I don’t usually write question and answer columns. (Although I have once or twice before.) I do read every single question that people send me. And these are three questions I’ve been answering a lot lately.
Q: Why do you pay $50,000 a year for a house manager?
A: The short answer is that I am buying a stay-at-home wife. Most people, who are at a similar spot in their career and have young kids at home, have a stay-at-home wife. (This is, of course, because I have the type of career that is dominated by men, and women without kids.)
I know you are thinking that most stay-at-home wives are taking care of kids. But almost all kids are in school most of the day. But the women are still busy. They are doing the infinite number of things required to run a household. Here is a sampling of things that I am sure that none of the startup CEOs I met with last week thought about for one second:
–What should we get my niece for her birthday?
–Who is the best teacher to request for third grade?
–Should the kids have private swimming lessons or is group okay?
–What’s the best way to train the dog not to pee on the sofa?
Those questions actually require thinking and planning, and they are constant. Running a house is like running a business, and very few people can do both well.
And then there’s grocery shopping. Do you actually enjoy it? Why not decide what your time is worth, and decide if you are actually going to grocery shop over the million other things you could do. It’s all a question of priorities, and for me, most things that are high priorities do not cost money, they cost time.
So instead of asking yourself why I’m paying $50K for household management, ask yourself why you are not paying for that, because it’s a bargain — salary.com says that a stay-at-home mom is worth $135,000 a year. Also, for those of you who have the coveted stay-at-home spouse, thank that person, because you’re getting all the work done for free, and you’re getting sex, too.
Q: Why does it cost so much to live in New York City?
A: I write a lot about how expensive it is to live in NYC because the majority of people in their twenties say they want to live there. And then, when I say something like when I was making $200,000 I was at the edge of poverty in NYC, people (who have never lived in NYC) tell me I’m crazy.
The first thing you need to understand is that visiting NYC does not give anyone the experience of what it’s like to live in NYC. For example, most New Yorkers don’t take cabs because they don’t have enough disposable income to do that, unless it’s a treat. And most New Yorkers do not live in an apartment as big as the hotel room you have at the Hilton.
Another thing you need to understand is that everything in NYC costs at least $2, because shelf space is so expensive that there is no way any store owner can stock anything he couldn’t sell for at least $2. Watch what you buy for a week–all the things that are less than $2 where you live. They are not so inexpensive in NYC.
The other thing you need to understand is that people become like the people they hang around. We know this is true for a wide range of qualities. For example, if you hang around fat people, you’ll become more fat. If you hang around successful people, you’ll be more successful. All because you start to value the things that people around you value.
So I’m going to tell you how life is in NYC, and you would think you’d never do that, but you would, if you lived there. Here are some examples:
You would eat out every meal. Really. It’s just how things are done. Home kitchens are small, takeout is cheap, and you pass a great fast-food opportunity every fifteen yards.
You will pay $300 a month to park your car somewhere that’s an hour away, just so you can still get away from the city on the weekend. You will do this because life in NYC is fun and interesting but claustrophobic. You will never afford an apartment with space, so you will substitute weekend getaways for space.
You will pay $150 for your haircut. You will tell yourself you’ll just do it once, because everyone else is. And then you will love it. Because it really does make a huge difference. And then you will get them all the time.
Q: How can I change careers without taking a pay cut?
A: You cannot change careers without taking a pay cut. It is childish to ask this question. So stop asking it. Instead, live below your means so you are not a slave to your career choice. Everyone can cut back on what they are spending. Everyone. Life is about difficult choices, if you are not willing to cut back on anything—your big house, those expensive dance lessons, fun family vacations—then you essentially are cutting back on your workplace engagement. You are saying that it’s more important to buy all the stuff you’re buying than it is to be engaged in your most rewarding work.
In most cases, really, you get more bang for your buck by switching to a career you like than staying in something else for 20 years just to live what is your fantasy of adult life. Because really, adult life is not about getting all the things that make you look stable and successful. Adult life is about constantly making difficult decisions about what you are going to give up.
So stop thinking about career changes without pay cuts. It’s impossible. Some of you will say in the comments section that you did it without a pay cut. I challenge that: I think people who make career changes without pay cuts actually do both careers at the same time in some capacity, for a while. In that case, the cost—the pay cut—is really your time: all the other things you did not do while you did both careers. (I did it that way. It’s a great way to ensure you don’t take a pay cut, but also it removes all time for friends.)