How Much Money Would it Take to Leave a Great Life?

how_much_money_would_it_take_for_you_to_leave_great_jobWhen I graduated college four years ago, I faced a tough job market with very few prospects.  I had a couple interviews but I was only offered one position as a navigation/systems engineer in Palmdale, CA. Even though it was my only offer at the time, it was still a tough decision.  I debated about taking the job because I had lived in SoCal all my life(never more than 10 minutes from the beach) and I can assure you that Palmdale was/is no Southern Cali!  I really wanted to turn down the offer but I had nothing else.  I couldn’t justify staying in San Diego with no money and no job over a good job with a great salary, even if it was in the middle of nowhere.

Ultimately though, through a very random networking connection, I landed my current job as an aerospace engineer in San Diego.  The pay for the San Diego job was about 30% less than Palmdale but I didn’t care about the money.  I was grateful to stay in San Diego and be with my friends and stay close to family.  But time and time again, I see examples of people leaving great jobs just because another one might pay more.  I don’t understand why anyone would leave their family, friends and a good life for a little more money, but that’s just me.

I asked a few friends of mine how much money it would take for them to leave San Diego and the answers I got were all over the place, ranging from nothing to 2x the pay.  There are a lot of factors at play and although I generally talk about how to save money and make more money, this is a time when more money is not necessarily better.

Case Study: James Harden – NBA Professional

I’m a big NBA fan so when I saw this story at the beginning of the year I immediately related it to personal finance.  I wanted to see how things would play out though before writing about it and it looks like my assumptions were right.

Although this example focuses specifically on James Harden, I see it over and over in professional sports.  Players leaving great situations in order to get paid!  I think professional athletes are some of the worst offenders because of their already inflated salaries.

The difference between a 75k income and a 100k income is a heck of a lot more meaningful than the difference between a $7.5 million and a $10 million income.  A $100k salary will allow you to invest in real estate, max out your retirement accounts and even get outside help from an investment tracking service.  A 10 million dollar salary will not buy a whole lot more than a 7.5 million dollar salary would get you, ok maybe you could get a couple more Ferrari’s after taxes.

So last year James Harden played for the OKC Thunder who made it to the NBA finals but lost in 5 games to the Miami Heat.  The core three players(James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) on this team were all under 25(including Harden) and were poised to hold a 10 year lock on the Western Conference(just like the Heat in the Eastern Conference with Lebron, Wade and Bosh).

As a Lakers fan, this scared me!  There was no doubt in my mind that my Lakers would never be able to get by that team as long as they had those three talented players.  The other two players were already signed to multi year contracts but Harden’s contract was coming to an end this year.

Stay or Go?

If Harden played out the season without signing an extension during the year, he would be free to sign with another team.  So the Thunder’s options were simple: sign him to a multi-year contract or trade him to get something in return if he wouldn’t sign an extension.  OKC ended up offering a 4 year deal worth an average of 13 million dollars per year.  Harden turned them down and was soon after traded.

He ended up signing an extension with the Houston Rockets for 5 years with an average salary of 16 million dollars.  His deal ended up netting him 23% more per year plus tax savings(there’s no state tax in Texas so that’s a tax savings of  1/2 x 5.5% x 16 million = $440,000 since only half of the 82 games are played in Texas).  James Harden now plays for the Houston Rockets where he averages career highs in minutes and points per game.  Unfortunately, his Rockets are not doing too well(9-10 on the season) while OKC is rolling at 17-4 with the best record in the league.

Is it Really About the Money?

I’ve seen arguments that say Harden wanted to prove he was a star and that’s why he didn’t want to sign with OKC.  But I don’t believe that for one second.  Harden was a star with OKC.  Although he came off the bench, he was 6th man of the year and was one of their best players and always had the ball in his hands at the end of the game.  Getting paid more is always nice but are there other reasons to leave a job you like?  No matter where you work, I think it’s pretty easy to distinguish yourself if you have the motivation and drive to do so.

I think the one thing that makes it hard for me to consider moving far away for a job is my family.  It’s nice to be able to drive home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and see all my family and high school friends.  If I moved to the East Coast, I might not be able to see my family every year.  James Harden’s family is from California so that probably didn’t matter much to him when he was deciding on whether to resign with OKC or not.

Ultimately though, I think he signed with the Rockets because he could make more money and prove to everyone that he could lead a team on his own.  So far he’s definitely making more money but at what cost?  His old team is off to a great start so maybe he wasn’t that valuable after all.

Personally, I’m very happy with my job and my salary, and if I wasn’t, I would definitely look to make a change.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s some amount of money out there that would make me leave but I’m positive no one will be offering it to me anytime soon.

Readers, have you ever left a great situation to get paid more?  How much money would it take for you to leave your job and family and is a higher salary always what it’s cracked up to be?

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-Harry @ PF Pro

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Hi, I'm Harry, the owner and head writer for Your PF Pro. I started this site back in 2011 in order to create a place where young professionals could come and get all of their financial questions answered. On the site, you'll find articles on everything from asset allocation for retirement to saving money at Chipotle! So enjoy..

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  1. says

    I left a wonderful house overlooking Barcelona, and sunny Spain, to go work in the UK for three years. It was all about the money and I sucked it up for three years so I could keep doing what I loved after that. It was a means to an end.

    • says

      Sounds like it worked out well for you. I completely agree with you too, I could definitely suck it up for 2-3 years so that I could do something I loved after that. In fact, that’s what I’m probably going to do. In a year or two I might take on contract work at 1.5-2x my current salary. The only problem with contracting is you can be fired at any time for any reason and you have to travel all over the country depending on who’s hiring.

  2. Mike says

    Harry, as I keep up on your blog, I realize we have a lot in common!

    I also finished university 4 years ago. The bright opportunities in the environmental field going into my upper division years were quickly overshadowed by the recession. Upon graduation, our peers were competing with people who had Master’s degrees or several years of working experience on us. It took a full year after graduating to get a real job offer. I felt so lucky to finally land a contract job close to home in LA, with a reasonable but not great wage. A week into this job, I got a second offer up north with a salary that was $15k higher. Even though I had no friends or family in area, I chose the permanent and higher-paying job.

    I was successful with this company, receiving a promotion, raises and responsibility that kept me there. But after 3 years, I missed my family and friends too much. I found a job near my hometown with lower stress and $2k less salary ($10k with lost bonuses too). It was still enough for me to move on from Santa Cruz. I would have probably accepted an even bigger pay cut to return. While I ultimately decided I wanted to be with friends and family, I definitely got a lot out of being on my own for a while.

    As a fellow Lakers fan, the Thunder was and still is scary. I was a casual fan of theirs until they beat us!

    • says

      That’s great Mike, thanks for your support, means a lot to me.

      I think 2-3 years would be about my limit too for a good paying job away from my family and friends. I get a very competitive salary for my experience level(3.5 years) but in a year or two I will have the option to take on contract work anywhere from ~1.3 to 2x my current salary. Obviously contract work is much more volatile, but I would definitely consider moving to a cool city(Seattle is one option). But you would probably have to pay me 3x my salary though to move to Wichita and work there(large aerospace workforce there too).

      I think the key if you’re going to take on a job b/c of the salary is to save whatever extra you’re now making. That way you never get used to the new higher salary and should you decide to go back, you won’t really be taking a pya cut. You would be amazed at how many people in my field have to be contractors for the higher salary because of this. Some are even forced to live hundreds of miles from their family..

  3. says

    I’ve left a decent paying job to start my own business, which in the beginning was paying quite a bit less. I think it comes down to what makes you happy. Is it the money or is it something else. For me, it was being miserable in a job that was going nowhere and seeing the unlimited opportunity of running our own business. I knew I’d be happier doing the latter, so after much consideration it was a no brainer.

    • Mandy @ MoneyMasterMom says

      Wasn’t it scary leaving your job? It hard for me to accept the insecurity to get the benefit of endless opportunities

      • says

        It was to some extent Mandy since we have a young family, but I did not want to let the fear hold us back. It came down to being too much for my wife to handle on my own and we’d either not expand or just let the business die a slow death. I wanted the satisfaction of running a business and doing something for myself and being able to give to the community as opposed to making a another buck or two for a massive corporation.

    • says

      Nice, I’m in the same boat. I would not mind getting paid less to run my own business some day and have the freedom to work for myself.

      That being said, I do like nice expensive things like houses and vacations so I’m really putting in the work now and saving like a mad man so that I can live my dream in 5-10 years. It just so happens that I also like my current well-paying job.

  4. says

    I’m with you on the athletes and James Harden scenario. It’s ridiculous how often they do it. I believe it was Jared Weaver that signed with the Angels a few years ago that blasted because he didn’t go shop more in free agency. He basically said ‘$80 million is enough for anybody in the world and there is no need to make more.’

    I’ve never left something I enjoyed simply for the money, but I have left jobs I disliked for another job I disliked (for the money). If I really enjoyed my job, I think I’d be like your friends and say I’d need at least double the salary (assuming cost of living was the same).

    • says

      Yes it was and I can’t believe it either. Like I said in my example above, a 20% difference on a 10 million dollar salary is so miniscule! There’s not one thing that you can buy for $10 million that you can’t buy for $8. I don’t blame the younger athletes, but the older athletes do the same thing!

      I’ve never had a job that I completely disliked, but if I did it would be all about the money haha.. I’d have no loyalty.

  5. Bichon Frise says

    It’s all relative I guess. Having moved all over this great country, lived in 20% of the states (from blistering hot to freezing cold, from mountains to the coast) and working/living on 5 of the 7 continents, moving is no big deal for me. When I graduated high school on a friday night, I packed up all my stuff the next morning and drove 20 hours to work a summer job starting the following Monday. I always saw my family once, maybe twice a year. Now that we are in possession of children, the grandparents tend to make a greater effort to come see us and visits are maybe 5-6 times a year.

    But, I enjoy what I do and if you hand me a 20-30% increase in pay over my head, I’m most likely out the door and on to the next guy. Of course, I grew up in the environment and lived it as well. I enjoy moving and meeting new people and challenges.

    I doubt if someone dangled a 20-30% solid job offer in front of your co-workers who think someone would have to double their pay to get them to move, it would be an automatic rejection. Sitting in the stands is much different than playing on the field.

    • says

      Yea that’s a good point. I will admit I’ve been super spoiled growing up in Southern California. It rained hard this morning and I realized I don’t own an umbrella, enough said haha. If I were to have grown up anywhere else I think I would be much more inclined to move.

      Though if the right opportunity came up in an interesting city(ie NYC, SF, Chicago, Seattle) then I would definitely consider it. But since I like my current job(and the pay), there’s no motivation for me to leave. I own a car, a condo, I max my retirement accounts out and still save a good amount per month. For now, I don’t need to get paid more money! :)

  6. Derek @ Freeat33 says

    I’m currently in that job. I’m earning around 100G now, but I don’t love what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good gig, but I don’t wake up in the morning eager to start my day. I’m with Pauline, it’s a means to an end. I’ve got big plans in the making. We live off 23% of my salary, the rest goes to funding the dream :)

    • says

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you’re doing, in fact, I commend it. If you’re working in a job you don’t like for the money, that’s fine, just don’t get accustomed to that salary. Start getting accustomed to the salary you would make doing what you love. That way any money over that can go towards retirement/savings/etc.

  7. Matt says

    Love the article, thanks! I underestimated the importance of being close to friends and family, and am paying for it now. I didn’t move away for money, but the concept still applies.

    It’s easy to look back and see what decision would have been best. It seems like you had the foresight to understand the consequences and sacrifices that moving would have entailed. Good for you! I wish I had had that.

    It’s hard to find the balance between current and future desires. In addition to location, there are other factors to consider. Maybe your dream job pays less than another. Maybe you have to go through hell to get a particular job. Is it worth it?

    For me, personally, I’d be willing to sacrifice pay for time and location (to a point, of course). My ultimate goal is financial independence, but I don’t want to be miserable along the way. Hopefully I’ll have the wisdom beforehand to know which sacrifices are worth it. So far, not so good!

    • says

      Thanks Matt. As an engineer, you tend to start off at a very high average salary, but after 5-10 years most other professions catch up. In other words, there is not a very high salary ceiling. So we’ll see what I decide to do but ultimately I would like to go into some type of real estate/financial service business once I have the capital saved up from my current work to do so.

      I think school is a little different though because you know you will be there for only a defined period. You may have better options for work in that area but with a job you have to make the conscious decision to leave.

  8. says

    Unfortunately, I think our society is run by money. We think that if we have money, then we can do anything we want. I would rather stay at a job that I loved and scrap by, then go to a job that I hated and making bank. Everyone still tries to keep up with the Joneses. Not me and not my wife!

    • says

      Yes that is very true. I don’t think you have to choose one or the other though, you can find a balance in-between. Or like others have mentioned work a job you hate for 2-3 years and suck it up so that you can do the things you want and work the job you love later on.

      I know there’s some amount of money that would make you leave your job. It’s probably just more than anyone is willing to pay you or me.

  9. says

    I don’t know how much money it would take. I’m in a pretty good position right now with a pretty stress free job in a low cost of living area and a decent salary… all that plus I am near my parents which is nice! It’d have to be quite a bit of money, but even then I don’t know if it’d be worth it.

  10. says

    This is a very nice post and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I agree that the “grass is not always greener” just because there is more money to be made on the other side. I would be the first to consider my family when thinking about a career change. However, I’m going to offer an alternative viewpoint from the general consensus I’m picking up here, especially concerning the professional athletes. Not mad at anyone – just playing the other side.

    Why shouldn’t they go for more money? It feels uncomfortable to say that at times, because it sounds greedy and selfish. But is it wrong to value wanting to make more money? These guys have practiced their craft more than we can imagine. I read in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers that those who become elite at any field have to put in at least 10,000 hours of practice or training related to their profession. You start doing the calculations on that number and we are talking years of hard work and dedication. Once they achieve their goal of playing in the professional leagues, their employment window of opportunity is so short (especially in the NFL). I would say most pro athletes are done before age 35 because of lack of performance or injury. James Harden is a torn ACL away from possibly ending his career. So if you come up at 22 (post college), that’s only 13 years where you can get paid top dollar in the profession you have trained your entire life for.

    And many of these athletes won’t have another high paying job once their careers are over. So their 13 years of prime money making opportunity has to cover the rest of their life. And if it is their goal to maintain that lofty lifestyle, then they will need all the money they can get.

    Also, many athletes come from poverty. We have all heard these stories. I’m sure they view the professional leagues as a way to change their entire family tree for generations to come. Hopefully, if Harden is smart, his great-great-great grandchildren will still be feeling the financial impact of the contract he signed as that 23% salary bump compounds over time.

    OK, I’m done. Thoughts?

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by Brian. You make some good points, Outliers was a good book, have you seen the 30 for 30 documentary Broke? I knew how lavishly athletes spend money but it was crazy to see how it all broke down and how uneducated they are about their money. I don’t blame them at all though, some of the smartest people at my company don’t know what their 401k is invested in so why should we expect an 18-22 year old kid to know how to spend 10 million dollars wisely?

      But I think this point fuels my argument. Most athletes aren’t making very smart choices with their money, that is well documented. I don’t think they get a whole lot of return on their happiness or life in general for that extra money. Do you? What can they buy with an extra couple million? Not a whole lot that they don’t already have; I think the law of diminishing returns applies here. The impact of more money gets less and less until eventually you are at a point where more money will not matter.

      • says

        Yes, I thought about this and am familiar with the frivolous ways athletes spend their money so quickly. My comments were based with the hopeful expectation they are wise with their money. It is unfortunate they are not better emotionally prepared to deal with their financial windfall. I can’t imagine blowing that much money that quickly. Reminds me of the movie Brewster’s Millions.


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