Chasing Money - Is There Ever An End To It?

I chatted with an old friend today after a long time. And while we were talking about our jobs and how our companies fared, he told me that they had recently got a new CEO. And as a matter of conversation, he mentioned that the new CEO was going to be paid something along the lines of 30+ Million dollars in stocks (restricted units, not options!), in addition to 1.2 Million dollars in annual salary and 2.4 Million dollars in annual bonus, to take the job. The numbers were just mind boggling. And this new CEO guy is just 45 years old!!! As most conversations with old friends go, we were all over the place, and before we knew it we were debating about whether we would even want to be in the shoes of this guy.

On the one hand, being just 45 and being offered so much money to take on a job seems like an incredible accomplishment. Especially for a guy who was just like us - with a Ph.D. degree and not a fancy schmancy M.B.A degree or someone who wasn't exactly born with a silver spoon in his mouth. How cool is a life with millions of dollars to throw around!!! On the other hand, how much life would this guy have had? He must have worked his butt off to get where he did right? Sure, luck and timing and being at the right place at the right time had something to do with it.... but unless he burnt a lot of midnight oil and stressed out enough to turn several hair gray, I doubt he could have got where he is today. When you are busy building such a high profile career, where is the time for the simpler things in life? To smell the roses, to attend your children's plays and recitals, to cook a meal with your spouse and enjoy it on the back porch? What good is several million dollars, if you don't have time to enjoy spending it? We consoled ourselves that our average Joe jobs that paid decent salaries while allowing us time with our families was good enough.

After I hung up the call though, I couldn't stop thinking about this. Are we really that different from this CEO guy, other than the fact that we don't make a multi-million dollar salary per year (that's a big glaring difference, but lets ignore that for a second, shall we?). Let me take my example. I am currently *very* pregnant but I still continue to go to work, so I can save all my PTO for the time after the baby comes. Even with all this saved vacation and the short term disability pay, I will have only about 9 weeks of time off with my new baby. And then I need to make a choice - either go on unpaid leave or return to work. And I am not very open to the idea of going on unpaid leave for long periods of time :(

Now, do we *need* the pay I will get by foregoing those few weeks of unpaid leave? Well, not really. The better half makes a decent salary, and we have some money in both short and long-term savings and we can survive fine without my paycheck for several weeks, months or maybe even years. So, why am I so reluctant to forego a few weeks of salary? Ultimately, are we all addicted to money so much, that we cannot stop chasing it? Do we all just trade in our time blindly in the pursuit of money? In some cases like that of the CEO guy its millions, and in other cases like me it is a few thousands but is it the same thing? Do we all intentionally (or out of habit) just chase financial security at the cost of quality family time?

I don't think I am cut out to be a stay at home mom. I admire those that have made the brave decision to give up their careers to raise families. But a large majority of my friends and the people I know are like me - they have reluctantly got back to work after having babies. They spend the days from morning to late night switching roles - an ideal employee to an ideal mom to an ideal spouse. Trying to advance the career and bring in a bigger paycheck, while at the same time trying to be a good mother and wife and provide a good nurturing family. Balancing, juggling, being super women....

What is it that fuels this insane desire to chase money? Is there ever an end to it? Do any of you ever wonder, or is it just my pregnancy hormones talking? :)

*Image Credit: Photograph by David M* [via Flickr Creative Commons]

PS:This article was featured as an Editor's Picks in the Carnival of Personal Finance #165 over at No Debt Plan. Head on over there for some really good reading...

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Matt said...

My pregnant wife is going back after a few months - I don't think she'd be able to be a stay at home mom either. But you're right there needs to be a good work life balance and for me having the time to go home and see my baby when she's born is more important than having the bank account with millions that takes up 90+ hours per week of my time.

With that said I would still like to have the million in the bank. :)

Nina said...

This is a very good question. I think most of would agree that a huge yacht, mansion, incredibly expensive cars, pricey watches, etc. don't make anyone happier. People who lust after these things have been sucked in by advertising.

Having said that, what IS important? What people basically want is security and comfort. A safe and pleasant place to live, reliable transportation, healthy food.

I stayed home with my 2 kids when they were preschool age, and now I have a higher net worth than the average woman my age. So it can be done. We are not talking anything exceptional here though. I have to keep working another 8-10years in order to be sure not to run out of money in retirement.

If I had been working all along, I would be in much better financial shape. And I think that's the danger. No matter how secure and safe your marriage or relationship seems, it can change in an instant. And if you haven't got earning power you are toast. You have to ask yourself, "could I and my child(ren) get by if I were single and had only my income?"

So probably the best compromise is to stay in your field part time if you can, so that you keep up with things, keep contributing to Social Security and a retirement account, and have an uninterrupted work record.

On the other hand, if you want to stay home completely for a few years, it's not that big a deal. And it is incredibly rewarding to spend time with your tiny babies. Otherwise why have them?

ispf said...

@Matt: Figuring out a good work life balance - thats the challenge I am grappling with right now! Good luck when your baby comes....

@Nina: Very good comment - especially the point you make about "What people basically want is security and comfort." had me thinking. I think that is somehow at the root of the issue.... not being able to accurately predict the sweet spot for feeling secure with the financial situation. For instance, last year even though I hardly had a balance to speak of in my 401K, I felt a lot more secure since whatever money that was there seemed to increase in value. But now, even with a slightly higher balance, I feel less secure, since the balance is deteriorating in value consistently :( Add to that what you said about security in relationships and not to rely on it for financial security, that puts a lot more pressure to keep the income coming in. Now thats just the "security" part. The second component that you brought up is the - "comfort" part - is such a moving target for most of us. For instance when I was a student, I was quite comfortable sharing a run down two bedroom apartment with another student, as long as I had a room to myself. Now that I am married and both the husband and I are working and we are expecting a baby, we need a house with numerous rooms (some of which are not even used most of the time!) to feel the same level of comfort. Thats what makes me wonder.... will we ever stop chasing money? Will there ever be "enough" for most of us "normal" and "regular" people to really feel secure and comfortable?

HairySwede said...

the swedish way might be of interest. with both maternal and paternal leave. each parent is guaranteed two months of parental leave and then they have nine months to split between them.

in the mean time they still receive a paycheck and are guaranteed to have their same job waiting for them when they come back.

it has become such a part of the culture that there is no problem doing this because just about everyone takes their paternal leave.

although mothers are more apt to take more of the nine months, fathers almost always take a bit of it and I believe usually cap it at about six months.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I left a job with tenure in order to stay home with the babies...and never went back!
I never thought I was cut out to be a mom, period, much less a stay-at-home Mom. But the stress of working FT (that affected my health ultimately) plus the negative effects of daycare on the kids plus realizing what was truely important in life changed my mind.
I am lucky to have a spouse with a good income, and I can freelance from home now. The $$ isn't as good, but we are still quite comfortable. And I can play the market and have time to watch our investments wisely. And the big ticket items aren't as important if you aren't in the market place listening to all the talk about them!

ispf said...

@hairyswede: I am so jealous! I had heard of some liberal maternity/paternity leave policies in Europe, but your comment really makes me green with envy :) Pity its too late for me to relocate now :) Even back in my home country, the leave allowed after having a baby (at least for the mom) are more liberal than here in the US. It makes me wonder again, if there is ever an end to chasing money :( Even after knowing that the quality of life in terms of time off (and a lot of other factors for that matter) is better back home and in several other places around the world, we still continue to work here in the US in an attempt to make more money!

@anonymous: Hats off to you!!! I wish I had it in me to do that! Some time back I had taken some time off (it was for circumstantial reasons). I did not have a baby then, but staying at home really drove me nuts and I in turn drove my husband nuts :) Now he even dreads the thought that I will be away from work for several weeks. With the baby at home, I can see that things are different. I am wondering if I should consider working part-time for a while and try to get the best of both worlds. But with so many changes happening around here, and the hormones raging, I have decided that now is not a good time to make any decisions! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment... its people like you who really inspire me to take the mind of "money" and look at what is really important!

Gates VP said...

...staying at home really drove me nuts and I in turn drove my husband nuts :)

I just moved to the US (from Canada) with 5 other co-workers (company buyout). 5 of us have wives and none of them can work. Watching the effects of "forced time off" is really quite the education. Some people are really happy and find ways to "keep busy" and others go nuts with boredom. It's funny when people complain about work, but then "die of boredom" when they don't have to work :)

Of course, off to the point, why are you chasing the money? On one hand, it sounds like you want the safety net, but it also sounds like you already have a pretty good one. On the other hand, you also sound very dedicated to your work. So here's my question:

If you're so dedicated to working and you really love it, then how much of your "nest egg" do you need to protect?

How many years do you really want to spend "retired". Do you want to sit on a beach from age 65 to 85? At best most people want to sit on a beach for a few months. Of course, if you just save a bunch of money and then keep working, you have to wonder why you've saved all of this money just to die with money in the bank?

I know it's hard to turn down "corporate-ladder" climbing, but how far back are you really going to be? What's the different between 15 and 20 years of experience? I'm guessing that you're in your 20s or early 30s, which means that your life expectancy is about 85. Unless, you plan on saving 15+ years of income in the next 35 years, it's unlikely that you're quitting the work world at 65.

So if you figure that you're going to work for 45 years, how bad is it to take a year "off" now and work for 46 instead? If you're really worried about money, how about leveraging your time with further education? Part-time education while raising an infant is definitely something that can be done.

What is it that fuels this insane desire to chase money? Is there ever an end to it? Do any of you ever wonder,

My wife and I have discussed this a few times. Just looking at a big bank account balance actually has a calming effect on her, so I'm tempted to cite this as a security issue. Of course, as my wife has expanded her ability to earn income, I think that she's actually starting to see that as a form of security as well.

I've asked her if there was a number that we could have in the bank that would actually make her feel secure? She wasn't really sure what that number was. That's telling, we're working on it :)

So, what's your "secure" number? Is it really big or really small? How much risk are you actually trying to insure? If you don't have a number, then why not? Are you chasing the nebulous security that cannot even be purchased?

ispf said...

@gates vp: wow, thanks for taking the time to comment! You really have me thinking...

First of all the reason that I drove my husband nuts when I stayed at home was not entirely due to boredom. I think the issue is that we were raised to "do something with our lives" and when I stayed back at home, being "dependent" on my husbands income and not really "making use" of my education, there was a vague sense of disappointment and disdain that kept creeping up until it started messing up my peace of mind. But like you said, that's something for another discussion.

Regarding, chasing money aspect, you have a very good point, that in the long run, it will likely not matter that I took a year off now. When I think of it that way, I know we will be alright. But in the immediate sense, switching from two incomes to one will require a little bit of juggling of our financial goals and plans and that is a bit scary for me. I need to think a bit more about this to see if we have ended up being too inflexible with our lives, in our quest for financial security.

Regarding a "secure" number... I really don't know. If you had asked the same question last year, I probably would have a number ready. But this year after seeing the value of our 401K and other investments decline, it is a bit scary. So not sure if any number really makes any sense....

"Are you chasing the nebulous security that cannot even be purchased?" - That is exactly what I am worried about...

jessie said...

I think its all about balance. Once you know how to balance your monetary ambitions and make a target for yourself you are likely to lead a more healthy and peaceful life. Set goals for yourself and this will keep your desires in check. My personal theory is that uninhibited ambitions will make you miss out many good things in life.

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kenny z said...

Everyone here is missing the point. There is no need for more babies to be brought in a world where everything is about chasing money to the point where it become a priority over universal values and honor. Everyone working a 9 to 5 job are leading obsolete lives and dont contribute to the greater good. As long as we live in a profit based economy opposed to a resource based economy, there is no need to bring new lives into this world to contribute to more sin (Not that I am religious because I am not, but going
against ethics and values for artificial gains is universally unethical) Wake the fuck up people, It doesn't cost to million to go to heaven. You live once, respect yourselves.

kenny z said...

If you have any argument id like to hear it