My wife, Amy, and I recently had the opportunity to significantlyincrease our income.
Or, rather, Amy did. She learned of two health-care-management positionsthat she had a good chance of landing, and it would have meant a lot moremoney than she's making now.
When Amy told me about the jobs, my immediate reaction was: Go for it.We're already worried about the expenses we'll face later this year afterwe adopt a daughter from China. So the idea of Amy plumping her paycheckseems perfectly timed.
But as Amy and I began talking about it, the initial flush we both feltbegan to fade. Is this really what we want? Would Amy taking a job withgreater responsibility and greater pay really be all that, well, great?
As we debated the pros and cons, an image flashed in my mind: a popularbumper sticker from the late 1980s boasting that "he who dies with the mosttoys wins." Maybe that's true. Then again, I thought, what if you're toobusy earning the toys to actually play with them? Are they still worthgetting?
And most important: Is jumping at the bigger dollar always a leap to abetter life?
For most of our marriage, I've been focused on accumulating the mostwealth we can. I grew up in a family of modest means, and I always toldmyself I would strive for a higher station.
So I've generally encouraged Amy to take jobs that pay her the mostmoney. More pay, after all, means an easier life.
Or does it? Sometimes, to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, one step upactually means two steps back.
Don't get me wrong: I remain passionate about money and saving; somepeople might say obsessed. It's just that in thinking through thepossibilities, we have realized that instead of more money making our lifeeasier, more money could actually make our life more stressful. Andpossibly more expensive.
Not everyone, of course, has the luxury of choice; for some, more moneyisn't an option -- it's a necessity. They simply can't afford to weigh thebenefits of flexibility vs. the benefits of a meatier paycheck.
But for those who can, it's clear that something really gives when youand your spouse both have jobs that are inflexible, either because oflocation or the hours you're expected to work. The balance you rely on tokeep the family running relatively smoothly gets thrown out of kilter.Regaining that lost equilibrium comes with a price -- a price oftenmeasured not just in dollars but in frustration, inconvenience andheadaches.
Several years ago, a divorced friend of mine was approached about aprestigious job with substantially more visibility and pay than the one hehad. He agreed to talk to the prospective new employer, but after theinitial couple of interviews, he withdrew his name from consideration.
The problem: The job he held at the time gave him and his ex-wifeenormous flexibility. He could pick up the kids from school a couple ofdays a week, and make dinners on the nights the children were with him. Hecould go to all their baseball games and school plays, and accompany themon school trips.
My friend worked long hours -- but he could work a lot of those hours athome and at odd times. So he often worked late at night and early in themorning. He worked on the weekends when the kids were at their mother'shouse.
The new job would have meant coming into the office every day, andstaying until well after the kids had come home from school. He decided itwasn't worth it.
"The money would have been wonderful to have, and there are times --especially now that the kids are college age -- that I think about itwistfully," he says. "But I would have missed them growing up. And theirmother and I would have spent a lot more time running around, stressed out,trying to squeeze everything in. It wasn't even a close call."
Amy and I have had to weigh similar trade-offs. I drive my son to schoolnearly every morning because I don't have to be at work at any certainhour. That means Amy can hit work early and put in a full day before sheretrieves our son in the afternoon.
Moreover, her job's flexibility allows her to serve as lunchroom mom onassigned days, and to ferry our son to doctors' appointments ormartial-arts classes or any of the random assortment of after-schoolcommitments.
That's a huge benefit to me, and the family, because as a journalist I'mcaptive to the newspaper-editing process, generally a late-afternoonaffair. While I structure my days to attend my son's school events andother milestones, the reality is that I commute an hour each way to work --in good traffic -- so there's simply no way I can leave in time to fetchhim from school every day. In addition, I travel relatively often and meetpeople for dinner in the city.
Now, consider the impact if Amy jumps into a management position.Suddenly, she would have all these extra obligations, such as staffmeetings and other functions that would almost certainly clash with my workschedule. That would make our lives more difficult -- and leave our sonwith a baby sitter a lot more of the time.
What's more, some of that cash would flow right back out again for thesitter or a nanny. Having Amy tethered to a managerial job would onlyincrease those costs once our daughter arrives.
If Amy really wanted one of these jobs, we'd find a way to make it work.And there's no question that part of her wants a higher-level, morechallenging job than the one she has.
But she really loves being lunchroom mom and picking up our son fromschool and spending the afternoon with him. She also feels a certaincomfort knowing her boss understands when a snow day closes the schools andAmy needs to take off; or that her boss has enough faith in Amy's workethic that she doesn't mind when Amy skips out early one day to attend tosome other family issue.
Why mess up all that for a few more dollars?
So in the end, I didn't press Amy to consider either job -- which wasjust fine with her. Because, it turns out, even when it's money you'retalking about, less is sometimes more.
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