Caution: You Earn Less Than You Think

'Jane Doe's paycheck is too small.  Can illustrate poverty, unfair labor practices, or gender based pay inequity.'
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Quick quiz: How much do you make per hour?

If you're an hourly employee, that was easy to answer. If you're salaried, you had to do a little math: $X annual salary divided by 52 weeks, then divided by X hours per week equals your hourly wage. For example, $50,000 a year divided 52 weeks equals $961.53 per week, and $961.53 divided by 40 hours per week equals $24.03 per hour.

Got your number? Good. Now hold that number in your mind for a moment, then let it go. Because what you're actually making per hour is likely much less.

Say What?

However you calculated that number, chances are you were missing out on one big piece of the equation: We all have to pay something in order to have the ability to make money. Let's say you work a traditional 9-to-5 office job. You'll have certain expenses because of that job that you wouldn't have without it.

You have to pay for the gas (or public transit) to get to commute. If you drive, you may also have to pay for parking. Maybe if you didn't have a job you needed to commute to, or you had one closer to home, you could get rid of your car.

If you're like most people, you probably grab some food or beverages during the workday. Maybe it's a daily stop for your morning coffee, lunch out or a snack from the vending machines.

Unless your office is super-casual, you've had to invest in a work wardrobe. If you have kids, you may have to pay for child care. And, if you're like most people, you probably treat yourself with something (whether it's a nice dinner or drinks with friends) when the weekend comes to reward (or forget about) all the hard work you put in.

All of these expenses count against your take-home income. You know the saying "you need to spend money to make money"? Well, it's true, and not just if you're an entrepreneur. Every dollar you spend in order to maintain your employment is a dollar you're not able to spend on the rest of your life. But, you need to spend it so that you can stay employed. Sound like a catch-22? It is, but here's how you can make it work for you rather than against you.

The True Value of a Dollar

There isn't much you can do when it comes to work-related expenses. Sure, you can cut back on those daily coffees and brown-bag your lunch more often, but things like commuting costs and child care are still going to be there. What you can do is shift your money mindset so you make the most out of every dollar you do get to take home.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Let's do a little more math. (It will be worth it, I promise.) Rough out your monthly work-related expenses. Multiply by 12 to find you annual work-related expenses. Now, plug that number into the equation you did earlier: $X annual salary minus annual work-related expenses, then divided by 52 weeks, then divided by X hours per week equals your true hourly wage.

Got your number now? Good. Now consider this: that amount is how much money you make for every hour you spend at work. If your true hourly wage worked out to be $10, that means you have to spend one hour working for every $10 you spend. There's a good chance you feel slightly (or more than slightly) uncomfortable with this number. But there's a reason I'm putting you through all of this.

Unless you know how to value your time, you'll have a hard time valuing your money. Throwing away $10 here or there may not feel like much, but when you consider that you're actually throwing away an hour of your time, suddenly that impulse purchase you're considering takes on new weight.

So, if you're brave, take a long, hard look at that final number you came up with, and every time you're faced with a spending decision, remember how much your money is really worth. You can make the most of your money and your time by realizing what goes into each dollar you spend. Would you rather get that shiny new doodad that's trending today or have a few extra hours to spend with your family? Is owning the latest technology worth several more weeks in the office?

It's your choice. Just be aware of what you're spending.

Paula Pant ditched her 9-to-5 job in 2008. She's traveled to 30 countries, owns six rental units and runs a six-figure business from her laptop. Her blog, Afford Anything, is a gathering spot for rebels who refuse to say, "I can't afford it." Visit Afford Anything to learn how to shatter limits and live life on your own terms.

Originally published