Salary – the most addictive drug?

Look around you, nearly everyone is addicted.  Your co-workers, your friends, your family, hot-fucking-dam maybe even you are.  Addicted to that monthly high.

Most are going through the same monthly pattern, an oscillation determined by the corporate diary.  Towards the end of the month the Horde show restraint shown out of necessity and spending is curbed.  But there’s something fizzing away in the background.  A seedy desire to make compulsive purchases and a deep-rooted need to consume.

It bubbles up to bursting point.  The moment money is deposited in bank accounts you could be forgiven for thinking you can actually hear the initial cacophony of spending pierce the silence.  That’s the sound of collective restraint giving way under the sweet monthly injection.

It’s so ingrained that we barely notice it.

We gain experience, get promoted and salaries increase, and it seems almost inevitable that the lifestyle expenses bloat to follow.

Suddenly the shared house and pushbike that was good enough only a few months ago are disregarded as childish.  A swanky pad and a brand new car are what’s required.

We seem to collectively view salary as something steady and guaranteed.  Salary is our rock.

So much like a rock is it, that it roots us in place.

We build our lives around it’s very being.  The house we live in, the clothes we buy and the car we drive are all normally defined by our salary.  And for most they are a public barometer, one that unsubtly hints at the size of our salary.

Same old, same old.  Big salary or small, the general consensus seems to be save a small percentage and then spend the rest as if spending were some gaseous and effervescent beast, expanding to fill what ever salary it is offered.

The only noticeable difference is the size of the house or the brand of the car.

The problem with this approach is that you become reliant on your salary, right from the start, way too fucking soon.  Like the addict who can’t imagine life without his crack pipe, you become so addicted to salary that you can’t envisage life without it.

Life built around salary is one with little optionality.

You work for a month, to earn the monthly salary so that you can spend it in the following month.  What is it about salary that makes us feel the need to change our lives just because it increases?  Is there some deep rooted belief that unless our spending inflates to fill the gap left by an increasing income that reality will tear itself apart in protest?  Up will become down, fire will become water, the spin of the earth will be reversed and bin collection day will move to a Tuesday.

How many people smash their way through monthly hit after monthly hit of the drug that is salary over the course of 45 years, only to end up depressed and suffering from withdrawal symptoms upon retirement?

Is salary the assassin to imagination?

Linked to salary is a sense of security and of belonging.  And these invisible straps unwittingly bind us to our employers, putting the power in their greedy claws.

Some go a step further towards ensuring their addiction to salary holds strong.  Not only do they spend the majority of their salary every single month so ensuring that it is required each and every month into the future, but they borrow so that they can become even more reliant.

Check your contracts and your blueprints for life, there’s nothing in there saying you need to spend more as you earn more.  Is it so far out to think that an individual earning £50k could be living the life of someone earning £25k and pocketing the difference?

Suckling on the teat of the salary master is a trap that’s all too easy to fall into.  Many struggle to quit working when they can, not because they love curling their spine in the office but because they are scared to lose the monthly cash injection of salary.

Nearly from the moment we start work it’s easy to fall into the trap of working for the salary, rather than working because we enjoy it and the salary being just a lovely side benefit.

Now, before you all begin to look at Mr Z as some kind of smug Buddha, trail blazing a serene existence, and prepare to drop to your knees to worship him, I’ll have to stop you there.

I have been folly to the same mistakes.  Indeed, I have worked myself into a position that pays a half decent salary, and it’d be lying to say that one of my primary motivators at the moment isn’t the money.

This Zombie’s past couple of years of dedication to the receptive Frugal Gods, rather than the venomous Salary Master, has resulted in a pile of savings that is quickly growing.  Each injection of salary results in over a months worth of living expenses piled into savings, for that’s what happens when you save more than 50% of your income.

The result of this is a slow loosening of the invisible ties to salary.  It’s a long process, as the grip of the Salary Master is a strong one, compounded by years of society confirming that earning a salary is the right thing to do.

Nonetheless I can feel the grip weakening as my investments grow and the mind wandering to other alternatives for life.  The addiction is still there, for now.  But I am well and truly on the path to being clean.

Mr Z


9 thoughts on “Salary – the most addictive drug?

  1. weenie

    It is very hard not to succumb to lifestyle inflation, even for us who are striving for FI. A little slip here and there though should be ok, so that your plan is still on track. No sense in depriving yourself totally – balance it out a little.

    Work have just changed the day we are getting paid.

    It used to be 15th of every month, now it’s going to be 24th.

    I didn’t think 9 days is going to be an issue but checking my back account today, I realised that instead of being paid in 2 weeks’ time, it’ll be over 3 weeks…

    I might have to bridge the hole with savings/emergency funds…and obviously pay it all back once I have been paid.

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Hi Weenie,

      It certainly is easy to succumb to. Especially because everyone else seems to be! Automatically saving payrises nips it in the bud 🙂

      Ugh, that’s a pain. That’s what we have savings for!

  2. Hezzy

    Time – a new attraction.
    I’m a long time lurker, hi! Have to reassure you here. We are a long way to FI, but this year I’ve chosen to go part time, for a number of reasons I now work a 3 day week. I ac assure you that within 4 short months it’s time that has become the drug, not the pay check !
    Time opens so many doors and allows you to think laterally away from the pay check and work is now a necessary inconvenience.
    Keep the faith!

    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Hi Hezzy

      Nice – a three day work week sounds ace.

      That is awesome to hear, time as the new addiction, sounds healthy to me 😀

      Mr Z

  3. FreedomSoul

    Hey Mr Z,

    I agree that salary is addictive – for FI-seekers as well as the consumer junkies. I get a buzz every time my pay comes in, but in my case it’s because I enjoy seeing my wealth, and correspondingly freedom, grow rather than because it means I’ll be able to buy the latest gadget.

    What I will say though is that I find myself with a certain instinct to chase the money and can’t bring myself to say that’s a bad thing. I’ve got a job offer for 27k per year doing something I think I’d enjoy. I’m in the interviews pipeline for another which starts at 40k and goes up to 60k+ within five years, which I’m pretty sure I’d enjoy less, and would be worse for work/life balance (but which crucially also sounds interesting – just a lot more stressful). Like most things in life, there’s a compromise there. But FI seems to me to be effectively about optimisation between money and time whilst not compromising personal values – for some, the optimal point will be work life balance over a longer period, for some a short, sharp, high-paid career will be better in the long run.

  4. liberate_life

    What you say is true – people aren’t just addicted to money per se. They’re addicted to the predictability of receiving a big blob of it on the same day of each month from a machine that they don’t quite understand the workings of.

    The strange thing is that the indulgences people are addicted to buying are bought with plain old money, not necessarily salary. In fact, in most cases, salary is a pretty inefficient way of getting money in the first place.

    The result of this is a slow loosening of the invisible ties to salary. It’s a long process, as the grip of the Salary Master is a strong one, compounded by years of society confirming that earning a salary is the right thing to do.

    If you’ve been stashing 50% of a good income for a while, it might be worth considering that you already have what you need to be free of the Salary Master. In my opinion £100k net worth (+ plenty of liquidity) is 95% as good as being fully FI when it comes to freedom from a salary.

    You’re clearly good at providing value (otherwise you’d never have got the well-paid job). If you got a bit imaginative with how exactly you provided that value, I imagine you’d be able to wrestle the majority of your waking hours back from work almost immediately rather than flogging yourself for the next few years to reach FI.

    It worked for me. It could be worth considering for you too. Perhaps worth pondering…


    But bin collection is already on Tuesdays :O…

    Great article as usual. Lifestyle inflation as weenie says is very easy to fall into. I certainly used to do it but not any more.

  6. Money Beagle

    Striving to make money is fine but when you identify who you are to others, or worse yet to yourself, as ‘how much you make’ then it’s definitely taken over more than it should.


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