Don’t chase the number.

Salary is just one factor. Not the be-all and end-all.


I had a relative a few years ago who was the pride of many in the family. Why? She was absolutely killing it on paper. A business degree from one of the top schools in Canada. A job at a reputable employer with a six-figure salary. A beautiful bachelor apartment in downtown Toronto all to her self. She had it all by age 30 – except her happiness.

No matter how good her life was on paper, she missed an essential part of life: relationships. She had few friends (rather, collegial frenemies) and had never been involved romantically with anyone before. She yearned for those things, but simply never had the time. In all the family pressure that was placed upon her, it all came back to the number, not the person.

When I was doing my MBA, the aspirations of my classmates all seemed to revolve around the same thing. People were continuously competing with one another to get the bigger number, as if that was the sole metric that defined success. I recall a classmate getting an $85,000 job a few months before graduation at 24. The jealously on the faces of some of my classmates was palpable.

For a while, I was the jealous one too. I mean, an MBA is supposed to get you a job, right? And the quality of that job is all based on what they pay you, right? Wrong.

Don’t shrug off vacation days.

Despite my relative getting six figures and three weeks’ vacation, it was exceptionally rare for her to actually be given the time to take that three weeks’ vacation. She once told me she had mapped out a 1.5 week trip to Europe 8 months in advance that her employer attempted to have her cancel on several occasions.

A shot from my trip in Iceland. Isn’t life worth living?

At most she was able to take approximately 2 weeks of vacation on the year with significant displeasure from her employer.

Having witnessed her ordeal, I knew that when I finished my MBA, salary was not going to be my be all end all. I wanted a job that gave me the flexibility to take my rightfully earned vacation time.

I also learned when entering the job market that not all vacation time is created equal. Whereas some companies started you at 3 weeks’ vacation, others offered 4. In a $100,000 job, the extra week is exceptionally valuable because it’s a paid week where you literally get to do what you want – side hustle, travel, staycation, etc. In basic math terms, a week of vacation for a $100,000 job is worth $1923. That’s an insane amount of money to get paid to do what you want!

Vacation Weeks

Amount of Free Money

2 $3846
3 $5769
4 $7692

Work Extra Hours? You’re getting robbed.

My relative was also notorious for working late hours, sometimes 9:00AM to 2:00AM. It seemed no matter how many hours she put in, the work would never stop. On average, she told me she worked 12 hour days if she accounted time also spent on weekends keeping up to date on emails.

For workaholics, this is great, but it is important to realize in a salaried job with no overtime tracking, the more you work the less you get paid.

For someone in a $100,000 job working 12 hours a day, excluding holidays, their hourly rate is a measly $32 an hour, which equates to a $66,560 salary on a traditional 40 hour work week. So sure, while you might make a juicy number, you’re actually getting seriously ripped off by over $33,000!

Don’t forget retirement benefits.

A lot of the literature out there writes about how if you save 20% of your income per month, you’ll have a nice nest egg for retirement at 65. Saving for retirement gets even easier based on what your employer offers you. Some will offer to match a certain percentage of your contributions to your retirement accounts which you manage yourself, whereas the best ones will offer you a defined benefit pension, which deducts a percentage of your paycheck before tax but guarantees you an income based on a preset formula.


For reference, a gold plated government pension plan takes the salary from the best five years of service and multiplies it by 2% and the total years of service in the government. For someone with 20 years in the government retiring with a $80,000 average salary from their best five years, the formula looks like this:

20 years x 2% x $80,000 = $32,000

You read that right – after 65, they have a guaranteed income of $32,000 until death. That means someone with a government pension can be even more liberal with their money than one without one because they don’t need to save as much for retirement.

For reference, someone with no pension is would need $800,000 invested generating 4% a year to obtain $32,000 annually in investment returns. That’s a lot of saving needed!

The more you make, the more it becomes about perception.

What you wear. Where you live. Where you eat. What you drive. All of these things become a priority the higher you go in a corporate ladder. Someone taking home $100,000 in a corporate job needs to “invest” in themselves to portray success to their peers, and that portrayal doesn’t come cheap. My relative was frequently referenced as the “fashionable one” due to her expensive clothing. It was a new outfit and a couple of hundred dollars she had waved goodbye every time we saw her.

mad en.jpg
While we all loved Mad Men, let’s be real: Don Draper’s suits probably weren’t cheap.

I would argue that the majority of instances of lifestyle creep aren’t caused by people simply wanting more, it’s caused by the belief they need more because their social work circles dictate it. This leads to gigantic mortgages, car payments, and a lifetime of being enslaved to your objects.

Time > Money.

We auction our time to the highest bidder when we work because time is valuable to us. So why does it become okay to suddenly revolve our life around work instead of the thing we value most?

By chasing the number, we forget about why we enter the workforce to begin with: to access money that will let us pay for the time to enjoy our lives: family, friends, and travel.

Oh – and my relative? Funny story, her employer told her that she would have to make a choice: family or career and that both would not be possible for her if she wanted to make it to the top. She picked family and quit that toxic work environment. Her salary has stalled a bit in her new job and her clothing is a bit less fashionable, but she’s way happier because she has a strong work-life balance, with time for those she loves. Her husband and new infant son would agree, I’m sure.

Author: stretchingeverydollar

Starving artist to Debt Free MBA. Attempting to retire early.

2 thoughts on “Don’t chase the number.”

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