Eric Karjaluoto

Why I Gave Myself an Unraise

Folks tend to think that a raise will solve their problems. Unfortunately, human nature gets in the way.

The problem with getting more, is that your expectations shift. Sure, you intend to put those newfound dollars directly into savings. Before you do, though, why not enjoy a celebratory dinner? Oh, right, and one of the kids needs a new bike—might as well take care of that. You know—the old washer/dryer combo is pretty beat. We’ll have to replace it sooner or later…

Two weeks after the good news, you’re back where you started. Actually, you’re worse off. You might be in a higher tax bracket—meaning your raise isn’t quite as substantial as it first seemed. Worse than that, you’ve adapted to this new income. This means that the notion of making any less feels risky. This leaves you even more beholden to those who pay you.

I’ve met many people who hate their jobs/lives, but earn too much money to make a change. These folks often put their hopes into retirement. They reason that by socking away cash now, they can reap the rewards later. This logic isn’t flawed; however, human nature gets in the way (again). When you hate your job, you justify unnecessary purchases because, “you deserve it.”

Most agree that time is more valuable than money. (Think about it this way: How much money would you give up, at the end of your life, for a few extra days/weeks?) In the moment, though, money is hard to pass up. So, I ask you to take pause, so fear/greed doesn’t win. Instead of asking for a raise, I want you to trade some money—right now—for more time.

I believe in this approach so much that I’m doing the same. For the past six months, I’ve bugged @shelkie (my business partner) about taking a pay hit. My reasoning: By cutting our pay, we buy more time to work on Officehours. I think this little project of ours is good, and deserves more of our attention. Meanwhile, every client project we take on slows our startup’s progress.

Last week, he agreed. So, my next paycheck will be 30% skinnier than the one I deposited, yesterday. This makes me very happy. It means that I’m choosing my life over some money that didn’t make that big a difference to me. This means more time for my kids, exercise, and relaxation—not-to-mention side-projects.

It also means less. Less pressure to take on jobs I don’t feel like doing. Less anxiety about not getting everything done. Less time on the phone, or in soul-sucking meetings. (I also look forward to seeing smaller tax bills.)

What will an unraise cost you? Probably not that much. Just like a raise, you’ll adapt to an unraise faster than you think. You’ll go out for one fewer restaurant dinner a week. You’ll opt for the less expensive bottle of wine. Or, you might buy fewer consumer goods (or just buy them on Craigslist).

The most important thing you get with an unraise, is opportunity. If every moment of your day is spoken for, you’re left with scant time to imagine, daydream, and tinker. This is no small concession—these are the activities that make your work engaging. Plus, the ideas that lead you to success are often found on a run, hike, or when you’re in the shower. Want more of those? Give yourself an unraise.

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