MoneyUnder30.com

How to Suck at Work-Life Balance


Balancing work, life and money takes constant effort, and it's not easy.In a survey last week, I asked some of you: “What’s the biggest thing you’re struggling with in your life right now?”

The second most common answer, behind only debt, took me by total surprise.

Then again, I’m not sure why it took me by surprise, because if I had really thought about it, it’s probably the biggest thing I’m struggling with right now, too!

The response was balance.

The open-ended answers took slightly different forms, but there was a clear trend. Here are some sample answers:

  • “Balance: I am 26, recently married, 5 years into my job where I want to decide to either kick it up and push for a management role and a raise or become more domesticated and have kids, become a stay-at home mom, and work from home. We are buying our first home now too, so trying to determine where the mortgage payments will come from if I stay home is another big question mark.”
  • “I am struggling with finding a healthy work/life balance. I want to work hard to achieve my career and financial goals, but I also do not want to look back in 10-20 years with regrets…It’s an everyday challenge.”
  • “Balancing being in a relationship with working.”
  • “…balancing all aspects of life while going to graduate school full time.”
  • “Balancing working sixty hours a week to save for a down payment for a house and having a life.”

Looking at these answers and reflecting on my own life, I’m thinking…“DUH!”

To be honest, my life is NOT balanced. If I were a train, I’d be getting close to derailing.

Below, I’m going to share the challenges I’m facing with work-blogging-money-life balance, but I’m just one dude. We (myself and other readers) would love to hear about YOU. What are you juggling right now? How does it affect you? What are you doing to find balance?

Please share your work-life balance story in a comment now »

My Current Balancing Act

My Day Job

Working for a small company and reporting directly to the owner, I stay quite busy, wear a lot of hats, and juggle a lot of projects—everything from developing our Web site, planning marketing campaigns, and following up on leads and making sales presentations.

To be honest, this is the first “day job” I’ve had that—after a year or so—I didn’t want to run from. I think that’s because I enjoy doing a variety of different things, I can immediately see the impact of my work, I really like the owner and my colleagues and—I think most importantly—I feel valued by them.

As long as I continue to do good work, I believe my company can provide me with a challenging, secure, and rewarding career for a long, long, long time. That’s a hard thing to find anywhere these days, but where I live—in Maine—my job is a diamond in the rough.

Blogging

Money Under 30 started as a passion. Call me a nerd, but I love talking money. I love helping others get out of debt, simplify their finances, start investing, etc. I also love writing and building web sites.

And now, Money Under 30 has turned into a wildly profitable side business. Thanks to five years of well-trafficked articles and a few carefully-considered affiliates, my 2010 earnings from Money Under 30 reached six figures. 2011 looks to be even better. Last month, the site received almost 250,000 pageviews, and I’m busting ass to step up the value I deliver and win the trust of even more loyal readers.

Family

Last on this list but first in my heart are my wife, Lauren, and 6-month old daughter, Molly.

Before becoming a dad, I was able to do a good job at work, manage the blog, and still get a lot of quality time with Lauren. Having Molly has changed that because:

  • Parenting consumes most of the time I have with Lauren.
  • I definitely want more time with Molly than I have.

As every parent knows, there’s no easy answer to finding more quality time with both your kid(s) and your spouse–we can’t manufacture more hours in the week. But I know this problem doesn’t just affect parents…if you’re super focused on school, work, paying off debt, or anything else, it can be hard to find time for friends, relationships, and yourself.

MY TYPICAL DAY AND WEEK

I wake up around 6:30, shower, have breakfast, and get Molly ready for day care.

I leave home at 8am, work, and get home at 7pm. Molly’s already asleep. I have a quick bite to eat with Lauren, before sitting down to work on Money Under 30—some nights just for an hour, some nights until the wee hours of the morning. After going to bed, I may get up at 3am to feed Molly before waking up at 6:30 to do it all again.

I am trying, at least, to keep weekends sacred. I usually only work for a few hours on Sunday nights. It’s the only time of the week I might get some exercise in or—God forbid—a couple hours of pleasure reading . But even our weekends are threatened by the growing list of chores and projects that come with owning a new home.

Why I Need Improve, And How I’m Going To Try

I recently said to Lauren:

“I know, for the time being, I can juggle working, blogging, being a husband and being a dad. My fear is that I won’t be able to do all of those things well.”

And then there are critical things that are blatantly nonexistent in my life:

  • Eating well
  • Exercising
  • Socializing
  • Just relaxing!

I’m still young and in good health, but I know I won’t stay that way with my current lifestyle.

When I started working on my finances and writing Money Under 30, I intentionally didn’t want to become one of those people so obsessed with earning money and growing his 401(k) that I let other passions in life slide. Today, I’m realizing I need to take a careful look at my life to see how much that may be happening, and perhaps try to reverse it.

TIME VS. MONEY

In the throes of paying off debt and righting my financial ship, my life was about earning more. The more I earned, the faster I broke free of debt and made up for lost time saving. But now that I’ve achieved my recent financial goals, I’m in the unfamiliar position of being OK on money and short on time.

Don’t get me wrong…being OK with money does not mean feeling rich. Although I’ve built my business and career in a way that has tripled my income in the last three years, I also spent much of that time paying off debt. And then I bought a house and had a baby. Since those big events, we’ve only just recently got our emergency fund where I want it (six months’ expenses) and still have saving to do for upcoming expenses like a car and home improvement projects.

In the game of striking a balance between earning money and growing your career, staying healthy, growing and enjoying relationships and family (and let’s not forget just enjoying life) you are fortunate if you reach the juncture in life when you might value additional free time more than additional money. I’m there, but I face some heavy decisions in the coming months about how to handle it.

I know I need to do a better job of balancing my time and life, the only question is how to get there.

MY COMMITMENT TO IMPROVE

Today, I’m making working on this balance a priority in my life, and because many of you indicated it’s the biggest struggle in your life right now, I’m going to work on this for US. I’m going to dive into time management techniques. Research time-value theories of money. And test strategies in my own life. Periodically, I’ll report back to you with what I hope will be valuable lessons.

In my own life, I’m going to start right now by making the time I need to change my life. That means:

  • Prioritizing the important things that are absent in my life, like cooking healthy meals, exercising, and focused relaxation (i.e., not just vegging in front of the TV).
  • Emphasizing the quality of what I do rather than the quantity of time I spend doing it (as discussed in my post “Better”).
  • Focusing on the present. This is cliché only because it’s so true, and I’m terrible at it. When I’m doing one thing, I’m often thinking about doing something else. If I’m going to get my life in balance, this needs to stop.

What I’m NOT doing is radically change my life in any way at this time. Working and blogging are both activities I find rewarding, and both play an important role in my personal financial plan. My income is diversified in a way that provides better peace-of-mind than even my emergency fund. Should I lose one form of income, I can still go on living like nothing’s happened. And as long as that doesn’t happen, I can save like crazy.

Will I need a break at some point? Absolutely. Could I change my mind down the road? Perhaps. But for now, that’s my plan.

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

What different things are you trying to balance right now?

How are you doing?

I know that at least for me, it’s really helpful to hear what challenges other people are facing balancing different areas of their lives. (I know for example, for many of you it’s not a new baby demanding a lot of your time but a busy social calendar, a new relationship, or graduate school.)

Please take a minute to share your story in a comment we can get a sense of what all of our crazy lives look like. What are you trying to balance right now? How are you managing it? What one thing could you do to improve your balance? Cut something out? Manage your time better? Ask for help? Be specific.

Your response will help others reading this post relate and, hopefully, start you on a track to a more balanced life…

Share your balancing act in a comment now »

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I’ve done several personal posts recently that have only loosely related to personal finance. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of my stories and this different perspective, but if it’s not your thing, fear not: I’ve got some more hard-core money posts coming up.

In the next couple week’s we’ll look at the best brokers to invest with when you’re just starting out, the true value of credit card points/miles, how to buy houses at auction, and how to analyze your spending in Excel using data collected by Mint.com or other financial software. Don’t want to miss one of these topics? Take a second to subscribe. Thanks!

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.

Comments

  1. My biggest challenge is preparing to attend law school in the Fall and manage to eliminate the consumer debt I have so that I can manage my finances on my tight budget allotted to me by the financial aid office without going further into debt.

  2. Yes to a percentage of posts being about life choices, energy, organization. Personal finance tips cannot exist in a vacuum, especially for a blog whose audience is a generation of confused, hopeful, post-college young adults trying to navigate the world and figure out what is important to them and why.

  3. The Oil Barron In Training says:

    I have been struggling with keeping up my social life. I am bigger guy and I have made a commitment to getting in shape. I am on a strict diet and I exercise 7 days a week. I have been hyper focused on reaching my goal. Obviously, I have not given up any work, but I find myself having to choose between going to happy with my friends or hitting the gym. I have consistently chose the gym, and I have lost 33 lbs since Jan 1. That is great and I feel and look better, but it has all been at the expense of my social life.

    I originally decided to cut all temptation out of my life during my diet. Like not keeping junk food in my pantry, I avoided going to bars and happy hours. Now I realize my mistake. I can go, but just need to exercise will power. I can go hang out and only have one or two scotches and not go crazy. If I totally cut temptation out of my life, when I reach my weight goal, I risk going crazy when I return to my normal life. If I can build the will power now, I can keep these healthy habits for the long term. As my mom use to tell me, “life is about balance and moderation”, and she is correct.

  4. Work/Life Balance is one of the hardest things I encounter day-to-day. I am 27 and I am in automotive sales and typically work Monday-Friday from 8am-7pm and Saturday 9am-5pm. I go to the gym each of these mornings at 5am then shower and head to work. My salary is VERY low so I need to sell as many vehicles as possible to get out of consumer debt/student loans. This requires a lot of time at the office. By the time I get home and eat dinner, it’s time to start all over again.

    I finally sat down with the future Mrs. and I start my new job, higher paying salary, and beginning of seeing the sun next week.

    Google the Mayonnaise Jar and Two Cups of Coffee. Helps put life into perspective.

  5. When I started my career, I had no problems with work/life balance. But then a promotion coupled with a move to a new country kicked my work-life into overdrive.

    Without the pull of friends/family and living in a place where I didn’t know the language, I ended up diving into work head-first. My company, of course, was more than happy to let me do this!

    It went on this way for about three years. There was one stretch of about 4 months with 7-day work weeks reaching 80-100 hours/wk. I learned a hell of alot during this time, but it came at a big cost to my health and sanity. I ended up at wit’s end in front of a therapist, who started me on the road to work/life balance.

    Part of my problem was an overwhelming sense of responsibility for the projects and people that I lead. I was emotionally attached to the projects in an unhealthy way, one that ultimately held me back from enjoying any of my time. The other part of the problem is an overwhelming drive to prove and improve myself. Without friends and family to pull me back, it was a recipe for disaster.

    I’ve since backed down the amount of work that I do each day, but I still struggle to put down the Blackberry from time-to-time. Life is a lot better.

  6. I’ve had this problem since college it seems. It reached a point during my senior year where I was choosing between completing assignments and sleeping for the night.

    I was taking a full-time course load, working two part-time jobs, doing one full-time internship, and my daily commute was 25 miles each way. My SO was 650 miles away. I had to do well in all six classes to graduate that coming May. To this day, I have no idea how I managed–but I figure if I could do THAT, now I can do anything.

    Today, I’m working full-time and living with my family. My therapist explicitly said that I needed to actively work to achieve that balance if I didn’t want to feel so frazzled all the time. So, one of my resolutions this year was to achieve some sort of work/life balance. I figure once it falls into place, it won’t take as much effort.

    I noticed that a lot about my own life–I would work really hard to set something up to work as efficiently and effectively as humanly possible, and it’s just smooth sailing from there. Once I find the time to prioritize, I find myself being able to breathe.

    Seeing this article was merely the pinnacle of this realization! I’m still working on it, but the more effort I make, the more relaxed and peaceful I feel in the end.

    I’m on vacation this week, so now I’m trying really hard not to check my work e-mail!

  7. Balance? whats that? I have no balance. It’s a myth. The stories above read that everyone has different kind of struggles all there life. If anyone is in balance, I’d like to meet them. I work 6 days a week. Sundays I help my kid by tutoring her. It never ends. My wife also is working full time and taking care of the house on the weekend. We have been out of balance as far back as I can remember. I don’t see it changing. Maybe when I reach retirement there will be time for something other than work. Work is what pays the bills and it also keeps us out of balance.

  8. Balance is something I definitely don’t have right now and I don’t really have any idea how to achieve it either. I’m going to school full time and working 30 or so hours a week and I’ve gotten about 2 full nights sleep in the last month. I’ve done this in the past and it can be rough at times but this semester my classes are a lot more homework heavy and require more study time so it’s definitely taking a toll. I have virtually no social life but luckily I have friends at work so occasionally I’ll get to see them.

    People ask me why I work so much and a big reason is that I want to finish paying back my parents for my car but a huge part of me feels like I’m just a drain on society if I’m not. I don’t get any financial aid but I live at home which helps but it also means I spend precious time commuting the half hour or more it takes to get to work. I’ve started feeling guilty about any time I spend not doing homework or working(like right now) and I’m emotionally frazzled from the lack of sleep. I sort of feel like I’m drowning so I’m glad you provided an opportunity to vent about it.

    On the bright side I like a break from typical personal finance posts. I think it makes blogs more interesting and make me want to keep reading so I very much enjoyed reading your blog today.

  9. A work life balance has been difficult for me to maintain for me for the last month or so. I work Monday through Friday (40 – 45 hours per week) and I just picked up a part-time job on nights and weekends (20 hours per week). I picked up the second job in order to save for a new car and my wedding. Additionally, I purchased a condo and moved in with my boyfriend a month ago, and repairs and fixing up the place eat up a large chunk of the little time I have left. I have been working 7 days a week for the past month.

    I was used to having my nights and weekends free to spend time with family, friends and boyfriend, hit the gym, and just relax. Losing almost all of my free time to another job and home repairs has been a HUGE adjustment for me. When I have my 1-2 nights off from my part time job, all I want to do is veg in front of the TV. However, I force myself to schedule time with family and friends. These relationships are important to me and I do not want to neglect them, no matter how tired I may be. I also pick up the phone to just talk and catch up with friends a lot more than I did before (usually while I am driving to and from work). Since I do not see them as much, this is helping me feel more connected to them.

    I know that working so many hours is 100% necessary, and I just keep telling myself “what is more important – a few nights off now, or having plenty of money for a wedding and a car in a couple of years?”

    Slowly but surely, this new schedule is getting easier – however I still haven’t been able to fit in the gym!!!! I will work on that next.

  10. I work about 42 hours a week and this is the first time that I have worked under 50 hours in my life. I work in sales and I love it. I am finally doing what I enjoy and living on my own (no roommates since graduating from school. I am making enough where I can actually see me paying off my student loans in the next 2 years while saving for retirement. I see a possible problem with doing all of those things and having a life such as getting to the gym, personal life, socializing. I’m sure it will workout. Like I said in the beginning, this is the first time I’ve felt calm.

  11. Like most commenting here, this is a balance I struggle with as well. I got married when I was 17 and have now been married for a year and a half. I’ve been supporting myself and my husband for almost a year now. I have to juggle full time work (my day goes from 6am to as late as 6pm most days, by the time I get home) at a very physically demanding job, being (still) a newlywed, financial stress and the stress of having a spouse that is not contributing to that, and then on top of that try and find time to spend with my family, little sisters, friends, plus trying to squeeze in sleep and little things I like – such as crafting, blogging, etc. It’s really tough and I feel like I have no time at all.

  12. But – I don’t have any debt to worry about! :)

  13. Hollyrockets says:

    I think American workplace culture needs an overhaul. The person who sacrifices everything for advancement is viewed as the model employee. Each successive group must measure-up to this ideal or surpass it to stand out. No one at work sees the marriage falling apart and the kids going into rehab and/or the correctional system.

    When the middle class was stronger, a forty hour workweek could pay for a middle-class lifestyle. This is without substantial education which now requires student loan debt. Now it takes 80 plus for the same standard of living.

    The truth is that we need stronger and enforced labor laws including mandatory sick, vacation, and retirement benefits. Enforcement of these is key to an even playing field.

  14. Yeah I definitely have a problem with this. I work a full-time job (40-50 hours a week), and a part-time job on the weeks (16 hours a weekend). So that is 56-66 hours a week of work. Trying to save up to buy a house now, though I think in some ways I picked up the part-time job because I had time because I finished with my Master’s. I think at some point I’m just going to burn out… but there are way too many things to do now to allow that to happen.

    Fortunately, I don’t have any debt.

  15. David Weliver says:

    A lot of great responses in here, thank you everybody who shared so far.

    It’s nice to hear that at least @Jillian is finding some balance…but I the stories of those of us that have NOT mastered balance (including my own) are troublesome.

    As @Hollyrockets suggests, a lot of this is cultural. We have to take on debt to get educations to get “good jobs” but those “good jobs” don’t even allow us to repay our debts and live a decent middle-class life, so we have to work our butts off to get promoted, at a second job, on our own businesses (or all three). That leaves precious little time for the rest of life. (You know, the important stuff.)

  16. Currently, I have a very muddled work/life lack of balance. I’m 22 and have been at my job for a little over a year now. I moved half way across the country for the job so I find myself “investing” in work more than I probably should for a variety of reasons: lack of friends/family here so work is easy to dive into, a difficult relationship, a need to do everything I can a work to feel secure in my job, and a strong desire to push towards my next position in the company and increase my pay. This is my first job out of school so I’m trying to soak up as much knowledge as I can and get my hand in any project so I can be well-rounded and have a lot of experience in any job I want 5-10 years down the line. I know I need to find a better balance. Weekends I’m not working, I’m so exhausted from working long hours during the week that I tend to not even do the things I want to do.

    For those who say you can’t have balance, my boss has perfected it. He usually gets to work around 7am and leaves around 5-5:30pm. He never comes in on the weekends, spends plenty of time with his kids going to soccer games and school luncheons, and takes family vacations multiple times a year. And with all of that, he still does a great job in the workplace at a very large company.

  17. I am probably one of your oldest readers pushing 40 but I have to say that I have been blessed in the fact that I was able to have a career, turn that into my own business and run it from home. I raised my 2 kids to full-time school age and came back to the corporate world. All without completing my degree, which I will be going back for within the next year. Although it is hard though now to balance the activities that my kids are involved in, my husband and I make it work. I enjoyed my time at home and now I enjoy my time away from home. I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I will say though that those of you who think life will slow down after this, that, or the other…it doesn’t. I’m still waiting.

  18. Julie in Houston says:

    I’m commenting from a somewhat different point in life that you and some other commenters. I am 25 and my boyfriend is 27. We both graduated school-his parents paid for his, I paid for mine. We (mainly he) purchased a house last year in April. We are lucky enough to have full-time jobs that we both enjoy. He is thinking about trying to “move up” and I’m honestly perfectly okay with where I am in my job. We are lucky enough to have flexible schedules and we both get out of work at about 4pm. I hit the gym after work and he goes during his lunch break. His only debt is his truck (well, and mortgage). I have 3 school loans left and have recently paid off a credit card ($5k) and my car! I’m trying like crazy to put any extra cash towards the school loans and get them paid off. We don’t have any kids and don’t go out a lot with friends (which is something we want to change) but we do want to start traveling more.

    Sounds pretty okay righ? Well, it is! We are so blessed to be in the current state we’re in (and I don’t mean Texas!). I suffered through a few years at another job that had me running ragged, I coulnd’t get the energy to hit the gym, and was turning into the kind of person i didn’t want to me (ie. fat, lazy, overworked, tired, cranky, etc.).

    I look at the way things are now and we still struggle to fit it all in. Things are looking pretty good on “paper” and they are good-I’m not complaining by any means-but we’re still a bit off. I think that’s life, you have to prioritize and figure out what is okay and what isn’t. We’ve recently started cutting out some excess time with his family and have been able to fill that time with church and worship which we’d been missing for the past couple years. Life is give and take and you have to give before you can take.

    Not sure if that made any sense but it’s nice to hear about others who are having a hard time balancing it all. The more you take on and the more you do the harder it will be. Some stuff just has to go by the way side. I’ve even let a few friendships fall to the way side because I didn’t feel like they were really adding anything positive to my life. Kinda sucks, but i have time for other things now.

  19. April Orsolino says:

    I am 24 and have been working in my first real-world job for a little over a year now. It’s great! I didn’t come from a family of money, so handling money was never in my repertoire. So when I got this job, I never really knew how to budget properly. I am slowly realizing that it takes hard word to keep up with my finances. I just maxed out 2 of my credit cards that I acquired 2 months ago (yupp, I’m definitly in trouble). On top of that, I am paying for my car that is under my name and a college loan. I just started a part-time, seasonal job this week in hopes of saving myself from drowning into debt. I am also training for my first half-marathon in January. I’d say I have a lot going in right now, but I’m not complaining!

    Although balancing work, finances, and social life isn’t too difficult, keeping up with my finances definitely is because it affects every aspect of “balance.” I feel like if I don’t have my finances taken care of, I can’t really enjoy my time with family and friends, and aren’t as productive as I can be at work. It’s a constant struggle, but I’m glad to have these things on my plate.

    Thank you for this website! This is the first time I am reading a blog of yours :)

  20. David Cole says:

    I am 27 and a Marine. I thought I had a hard work schedule. But really after reading these posts I don’t have it all that bad. The only bad part is when i’m deployed like right now to Afghanistan. But with me and the wife we seem to find time every day to talk. Also I have most weekends off all together. I usally work from 7am to around 5-7 pm. I usally go to the gym during work 5 days a week. Maybe once or twice a week we might go in at 5 AM for some training. But all in all I try and make time for me and the wife to do things on the weekend. My job is not my priority we need to make us and our family the priority. I now realize what is more important to me and that is family. I make good money and really money only gets you so far. I make around $40,000 a year and this supports me my wife and dog. We rent a 3 bedroom house have two nice cars. We also have 3.5 months of emergency funds and a good amount going to retirement. So really work pays the bills yes. But i believe most people work so much thinking that they need the money when really they need to live below there means and make time for famliy. You can always make more money you can’t buy time back though