I Don’t Work for the Money

I often read in the PF blogosphere about the importance of achieving financial independence through the generation of passive income streams.  Some bloggers will go on to explain that until we achieve FI, we are trading time for money, and time should be recognized as a more precious resource than money because it is non-renewable.


coin hourglassI turned over the phrases “trading time for money” or “working for money” while Kyle and I traveled for Thanksgiving.  (Aren’t long car rides wonderful for ruminating?)  I realized that I don’t think of myself as trading time for money right now.  I view my paycheck as incidental to the work I do, not the reason for it.  I’m working to get my PhD, not to get money.


Over the course of writing this blog I’ve developed a description for the fiscal relationship between universities and stipend-receiving PhD students: The university expects us to work for free, and it pays us just enough to enable us to do so.  What I mean by that is that graduate students are expected to turn 100% of their efforts over to the pursuit of their studies, and to prevent us from having to get outside jobs to fund our lives, the university pays (some of) us just enough to get by.


In my case, just this fall my pay became officially on paper disconnected from my work.  I was switched from the compensatory payroll system to the non-compensatory payroll system, which means I’m being paid by a fellowship instead of a grant, which means that I don’t have “earned income,” which means that I have no work requirement for receiving my pay.  Allegedly, I will be paid whether I work or not (though I’m not going to test this).  Obviously this is ludicrous and if I don’t work I’ll be kicked out of my program and I will lose my fellowship, but the pay is kind of tied to my enrollment instead of my work itself.  So again, I’m not working for money, I’m working for my degree.


A year or two ago when some lottery jackpot or another got really high, there was a lot of media and PF blog attention to the question of “What would you do if you won?”  I didn’t buy any lottery tickets, but I did indulge in the fantasy of winning.  And you know what?  I would finish my PhD.  Money or no, I’m banging this degree out.


My stipend is vital to my life, so I don’t mean to say that it isn’t important or appreciated, but it’s not my motivation for going to work every day.  I’m not trading time for money, I’m trading time for this degree.  Perhaps you could argue that the degree represents the ability to earn, but I really see it as so much more than that.  I would have done fine in the work force with just my undergraduate degree, or with a master’s.  This PhD has been a labor of love and ambition and determination, much more so since I decided not to pursue leading my own lab (the stereotypical/assumed desired career for a science PhD).


During our drive, I asked Kyle if he views himself as working for money.  He said that he views working as having a dual purpose of pursuing the degree and earning money.  (Kyle still technically does “earn” his stipend.)


Perhaps we’re just trying to justify to ourselves our abysmal pay, though.  Like, we can’t just be working for money, because if we are that means we’re only worth what we’re being paid, and we can’t stomach what it says about us to only be marketable at that pay.


But I don’t believe PhD students are the only people working for something more than money.  The adage about never working a day in your life if you love what you do is still fairly popular.  There are lots of people in jobs that pay less than what they could get elsewhere who choose to be there because of the warm fuzzies or whatever that they get for doing that particular job or serving that particular population.  Those people are definitely working for more than money – they are not simply trading time for money.  They are trading time for money and the less tangible benefits they get from their jobs.


Are you simply trading time for money?  What do you get out of your job aside from money?  Would you keep your job if you were FI? 


photo from Free Digital Photos



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28 Responses to "I Don’t Work for the Money"

  1. Yeah, our post on Monday last week (see Partial-retirement/self-employment experiment over in the link down there) was pretty much about this same thing. Though the money (which is definitely NOT abysmal) is awfully nice!

    DH even snuck off after dinner was over on Thanksgiving to get a little more programming in. He’s so happy. I seriously doubt he would have left Super Mario Galaxy time to do something like pull out the carpet in the bathroom.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Partial-retirement/self-employment experiment over

    1. Emily says:

      That’s great to hear! I hope the excitement lasts.

  2. Mrs. PoP says:

    I consider graduate work education rather than a job. So it makes complete sense that you’re not doing it “for the money”. I’d be curious if you still felt the same way after a few years in the workforce.
    Mrs. PoP recently posted..Buy Whatever You Want On Black Friday…

    1. Emily says:

      I wonder how I’ll feel 1 day into my first real job. 🙂

      1. You’ll be getting paid more, hopefully. Fortunately many of us don’t have to choose between doing something we hate for money or something we love for no money. (Many of us do something we like for some money.)
        nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumpies: First year on the tt

        1. Emily says:

          I agree, and that’s why I think most of us are trading time for money plus more.

  3. I tend to agree with Mrs PoP. Graduate school is education, not work. Granted, it takes a much different form than other education programs out there, and it might even better parallel what you end up doing outside of grad school than other degrees, but it is schooling.

    After being in the workforce (even this relatively short time), I know I am working to achieve my personal goals (that require money) and support myself, rather than the pure passion some people supposedly feel.
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted..extra retirement contribution room.

  4. […] I Don’t Work for the Money by Evolving Personal Finance […]

  5. I’ve learned this summer how important it is to love or at least like your job, and I’m the happiest when I’m employed full-time. I just started a new job and I definitely had a moment where I felt I was exactly where I should be. If I won the lottery I might choose to quit my job but I’d just trade that in for volunteering full-time or running a bunch of businesses online.
    Mo’ Money Mo’ Houses recently posted..Weekly Blog Love – Black Friday & My New Job

    1. Emily says:

      You have been through a lot of job transitions recently so I’m sure that has given you some clarity on this issue!

  6. Cash Rebel says:

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this recently. If I had all the money I needed in order to retire early, it’s not like is just quit work and sit at home. I think I’d just do the same thing I’m doing now except for a nonprofit I believe in. Then the next question I always ask myself is why don’t you just do that now? Perhaps I need to go on a long drive/run to sort this out, haha.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..Stop the Black Friday madness!

    1. Emily says:

      Yep, why aren’t you doing it now? Why wait to indulge in your dream? You live on so much less than you make now, how much of a cut could you take if you honestly would continue working after FI?

  7. […] at Evolving PF asks whether we’re all just working for money or if there’s some deeper meaning behind it all for many, herself included.  I think most […]

  8. E 2 says:

    I am doing my PhD for the money, probably in the same way Kyle is – in that if I weren’t getting paid enough to live on, I most certainly wouldn’t continue doing it. It is similar enough to a job that when I’ve thought seriously about dropping out, one of the factors that’s kept me going is that getting paid peanuts with benefits ranks head and shoulders above unemployment (most of my friends who’ve left or gone non-academic routes after graduating have taken a while to find jobs). When my program doesn’t fund me over the summers, I figure that means I can and should earn extra income and gain extra experience elsewhere. I don’t love my research enough to spend 1/4 of the year working on it while living off of savings, and I’m realistic that the PhD probably won’t give me a big income boost compared to someone with an MA, so might as well make fewer sacrifices for it now.

    On the other hand, money certainly isn’t the only or biggest factor! There’s also a level of independence, flexibility, community, and intellectual satisfaction that keeps me here. If money were all that mattered I’ve have been gone years ago. So it’s not an either-or question.

    1. Emily says:

      You put that very well! I enjoy those characteristics of grad school as well.

  9. There are a lot of people out there that don’t work for the money which is interesting, especially in my generation. I probably would consider my work a trade of my time for money.
    Stu @ Poor Student recently posted..What Should You Do if Student Loans Won’t Cover Tuition?

    1. Emily says:

      Do you want your whole career to be that way or is that just a while-in-school situation?

  10. Right now I am certainly working for money. I don’t hate what I do, but it’s to get to my ultimate goal of FI. When I as a resident making $25K, I loved every day because I learned so much and I would have probably done it for food and a room if they didn’t pay a stipend. I think there are lots of people who like their jobs, but would rather not have to spend 40 hours per week doing them while missing other things. I will probably always see patients, but someday it will be on my terms and not for an insurance company or to pay the bills.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Retirement Planning Made Simple

    1. Emily says:

      That’s interesting that you feel so differently now from when you were a resident. Is the work substantially different or is it just that it was new back then? That’s nice that you still want to see patients part-time for the rest of your life, though. I guess it’s just a matter of balance.

  11. Unless you have a true passion, you’re trading time for money. I started my PhD because I loved science. I finished it realizing that science is just what I’m good at doing, not something that I love doing. If I could do it over, I would do my PhD again. But I would have focused on getting a highly employable skill set while in grad school rather than waiting until I was a post doc to get a skill set that would pay better than an entry level BS or BA job.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Portfolio Status: October 2013

    1. Emily says:

      Nice to hear from you again!

      I guess my problem is that my passions seem to turn over every 18 months. That’s good advice about translatable skills, though. Are you talking about lab techniques or communication or what?

      1. All of the above. Kind of a combination of research area, lab skills, professional network, etc. It’s the total package that will get you a high paying job out of grad school instead of having to do a post-doc.
        My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Portfolio Status: October 2013

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  13. I’ve always said that I would work a $10/hr job doing something I am truly passionate about than working a $25/hr job doing something I hate. Life is short and it’s not all about the money. Yes I want to experience financial independence, but I’m not going to do try to achieve and hate life in the process. I’ve argued with friends about this topic and I still think that if you work at a job paying you $10/hr but it’s something that you love, you’ll be happier and enjoy life more. That means you’ll be more engaged in your job and your personal life, making both that much better and enjoying life that much more.
    Jon @MoneySmartGuides recently posted..Saving Money With Ibotta

    1. Emily says:

      Kyle and I aren’t extremely YOLO (obviously) but we want to enjoy our day-to-day life. There’s a reason I didn’t go into investment banking right after college.

  14. David says:

    I think that deep down inside everyone really does work for the money. Money is a necessity, and you can’t survive with just helping and not getting the money.
    However, from your viewpoint I do agree, because even though you get paid you do it to help.
    Thanks for the great read,
    David recently posted..Every Penny Counts

    1. Emily says:

      Oh, I don’t agree with you. What about stay-at-home parents? Volunteers? I agree that most people do have to work to earn in some capacity, however not everyone has money as their primary metric for evaluating job satisfaction.

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