When we’re young, we have this idealist image of the way the world should be. Then we enter the work force, get beaten down by the system, and fork over a good amount of our earnings to the government. Suddenly, we’re no longer as much about helping other people or higher taxes anymore. Instead, we’re trying to figure out things for ourselves.
During the summer of 2016, I got to know several MBA interns. One of them went to Harvard for undergrad and was attending Stanford for her MBA. Before Stanford, she worked at a private equity firm, one of the highest paying industries today.
She was now interning at a startup where I was a consultant, that paid much less than what she earned before business school. She was a dreamer who longed to do more.
When I asked her during lunch one day whether she planned to return to private equity, like so many of her classmates with similar experience do, she said, “No Sam, I’m not going back. It was a good experience, but I want to do something more meaningful with my life instead of just investing other people’s money for more money.”
I responded, “Are you sure? The starting pay for MBA grads is huge (~$300,000+ all-in) compared to what many startups pay. Will you really be able to resist the money?”
“Absolutely!” she replied, and with a nice dig towards me, “I’m not like you Sam. You’re very focused on money given your long experience in finance and your personal finance blog. I, on the other hand, really want to do something different. Something more impactful to help change the world.”
Zing! Talk about a slap in my face.
Well, newly minted MBAs were recently unleashed to the world, and it turns out my idealistic summer intern is going back to the very private equity industry she looked down on! She shunned the startup company that focused on helping the 99% for making big bucks for herself and the wealthiest of Americans!
I reached out to her a couple times over LinkedIn to ask her why she decided to go back to PE, but she never responded. I think she’s embarrassed.
Oh well, another bright person chasing money instead of figuring out a way to cure cancer or alleviate poverty.
DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO
I don’t blame my MBA intern for taking a multiple six-figure job out of business school. She or her parents just forked over $100,000+ in tuition and another $200,000+ in lost wages. Accepting a job that provides the highest ROI is a savvy business move! What I didn’t appreciate was the way she positioned herself as someone above me just because she wanted to change the world, but didn’t. (Related: Is Business School A Big Waste Of Time And Money?)
We all like to believe that we’ll follow our dreams instead of follow the money. But rarely will people ever forsake a boatload of money when they’re actually offered the chance. It’s so easy to say money doesn’t buy happiness if you are already rich or poor. But if you aren’t already rich, then the allure of money is too hard to deny.
Examples Of Real People Who Couldn’t Say No To Money
1) A debt blogger who struggled with debilitating debt for years decided to write for a credit card site because the freelance income was too good to pass up.
2) The founders of Secretly, an anonymous web app, shut down a year after they cashed out $3 million each. The right thing to do would be to return the money to their investors, but they legally have every right to keep their windfall, despite knowing their company was in trouble during fund raising.
3) My doctor friend who said he wanted to be a pediatrician because he loves kids. Instead, he went to school for four more years because he wanted to make more money as a cardiologist. His parents paid for all his tuition, so it’s not like he needed to make more money to improve his ROI or get out of debt.
4) Any worker who leaves his/her employer within a couple years, despite saying how much they love the employer. You see it all the time with coaches in college sports or professional athletes as well.
5) Me not taking what would have been an amazing startup job in China after college to join a private investment bank in Manhattan. I also wasn’t able to leave banking after my 10th consecutive year despite losing a tremendous amount of interest. It took three more years to finally break free.
6) Galleon fund manager, Raj Rajaratnam who was worth ~$1.8 billion already when he got caught paying for insider tips in order to make mere millions. Isn’t $1 billion enough?!
7) Anybody whose family is already rich, yet goes into an industry that’s primarily focuses on making themselves even richer! For example, one of the MBA grads at the fintech startup I was consulting for decided to leave after three years to work at a hedge fund. Come on now. Her family paid for her MBA and is planning on buying her a $1.5M condo. How about using your wealth to work as a teacher, blogger, nurse, or in non-profit to help people in need help?
Related: No Wonder Why Millennials Don’t Give A Damn About Money!
8) How about you?
CHASING MONEY IS NORMAL
If I actually received my severance check, I promised I’d never go back to work. Yet, a year and a half after receiving a nice check, I was back to consulting 25 hours a week. I told myself it was mainly for the camaraderie and experience. But I can’t deny that wonderful feeling of getting a steady paycheck again! At least I haven’t gone back to work full-time in four years.
Chase the money if you have bills to pay, a family to provide for, or because you simply love money. Just don’t go around pretending to be better than anybody else because you supposedly don’t care about money. If you make a lot of money, you can give away lots more money or utilize your greater resources to help other people!
It’s human nature to poo poo those who focus on money if you don’t have money or don’t have any money-making opportunities. Just read the comments in the post on scraping by making $500,000 a year. But I promise you won’t be able to resist the money either once a massive wad of cash gets shoved in your face!
* Start Your Own Website, Be Your Own Boss: There’s nothing better than starting your own website (tutorial) to own your brand online and earn extra income on the side. Why should LinkedIn, FB, and Twitter pop up when someone Google’s your name? With your own website you can connect with potentially millions of people online, sell a product, sell some else’s product, make passive income and find a lot of new consulting and FT work opportunities.
Financial Samurai started as a personal journal to make sense of the financial crisis in 2009. By early 2012, it started making a livable income stream so I decided to negotiate a severance package. Years later, FS now makes more than I did as an Executive Director at a major bulge bracket firm with 90% less work and 100% more fun. You never know where the journey will take you!
* Track Your Net Worth For Free: Sign up for Personal Capital for free and link all your accounts in order to calculate your financial health. You can analyze your cash flow, your investment returns, look for excessive fees, and see whether your net worth is properly allocated. They recently launched the best Retirement Planning Calculator around, using your real data to run thousands of algorithms to see what your probability is for retirement success. Once you register, simply click the Investing tab on the top right and then click Retirement Planner. There’s no better free tool online to help you track your net worth, minimize investment expenses, and manage your wealth.
Updated for 2019 and beyond.
[…] already know that it is impossible to escape the allure of money. The idealistic summer MBA intern who wanted to change the world at a startup is working at a […]
I had to choose between 250k a year and 100k and went with the smaller amount because it gauranteed I would be home most nights with limited travel (4-6 weeks a year) while the 250k work required about 35 weeks a year travel (home for the weekends). We had 3 little ones at the time (now 4) and I asked my wife what she wanted me to do (I was making 6k a week traveling) she said she would rather have me home. Happy wife, happy life! That was 5 years ago and I’m still working at the same place, no regrets.
Financial Samurai says
Hi Joel – Thanks for sharing! That’s a huge income spread! That’s great that you got to spend more time with your family. Do you have the option 5 years later to get another 250K/year job potentially?
Yes I could still go that route now or later, but I’ve reached FI and the plan is to continue working (I love this job, the people I work with, and the impact I have) until the kids are a little older and then take them on a one year international trip.
When we return I may or may not get my job back. May just turn the page and do something completely different.
Thanks for asking, and for the amazing content on your site.
Mrs. SimplyFinanciallyFree says
Just over three years ago I left my job and took a 20% cut in pay but I don’t regret it at all. My happiness and sanity are worth so much more! When my husband got laid off in the spring of 2014 he decided to try the self-employment route. He is making half the salary but is much happier and is in more control of his work. Would we be further along financially if we were at our previous soul-sucking jobs? Probably. But our sanity and happiness is worth so much more to both of us.
Money is nearly impossibly alluring. I’ll be quitting my six-figure job this spring after my second child is born, but have spent some time building up freelancing to sort of pad our stash (since my husband is a student right now). Now that I’ve built up my hourly rate to one that is greater than my day job, I have a tough time believing that I’ll work less than 20 hours per week within a year or so.
i make about 600k/yr as a research analyst. Recently, a friend of mine’s family came into some significant wealth and he asked me if i would like to be the cio of his family office. Sounded really cool, but i asked him if he could buy out my deferred compensation (~500k) and then match my current income and he said yes to the first but no to the second. I had to turn the offer down because i have a family of 4 to support and need all the $ i can get, but some days i still think about how cool that job would’ve been.
Financial Samurai says
That’s nice he offered to buy out the $500K deferred!
How significant was the wealth, and what would he have been willing to pay you?
Somewhere in the 100-200 million range. He didnt say what he could pay me, but when I stated my price he just said it wasnt feasible. I was thinking about maybe accepting a lower guaranteed comp and structuring some upside incentives, but that’s a bigger discussion and he’s still trying to figure out the overall format of the family office at the moment.
I am having the opposite issue. I have the opportunity to take a 2 year assignment in Canada. The salary is in CAD, 1:1 with NYC, which normally would be great. However, the Canadian fx is going from bad to worse, 1:1.3 at the moment. I still want to do it because it’s a city I really want to live in, though it doesn’t align with my inner must-save-now mentality (I’m in my 20s). Is there a way to limit any more downside risk? Options, forward contracts, ultrashort oil etfs? Getting salary in usd isn’t an option.
Financial Samurai says
Oh man, if you have a 2 year assignment to work in NYC, TAKE IT! It is one of the most amazing, dynamic, high energy place in the world! I swear, you will have second thoughts of ever going back to Canada. Or if you do, you’ll be bored out of your mind within a couple months now that you have NYC to compare to.
Going to NYC will make you work your hardest, meet tons of folks, see new things, and realize how much upside there is in America!
Go for it!
My work allows me to work with and talk to the elderly; some relatively healthy, some very sick, and others terminal. Over the years, I have tried to absorb as much wisdom and advice as possible as people at this stage in their lives rarely ever lie or cover up. I deal with patients from all walks of lives; from judges to real estate tycons, to bus drivers and mechanics. I might write a book.about.it one day as there is definately enoguh material there. Some very powerful incidents come to mind . These individuals have only re-enforced my.inclinations towards wanting to achieve freedom of time and place. I recall a book authored by a nurse from pallative care about.top.regrets of dying.people. Its a good read. I am tempted to write.a very long post, but.as I am at work.and typing on my annoying.android.screen, I must refrain. In.short, I.have learned that what you did for a living.and how much you earned becomes a lot less significant and much smaller part of your psyche as you age. People, when.they want to.talk.about their.accomplishments, rarely ever bring.up.how.much they.managed to earn, but rather.talk.about family.members they took care of, sacrifices they made for their friends, and the journeys they undertook to preserve their self respect and diginity. No one.has.ever said to me ” I wish I.had worked more.” Almost everyone has advised me to make most of time with friends and family because it will fly by. I have been told.time and time again, to.not take life too seriously. Money comes.up of course, but.not in dollar amounts, but how it.helped or.prevented relationships and experiences. Top regrets I have come across are not.spending.enough time.with kids and.not.having.enough worthwhile .experiences with wife along.with worrying.too much and preventing that from.enjoying.life.
Now this is an article I totally identify with.
In college I came to a realisation that all jobs suck, so take the one that pays the highest, save as much as you can and get out asap. So I started in IBD corporate finance drudgery.
That was about 6 years ago and I’m c. 3 to 4 more years away from leaving the finance world for good.
I guess when one is financially free, he would then be able to do whatever he pleases, including working for free :)
I agree it is indeed hard to escape the allure of bags of some cold hard cash. People can be as idealistic as they want, but they can’t say no to making 300k or doubling/quadrupling their income, else they are dumb. My issue is that I earn a lot more than 300k in a stable job, love my job, don’t work long hours ever, BUT I want to retire early so I can travel and live somewhere nice. I just can’t say no to the money while its coming in!
Financial Samurai says
Read: Overcoming The One More Year Syndrome To Do Something New
Well most people don’t work for money, they work for what it buys. We ALWAYS want what we don’t have, and always think “if I just had this, I’d be set and life would be perfect”. It’s important to try to find balance and fight the never ending cycle of un-satisfaction and try to be satisfied once in a while.
I think you can definitely “know when to stop”. Most people who get to half a billion to billions of dollars didn’t get there by want of money in the first place. They’re working because they either get intrinsic value from working or they’re trying to change the world. If you don’t fall into that category, and you have enough money to have any house and live the lifestyle you want, there’s no need for *more* money.
Financial Samurai says
Not sure most people know when to stop.
The more experience you have, the more money you generally make. Hence, the more difficult it is to just let go.
That said, hopefully the person accumulates more wealth over time, and the incremental earnings just doesn’t mean much anymore after a certain point.
About 5 years ago, I made a very similar choice to the poll hypo. My change was all about reducing stress and improving quality of life. My wife worked in finance and I worked at a large law firm. My schedule was brutal and neither of us was happy in our job. We left NYC and moved to a small new england city. We make a LOT less money now ($250k less at the time of the move, but probably closer to $300k-$400k now), but we have everything we need and a lot more satisfaction at work. We both still have real jobs, but we have a lot more autonomy and respect, and have reasonable schedules.
We had the flexibility to make this move because we both went for the money early in life. We stuck it out longer than our friends, and have always lived below our means. We only have one kid. We’re able to lead a comfortable life on a healthy (but not lavish) combined salary in the $175k range. We have a net worth of ~$1.2 million in our mid 30s, which we are steadily growing. Barring some calamity, we’ll retire comfortably with some life left to live. We aren’t wanting for anything and money isn’t a big source of stress in our life.
But I didn’t make the job change or give up the money for more “meaningful employment.” The factors that matters to me when it comes to job satisfactions are good management, the satisfaction of being good at your job, being in a position that maximizes your skillset, respect, autonomy, flexibility, time commitment, and stress level. I have a great balance of those now, and it would take a lot of money for me to give that up. Certainly more than anyone would be willing to pay me.
I’m not sure what my point is. Working 70 hours a week for a huge salary was worth it when I didn’t have any wealth. And it’s a lot easier to pursue a “meaningful life” with some money in the bank. But now that I’ve have some money and have accomplished some of my professional goals, the money stops being worth it at some point.
Financial Samurai says
I think your point is that you now want to do something more meaningful to help others since you made the move not for more meaning, but for a less stressful life! You’ve got the resources.
There’s probably no better feeling than trying to help someone else.
Chris Muller says
Prior to getting my MBA, I interned with an equity research firm. It was no private equity or investment banking, but it was still a grueling business. We were the ones who’d do all the research and place a buy/sell/hold rating on a stock, then sell that research to F500 banks and investment brokers. While I was interning, I worked my tail off and was paid very little. The analyst level above me probably worked 50-60 hours a week. The senior analyst (who’s role it was to place the rating) worked well over 70 hours a week. They were well-compensated (usually 250k+ with bonuses) but the burnout rate was fast. I think I recall hearing the average career lifespan of a senior analyst was something like 7 years. That is what I used to want to do.
Now in a completely different financial field, I look back and think how glad I am I didn’t continue down that path. Yes, the money would be great, but not at the risk of things like my happiness, work/life balance, and relationships.
Sadly, I think everyone has their “price” but we need to stop thinking that way. Money does NOT buy happiness, no matter what anyone else says (to agree with the comment above). People who focus solely on their money typically end up lonely and miserable. Plus, to get a little more philosophical, you have to think… why were we put on this planet? Was it to just rake in millions of dollars and say “I win”? I don’t think so.
One funny side note… I had a real estate investment professor during my undergrad who always said “the person who dies with the most stuff wins”. He died shortly after I graduated. Interesting how people think.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Equity research is one of the toughest jobs around nowadays. You have so many clients to please, you’ll never win! It was really only in the late 90s when Henry Blodget from Business Insider were pumping up tech/interenet stocks were the days when analysts got paaaaaaid.
BTW, just need to rake in around $5.4 million per person… since everything else is taxed after that :)
Awesome read! I left a great paying career in management consulting to become a paramedic/firefighter. Constant travel took its toll on me and my family. My schedule is incredible: work 2 days, off 4 days.
At times I miss the tens of thousands in income, free family trips on points, expense accounts, and $2k team dinners! I do not miss the time away from my wife and kids.
I’ve really enjoyed reading this blog over the past couple of weeks. Keep up the strong work and Go Bears!
Financial Samurai says
Very cool you decided to be a paramedic/firefighter! Ah, those expense account days were nice weren’t they? I got fat and spoiled though.
I did leave my very well paying job to chase the thing that I was (and still am) passionate about. Did it for 7.5 years, then came back into the field with a different view. Here’s what I’ve found, I get bored easily so I’ll tend to go full bore on something that I’m passionate about to the point of burnout.
That said, I’m currently in corporate (not just for the cash, but for the team – working with some great people) and have some passive income set up.
I can see a time where I’ll tire of working for corporate and I’ll want to have other streams of income to live off of.
One of the things that people have asked me repeatedly when I’d left tech was… how did you afford to do it?
It’s less about affording it and more about what you really want. I am very comfortable about what I need financially and what I am willing (and not willing) to do to get there.
“People who complain about the sell-outs don’t quite understand their own hypocrisy. Nobody was buying what they were selling, anyway.” – Marc Maron
Wow, this post and the comments is an eyeful into a completely different world for me. In my old industry, MBAs were a dime-a-dozen and not particularly better performers. To even have a chance at opportunities that pay like this seems to be a given for commenters, and to job-hop is even more remarkable. Quite a talented bunch future 1%ers!
I’m looking around at dozens of recent grads I know, and they have nothing going on. Most can’t even get a f/t job where they wear a tie or wear hard shoes. They all want to change the world, too.:-)
Financial Samurai says
Nothing in life is given! Just have to work really, really, hard and hope opportunities do arise. A lot of her classmates hoped to get the PE offers as well, but failed. I just so happened to know about and write about the one who did.
You hanging out w/ recent grads nowadays mate? Everybody always wants to change the world. Best to just change themselves first.
I have yet to meet anyone who makes $300K+ and works 30 hr weeks. I’d rather work part-time for less pay to see my kids grow up. But then again, I don’t go around asking what people make.
Financial Samurai says
Good thing you’ve got this site to see what people make!
See the survey below of 7,000+ entries: https://www.financialsamurai.com/scraping-by-on-500000-a-year-high-income-earners-struggling/