Why “I Make More Money at the Office” is a Bad Excuse to Avoid Real Work

Why “I Make More Money at the Office” is a Bad Excuse to Avoid Real Work

It seems to me that as soon as we doctors are making any kind of decent money (which is usually immediately after graduating) we start looking for reasons to not do any actual work outside of the office.

Usually the reason given for this attitude is some version of “I can make way more at my job than what the (insert any type of manual laborer or domestic service provider) charges me per hour, so why would I not hire that out?” If we want to throw an extra layer of guilt on for anyone who might object, we say something like: “Well I have to pay someone to clean my house and cook my meals and cut my lawn so I have time to do things with my kids!”

Both of these excuses may have some superficial merit, but neither one holds much water when examined closely.

Here are six reasons (and there are plenty more) that doing things yourself is a good idea, even if you already paid off your student debts and now make scads of money at a job that you like and also have loved ones that you need to spend time with.

dark kitchen with brown cabinets and yellow walls
Our kitchen before our most recent DIY project – cabinets circa 1975, yellow walls, and very little light.

1. You can’t do your regular job during all of your waking hours, and you shouldn’t want to.

Spending all your time at work is a great way to burn out on your profession by your 40s, not to mention wreak havoc on your most important relationships.

You need to set healthy boundaries and attempt some work-life balance early in your career. Read this post by my business partner and then go read the books Enough by John Bogle and Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin.

2.  Your brain needs new challenges besides the ones at work.

Figuring out how to do brand new things is awesome on so many levels. I don’t care if it’s knitting a scarf for the first time or learning how to use a snow blower or cooking a new recipe. None of these activities are likely to make you much money. All of them are good for your brain.

Disassembled cabinets with my husband and kid painting primer.
Disassembled and deep-cleaned kitchen with my hubs and kid painting on the primer.

3. Physical labor is physically good for you.

Yes, even if your day job is not totally sedentary. Frankly, unless you are part of an elite military unit, your job is probably not as active as you think it is.

Walking around a lot at your office with your Fitbit cheering you on is all well and good. Having a standing desk is fine. Your body needs much more than that (if you’re already somewhat active and don’t believe me that you should be excited about being even more active, it’s time to read Born to Run.

Even if you’ve already got a personal trainer on payroll in addition to the rest of the help, I guarantee you will work a new set of muscles by re-doing your own cabinets or raking your own yard. So before you insist on hiring out that task you don’t want to do, ask yourself if you could use the workout.

4. You need quality time with people you care about.

This concept seems less well-known than it should be: there are other ways to hang out with friends and family besides eating and drinking and attending various entertainment venues. You can actually DO stuff together, and that includes constructive and creative projects.

DIY projects are fun and gratifying when you do them with the right people. So the next time you have a painting project at the house, invite some people over, buy everyone lunch, and go nuts. Be sure to return the favor when they need some help as well.

Kids painting cabinet doors.
Enlisting the help of my kid and his cousin with painting.

5. Your kids should see you work, and they should help.

If you are in a phase of life where you have a good income and some rugrats, it’s likely you are regularly hiring out some of your day-to-day tasks. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to that or that we never do it ourselves. I am saying you should not use the excuse of “I’d rather pay someone for this work so I can spend more time with my kids” to get out of ever doing any real work. And – great news! – doing work with your kids is time with your kids.

Your kids need more skills in life than knowing how to ask the nanny for things and acquiring participation awards for expensive activities that they won’t ever do as adults.

No, they will not get everything right the first time. Yes, they will spill your expensive spices and put nail holes in random places. It’s going to be fine. Even if you are already dripping in cash such that your kids will never need to work a day in their lives, they should absolutely learn – preferably from you – how to change a tire and cook meal.

6. The more practical skills you have, the lower your life overhead can be.

I keep hearing doctors say things like “Well you can only cut back so much on your spending. After that you need to focus on making more money!”

This “you can only cut back so much” usually refers to things like paying cash for really fancy cars instead of financing them and sending the kids to a regular private school instead of year-round boarding school in a different state. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with any professional wanting to increase their income, this the opposite of the attitude we all need to have.

The attitude I’m trying to encourage is this: “We could cut our spending back to almost nothing if we wanted to, which means almost everything we buy is optional. We know how to wash clothes without a washer and fix a bike and cook a decent meal for $2 per person on a butane stove. We have the skills and attitude needed to live well on very little money. The kids would turn out fine with their public school educations and with their weekend activities being things like playing in the public parks, reading library books, and helping mom and dad do chores.”

I’m not sitting here hoping it becomes necessary for my family to eat only rice and beans and quit all travel except by bike for the rest of our lives, but there is a lot of freedom and peace of mind in knowing that we could cut our spending back to close to zero if we needed to or wanted to – and we’d still have a great life.

In case you were interested in the overhead on our recent kitchen touch-ups, the materials cost us just a few hundred dollars. Non-fancy cabinet replacements from a major home supply store would have run us over $10k (on sale).

Kitchen with white cabinets, brushed nickel hardware, light grey walls, lots of light.
The kitchen this morning – white cabinets, light grey walls, brushed nickel hardware – complete with fresh coffee brewing!

The Disclaimers

Please do not use this post as an excuse to run off and knock down a supporting wall in your house or make major changes to your electrical system (unless you already have adequate training). Start small, and hire the appropriate expert guidance for the DIY tasks you undertake.

Once you are in a place of total financial solvency (which if you are like the majority of Americans, including most doctors, is not today) you can go ahead and enjoy the luxury of employing all the people in your community who are offering housekeeping, meal-preparation, landscaping, and every other possible service in the “things-you-are-capable-of-doing-yourself” category. Supporting other people’s local small business efforts (when you can afford it) is a great thing to do.

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