Manage Your Finances

Are You Part of The Working Dead?

Worked to Death

Take 40 hours per week over a 45 year career, throw in one hour of commuting each working day and you come up with 105,300 hours of your life that you give to your employer.

That’s 13,163 work days where you’re slaving away 9 to 5, taking orders, giving orders, punching clocks, playing office politics, and slowly being worked to death.

Unless you can do something to break the cycle, you’re part of the working dead.

Worked to Death

Beginning in your early twenties and lasting through your mid-to-late sixties the overwhelming majority of your time belongs to your employer.

It gets worse when you take a closer look and realize that not only is your employer getting the very best days of your life, but he’s also getting the very best hours of the very best days of your life.

Sweet deal for the boss!  Sour deal for you.

At the end of the work day what’s left for you?  A few hours to rush home to be with your family and friends, eat, sleep, shower, then return to the office to do it all over again the next day.

Worked To Death: How My Waking Hours Are Spent

Wash, rinse, and repeat this cycle for 45 years.  At that point at least you’re finally able to retire and enjoy your golden years.

For many people, however, it turns out that their golden years are filled with a whole lot of lead as they start to slow down physically and mentally.

We’re being worked to death and that’s a pretty shitty deal.

But it’s not like I’m making some startling revelation to you.  There’s no new information here – this is the game we all signed up to play, right?

Sort of.

The House Always Wins

We didn’t exactly sign up to play this game as much as we were all encouraged to play it by well-meaning parents and teachers.  But here’s the thing, the game is stacked against us and we can’t really win.

Here’s an oversimplification of how I see it working:

For forty five years we go to a job where we trade the very best years of our lives in return for a paycheck.  Then we proceed to trade those paychecks for things like homes, cars, food and clothing.  Most us even trade away our future paychecks to get bigger homes, fancier cars, and better food (i.e. we incur debt).  In turn, all of these things that we trade our money away for end up making us more dependent upon our jobs, because without the paycheck, there is no more stuff – and we all love our stuff!

Worked to Death: This is a bad financial cycle

Wage Slaves

In this life all we have is time, yet the majority of us seem to be more than willing to trade that time for a little bit of cash.

It’s because we are all wage slaves!  Completely dependent upon our paychecks for survival, our employers know this and they use that information to their advantage.  That’s why we all get asked to:

  • Work on the weekends
  • Stay connected to your phone and email 24/7
  • Take that ’emergency’ call while we’re on vacation

Employers keep squeezing for more, more, more, safe in the knowledge that you’re not going to quit.  You can’t – you need the money!

At this point a wise person might decide to strive for financial independence and early retirement, or at the very least build up a nice #*@& you stash so that they’d have the freedom to walk away when the work demands begin to get out of control.

Instead, most of us just keep on taking the punishment.  In fact, we end up making things worse for ourselves when we begin to spend more money than we make.  And of course, going into debt for possessions does nothing more than cause you to be more dependent than ever on your job.

Are you being Worked to Death? If you're spending more time at work than you, like you might be part of "TheWorkingDead".

Why Do We Do It?

We do it for the money of course.  Money makes our world go round and most of us don’t know of any other way to get money than to trade our time for it.  So that’s what we do.

We trade our time for money, and we trade our money for stuff, and then our stuff becomes garbage and we buy more stuff rather than saving and investing our money.

If you’re bad with money, you’re not alone.  Most people are terrible with the stuff.  Just look at these recent headlines for proof:

If these articles are to be believed, then they are as ridiculous as they are heartbreaking.  If this is normal financial behavior, then we should all be striving to be first class weirdos!

Break the Cycle

If you’re sick of being worked to death and giving away the best days of your life to your employer, then break the cycle today!  Here are some ideas for you:

  1. Track your expenses like a hawk and look for areas opportunities to cut back
  2. Keep the money you make by eliminating needless expenses
  3. Pay fewer taxes by taking advantage of tax advantaged investment accounts like a 401k
  4. Put your extra money to work by investing it in stocks, or real estate
  5. Deflate your lifestyle and avoid debt as if your life depended on it (because it kinda does)

Don’t be part of the working dead that’s being worked to death.  Don’t play by society’s rules, play by a different set of rules:

  1. Spend less money than you make
  2. Take that difference and invest it
  3. Eliminate, then avoid debt

Pretty soon the personal finance multiplier effect will kick in, momentum will take over and you’ll be able to cruise through the phases of financial freedom and reclaim your life.

Before I wrap this up, I’ve got to leave you with this Jack Reacher speech on freedom.  No post on the working dead would be complete without it.

Chime in!

Are you being worked to death?  Do you love your job and can’t imagine ever retiring from it?  What else can be done to break ‘the working dead’ cycle so that we can ‘enjoy the journey’?

By Ty Roberts

Ty Roberts is the founder of Camp FIRE Finance, and a husband and father of four living in the Seattle area. He's a fan of the 4% rule, 80s movies and music, dad jokes and cast iron cooking.

32 replies on “Are You Part of The Working Dead?”

That’s awesome! I’ve had (still have) jobs I don’t dislike, but I still want out. I want to be fully in control of my own time. At that point whatever I decide to do for work will bring a lot more happiness, and that’s when I expect to be content with my work. Thanks, FullTimeFinance!

Those numbers are pretty depressing. On the positive side, it is crazy how quickly you can turn things around once you find out about FI and learn that you can unplug from the system.

I think the big hold-up for a lot of people is that they buy the stuff (and the better stuff) because it seems obvious that the stuff will provide some happiness. A reading of the scientific research on happiness, however, shows that most of that stuff doesn’t actually help. If you can stop and figure out what makes you happy and what doesn’t, it becomes much easier to stop the overspending and break the cycle.

Thanks for a great post, Ty!

I think you’re right on all accounts, Matt. Have you read Stumbling on Happiness?* It’s written by a doctor that’s studied the subject and his conclusion is this: humans suck at predicting what makes us happy, but we’re pretty dang good at predicting what makes us unhappy so by avoiding the things that make us unhappy we’ll be happier!
* that’s an amazon affiliate link, but I got the book from my local library.

I have, actually. I really like Dan Gilbert. I love when scientists can write both for peer-reviewed studies and for a mass audience. He is great at making science accessible.

If you’re interested in the science of happiness, I highly recommend checking out The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky. It takes Dan Gilbert’s position one step forward and breaks out the studies that show the things that actually do make us happier so that we can change our approach and our expectations.

Ty, what a great “Closer Video” to hammer home the point. It really is sad how much of our lives we sacrifice for things that don’t really matter. It’s a vicious cycle, and I agree that employers are quick to leverage our addiction to “stuff” to extract more servanthood and sacrifice. Break the cycle. Life Free! 13 Months for me….can’t wait!!

So envious of you and Vicki and everyone else approaching your early retirement, Fritz! Obviously I wish that I’d gotten my financial act together earlier, but I’m SO happy that I figured all this out when I did, otherwise I’d be looking down the barrel of 25 more years of this crap. For my I’m at about T-minus 9 years at the most.

Oy! Man that is depressing! I do 100% absolutely agree that we tend to get caught in a vicious cycle of depressed going to work, spend money to beat depression, rinse, repeat for a very long time. I was just talking to a friend about this on a hike. She hates her job, but she isn’t willing to give up any earthy pleasures that cost money to stop the cycle. I think somehow that though process is build into our DNA and it’s hard to break!

I guess your friend likes her stuff more than she hates her job. That’s cool – to each their own but I crossed that line a few years ago. Every since my Grandpa passed away, I can’t help but think that all of this stuff is just future garbage and it makes it very easy for me to consume less.

I like that Jack Reacher clip. Really thought provoking. I haven’t seen the new movie yet, but I’m on the queue at the library. 🙂
I think the first step is to realize that it won’t last. You can’t work forever and the earlier you can get out, the better. There are other ways to live. You don’t have to work for someone else your whole life.
Stumbling on happiness sounds like my kind of book. I will check it out. Thanks!

I love that clip too! It’s from the first Reacher movie, not the latest one though.

If I was to work for myself (say as a full time blogger or something else) then I think I could work forever! My main issues is giving my time to someone else. Grr! It does help to know that my time in the office definitely has an expiration date.

Often times I’ve seen it with very high earners. They’re locked into the house, the neighborhood, the lifestyle, private pre-K, you name it. When my brother worked trading securities in NY, young men were having heart attacks left and right. You have to want to break the cycle BAD. We know a very high earning woman who hopes to die before her money runs out. But that doesn’t stop her from buying jewelry or going on $30K vacations, often. If you introduced her to the FIRE community she’d say “not for me”.

Once you partake of luxury and have the house, the car, and the lifestyle it can be so hard to take a step back. My new policy re: luxury: abstinence is the best policy. 🙂

I definitely gave my best years away to jobs I didn’t love. Unfortunately it took me a long time to learn my lesson, and about 15 years ago I changed the way I was living. I took control of my finances and control of my working life and it’s made a big difference. Sadly, not enough of a difference to retire while I was still healthy. I only wish I had gotten the message sooner.

I’m like you in that I so wish I would have gotten the FIRE message earlier than I did. But on the flip side, I’m soo happy that I discovered it while I still have time to do something about it.

Rick’s increasing disdain for his job is really wearing on us. We’re in the process of making some moves to speed up debt freedom/FI, but we’re in a holding pattern right now and it’s SO annoying!!! DONE working ourselves to death for “stuff”. Great post, Ty!

I can empathize with every single word in your comment. I feel like I’m doing all that I can right now to reach FI as soon as possible. All that’s left to do now is wait for it to happen, and waiting is HARD! 😀 Thanks, Laurie!

“Look out the window…” That is what it feels like on the journey to FI. You KNOW there is a better life out there but you are stuck inside! I have no plans to be the working dead. It’s funny, a few of the comments said they wished they new sooner but I am on the opposite side. Though it would be nice to be retired or FI already, I think about the things I would have missed up until this point. Having my 20’s (and even early 30’s) to be silly and a bit reckless (still shaking my head at my own real estate stupidity) with $$ taught me so many valuable lessons which is how I wound up where I am now. I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world!

I too am okay with the mistakes I’ve made because they’ve led me to where I’m at today, and I’m in a very good place. That said, I still wish I would have been smarter with my finances, and I really wish I would have know about FIRE while I was younger.

But that doesn’t’ really matter does it. What’s done is done & I’m happy with here I’m at, so there is no sense in looking back. Only forward! #EyesOnThePrize!

It’s pretty sad really when you think about it. It’s almost like everyone is playing pretend when really they feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.

Nothing like a good pie chart to hammer a point home – eesh it is so crazy to look at the breakdown of how our waking hours are really spent! I don’t mind my job either, but there is still something so soul-destroying about spending 8 hours a day in a cubicle (and then another two hours a day on a bus to get to and from that cubicle). Sigh. I’m not technically pursuing FIRE right now, just trying to make good decisions that will give me way more options down the road cause yea, getting worked to death is no way to live. Thanks for a great post!

When you get right down to it FIRE = options. Whether you retire, switch careers, go part time, or keep doing exactly what you’re doing right now once you’re financially independent it doesn’t matter. The freedom you get from having options is what really matters. Having the option to do whatever I want is so appealing and it’s the driving force behind my pursuit of FIRE. Thanks, Kate!

Great post, Ty. This is part of why I refuse to commute longer than 10 minutes. Of course, the trade off had been accepting a smaller paycheck, which means a slightly slower road to early retirement.

My thoughts exactly. Yet, despite knowing this since leaving college in 2006, I’m still stuck at a job I hate and nowhere near FIRE. Working on eliminating credit card debt and a car loan, then I want to pay off the house and invest in real estate. I also have a side hustle I’m building up with Run The Money. Trying to keep focused on that and plugging away. But, the worry and stress of having to do this until my 60s is daunting.

For myself this required what others may call a radical shift .

I expanded my business and relocated from Sydney to Cairns the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.

Doing so has saved me $50,000 less per year in my “job”, as a result my income increased and I have more time to exercise, entertain, grow and help others. The very things that are important to me and my happiness.

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