Would You Take a Pay Cut for Happiness?

The following is a post by staff writer Crystal at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff. Her blog covers living expenses, saving for your future, and the fun stuff along the way.

I have been job hunting for the past few weeks to find something more enjoyable than my current cubicle position. The main problem seems to be that I enjoy jobs that don’t pay very well. Specifically, I’m looking at customer service positions that only seem to pay $10-$12 an hour, which would entail taking a significant pay cut.

A pay cut makes me cringe for two main reasons. First, a cut in salary would hamper the 35-45% we’ve been socking away for early retirement. Secondly, we would have to cut back on our monthly entertainment expenses. My husband is fine with both of those consequences as long as I find something that makes me happy, but I wonder how much I am willing to cut back on in order to wake up with a little less dread every day.

Since I have already crunched the numbers for a past post, I know my husband and I would be just fine even if we had to live on just his salary. We would have to give up almost all unnecessary spending, but we could pay all of our bills and wouldn’t have to eat Ramen every day, lol.

If I do take a position that pays $10 an hour, we wouldn’t even have to cut back quite that much. We would “simply” have to find a way to deal with the approximate $750 difference every month. Here’s some ideas I’ve come up with so far:

1) Find another part-time job. If it only pays $7.50, I’d just need to work an additional 100 hours a month. This sounds like a plausible option but I don’t know if I can regularly give up that much time with my family and friends.

2) Grow my blogs faster. I’ve brought in a little more than $4,200 in a total of 8 months via BFS. I need to concentrate on bringing in a consistent $1,000 or more a month. My husband thinks that using my blogs to supplement the difference is a perfect idea. I agree and am trying to grow all 3 of my blogs as fast as possible simply to hit my goal to blog full time by 2012.

3) Cut back on our expenses by $750 a month. This would be difficult since we currently “only” spend about $3,250 a month including our mortgage. We could pretty easily cut back $150 from our food budget but the other $600 would require some major thought and prioritization. Anyone got some special money saving ideas I don’t know about?

4) Cut back on our savings by $750 a month. We currently put away $1,000-$1,500 in additional cash on top of the monthly contributions we make towards his pension, my 401(k), and our Roth IRA. We could cut back on our fun money, vacation account, emergency account, and home and auto account if the need pops up.

Currently, I am trying very hard to enjoy my job more while I submit resumes so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I’m truly hoping I can find something I really enjoy that wouldn’t cause me to take a pay cut at all. At a whopping $35,000 a year, it shouldn’t be so hard to find a new job to fit the bill…

How low would you go to find a job that is better for you? What could you cut back on if it meant waking up a little happier every day?

39 Responses to Would You Take a Pay Cut for Happiness?

  1. Valerie says:

    This is such a tough question!! I say that because I am also considering it… I have the dual forces of an insane commute with a regularly frustrating workplace, and I’m so ready to be done. I’ve been job searching, but haven’t had much luck yet. I’m now considering taking some much lower paying teaching work (I’d be going from over $50k a year with benefits to perhaps $20k-$30k a year with no benefits). My husband is 100% for the switch to increase my happiness, but I sometimes feel like I should just suck it up. Please update with any insights you have on this!

    • @Valerie, well, I’ve been going back and forth for weeks and finally got some really good advice from a fellow blogger. She said to take a step back and really think about what I dislike about my job and if getting a new one would fix that or be better.

      I really dislike how truly boring the majority of the work is, the fact that I have almost no human contact anymore since we have gone from a department of 6 to 2 in the last 2 years, and it’s hard to swallow that I have settled for a job that doesn’t even help anyone. Some customers appreciate me, but in general, my job is worthless to society.

      I do like the fact that I can blog for some of each day since the work comes in waves. I also like the fact that it pays more than any other job I could find that would be this flexible.

      So, now I am considering staying right where I am while growing my blogs to the point that I can quit. I’m also contemplating taking some part-time hours every week with Edible Arrangements just to keep options open and see if there may be a better career path there for me later on…they get great reviews for “working environment”.

      Whatever you do, I hope you get happier. My husband was a teacher for 4 years and I saw what that did to him. Now that he is a school librarian, it’s like he’s a different man. It’s amazing what a job you actually like can do for you…

  2. Jackie says:

    I would take a pay cut to increase happiness, but I think there are often other options. For example, you could find out what it is that you dread about your current job and change that, or you could find a higher or equally-well paying job that you would enjoy as much as the lower paying jobs. (Identify what it is you enjoy and broaden your search.)

    • @Jackie, they’ve given my department several projects that other departments didn’t want to do that are purely tedious. These projects are now a part of our duties and are going to be forever…not just one-time things. I’ve asked.

      I’ve been searching for clerical, administrative, and customer service postions since those are all my specialties. I just can’t seem to find any of those that pay $36,000 a year or more…well, not any less than an hour away (one-way) from my house. I’m going to keep my eyes out for opportunities, but the jobs that actually sound enjoyable to me (like taking orders and making orders for Edible Arrangements), pay somewhere between $8-$11 an hour.

      How would you go about finding a better job for you?

      • Jackie says:

        @Crystal @ BFS, Hm, i’d think many aspects of the types of jobs you mentioned would be tedious too.

        I would go about it by getting less job-specific and more aspect-specific, if that makes any sense. Like do you like talking to people, helping people, organizing, working with headphones on in your own little world, etc.

        Then I’d look for types of jobs that incorporate those aspects, then for companies with a culture that I’d feel comfortable in. Hm, maybe I should write a post relating to this.

        • @Jackie, let me know if you do write that post. I’d be there in a heartbeat.

          I like helping customers on the phone (or in person although that isn’t part of what I do now). I like taking orders for something the customer actually wants (not cold calling…yuck). I like writing up the tickets and submitting the orders. I like chatting with fellow coworkers for a few minutes (although my department has been decimated now). I like feeling like I made someone’s day better.

  3. Joe Plemon says:

    Would I take a lessor paying job to be happier? Yes. But that would need to be qualified. If this pay cut would put my family in a pinch or seriously crimp my life style (evidently not an issue in your case), I am pretty sure I wouldn’t actually be happier. The key is to find something you like and which will continue to pay the bills.

    Here is hoping that your blog income explodes! :)

    • @Joe Plemon, haha, thanks for the smile. Now that Wisebread has changed its ranking, I need to work harder to get readers, lol. BUT, I will be working hard on building up traffic. :-)

      I agree, I wouldn’t want to take a lower paying job if it would hurt our household. Luckily, we live on my husband’s salary and just save mine anyway. It gives me options, but I’m not sure if I should take advantage just because I don’t like my boring job…

  4. Lulu says:

    Good luck to you in finding a new job that will make you happy. I would take a pay cut if it meant I would be happier because I currently live below my means. Of course my increase in happiness would need to incorporate a lot of things…and one of those might be working fewer hours as well.

    • @Lulu, it is nice to have the option thanks to living below our means. I think I’d need fewer hours too. I’m now looking into 187 day clerical or teaching assistant contracts with the local school districts, lol. I’d take a $10,000 pay cut to have all school holidays and summers off…

  5. Mrs. Money says:

    I took a pay cut because I hated my job and I don’t regret it one second. I love the position I have now (although I’d much rather work part time or not at all-lol!) and am so happy I did what I did. It was a super hard decision, but when it came down to it, my sanity was worth more money than I was getting paid. I didn’t take a HUGE pay cut but it is definitely noticeable.

    I hope you find something good soon and you are happy! :)

    • @Mrs. Money, thanks! I knew you were talking about how much you disliked your job a while ago, but I didn’t know you changed, lol. I guess I need to pay more attention!

  6. So this is crazy. I hadn’t read this post yet, and I wrote almost the exact same post on my blog, although mine is a different situation because I’m not trying to get rid of my day job.

    Congrats on following your passion! I approve!

    • Daniel says:

      @Kevin @ Thousandaire.com, That actually happened to me with a post by Joe Plemon @ PF by the Book a few weeks ago. I had the entire post written up and it was just sitting there for 3 months and then I see that his was featured on lifehacker.com!

    • @Kevin @ Thousandaire.com, first of all, I think this happens to every blogger at least once every few months, lol. Secondly, you are hilarious. I loved your post and the cute message you give out after commenting! I want a cute message like that on my site now! Congrats on being happier!

  7. Don’t forget the side benefits of your current job. You may not have the ability to blog 3-4 hours a day at another company. My CS reps don’t nearly have that kind of “down time” that your current job offers.

    That being said, I would take a pay cut to do a funner job, or work fewer hours. It has to be mentally challenging though. I essentially was forced into something like that last year and I was going out of my mind. It’s then I realized, for my personality, it’s better to be a little stressed than it is to be bored.

    • @First Gen American, I know I’d have to give up blogging during the day, but I would be willing to if it meant liking my job more. Besides, thanks to the new tedious projects that are being added to our plate, I won’t be able to blog at work much anymore anyway. :-)

      I also operate better when I’m on the move all the time than when I have too much downtime. Luckily, blogging fills down time like no other hobby I’ve ever encountered, lol.

  8. Evan says:

    I am in a similar yet opposite position I think I make WAY lower than market but I am so damn happy I haven’t looked. There are just some things that are more important than pay:

    http://www.myjourneytomillions.com/articles/important-money-job/

    A head-hunter called me a few weeks ago and asked me what I was making, and how much it would take me to leave. When I told him how much it would take (more than double) he told me I was crazy lol.

  9. Noah says:

    I agree with most of the other posters in that having my wife (or myself) take a pay cut to make us more happy is usually worth it.

    Several questions I would ask are:

    1. What things make you unhappy about your current job? ie: co-workers, atmosphere, boring, commute, etc.
    2. Can any of those things be fixed? ie: move cubicles, work from home some days, work different hours, etc.
    3. Is the job causing you (and your husband) grief outside of work? A wife that is unhappy can make everyone’s life miserable :)
    4. What are your long-term goals? Were you planning on staying at this job forever or just for the next year or so? If this is temporary, I’d say stick it out for as long as you can. There are many who would kill for your job in this economy, especially if it is stable and has benefits.

    In general, having a job that you do enjoy makes life worth living. If you aren’t enjoying your life to the max (assuming you’re financially responsible), then giving up luxuries for happiness seems to be a no-brainer. You don’t want to wake up one day at 50 and realize you’ve been miserable for the last 20 years because of a job you hate.

    • @Noah, great questions! You sound like my friend Kris at Everyday Tips and Thoughts. Feel free to guest post at BFS anytime! Here’s how I stack up:

      1. The department has shrunk to two people and no one is happy anymore, but it is not a toxic environment. The two new projects that we’ve been assigned to do from here on out are extremely boring, not difficult or evil, but literally wastes of 40 hours each and then you get another one…
      2. Nothing can be fixed except I could complain less. The job is what it is – I asked.
      3. My husband and I have been making it our goal to be as happy as possible outside of work no matter what for the last few weeks, so it’s only effecting my home life in the fact that I spend hours every evening looking for a new, more fun, job. I don’t think I’ll regret staying 20 years down the road simply since I am not letting it harm my actual life. :-)
      4. My long-term goals were to continue working here until I could make more than $30,000 a year blogging. My current goal is to do so by 2012 but I have no idea if that is a pipe dream or not. My job is stable and does have okay benefits, so I may take you and Kris’s advice and just stay here until I really can’t stand it or I can find something better.

      Thanks so much for helping!

      • Noah says:

        @Crystal @ BFS,

        No problem! I’ve come to realize over the last few years that if I’m not doing something I love 100%, I’m wasting my time. Doing the things I love are more important than working as much as I can to make more $. There are too many things I’d like to do while I’m (relatively) young :)

        Plus, time = money squared. You can never get back that time.

  10. Darwin's Money says:

    It’s only money! If you can pull it off, pull the plug! Seriously, your blogging income would pick up big-time; you could start freelancing, growing traffic at your blog and over time, income just finds its way to you in the blogging world. Go for it!

    • @Darwin’s Money, wow, you are the first person who has said just to jump all in, lol. Thanks for the fun and very optimistic point of view! At least if I do take a huge pay cut or do try to blog full time right now, I’ll know I have a few supporters! Thanks!

      Okay, here’s a slightly off topic question, if I were to blog full time, how would I grow my readership faster? I already guest post frequently, comment pretty regularly, post daily, and link to my own posts more than ever…what do I need to do to really bring it up? More commenting? More guesy posting? Just have some patience?

  11. Yeah this is a tough one…it’s easy to say that happiness is worth way more than the money (and it is), but we’re human and we adjust to what we make. And adjusting down is hard when you’ve made up your mind that things like cable and going out to dinner once a week are “essentials.”

    Now, if you have a plan to supplement with alternative income…that’s a plan!

    • @Writer’s Coin, yeah, taking a huge pay cut may be tough to swallow. We do only live on about $40,000 a year including all the basics like housing and extras like cable, so it may just be a matter of not funding a 2nd Roth IRA or saving as much for vacations. I was going to run the actual numbers this weekend and post my results at Budgeting in the Fun Stuff within the next couple of weeks. :-)

  12. Brian says:

    I have often contemplated this from the vacation avenue. I think employee moral would be greatly improved and I would certainly be willing to take a 10% pay cut for a 10% increase in time off. For a given 2080 hour year this would equate to 5 additional weeks of vacation a year. Or essentially what most teachers get if they arent required to work the summers. This is also much closer to a European system. This is not the core of what you were saying however, I believe I would take less pay for a job that I loved. However, I have not found this job yet and have settled for challenging jobs…

    • Noah says:

      @Brian, every job I have had was perfectly fine with me taking off 5 weeks a year with the understanding that I don’t get paid for 3 of the 5 weeks. I think that actually works out to be better than the 10% pay cut. I however didn’t choose to take more than 2 weeks a year off because I’d rather have the money :)

      I know that many people wish they had 2 months off like teachers do, but what they don’t understand is that they put in a lot of time over weekends, so they are probably still working the full 2080 hours. They just cram it into 10 months instead of spreading it over 12. I’d rather have all my weekends free, which is one reason I wouldn’t want to be a teacher.

  13. Briana @ GBR says:

    I think that’s definitely a tough decision. On one hand, you’ll wake up so much happier, being in a job you truly enjoy. But you also don’t want add more stress from financial issues. Cutting back on expenses would be the best, unless there’s a long term savings goal that you won’t be relying on in the near future that you can reduce. Maybe a combination of the things you mentioned. Good luck!

  14. Char says:

    My husband is taking a less paying job so he can be “happier” against my wishes and I feel like it is going to rip our family apart. We have an 11 month old and I want to give her a good life, he however just wants to be happy and thinks a new job will guarantee happiness. Never mind it is an hour away, he has to pay for parking, and he would be taking a 10,000 pay cut.

    The stress and anxiety it is causing me is not worth it and I am afraid it will destroy our marriage. I work too hard to have him do something this irresponsible on purpose.

  15. Melody says:

    Hi Crystal, I recently left my job and took a 30,000 cut to do what I love! If a new career change is going to make you happier then go for it! Yes, money is important but you shouldn’t have to feel stuck in a work environment that your not enjoying. You’ll be a happier person if you take charge of your life and go out there and do what you love! Imagine looking forward to going into work?! I never thought that would ever be possible but now I can’t wait to go into work and get started on new ideas and projects! P.s I left the corporate world and accepted a very rewarding position at Habitat for Humanity….despite the significant pay cut, I couldn’t be happier :) Best of luck and I hope you find what makes you happy.

  16. Christina says:

    I also want to take a lower paying job because of the hours I work, I am now on my 3rd pregnancy, and I make great money. But I work a rotating shift, which includes graveyards, holidays, and weekends. I am truly experiencing anxiety everytime I have to come to work. I have been here 6 yrs now and can’t seem to get myself to leave. i have figured the numbers and realized that we spend way too much. We CAN afford to take the paycut if I take a job that pays about $14 an hour ( we live in southern ca) My family is all for it, especially my husband. But it’s really scary to leave. any advice?

    • Daniel says:

      @Christina, I’d suggest cutting your expenses BEFORE leaving your job. Find out if you can get by on lower expenses before taking the jump. Act like you get paid less for a few months and if it’s sustainable, you’ll be able to determine if you are ready to leave your job for something that leads to less stress.

  17. Sheila says:

    I’m so happy for finding this blog. I am in a similar situation. I work for a psych office in a crammed workspace for 5 years. I have gained 30lbs and feel stressed out daily to the point I am sick. I make about 30k a year but would take a pay cut to not feel so stressed out all the time. I am considering selling my car and ridding myself of the 500 a month car payment. That Aline would allow me to work for less.

  18. Banker says:

    Im thinking about taking a $19,000/yr payout to go back to my old company which I enjoyed, but in a different capacity and in mgmt. I’m currently working with a corporate giant in cubicle city and micromanagement is a large emphaisis. Along the same lines… What would you guys do? I’d be going from 61k down to 42k.
    Comments ?

  19. Shona says:

    Wow; well this article is a pretty eye-opening read. Ever since I was 15, I’ve been in an ongoing struggle to make more money. I’ve always made meager wages…except for a stint where I was rapidly promoted in my 20s and earned $15,000 on my exit pay over my entrance pay in 3 years. Sadly that was cut short by health issues (where I didn’t work at all for 9 months). I just accepted a job…mainly because of money…that will pay $36,000/yr ($7K over what I make now). Ironically it is as a customer service representative. However I have many, many times over that new salary amount in debt. So for me, I would jump at any chance to make more money. “Quality of life” & “happiness” are overrated when you are poor!

    However I am my own support essentially. My BF is in college and with his job & food stamps, he adds about $550 to the coffers monthly. I can understand that people’s choices may vary given their particular living situations.

  20. Brad says:

    Crystal, based on the numbers you’ve provided, I would say that you are living so far below your means that it is ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, that’s extremely commendable and I must admit I’m quite jealous. However, I have to say that the pay cut you are citing and the amount of cushion you have to tap into leads me to believe that a pay cut would be small beans in the grand scheme of life. If you feel strongly that the new job would make you happier, I would say go for it. If I were in your shoes, I’d simply use the monthly amount of savings you stash away each month to make up the difference. You only live once, money can’t buy you happiness, and you can’t take it with you in the end. My opinion? Do what makes you happy! Good luck. :)

  21. Dan says:

    Umm. Hmm. Well I live on $1,512 a month after taxes. I live in downtown Omaha, in a nice-but small-apartment, and have no cable, cellphone, or car. I read your post and was a little taken back to be honest.

    Yes, we all come from different baths, but I will never forget when my Sister got laid off from her job, and asked if she could borrow 3thousand dollars to cover her, and her husbands expenses for ONE month.

    I do save, so gave them the money-but that was a HARD choice for me. It has never been paid back. How the heck are you sort of degrading jobs that pay 10-12 an hr? I have a associates in marketing, a bachelors in psych, and bus. admin?

    I am working a job at $12 an hr.

    Be happy if you get that.

  22. Learned Hand says:

    Deep down, you have no concept of risk. What you propose has no real consequence. You are giving up a job but still have security with respect to your husband’s earnings. This question has very little weight, especially in the significant sense, simply because without risk your decision has no true gravitas. Whatever you decide, you still eat. Put it this way: to thine own self be true. Do what makes you happy, because one way or the other, you still have your basic needs cared for.