Workload Overload: When is Enough, Enough?

I learned early on in my career as a financial advisor that my job is to help clients access their own wisdom to make their own right choices. It is not about cajoling or coaxing them into doing things they really don't want or care to do.

Case in point: I recently met with a couple in their early 60s. The husband has a high-paying, demanding job in a rapidly changing industry. He works 60+ hours a week and is constantly complaining to his wife that he's exhausted and has often lamented that he's working himself into an early grave. Keep in mind that this couple is a good financial steward and over the years have amassed several million dollars in assets. Despite their good fortune, they are both worried about having enough money to retire and maintain their lifestyle.

This is a common concern. I have yet to meet a couple that is excited about retiring and being forced to live a more modest lifestyle. I totally understand. The question we each need to ask ourselves -- what is our definition of lifestyle?

Most people define lifestyle in terms of consumption -- the homes we live in, the cars we drive and the vacations we take. I think of lifestyle more broadly as the style in which we lives our lives. This definition includes what we consume, but also much more. Let me give you an example. I asked the couple to consider two scenarios:

1. The husband could continue on his current path working a grueling 60 hours per week in a stressful job for another five to 10 years. He and his wife could continue to trade in their cars every three years, travel four weeks a year to exotic destinations and enjoy luxury accommodations, spend thousands each year on new clothes, and dine at the finest restaurants in town. It is hard to know the impact this lifestyle will have on his health, his closest relationships, and his sense of personal satisfaction and fulfillment.

2. Alternatively, the husband could move to a less demanding and stressful job, work 40 hours per week doing what he loved and take a 50 percent pay cut. In this scenario, our husband would have 20 additional hours a week to spend time with family and friends, explore new interests and passions, have time to exercise and volunteer in his community. Instead of trading in their cars every three years, they would hold onto them for about seven years. The couple would still have ample money to travel four weeks a year, but their trips would be mostly domestic. While their accommodations would not be five-star hotels, they would stay in nice bed and breakfasts.

Which scenario offers this couple a better lifestyle? That is the ultimate question and one your financial advisor should not answer for you. The choice is one each of us needs to make for ourselves. There are no right or wrong answers, but almost all choices have both costs and benefits. What your advisor can and should do is help spell out all your options so you can make the choice that is right for you.

As you consider which scenario might be right for you, remember that there will always be tradeoffs, but it is important to recognize that for virtually all of us, time -- not money -- is often our scarcest resource. After all, what good is money if we never have the time for the things and experiences our wealth allows us to enjoy? To enrich our lifestyle, we must think about how to enhance the quality of the time we have left.

For some of us, that might mean working at a job we don't like so we can live in our beautiful home, experience high-end, luxury trips, and drive the cars we want. For this group, it is about having the money to live where we want, and do what we want in our free time. To have that freedom, it might be worth staying at the difficult job. For others, it might mean finding a job that is less stressful, less demanding of our time, and pays us less. For this group, it might be worth consuming less to reduce stress, enjoy work more, and free up time to pursue other interests and passions.

What choice is right for you? What is enough for you?

(Have you made a decision to downsize your job to gain more time? How did it work out? Tell us your story -- send an email to

David Geller is the author of Wealth & Happiness: Using Your Wealth to Create a Better Life. He also serves as a motivational speaker and the CEO of Atlanta-based GV Financial Advisors. His new book is available through or at For more by David Geller, click here.

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