costing you?

More on DonnaFreedman.com:

Stacy Johnson

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