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we enter the working world, we all put a price on our time. The American Dream, we quickly learn, is largely predicated on steadily increasing that price until we reach a point where we are “comfortable”. Of course, everyone has their own opinion of exactly what comfortable means. For some it simply means not having to worry about having enough. For others, it means having so much more than enough that they never have to be in a situation where they have to put a price on their time again.

Many of us start out as teenagers doing odd jobs for cash. We mow lawns. We babysit. We shovel sidewalks. We may be too young for a “real” job yet we are old enough to learn the lesson that time and labor is worth cash. Then, we get out first job. Many of us for minimum wage, which in the US is currently $7.25 an hour. As we work more and move up, this price per hour steadily increases. Our first raise, even a fifty-cent one, gives us a tangible idea how much impact such an increase can have when compounded. And, if asked to work overtime, many jobs offer to give you even more — 1 1/2 times our regular rate perhaps. All the same, we have a very direct idea of what every hour of our time is worth. The math is easy.

But then, as we enter the world of salaried work, something strange happens. That cost becomes obscure. Because until then your brain has been conditioned to think of your cost reduced to an hourly rate, when someone offers you a job for, say, $35,000 per year, it sounds surreal. The number is almost too big to comprehend. Especially, if all you’ve been thinking about until then is that $10.50 or $11.25 or $12.70 or… is the most you’ve ever costed. Now you cost as much as a low end BMW. You must be valuable. Why stop to do the math?

And, that is where they have you. You never stop to figure out that your time is worth, at that salary, $16.80 cents at a normal 40 hour work week. But, when you have a salary these days, many work more hours than 40. In fact, more is becoming increasingly common. We never stop to do the math that more hours means, in fact, we are costing less per hour worked to the employer.

But, you keep moving up and they (the collective “they” of employers everywhere) keep throwing bigger numbers at you. They sound so big and nice…

$50,000 ($24.00 per hour at 40 hours)

$70,000 ($33.00 per hour at 40 hours)

$100,000 ($48.00 per hour at 40 hours)

And, quite honestly, if you are making $100,000 per year in this country right now you probably have it pretty good. You don’t have to do the math. And I would argue that’s exactly what the people paying you are hoping for. They are hoping to entice you by the big number and promise of comfort, in return for your forgetting the fact they have you working 60 hour work weeks for $32.00 an hour.

I lay all of this out here as an idea for us all to start doing the math. To start figuring out exactly how much we cost. Because, I believe, once we do so it will give us a much clearer picture of what “being comfortable” really means and what it will take to get there.

*I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.*