The Surprising Real Hourly Wage of my Modest-Income Office Job

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Written by Liz

Just your regular 27-year-old, queer, super-introverted, FIRE-chasing, frugal Singaporean, who lives a pretty good life while earning only a modest salary, but still plans to retire at age 40 with $1,000,000. Click here to read more

May 18, 2020

On this blog, I’m transparent about my modest-income office job while pursuing early retirement. This is in stark contrast to my reality, where I’m ashamed to reveal my income, as I’m constantly surrounded by family and colleagues who think that money makes the world go round.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that I have been criticised and judged based on my income. For a while, this made me loathe my office job.

However, after discovering many people in the FIRE community who are working part-time, taking sabbaticals and enjoying mini-retirements, I’ve come to realise that there’s no shame in pursuing early retirement even when your income isn’t high at all.

I’ve also come to the point where I’ve stopped hating my office job. In fact, there are many things that I am grateful for, such as my surprising real hourly wage.

But before we get to my real hourly wage, I’ll give you a breakdown of my nominal hourly wage.

Note: All currency stated in this post is in Singapore dollars (S$).

What’s My Nominal Hourly Wage?

Hours Worked Per Year

In order to free up time for passion projects such as writing (while still making enough from my office job to cover the basic necessities), I recently started working part-time at my office job.

I work 3 days a week, 9 hours per working day. In any given year, I get to enjoy about 25 days of paid time-off (this amounts to about 8 weeks of paid time-off), as a result of:

  • Paid leave,
  • Paid medical leave,
  • Personal time-off, and
  • Public holidays.

As such, I work a total of 1,179 hours in a year.

 Total Working Days Per Year  156 days*
 Less: Paid Time-Off  (25 days)
 Net Working Days Per Year  131 days
 Hours Worked Per Year  1,179 hours**

*156 days: 3 days a week x 52 weeks
**1,179 hours: 131 working days per year x 9 hours per working day

 

Take-Home Salary Per Year

My salary is approximately $1,750 per month after retirement contributions. I get a 1-month bonus at the end of the year, as well as a variable performance bonus in the middle of the year. Assuming a reasonable 1-month performance bonus, my total annual salary after retirement contributions would be $24,500.

 Base Salary  $21,000^
 Add: 2-Month Bonus  $3,500^^
 Total Yearly Salary  $24,500

^$21,000: $1,750 per month x 12 months
^^$3,500: $1,750 per month x 2 months

A salary of $24,500 after retirement contributions doesn’t attract much income taxes in Singapore. I’d have to pay at most $90 in income taxes, which is incredibly nominal (another personal finance reason to love Singapore!). If you’re interested, click on this link for more details on Singapore’s personal income tax. In addition, the government regularly gives subsidies and rebates, so I’d likely pay close to nothing in taxes.

This brings my nominal hourly wage to approximately $20.80 ($24,500 divided by 1,179 hours).

Bear in mind that this hourly wage is in Singapore dollars (S$1: US$0.72).

Not too shabby, at first glance.

However, because of hidden costs and time associated with working, we know that my real hourly wage is something lower. Let’s find out what that is.

What’s My Real Hourly Wage?

My real hourly wage differs from my nominal hourly wage since:

  1. I actually spend more time than 9 hours per working day (hidden time costs); and
  2. I actually spend money on work-associated items that I originally wouldn’t have spent (hidden monetary costs).

 

Hidden Time Costs

Getting Ready

Being fairly low-maintenance (or so I think), I spend only about 20 minutes per day getting ready for work. This is the time that I take to put on a minimal amount of facial products and get changed. Since I work 3 days a week, that’s 1 extra hour per week.

 

Commuting

The biggest hidden time cost is for commuting. On a regular day, it takes me about 1 hour (and a bit) both ways. That’s 3 extra hours per week.

 

Recovery Time

Thankfully, my office job isn’t too gruelling, so I don’t spend a lot of time recovering from rough days at work. However, I do have bad days at the office, so I do occasionally think about work annoyances while I’m not at work. Let’s put an extra 2 hours per week to these work thoughts.

 

In Total

In total, I spend about 6 extra hours per week on work associated activities or thoughts.

 Activity  Time Cost Per Week
 Getting Ready  1 hour
 Commuting  3 hours
 Recovery Time  2 hours
 Total  6 hours

That’s about 264 extra hours per year, after taking into account my 8 weeks of paid time-off.

On a per-year basis:

 Calendar Weeks  52 weeks
 Less: Paid Time-Off  (8 weeks)
 Total Working Weeks  44 weeks
 Total Hidden Time Costs  264 hours*

*264 hours: 44 working weeks x 6 hours of hidden time costs per week

Hidden Monetary Costs

Getting Ready

I don’t incur additional monetary costs for getting ready for work. Since I use facial products on a daily basis, I wouldn’t consider it a pure work-associated cost.

Commuting

Since my workplace isn’t too far away from my house, I’m able to take public transportation to work. This sets me back $2.04 a day, travelling to work and back ($1.02 each way). That’s an additional $6.12 per week.

Food

My company has a pretty laid-back culture, and there isn’t a need to spend every lunch hour with my colleagues. This, I’m very thankful for, as they spend easily $10 or more every time I go out with them.

As such, I limit these lunch appointments to 2 times a month. I prefer to spend my lunch hour on my own, eating inexpensive, leftover food from home.

Assuming I eat out twice a month, spending at most $10 per meal, that’s an additional $20 per month, or $5 per week ($20 / 4 weeks).

Japanese Lunch Meal

A delicious but expensive Japanese meal with colleagues. Price? $25, without including taxes and service charge. Definitely a one-off occurrence.

Clothing

Since I started working slightly more than 3 years ago, I’ve only had the same 6 pieces of clothing in my repertoire. They haven’t worn out, so I’ve never had to buy anything new to replace them. I did buy 1 pair of shoes at $200 when I started seeing irreparable holes in my old pair, so that’s an additional expense of $200 over 3 years. That adds up to about $1 per week.

Retail Therapy / Recovery 

In 2019, I was working multiple side hustles on top of a full-time job. I hated all of them, and I hated what my life had become. To make myself feel a little better, I started indulging in retail therapy. During the entire year of 2019, I ate out more than 176 times during the year, and splurged on more than $2,000 worth of food and entertainment gift vouchers.

However, ever since I started working part-time at the beginning of 2020, I’ve cut back on my splurging, and spend only about $15 per week on cool offers I see online.

Online Food Deals

A screenshot of some of the food deals I bought online. I bought almost all the food deals in the screenshot above. (Not sure if that’s a good thing.)

In Total

In total, I spend about $27 a week on work-associated costs.

 Expenses  Weekly Cost (S$)
 Commuting  $6.12
 Food  $5
 Clothing  $1
 Retail Therapy  $15
 Weekly Total  $27.12

That’s about $1,193 of extra monetary costs per year, after taking into account my 8 weeks of paid time-off.

 Calendar Weeks Per Year   52 weeks
 Less: Paid Time-Off   (8 weeks)
 Total Working Weeks   44 weeks
 Total Hidden Costs   $1,193*

*$1,193: 44 working weeks x $27.12 of hidden monetary costs per week

In Summary (TL;DR) 

Nominal Hours Worked Per Year1,179 hours
Nominal Annual Salary$24,500
Nominal Hourly Wage$20.80
($24,500 / 1,179 hours)
Real Hours Worked Per Year1,443 hours
(1,179 + 264)
Real Annual Salary$23,307
($24,500 less $1,193)
Real Hourly Wage$16.15
($23,307 / 1,443 hours)

This brings my real hourly wage to approximately $16.15 ($23,307 divided by 1,443 hours), in Singapore dollars (S$1: US$0.72).

 

How My Real Hourly Wage Stacks Up Against Other Jobs

Minimum Wage in Singapore

Singapore doesn’t have an official minimum wage policy. Instead, employees are protected by the Progressive Wage Model, which mandates that all employees are paid a minimum of $1,300 a month.

Assuming a 45-hour work week and 4 work weeks in a month, a monthly salary of $1,300 is equivalent to only slightly more than $7 an hour.

I can attest to this unofficial minimum wage as well. 5 years ago, when I first encountered financial problems, I was searching for part-time jobs in the F&B and telemarketing industries to help ease my financial worries. I was offered anywhere between $7 (which is very common) to $9 (which is quite rare) an hour.

That’s not a lot of money, considering that this is the nominal hourly wage, and not even the real hourly wage.

 

High-Paying Corporate Jobs

Many of my classmates from university, unlike myself, knew exactly what they wanted to do (i.e. score a high-paying corporate job and make lots of money for the rest of their lives). They went on to become hot shot lawyers and investment bankers.

And they were willing to do whatever it took to get there, working around the clock almost every single day, while making between $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

This is equivalent to a nominal hourly wage of anywhere between $24 to $30 an hour, reasonably assuming 70-hour work weeks and 4 weeks of paid time-off every year.

It is surprising to see that their nominal hourly wage is not much higher than mine.

In fact, I think it would be reasonable to assume that their real hourly wage is similar to mine, considering that:

  1. People tend to spend more when they make more money (as long as economic conditions remain fairly stable);
  2. People in high-stress, high-paying corporate jobs will likely incur higher hidden work-associated costs, as they keep up with the Joneses (through buying fancy cars, clothes and houses, and eating expensive food); and
  3. It is not unlikely that they work more than 70 hours per week.

Reflecting on my Real Hourly Wage

For starters, I’m grateful that I no longer have to work a $7-an-hour part-time job just to pay the bills. Considering that this was my reality just 5 short years ago, I think I’ve come a long way.

A nominal hourly wage of $7 an hour is enough for me to pay my bills, but certainly not enough for me to make meaningful progress towards financial independence.

On the other hand, I don’t feel that I’m losing out just because I’m not making six figures a year, or even anywhere close to it.

Despite having been brainwashed for a long time into thinking that high-powered corporate jobs and money were the tickets to a great life, I’ve recently come to my own realisation that this is likely achievable only at the expense of health and happiness.

I now firmly believe that I don’t have to make a lot of money to be happy. I just need to make enough. And since my corporate job currently covers all my bills, allows me to invest every month, and provides me with sufficient headspace and time to work on passion projects, I think that’s enough for now.

Michelin-Starred Sushi

Enjoying Michelin-starred sushi omakase in Japan. It was a blast. Price? ¥3,000, or US$28, or S$40. Don’t think you need a 6-figure income to enjoy occasional luxuries like this.

My Plan to Increase My Real Hourly Wage at my Office Job

That being said, although the money is currently enough for me, I’m not sure it would still be enough in the future to support an entire family of my own. As such, I would still like to continuously improve myself so that I may one day be rid of my office job, and this is how I plan to do it.

Keeping Hidden Time Costs Low

Knowing now that I actually spend a lot of time on my commute to the office and back, I should try to take advantage of this by listening to podcasts, reading, or absorbing new information.

In addition, due to the laid-back nature of my company, I sometimes happen to be blessed with an unusually long lunch break of about 1.5 hours. To make the most of my time in the office, I’m thinking of bringing my laptop to the office to work on some writing after having a quick lunch.

Keeping Hidden Monetary Costs Low

At the same time, I’ll try my darnest to keep my work-associated monetary costs as low as possible. For 2020, I plan to stick to a strict budget and to delete most shopping apps from my phone.

This way, by reclaiming some lost time for self-improvement and by making a conscious effort to keep work-associated monetary costs low, I’m able to raise my real hourly wage slowly, but surely.

Calculate Your Own Real Hourly Wage

I first came across this enlightening concept of “real hourly wage” when I read the book, Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. It opens your eyes to the fact that you might not be earning as much as you think you are, if you take into account hidden time costs and hidden monetary costs.

To calculate your own real hourly wage, the official website of Your Money or Your Life provides you with a super-helpful, user-friendly, real hourly wage calculator. You just plug in your salary, work hours, and work-related expenses, and you’re good to go.

I used this calculator myself and found that they calculated my real hourly wage to be $16.20, in line with the $16.15 that I calculated above in this blog post. It’s pretty cool stuff.

This screenshot shows that my real hourly wage is $13.50, but this is because the calculator automatically took into account $2.70 per hour of taxes. And as I explained above, I don’t have to pay much taxes at all. Adding back the $2.70 of taxes, my real hourly wage is $16.20 ($13.50 + $2.70).

YMYL Real Hourly Wage

I think it’s also awesome that they provide life energy examples based on your real hourly wage. For example, to afford a cup of coffee of $3, I have to spend 13.3 minutes of my life working and earning my real hourly wage. To afford a year of Netflix, that’s 9.8 hours. To afford a car, that’s 1.3 years, and to afford a house, that’s a whopping 15 years.

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Jaw drops.

I wonder why I don’t drink coffee, why I share a Netflix account with 3 other people, and why I don’t own a car or house. 🙂

YMYL Life Energy Examples

What’s your nominal / real hourly wage? How does it stack up against other jobs? Are you happy with your nominal / real hourly wage? Do you have any other tips on how to increase your real hourly wage?

As always, thank you for reading and supporting this blog.

Become a Millionaire and Retire Early on a Modest Salary Book Cover

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4 Comments

  1. Budget Life List

    I am impressed with your dreams and your calculations. How do you plan to get to a million dollars on your wages? I know you mentioned investing. I am an average wage earner myself and I am always looking for new concepts to help with my long-term financial dreams.

    Reply
    • Liz

      Hi Budget Life List! Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. 🙂

      To answer your question, I plan to hit $1,000,000 with mostly just (1) investing, and (2) spending a lot less than I earn. You can check out my plan to hit $1,000,000 by 40 at this link right here. I currently have a net worth of more than $200,000 and I credit it to being frugal and intentional with my decisions. If you’re interested, you can check out my spending right here. I don’t think there’s anything more to it.

      I hope this helps! How about you? What are you aiming to achieve on your wages? 🙂

      Reply
      • Budget Life List

        Thank you for the suggestions, I found your articles fascinating! I hope to also reach the 1M but I am a bit older than you so my journey will be a bit longer. I have been increasing my investments as of late and just diving more into investing in general. Its quite a time to start learning about it! Happy health and savings!

        Reply
        • Liz

          Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad that my posts can be of some value to you. Interesting to know that you also plan to hit 1M! It would be awesome to follow your journey if you ever post it online. Don’t worry about your journey being longer – It’s about enjoying the journey, not how long it is 🙂 Glad to know that you’ve been diving into investing – when did you start? I’ve also been increasing investments lately and it’s nice to learn about it too 🙂

          Reply

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