Determining The Value Of Your Free Time

Unless you’re a salaried employee or business owner who’s expected to work excessively for the good of the company, the more hours you work usually determines how much you’ll make. The prospect of working overtime or taking on a side job can be compelling, helping you save by having less time to go out and spend the money you’re piling up.

The difficult thing is to decide how much extra work is too much. At a certain point, the extra work no longer improves your quality of life because it doesn’t leave you with much of a life.
It’s an issue Punch Debt in the Face struggles with, in a post about whether or not to take regular overtime for the next few weeks.

If you’re buried in debt and have nothing much going on socially, it may be well worth it to plug away and sell your leisure hours for time and a half. There are other considerations, though. Extra hours could strain your social life and romantic relationships, as well as decrease the amount of time you have to spend with your kids.

In the end, you need to decide how much your free time is worth. If you decide it’s priceless, you’ve got to turn down extra work.

Work longer, make more [Punch Debt in the Face]


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  1. suez says:

    After working for hourly wages all my life, I switched to a new exempt job this past October. While the 10% increase in pay was lovely and much-needed (it barely made up for a decade of wage suppression at my last job), it also meant I no longer earned overtime. When the workload really landed on my desk with our first proposal, I suddenly went from 40 hours to 80 hours with nothing to show for it, and getting a second job wasn’t even an option due to the hours I was putting in. It was a nasty shock to realize that the longer I worked, the less I got paid. In the end I did earn a bonus and our hours have dropped back to normal for now, so that helped make up for it a bit, but all the same…

    • galm666 says:

      My last position was exempt. This wasn’t really an issue since I typically completed everything within a 40 hour span of time, but it became troublesome when I was asked to stay later, when in many cases, I didn’t really need to. I was essentially told, “stay late so the CEO and shareholders think they’re getting their money’s worth.”

      My current position pays overtime in the form of comp time. I work an hour past 40, I get that hour back later. It’s basically a deterrent from badly scheduling projects, which is good since my current position has me at the center of almost every division of the organization. :/

      • vorpalette says:

        Ugh, yes. I keep running into this with the whole “at a new job, show up early and stay late!” No no no no. Ten to fifteen minutes, sure, but I’m not going to leave after the boss leaves and lose a) my free time, and b) money because I’m technically working overtime and not getting paid for it.

        • suez says:

          Mine was a combination of having two proposals landing at once, having proposal managers who worked even more hours than I did, and being brand new and not wanting to give a bad first impression. I would say that a good portion of those hours weren’t necessary–there was some poor planning, poor time management, and need to learn to trust all the new team members involved. In the end, though, I did end up getting a very nice and palpable bonus, plus although we techincally don’t get flex time because of the nature of our proposal clients, the boss let me “work from home” the week afterward without needing to take PTO time, so I’m really not complaining too much. I haven’t regretted taking the job because it’s STILL better than the one I left. It just took some adjustment of attitude, I guess. We’re all hoping that the next round will go much smoother and with less crazy hours.

  2. Blueskylaw says:

    Tough call on a question like this. In bad economic times (now), many people have no choice but to work standard hours with overtime to pay the bills. If you play your cards right and save and invest now while the market is low, the extra effort and suffering you put in now will literally pay off later on in free time and money.

  3. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    Thank you Captain Obvi———- oh eff it nevermind.

  4. dulcinea47 says:

    Would that I could. My job never, ever, ever offers overtime. It would totally be worth some of my free time to make time & a half. I’ve looked at second jobs but the pay rates never equal my idea of what my time is worth.

  5. Cat says:

    [In snobby voice]
    “I make $150 an hour. It’s not worth it for me to do {whatever task}, I’d be better off to pay some to do it for me.”

    But, unless you are actually AT WORK making that money, your theory is flawed.

  6. TBGBoodler says:

    A different way of looking at this is to use the value of your free time when negotiating a new job.

    When I took a job a few years ago that was close to home, perfect for my skillset, but didn’t pay very much, I negotiated it down to a three-day-a-week job from five days–more in line with the salary they were offering. Rather than cost the employer more money to gain my skills, they were willing to believe that I could do the job in three days, which I proved quickly was true.

    My free time could then be used to freelance if I so wanted. The freedom and flexibility of working at home those two days a week was like having time off, if you ask me.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I would LOVE it if I could do this. At Exjob, I had to be in the chair from 8-5, M-F. There were plenty of days I could have left at 3 and let my backup have the phone. I was freelancing for extra cash last year and felt like I was dying.

      So I put my freelance stuff on a flash drive and worked on it at my desk when things wound down at the end of the day. No one could track what I was doing. When it was time to go home, I pulled the drive and took it with me. I could get the bulk of it done that way and it allowed me to have a bit of free time at home rather than working such long days.

  7. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Let’s see… I could go to Muskrat Falls and help build a power plant, working 12-hour shifts twenty days in a row, with eight days off following, at close to 30 dollars an hour…


    I could work as part of the Maintenance Team for Memorial University of Newfoundland, making something akin to 15 dollars an hour, but working regular 9-to-5 shifts with two days off every week or so.


    • Straspey says:

      “I could work as part of the Maintenance Team for Memorial University of Newfoundland…”

      Uh-oh ….

      I feel a Newfie joke coming on…

      Did you hear the one about the two Newfies who decided to play 20 Questions…?

  8. OccasionallyOpinionated says:

    “Unless you’re a salaried employee or business owner”….. does this statement seem weird to anyone else? Is being salaried that uncommon? It feels like opening a story with “…Unless you’re male…”

    I tried to find the % of the US labor force that is on salary, but is a PITA if you don’t know exactly where the data is. Anyone have any idea?

  9. Slatts says:

    The financial talk-show host Bruce Williams (retired in 2010 after decades on the air) would often make this point.

    He’d occasionally have a caller claim that he “can’t” seem to get out of debt. Williams would often retort by asking how many hours the caller worked; the typical reply would be “about 40”, to which Williams would respond that maybe he should get a second job.

    This would often be met with disbelief, the caller asking if Williams had heard correctly, that he’s already working a full-time job. Williams would correct him: “No, you’re working 40 hours — talk about full-time, I’ve worked 2 or even 3 jobs, 50, 60, 70 or more hours when I’ve had to to make ends meet for my family. You could get a 20-hour-per-week, part-time job, and pay off 10k of debt in a year or so…” etc, etc.

    Not sure how many folks actually took him up on this.

  10. crackblind says:

    This always drives me crazy when a shop has a “Free whatever” day. Standing on line for over an hour to get a $5 freebee is a complete waste. The worst part is explaining to the kids why you won’t get it to them for free (though the fact that I won’t spend the $5 when it isn’t free doesn’t always help my case).

    Years ago while hanging at a bar (yes, it was one of those kinds of conversations), we worked out the effective hourly wage earned by picking up change of the ground, calculating the time it took, the coin value, etc. Someone came over and asked what we were doing and when we told him, he reached into his pocket and tossed a penny on the ground. We looked at him and at the penny and in sync, grabbed our beers and let him know we were off duty.

  11. XTREME TOW says:

    Unless you’re working so much that you have to spend extra money on fast food all the time.
    Then, it’s break even IF you’re lucky.

  12. AllanG54 says:

    My daughter was making about $70,000/yr with her benefits but she was working at least 70 hours a week so by the time you got down to it she ended up with about $20/hr. Not terrible but by the time she got home most nights the kids were asleep so there was a lot of family time that went out the window.

  13. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    Try working 84 hour weeks in a warzone on a military base that smells like the open-air sewage plant they placed in the middle of it, eating the FDA class F food and breathing dust for a year with no girls, no beer and nothing but evangelical brainwashed automatic weapon-toting fascists for company.