Are you an Oblivious Wage Slave?

A Wage Slave (WS) is someone who works for money but hates his job. He’d much rather do more personally fulfilling stuff. Maybe he’d like to read, play tennis, hang with friends, go for walks, run, work on a hobby, volunteer, or whatever. Maybe he’s just sick of the actual work, the jerks he works for and with, or the agonizing commute. Maybe he resents selling, creating or supporting a product or service that is worthless or even evil. Does any of this sound familiar? Does any of this describe you?

Maybe not. Maybe you love your work and don’t feel like a WS. To find out for certain, try a thought experiment. Suppose you had a billion dollars. One day, your boss comes in and says “I know you are super rich and love your job. We really appreciate your hard work, but we’ve decided to stop paying you to save money. We hope you’ll continue working here exactly as you have been. Keep up the great work!” Would you come in the next day and work the same number of hours? Be honest with yourself. If you can’t answer a resounding YES, then I’m sorry, but you’re a WS.

If you can answer a resounding YES, congratulations! It’s pretty rare to find work you truly love AND get paid to work the number of hours you want. I often find that Non-WS workers are self-employed. Even if you’re not a WS, it’s still a good idea to become Freaky Frugal so you can do something else if you get tired of your work or are unable to work.

There was a time when I loved doing software engineering and felt lucky to be paid for it. But if I had a billion dollars, I would’ve immediately quit and started creating software whenever and wherever I wanted. I was, sadly, a WS until I became financially independent.

Really Stupid Comic #1

Being a WS sucks, but being an Oblivious Wage Slave (OWS) sucks even more. You’re a WS but you don’t even realize it! You can’t feel your own heavy OWS chains because those chains are considered normal. It’s normal to do work that you hate for 8 to 10 hours per day plus commuting, five days a week, 50 weeks out of the year for 45 years until you retire at 65 if you’re lucky. That’s about 112,000 hours of working on crap you hate! You do this to earn enough money to live but it’s not much of a life. You are grinding away trying to get ahead, living for your limited vacation time, and time leftover from tedious weekend chores. What. A. Waste.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that Mr. Freaky Frugal is here to help! You can chop down those 112,000 hours by being Freaky Frugal, saving more, and investing smartly. I cut down my own hours by more than 32,000 even though I got a late start. I became financially independent and retired at 52, but I could have easily done it in my forties if I’d known sooner what I know now. You can do so much better than me!

Thanks for reading! Can you hear the crack of the WS whip in your own life? In other friends and family?

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21 comments

  1. I really like the mental experiment about whether to retire early. I think for me, the answer is Yes, not only because I like my job but because I like being around other people. It keeps me sane. But maybe I’ll change my mind one day if I have a bad day at work. We’ll see. 🙂

    1. First off, thanks for being the first person to comment on this site. I really appreciate it!

      There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working if you truly love what you’re doing. I’ve just found most people are either WS or OWS and would do something else with their time if they had a choice.

  2. MFF —

    Thanks for the inspiration. You’re right. I once allowed a colleague to take a private call in my office, while I worked at the table. She proceeded to confer with her parents’ estate attorney about the transfer of more than $2 million dollars to her from their estate. She was already 60 years old. That was ten years ago and she’s still working. She loved the social aspect of her work and enjoyed buying cakes and candles for every birthday, anniversary or event worth it. She was no wage slave, but the Social Butterfly in the org. If you find what you love, do it.

    1. Yep, one of the awesome things about becoming financially independent is you can do whatever the hell you want! And there are definitely people like her who continue working because they love their work. It’s great when it happens.

  3. Until we reach financial Independence we are all wage slaves. Even if you have a job you love you have to make money. You could love your job more than anyone in the world but if you have no money you can’t keep doing it for free.

    1. I agree that if you need money and you work, you’re VERY likely a Wage Slave. But it’s possible to work because you need money and still not be a Wage Slave. The distinction is you would be willing to do the work for free even if you no longer needed any money. So hypothetically if you hit the lottery, you would still do the same job that you had before hitting the lottery.

      One classic example of this is Warren Buffet. He started out by researching companies and investing because he needed to make a living. He was already a multi-millionaire (not billionaire yet) by the time he was 30 so he could have stopped. Now in his 80s, he still does exactly the same thing he did before he became billionaire – researching companies and investing. He was not a Wage Slave either before or after he became rich.

      1. I get what you are saying. Even though I would argue Warren isn’t working for free and would have stopped working a very long time ago without a financial incentive.

  4. I’m a wage slave unfortunately. I’d love to pursue things that I’m more passionate about but I’m still dependent on the income I receive from my job. So while I am getting closer to FIRE I am still a long ways away 🙁

    1. Yes, but you are…

      1) Not oblivious or clueless.
      2) You’re working hard to do something about it.
      3) You’re helping yourself and the rest of the world with your blog.

      You’re WAY ahead of most people!

  5. Even if I 100% loved my job, I’ve still come to the realization that I don’t love working 40 hours a week indoors… in a cubicle… behind a computer. This is probably why the idea of FI appeals to me so much. My goal isn’t so much to reach early retirement as it is to have the freedom to make my time my own. About a year ago I started trying to embrace the idea of living like I was retired. There are obviously limitations, but this shift in how I approach my daily life has helped me slow things down a bit and enjoy more of each day.

    1. The freedom component of FI is more important to me than the Retirement component. Once you are FI, you can work, not work, sometimes work, or whatever.

      I like your attitude about living like you’re retired. I spent many years thinking that the next life event would finally make me happy. I finally realized – after joining a Zen center for 7 years – that life is so much better and easier when you truly appreciate what you have right now. It sounds simple, but it’s not.

  6. This is an interesting conversation. I shifted to part-time work several years ago, because I knew I’d never make it to retirement if I kept working the hours and intensity of my earlier years. I loved working 2 days a week, did okay at 3 days a week, and sometimes worked 4 days a week if there was more need for me at work or if I wanted to earn more money. I figured that was sustainable until I was ready for social security. And it certainly made life better. Then, two years ago, I started working full time for a lot more money than previously. It has been a great opportunity to blitz away my debts and pour a bunch more money into my retirement accounts. I will be retiring in about 6 months–but some days I wonder if I’ll make it! The higher pay came with a price! Just SAVE, SAVE, SAVE and be frugal. Luckily I did save when I was young. But I could have done much better and be much better off. I have frittered away a lot of money.

    1. Malinda – Thanks for sharing and congrats on being able to in only 6 months!

      I decided I was going to retire early a couple of months before I pulled the trigger. Time seemed to slow to a crawl because once I decided, I really wanted to retire. Hopefully the 6 months will go by fast.

      There’s no substitute for saving when you’re young. I did the same thing and watching my money compound was fun and exciting. Like you, I could have done much better and retired earlier if I’d been even more frugal when I was younger. I just didn’t know the frugality stuff that I know now. There were no blogs to help me back then. 🙂

  7. Definitely a wage slave. What I dislike most about my current arrangement isn’t necessarily the work or the people (I actually enjoy it most of the time), but it’s not being able to do the work when I want, where I want. My commute isn’t great now, and it’s only going to get worse at the end of the year when we move 20+ minutes away (assuming I stay at the same company which may not happen).

    I really enjoy doing some degree of work (even if there are parts of it I hate) so over time as I grow other sources of income and lower expenses I may look into part-time contracting. The nice thing too is that as I gain more experience I can increase my hourly rate which will help subsidize the lower hours.

    It’s a path I’m just starting to look at now, but we will see how it pans out in the future. I’m not fully in love with the idea, but can see a lot of positives out of it – also a few negatives.

    1. Dave – Thanks for sharing!

      Unless you were born into a wealthy family, almost everyone starts out a Wage Slave.

      I did freelance contracting for many years as a software engineer and it worked out really well. And contracting would give you time to start generating other sources of income. The more sources you have the better because it’s unlikely that all sources are going to collapse at once. On the other hand, if your only source of income is a job, it can drop to $0 if you’re fired or downsized.

  8. Love this post – you’re challenging others to change their paradigm. And so many of us are wage slaves. I’m definitely trying to break free of wages too. That’s why I started my blog and why I love reading things like this – they encourage me to keep going.

  9. LOL ok. So I’m not an OWS or an WS. I’m an IWS (Indentured Wage Servant). Because I can free myself if need be, but I choose to work for the man for now. But I agree with your point about being self-employed. Because that’s where the side hustles come in. With my side hustles, which I actually make decent income with, I’m not a OWS/WS/IWS. Since I’m my own boss. But that said….I can be a pretty demanding boss! 🙁 Oh well…

    1. Hmmm…interesting third option! 🙂

      We can definitely be our own toughest boss. Self-employed people sometimes burnout because they have no one to tell them to slow down. They have hopefully made a ton of money by then, so slowing down or quitting is an option.

    1. Congratulations!

      I see from your blog that you recently FIREd and we have similar background. But you did it at a much younger age than me. I’m jealous! 😀

      How do you like being FIREd so far?

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