The Cost of Holding a Job

That is right, you do pay to keep your job. It sounds absurd. Why would someone pay to keep a job? You go to work to earn money, not to pay to keep your job.

But you do pay for your job, it’s just not as obvious to you as your paycheck is.

You pay for your job through many unnecessary expenses that you incur to maintain your job. If you were working from home or retired, you wouldn’t have to pay for many of these expenses.  And these expenses can add up.

Going through the process of estimating the actual cost of holding your job in terms of both cost and time is a great exercise. It will let you compute your real hourly rate. Your real hourly wage is the hourly rate you normally earn, subtracting all the extra job-related expenses you incur.

What is Work

The basis of working is a trade between money and a limited resource of your time. But you shouldn’t think of it as-as just time- it is really your life. The about of time you have is limited. You need to focus on getting off the treadmill of trading time for money and into passive income. After all, your life is limited.

So wouldn’t you want to know the real trade-off between your life and money? Your $20 per hour job may become as low as $10 per hour if you account for all the extra cost in maintaining your job.  A 50% reduction in hourly wages due to extra job-related expenses is quite large, but it could happen if you don’t consciously know the real expenses your job is incurring.

Real Cost of a Job

When you go through and figure out what your job is costing you, you don’t need to overly specific. I mean, it would be great to know all the details to the penny. You can still get a good sense of your extra job-related expenses using estimates. This will give you an approximate answer. And that is still better than having your head in the sand.

So what are these extra job-related expenses? They are expenses that you wouldn’t otherwise make if you weren’t working. Think about travelling to work, dressing up for work, work food, outsourcing other work, vacations to get away from work, expenses from unwinding from work, gym and other memberships you wouldn’t need if you weren’t at work.

And it isn’t really just expenses, you are also spending extra time to hold down your job. We can go through and work out my extra costs and then we will get a better picture of what you pay to keep a job.


Getting to and from work cost you money. Even if you walk, take public transport, or bike. If you have a long commute, it will be costing an absurd amount. Fuel, Parking, Manatinace. It all adds up.

I have a 6 km commute- and I should be biking to work more, but I often drive. My car around down does about 10 to 11 km per litre of fuel. So a round trip to work and back cost about $2. I work 224 days a year- so my commute cost me $448 per year in fuel alone. Then there is the time wasted in traffic.

My normal daily commute is anywhere from 30 minutes up to an hour. That means I was a total of between 5 to 10 hours of my life a fortnightly in traffic. I’m going to use 7 hours for my estimate here.

Maintenance is another large expense for cars. Over the last 4 years, I have spent an average of $1523 per year on services and repairs. This is probably lower than the average, as I do much of my own servicing and part replacement.

So in total, my car cost me $75 per fortnight, and 7 hours of my life.

Car: $75 and 7 Hrs a week

By switching to a 9 day fortnight, I save 22 days of commuting and around 15 hours in my car. Doesn’t sound like much, but I think it is worth it.

Another mean of saving time and money is to shift your hours so that travel times don’t match with peak traffic.  I come home at 6-6: 30 pm, rather than 5, and my travel time is one third the time it would otherwise take at rush hour.


Adult dress up is how I think of work clothing. I don’t like it, but I have to conform to keep my professional job.

We buy work clothes. Clothes that we wouldn’t wear for any other occasion than work. At least, I don’t wear my work clothes outside of work. Maybe you do and that is great.

And it is not just the blue-collar workers. Tradesmen and labourers often have to purchase work boots and overalls. This can all add up to the cost of keeping your job. Work boots have more utility than dress shoes though, so that is a bonus.

I go through a set of dress shoes for work every two years or so. And this is mainly because I wear them out. They cost me around $200 a set. That is not to mention all my dress shirts and pants. I tend to buy them all on sale, but there is no denying that once I retire, I wouldn’t be wearing these clothes. So they all add up to the cost of holding down a job.

I am going to estimate around $300 per year for work clothing. And there is probably an hour a fortnight spend on ironing, polishing my shoes, and other tasks related to my work clothing.

Clothing: $11 and 1 Hour a week

(I have estimated my clothing expenses as my budget doesn’t separate work clothing and personal clothing so it is hard for me to get a better idea than that. Let me know if you think it is high or low.)


How many times have you come back from work and not had the energy to cook a home meal? Once a week? More? This is a cost you pay for holding down a job. Even a fancy home-cooked meal only costs around $2-3 dollars per server. Takeaways can be in the $10’s of dollars. Just last night I got home at 7:30 pm and decided to get takeaways which cost me $18.50.

The expense of eating out rather than cooking at home because you don’t have any energy after work can cost you hundreds, if not thousands, a year in extra dinner expense. It’s not just dinner expenses thought.

Do you go out for lunch when you are at work? Don’t have enough time to make your lunch to take to work. So you decide that you deserve it and go out for lunch. How about the morning coffee and muffin?

I have really minimised my work expenses in the food department. We cook home-cooked meals nearly every day and deliberately cook extra to take to work as lunch. Since we are already cooking, there is no extra time incurred making lunch for work the next day.

We do occasionally get take away meals- a worst it is about once a fortnight. There is an extra expense associated with snack food we bring to work that we otherwise wouldn’t buy.

I am going to estimate $50 per fortnight to cover the occasional takeaway and snack food, and about an hour of extra time associated with food for work.

Food: $50 and 1 Hour a week

Overall I think my extra work expenses associated with work are very low compared to the majority my of colleagues, who generally do go out to lunch and the morning coffee. After all, they work hard they deserve it!


When you spend 40 hours at work a week, theoretically you have 128 hours of personal time. But you need to sleep, that brings it down to 72 hours.

Oh and then there is the daily commute and preparing for work, now it’s down to 62 hours.

Then there is the time you need to cook meals and do the housework,- down to 50 hours.

What about Exercise time- down to 44 free hours.

Basically what I am trying to tell you is that once you work 40 hours a week, you don’t have much free time. And the time you do have is normally spent unwinding from work. I will talk about unwinding later.

Because you don’t have much free time there are often things that you need to get outsourced. Think about maintenance around the house if you own one, mowing the lawns, etc.

I manage to get by without outsourcing much so it is hard to put a number and time value to this category. But I can see that if you were getting your lawns mowed, or hiring a cleaner, (look at how well I’m doing, I don’t even have to clean up after myself, I have a cleaner /s) it could be costing you anywhere from $40 to $100 per week, and saving 1 to 2 hours of your time. So let’s add that to our hypothetical calculation

Outsourcing: $100 and -2 Hour a week


Work takes up so much of our time. When it comes to a vacation, there is a perception that we need to go to fabulously exotic places to unwind. But in reality, it is not unwinding at all. We tend to try to cram so many activities in our limited vacation time that sometimes it feels like we need a vacation from our vacation.

If we didn’t work, we may feel less inclined to go on escapism vacations that are full of activities. Rather, we could slow travel as I like to call it. Spending quality time in a place. Living like the locals. I’m not saying that travelling is not worthwhile, I am saying that when you have to squeeze it in a 2 week period it can be more expensive than it needs to be.

Vacation $1000’s to $10,000’s annually


Work takes a toll on our lives. There are stress and time pressure. Deadlines to meet. Bosses to please. At the end of the day, many of us feel like we deserve time to unwind from our hectic day at work. So we sit in front of the TV and watch our subscription streaming service with a beer or wine.

The hours you spend unwinding from work may as well be included in your total work hours. Think about it, if you didn’t have to unwind from work, would you still watch that much TV in the evenings. Or would you have the energy to pursue your hobbies? Maybe read in the evenings without falling asleep.

Before I had to unwind from work I had the energy to make furniture and other woodworking projects. Now when I get home, and it is dark already, I find myself with little energy to get in my shed and work on my projects.

Unwinding $100 and 5 hours a week

Gym Memberships

Can’t find the time to go for a run or walk in the day? Time to get a gym membership instead. After all, we all could do with more exercise.

If you were retired, would you still go to the gym? Or would you go run or work in the forest. Personally, I love running in the bush. The clean air and scenery are great. At this stage, I don’t have a gym membership, but I probably need to do some more exercise. It’s not as easy as it used to be to keep the weight off.

Gym Memberships $10 to 20 a week, 4 hours

Real hourly wage

Once you have figured out all the time and money expenses associated with your job you can work out your real hourly wage. To do this you need to sum all the work-related time, the commute time etc, and add it to you’re working week. Then you sum all the extra weekly costs and subtract them from your weekly salary.

Let’s say the above person earns an average NZ hourly rate of $23.50 and work out what their extra job expenses are costing them. 

First, we add all the extra weekly work expenses together in both time and cost. Then we subtract the cost of the weekly extra work expenses from income and add the time to the total workweek.

Work Related ExpenseCost per WeekTime per Week
Travel$75.007 Hours
Clothing$11.001 Hour
Food$50.001 Hour
Outsourcing$100.00-2 Hours
Unwinding$100.005 Hours
Gym Membership$15.004 Hours
Total$37016 Hours
Total Weekly Income$77940 Hours
Hourly Wage after Tax$19.48
Total Weekly Income Including Expenses$43956 Hours
Real Hourly Wage$7.84

You can see that the total income has dropped from $779 t0 $439 per week, while the total time to earn this money has increased from 40 hours per week to 56 hours per week. These extra work-related expenses bring the hourly rate down from $19.48 per hour, to $7.84 per hour.  This is over a 50% reduction.

Now once you have worked out your actual trade-off of time for money. If you are really serious there is a good chapter in the book Your Money, or your life. That explains the entire process. I have just started to read this book for a second time. I totally forgot about this exercise and will be doing it properly for my finances.

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6 thoughts on “The Cost of Holding a Job”

  1. Thanks for posting this, I think about it all the time! Though these days it’s less about money itself and more about the cost on the mind for me. In my younger days I used a lot of “retail therapy” which is easy to spend a lot on after work has used up all of your willpower for the week 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting this mate!!

    I hear you on not having much energy after work. I’ll have to do a bit of analysis myself!

    Fortunately I have no commuting costs and eat packed lunches. But there are some opportunity costs from being exhausted!

    • Cheers mate. Being exhausted from work is OK for a week or two, but now being short staffed at work means it’s been a few months of exhaustion.

      Enjoyed you trading video!

  3. I’ve thought about this topic a bit in the past – your article really shows how hard it is to get ahead with an ordinary salary!

    My philosophy is to minimise such work related expenses. I guess stuff like transport is unavoidable, but with clothes I just have a very simple wardrobe.

    Some people also use work to justify buying a new phone or gadget, saying “I need this for work”. My opinion is that if you won’t get good use of something in your personal life, then don’t buy it (or get your employer to pay for it instead).

    • Great advise! Justifying something for work is something I see with real estate agents all the time. Just think of their cars- BMWs, Mercedes, Audies, etc. The best real estate agent I have ever dealt with drove a beater- just goes to show that attitude still beats vanity.


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