Motivational Mental Accounting: Work More, Play More?

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After a busy long weekend*, I am now a PADI Open Water “certified diver”. It was nice to check off a “To-Do Before You Die” item, although it did cost nearly $500 if you include all the related costs. The cool thing was that while talking with the dive shop folks, I learned that they needed some website help, and they were willing to pay me with some free dives/gear in exchange. Barter! This was interesting, because diving is a very expensive hobby. I was mainly looking to dive the Great Barrier Reef someday, but now I might be able to dive even more than that.

Now, I can directly exchange (extra) work for play. This begs the question: Is it a good idea to use your desire for something enjoyable in order to motivate yourself to work harder? For example, you may try to follow all of the common advice:

  • Pay off all credit card or consumer debt.
  • Have emergency funds for cushion.
  • Spend less than 30% of income on housing.
  • Max out your 401k and IRA.

For most people, this doesn’t leave all that much left for other stuff. At the same time, most of my friends are so tired from the daily 8-5 grind that they have no interest in doing anything “extra” for more money. This might be as small as doing a paid survey for a few bucks, or as big as starting a new business on the side.

When I start lacking motivation, sometimes I try and focus on something short-term and luxurious that I want. In the past, it might have been a gadget. These days, it’s mainly an experience like travel or some sort of lessons (ex. ski, scuba, flying). I tell myself “$1,000 will buy me a flight to Thailand.” I am starting to label my “real job income” as taking care of the current basics and the long-term future (retirement), while my side income pays for the “fun”.

Does anyone else do this? Isn’t this another form of mental accounting? If money is fungible, then you can’t really assign labels to specific income sources. To me, it is using mental accounting, but I’m twisting it to my advantage. 🙂

* I was going to use the term “action-packed”, but given the circumstances I just hope all the Gustav-watchers are safe and sound.

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  1. I think it’s great that you’re always doing stuff on the side to get some extra fun – and I think it’s important to keep the extra stuff you do on the side devoted to fun stuff. Sure, if you absolutely need it to pay the bills then by all means do that, but life isn’t going to be enjoyable without out some ‘fun’ time, and it sounds like this diving stuff might just be a good deal for you!

    I’ve wanted to get certified for a while, as well, but can’t really foresee myself utilizing it for a few years anyhow, so I’ll put it off and save the money for certification until I am in a better position – geographically, personally, and financially – to utilize that diving certification.

  2. Great trade – you both swapped valuable skills for a service the other provides. Perfect match! I think taking an extra job or working harder to meet a financial goal is a great way to do things. When I was young my dad wanted a road bike and took a part time job to pay for it (my parents didn’t have much money so this was the only way he could afford it).

    I’m of the opinion you should use whatever motivation it takes to get the job done. If you want it badly enough, you will find a way to do it.

  3. I do this with overtime pay. I’m already well compensated, but with 1.5x pay, a couple days extra work covered a week in Mexico. If I want a toy or a trip or something I consider to be “extravagant” I just make a mental note of how many hours of OT I need to afford it and don’t buy until I’ve worked ’em. Works great. By the way Jonathan congrats on getting your certification. I’ve been wanting to do the same for a while. From what I can tell from your blog, I suspect your are in PDX like myself. If this is the case, could you please email me where you took your classes? Thanks.

  4. Is 30% of pre tax or after tax income for housing costs?

  5. This goal is in direct conflict with your other goal of attaining term life insurance. I am applying for coverage myself and one of the underwriting questions was do you plan to take part in any risky activities like scuba diving. This should increase your premiums and your all-in cost of $500.

  6. You think that was expensive, wait until you get into flying lessons. Better start saving now if you want to go all the way through.

  7. Congrats on the certification! I just got my PADI Open Water cert a week ago at Boracay in the Philippines. It was ~$400 for the Scuba and flying lessons here run ~$5000. Definitely not cheap, but like you, one more thing to cross off my “Do Before I Die” list.

  8. I’m often amazed at how few people are willing to do some “side projects” to make extra cash. I mean, I realize you have to take care of the family life, but, after everyone’s in bed, what beats making some cash with something you’re passionate about. That’s what TreeLOFT Software is for me …

  9. You know, it’s nice and all to retire early, but there’s some things out there that you can’t do (or at least, enjoy to its potential) when you’re 50+ years old. You gotta have SOME fun on the way there, ya? If that means working a little harder/longer for some time, it’s worth it!

  10. It gets really expensive if you travel mainly for diving ‘cuz most of us don’t live near great dive spots. Great Barrier Reef was ok. Red Sea and Palau, now those were worth the trip – need to barter some travel perks.

  11. I find barter programs not to work out. I had a few web development projects and, in the end, the customer wanted more than I was willing to provide and I just abandoned the project and all my “free lessons”.

    Content updates are one thing I suppose, but a whole project is another.

    Without a contract to go on, I find it more reasonable to provide discounts to hourly rates. For example, both parties could agree to a 75% discount on their hourly rates and perhaps even work up an exchange based on “credits”.

  12. Pay off all credit card or consumer debt – done
    Have emergency funds for cushion – how much? a percentage of salary?
    Spend less than 30% of income on housing – net or gross income?
    Max out your 401k and IRA.

  13. Congrats on the cert! I am a dive master. My husband got a private pilots license when we were first married, it equalled the cost of my masters! I work FT, M-f and with my commute I am gone from 7-5 daily. ALL winter though I work every weekend and two vacation weeks at a mountain resort teaching snowboarding. This gives me DEEP discounts on equipment and a winter seasonal program for my children. SO I get out there over 45 days a winter (not all work) as do my kids (what else would they do all weekend during our long New England winters?) and I get new gear each winter and my kids do pretty well too. I break even. It is worth working 7 days a week for half the year and using up some of my vacation time to do it.

  14. Debbie DeSousa says

    More money is never a bad thing. I can never undertstand why everyone deos not barter their spare time or unwanted stuff.
    Bartering is just like Printing Money.

  15. Stock Research says

    As I understand it, we’re motivated by pain avoidance and pleasure gain, with pain avoidance being the much stronger of the two. I think many new entrepreneurs come from jobs they despised. I do like your way of thinking better, though.

  16. I’m finding that all my extra income from side projects (blogging, graphic design, etc) are going either directly into savings – or to fund fun things that we might not have done otherwise.

    Barter has been working out well for me as well – i just did some graphic design work for a client in exchange for an Ipod touch – he gets his design work done, and I get an Ipod to replace my other one that got stolen. Everyone is happy!

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