Doing Something vs. Doing the Right Thing

Finance is often as much about planning as it is about doing. I know that sentiment isn’t popular. We live in a ready, fire, aim world. Remember the phrase “The early bird gets the worm?” Society values the first mover. While speed and making decisions are certainly important factors in your success, it’s as important to focus on the right task as it is to be performing a task at all.

Here’s a story about two women I’ve met recently:


Dora works a part time job at the coffee shop while she auditions for various acting roles. Her job pays $9.50 per hour and the only thing resembling a benefit is that they make really good coffee. Credit card companies are constantly after her, looking for a minimum payment. “If I work more hours, I’d be able to pay the bills,” she decides. Because she needs to make ends meet, Dora often works 30 hours a week (the max her boss will allow….but 10 more than usual) and is too tired to go after auditions as much as she knows she should. “Short term pain for long term gain,” she reminds herself.

Let’s do the math on Dora’s “gross” income:

Regular time = 20 hours x $9.50 per hour = $190

Extra time = 30 hours x $9.50 per hour = $285

$95 more for that extra time? It sure seems worth the effort to help pay bills.

…until you look at what it costs Dora.


Janelle works for a local insurance company part time. She does filing and answers the phones. It’s busy work, but keeps a paycheck coming in while she’s moving up the ladder. She IS moving up the ladder. She was just cast in a small part in a big film, and because of her success she’s landed a great agent with a respected agency. Hopefully that’ll springboard her to opportunities for even better roles. She’ll miss the job at the insurance firm, only because she likes the people. Luckily, this part-time job pays enough ($15.50 per hour) that although it’s extremely tight, she doesn’t have to worry about a ton of overtime.

Here’s the math for Janelle:

Regular time = 20 hours x $15.50 per hour = $310

10 hours less than Dora and $25 more money.

Stop Wasting Your Time

Is Dora really smart to work those extra 10 hours? Probably not. It’s costing prep time, rest…and ultimately roles. Dora’s real math problem should be this: how many hours would it take me to find a job paying $15.50 instead of $9.50? 20 hours? 50 hours? While this is a difficult job market, I believe that Dora is better off looking for more income than she is wasting time at an incredibly low pay rate.

Notice that when people have the courage to improve their poor financial situation, they make one of three moves:

1)    Cut expenses. This can be productive, but how much can you truly trim? When you’re spending next to nothing already, how much savings will you capture? $20 a week? $50?

2)    Work more hours. You’ve seen the effect of this strategy on Dora. While it certainly isn’t shameful to find a way to make more money, she’s now in a vicious spiral: she works more to pay the bills, which removes her from her life goals.

3)    Find a higher wage. Because this idea is the most risky, it’s often shunned. I have to tell you: it’s often the shunned ideas that are the most profitable.

Keep Your Goals In Front of You

Dora’s real goal isn’t more money. She wants the freedom to pursue her true love: her craft. Only option #3 above accomplishes this goal, right?

So why didn’t she choose this option?

While the answer is easy, acting on it isn’t. Finding a higher wage is the least chosen option because it involves the most risk. When you decide to find better work you’re looking for a new environment. This often involves overhauling your entire life; you may have to wake up at a different hour, find a new route to work, meet new colleagues and wear a different uniform. You might not be good at the new job.

You and I both know that much of this is in your head. If you truly believe that you deserve your end goal, you certainly deserve a job that helps you toward that end. If your true destiny is your craft, why not open up avenues that help you achieve success?

In closing, don’t sacrifice more time for pay unless absolutely necessary. Pay the bills with a higher paying job and you’ll be rested and rehearsed for your next opportunity.