Does the 40-Hour Work Week Make Us Spend More?

Too Much Work

Have you ever wondered if all the work we’re doing to make more money is actually making us spend more? We recently read an article on that very topic, and it piqued our interest. So, of course, we wanted to share it with you guys.

The guy who wrote it had recently spent nine months backpacking and not making any money. When he returned to the workforce and started working 40 hours again, he was shocked at how much more inclined he felt to spend money. During his time spent backpacking across foreign countries, he actually spent less than his day-to-day as a full-time employee. And activities like exercising, reading, and meditating were no longer happening because although they didn’t require money, they required time — and energy — two things he lacked.

As he said it, “Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. […] We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have.”

So what do you think of his theory? I remember when I first started working full-time, fresh out of college, I had a few weeks when I really struggled. Was this really what all those years of schooling had been for… to spend the majority of my waking hours at a desk? And when I got home from work, I’d shower, put on a robe, and sit in front of the TV because anything else felt insurmountable. After a couple of weeks, though, I adjusted and just tried to squeeze in as much fun as I could over the weekend.

And many of my purchases were justified by how hard I worked. They were my reward for working 40 hours. Spending becomes our balm for working so much. And the tough thing is that there’s no in-between. The 40-hour work week is the standard. We all do it. If I were in a job interview for a full-time gig and I said, “‘I’ll get the job done and I’ll do it well, but I only want to work 20 or 30 hours,” the interview would be over right then and there.

For what are we working so long and hard? Are we happier? At the end of the day, do we have more money to our name? If this guy’s theory is really true then we could potentially work a portion of the hours we do now and still save the same amount of money.

Those are our thoughts, and now we want to hear yours. Do you think we’d all spend less if we didn’t work so darn much?

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  • Reply Cate August 13, 2014 at 9:22 am

    I wonder this same thing on a regular basis. I don’t make as much as my husband and some weeks it feels like all I am doing is working to pay for daycare and gas so that i can GO to work. Sure, i may have 300-500 every month after daycare and gas but that doesn’t include how much i have to spend on clothes for work, eating out on occasion because i didn’t have time to pack my lunch, etc.
    When the weekend comes we spend all of our time running errands and trying to have fun with the kids and make-up for the 50+ hours a week that we weren’t there because we were working…$$$
    My emotional and physical self would be much more satisfied with surviving on less if it meant i could stay home with our boys. unfortunately….we need that 300-500 surplus every month (dang student loans).

    • Reply EcoCatLady August 13, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Have you ever considered that if you didn’t have to work full time, you might be able to find other ways to earn that $300-$500/month which would be less taxing and more rewarding? I mean $500/month is really not that much money to make – it’s $125/week. Maybe you could do freelance work, or start a home based business…. you might even be able to achieve that much in extra savings just by having the time and energy to do things like cook from scratch, repair things yourself, etc. I’m not suggesting that you should run out and quit your job tomorrow, but I do think it’s worth considering your options.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:25 am

      Your family is lucky to have a wife and mom who works so hard! Figure out what your end game is and what you’d need to get there. Even if it’s a few years down the road, just knowing there’s a future where you don’t have to work so much can feel really good.

  • Reply Dana P. August 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

    This is such an interesting perspective and I think it rolls up into a lot of different issues, not just spending money. You touch on the fact that we are so programmed to work long, hard hours and when we do have time for ourselves on the weekend/evenings, we’re too tired to do anything. Not only does this throw our budgets out of whack, it throws off any work-life balance we strive for too. I think the satisfaction of spending less money and having time to do the things that make us feel good (exercise, reading, relaxation) are definitely correlated. As a society, I feel we’d benefit if more companies/employees started paying attention to “big picture” issues like this. If happiness goes up, I’d have to think productivity would as well!

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:28 am

      Agreed, Dana! Work productivity and motivation would be much easier to come by if we had more time when we weren’t working!

  • Reply Little House August 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I think there’s some truth to this point. I’m a little bit luckier in that as a teacher, I get lots of time off. I do put in a 40 hour week, but with all the vacation days, I only work 182 school days (where as most people probably work 240-250 days a year with a 2-4 week vacation allotment). That gives me plenty of time to relax, exercise, go on adventures, work on side projects at my own discretion, etc.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:31 am

      Good point. When you put it that way, teaching sounds pretty ideal!!

      • Reply Little House August 14, 2014 at 9:28 am

        I think it’s terrific, but that’s probably also because I LOVE what I do. 🙂

  • Reply Kali @ Common Sense Millennial August 13, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I don’t necessarily believe it’s work in general that encourages us to spend — but rather, spending 8-10 hours (or more) in environments and positions that make us unhappy and leave us unfulfilled. It’s only natural we seek that elsewhere, and even people who are great at prioritizing relationships and experiences over stuff are still probably tempted by convenience and small splurges to make their workdays a little better.

    I’ve noticed for myself, my urge to spend on stuff has plummeted ever since I changed jobs, from employee (with a very dull, unsatisfying job I hated) to self-employed (and doing work that I find challenging, fun, and interesting).

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:33 am

      Awesome, Kali. And you make some great points. Working in an uninspiring environment every day vs an uplifting one has got to be a major contributing factor.

  • Reply Sarah August 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

    This is such an interesting question! I know for us, we tend to “blow through money” like crazy on the weekend. We’re in that mindset of “we’re not working so we’re going to do what we want to do and you’re not the boss of us.” Or I’ll get off work after a particularly stressful day and neeed that ice cream from Bruster’s. Ahem.

    But would all of that be fixed if we stopped working 40 hour weeks? Not sure. I mean, I would be happier, but then I’d have a lot of downtime for things I don’t usually have time for….like pedicures and shopping and eating at Bruster’s every day……

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:36 am

      Bruster’s is delicious. We had one of those where I grew up in AL, and now I’m craving it, thanks to you!

      • Reply Sarah August 14, 2014 at 11:10 am

        😛 You’re welcome! I would offer to mail you some, but……. 🙁

  • Reply J.Mill August 13, 2014 at 11:17 am

    I absolutely think I’d spend less if I worked less. My husband and I are lucky enough to have jobs that afford us some luxuries. In my mind, our sanity demands such luxuries because of our precious little free time.

    We are working more hours now than we ever have before due to company climate at our respective jobs. We spend money on the following things as a result:

    – Take out/heat-n-serve meals
    – Dog walker
    – Cleaning person
    – Cabs (we are a one-car family)
    – Expensive, nearby grocery instead of further discount grocery

    If I worked 30 or fewer hours per week, I bet some of that list would go away!

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:40 am

      Definitely. When Johnny and I both had office jobs, I NEVER felt like cooking, so our eating out budget was really high. And when you work a lot, you don’t want to spend all your precious time not working catching up on chores and grocery shopping. It’s a vicious cycle.

  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF August 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

    My husband and I just emerged from a very busy few months (about 60-80 hour work weeks for each of us) and we both are feeling the urge to spend emerge. When we were so busy we had no time to spend. The only part of our budget that was higher was food because we were doing some convenience spending, but we weren’t traveling or buying clothes or going out with friends or paying for entertainment. Yes, there are satisfying ways to spend your time that are low-cost, but I think one of those is working. 🙂 With less work, we are choosing to engage in some higher-cost activities. So for us at the moment I think it is the opposite.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:43 am

      Yeah, with 60-80 hours of working, I don’t think there’s much time for anything other than sleep. Thanks for your perspective, Emily!

  • Reply Aldo@MDN August 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    There’s probably some truth to this. I might spend less if I worked less, but I won’t know this until it happens. I’ll let you know when I become financially independent and leave the work force lol.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:44 am

      Sounds like a plan! 🙂

  • Reply TT August 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Yes, I’d spend less, but I’d also make less; it isn’t as if less time at work would cause the balance in my bank account to increase. Call me a contrarian, but I’m not really buying what that article is selling. Instead of holding individuals responsible for their choices and the subsequent consequences, it tries to blame corporations. “This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time.” Exactly! “Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others.” Pick a new industry! Work for yourself! Move away from the “Joneses” to a place with a different culture!

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:51 am

      Right… I don’t think the blame should be on anyone but the individual who chooses to spend more. And I don’t think there’s some mass conspiracy from big business to get us to work more so we spend more. I will say that when I worked full time I had much less time and energy for inexpensive activities, and I often defaulted to online shopping, eating out, etc.

      Always enjoy hearing your take, TT!

  • Reply EcoCatLady August 13, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Well, I don’t just think this is true, I know it for a fact. Through a combination of frugal living, saving & a few passive income streams, I was able to stop working at age 39. I knew that I would spend less once I stopped working, but I had no idea how much less. I also had no idea how much happier I would be. These days I live quite happily on under $20K annually, and I spend a LOT of money on things I don’t really need.

    Have you ever read the book Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin? The focus of the book is on how to achieve financial independence, so people who don’t really have early retirement as a goal tend to skip over it thinking that it wouldn’t apply to them. But it’s SOOO full if valuable information and exercises that I would totally recommend it to anyone.

    One of the real eye openers for me was the exercise where you calculate your *actual* hourly wage. They have you include ALL of the hours your job really requires of you, not just the ones you get paid for – so things like commuting, time spent in comatose TV watching recovery state, time spent worrying about work at home, time spent taking work calls and emails when you’re not at work, yadda, yadda, yadda. Then, you also subtract all of the expenses that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t working – things like gas for commuting, work clothing, money spent on lunches at work, daycare, etc.

    Since I was single, no kids, lived close to my job and worked at a place with a very lax dress code, I didn’t think my *actual* hourly pay would come out much different than my salary – Boy was I wrong! I think I might have done better flipping burgers at the corner hamburger stand!

    Anyhow, I highly recommend the book – it was eye opening and ultimately life changing for me.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:52 am

      Awesome. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Reply Downstairs and In Debt August 13, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I find myself getting burnt out a lot faster which makes me tired and in return I want to stop doing little things after work like making my lunch for the next day then I end up buying lunch and spending money. IT’S A VICIOUS CYCLE! 🙂

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:53 am

      Yes! I did that a lot, too, when I was working full time!

  • Reply Tarynkay August 13, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    I spend far less money since I quit my job to stay home with my son. When I was working, there was a constant temptation to eat out with coworkers (not in a career advancing way, unfortunately.) There were the cute work clothes that I could always justify buying. Staying home, I have way more time to make things from scratch and do things to save more money. I also don’t have the work stress that I am trying to spend away.
    On the days that I babysit (a fairly easy way to pick up another $500 or so a month) we are much more likely to end up eating frozen pizza. It is much harder to resist just spending the money on eating out when I am already tired from a full day of extra childcare.
    On the other hand, my husband sometimes goes through cycles at work where he works 70-90 hour weeks. During these times, we spend very little as there just isn’t time. However, I am at home making his meals and doing his laundry and so forth. Those are things we would have to outsource if we were both working crazy hours.

    • Reply Joanna August 14, 2014 at 12:57 am

      Love your perspective. We are able to spend less now that I am no longer working, too. We eat out a lot less, so we actually stick to our food budget, I’m able to think through purchases more easily since I’m not constantly thinking of a work deadline, etc. Even though we make less as a whole, I feel like we have more control of our money in general, if that makes any sense at all!

  • Reply Michelle August 14, 2014 at 7:43 am

    You should Google the Kellogg Experiment. Basically, those employees worked 6 hours a day 5 hours a week (they got the same pay for 40 hours a week). Productivity was higher, life satisfaction was higher, civic engagement, etc. Then after many years the day was extended and everything dropped. I am completely convinced that we are working inefficiently and that if we decided to shorten the workday but had the same output expectation people would meet that expectation-because they could go home early! There are a lot of costs associated with work and I think that people forget that. I was just home for a 4 day weekend and was amazed at a couple of things: how much I got done in my HOUSE! How happy I was, and how little I needed. Great post 🙂

    • Reply Joanna August 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Thanks, Michelle. I’ll definitely look up the Kellogg Experiment tonight! That sounds super interesting!

  • Reply Wade August 14, 2014 at 10:32 am


    Yes, No, Maybe, Sure. Look, a butterfly. Pretty. What was the question again?

    I am working 35 hours a week on purpose. Even 5 extra hours makes a difference. I might try 30 and see if I can find a sweet spot some time in the future.

    Great post!

    • Reply Joanna August 25, 2014 at 2:34 pm

      Good for you, Wade!

  • Reply MomofTwoPreciousGirls August 15, 2014 at 7:55 am

    Sadly corporations don’t really pay attention to inefficiency all the time. I look at the company I work for (about 270,000 employees) and I’m fascinated and disturbed by how much time is wasted. The sales people are forced to attend at least 5 hours a week in meetings to tell managers about their pipelines and upcoming opportunities and make excuses for why goals are not being met. DUH! The five hours we are all sitting her bullsh$$tting could be spent on sales activities to increase our numbers you idiots!
    Anytime I work a half day because of appointments I get all my work (and more) done in the shorter time frame. BUT I’m in a service role so must be at the beck and call of customers those other four hours a day.
    I wake up at 5:30am to get myself and kids ready for the day. If I was working less or not at all I could wake at the same time and go exercise. Then actually eat breakfast with my kids instead of handing them some fruit and yogurt at daycare. I could wait with them at the bus and pick them up. We could have some peace! I hate working!!!

    • Reply Joanna August 25, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      I hear ya…. I can never believe the amount of time and money wasted at companies. If we can figure that out, why can’t they??

  • Reply Lisa E. @ Lisa vs. the Loans August 18, 2014 at 8:06 pm

    Great question! I agree with Kali’s comment up there – working at a place for 8+ hours a day may make us unhappy, which encourages us to spend more on things/experiences that we think will make us happy. I also know what it’s like to have no time to exercise because work simply drains all the energy out of me. Instead of worker harder, perhaps we need to work smarter – more efficiently, so we can use that saved up energy for things that make us happy. Maybe then we can spend less.

    • Reply Joanna August 25, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Agreed, Lisa! I wish companies let us have more of a say in how many hours we worked. It’s 40+ or nothing!

  • Reply Melanie August 19, 2014 at 10:02 am

    Gosh…I feel very fortunate. I read all about so many people slaving away and having no time, and it reminds me how very thankful and lucky I am with my job. I work normally 7-4 each day, have every other Friday off, and work from home every other Friday. (We have an alternate work schedule option). Being single and childless, I have time to exercise after work, and cook dinner, clean, relax. I do notice that not turning the TV on really helps me accomplish more quality tasks such as phone convos with loved ones, cleaning, reading, playing with the cat, etc.
    Ironically, my situation is going to get even better in the sense that I am moving back home to Massachusetts to be home based. So I will still have the same schedule, but I won’t be commuting anywhere. (My commute was only ten minutes each way, anyway).
    It will be interesting to see how many hours I can get my work done in, without being confined to an office 9 hours a day…I have an idea of how it’s going to be… (amazing, perhaps?)
    On another note, I backpacked South America for four months before beginning work full time…it was a wonderful way of life. I think I spent about $8,000 in that four months. (I wasn’t the best at budgeting at that time in my life). One thing you need to remember about the backpacking thing is, many times, the backpacking is in third world countries, so it is much easier to eat and “rent” (aka sleep at hostels) in South America/Southeast Asia, etc. I don’t know if the author can really compare the amounts he spent backpacking and how he spent in the USA…many variables to consider. But I certainly recommend backpacking and respect the author’s views and thoughts..makes me want to strap my backpack on right now!

    • Reply Joanna August 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Love reading your perspective, Melanie! And interesting perspective on backpacking… I’m sure it’s all subjective, like you say. And awesome you’ll be working from home soon. I think you’ll love it!!

  • Reply Robert January 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    And travelling to work and back will had time onto your day as well look for a job that is no more then 35 hours a week and which as 6 weeks hoilday a year find a job with work uniform and free food and try and find Monday to Friday Job early start if possible early finish, something like a chef in a school could be good as you can plan different things like munus to stop job being boring or a good office 9-5 with 1 hour lunch no overtime but get office job that means moving around from office to office, another way to not be stressed is like a solo Job where you work alone.

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