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How Working Too Hard Can Drive You Into Debt



Here’s a disturbing trend I’ve noticed: Americans are working so hard to make money, they’re too tired to think about properly spending it.

Statistics about the long hours Americans work are nothing new.

“Americans work more than anyone in the industrialized world,” ABC News has reported. “More than the English, more than the French, way more than the Germans or Norwegians. Even, recently, more than the Japanese.”

However, two recent surveys — on very minor topics — made a major impact on me. First, the employment website CareerBuilder reported more than a quarter of all U.S. employees are sleepy…

26 percent feel they do not get enough sleep each night. 60 percent of all workers say that a lack of sleep has negatively impacted their work. Ironically, nearly half of all workers (47 percent) say thinking about work keeps them up at night. Further, only 17 percent of all workers get at least eight hours of sleep a night. Which can have a negative impact on productivity.

Exactly one-fourth of the 3,600 employees CareerBuilder polled said lack of sleep “makes me less productive.” While 13 percent said “it takes me longer to complete tasks” and another 12 percent say “it makes me make mistakes.”

Sounds like these employees need a vacation, but they feel guilty taking one. A new poll from Alamo Rent A Car reports on a trend called vacation shaming

U.S. workers are feeling more guilt than ever before about planning and taking their vacations. Overall, around half (49 percent) of all American workers report feeling vacation shamed. Being made to feel shame or guilt by co-workers for taking a vacation.

That 49 percent figure is 2 points higher than last year. It’s even worse for millennials. 68 percent “reported feeling guilty for planning and taking a vacation;” a jump of 19 percent from last year.

The “shaming” comes from shorthanded staffs who resent having to make up the work when one of their peers takes their earned PTO. That could explain why, according to Alamo, “fewer than half of all workers – only 47 percent – are using all of their paid vacation days. Compared with 60 percent in the 2015 study and 57 percent in the 2016 study.”

Even worse, “just one in five (18 percent) workers use all of their vacation days to actually go on a vacation. As opposed to activities such as staying home and running errands.”

This reinforces a trend I’ve seen develop since the Great Recession. Americans who want to save more and spend wisely; but they’re simply too physically and mentally exhausted to put in the effort. Work and family drain their batteries during the week. So when I talk to them about checking their free credit reports, I see tired and glassy eyes staring back at me.

As a CPA, I usually don’t speculate without research to back me up, but in this case, I’ll make an exception. I also think work-related stress is driving Americans into debt.

I’m guessing that if I conducted a scientific survey, I’d find tired and stressed-out employees are blowing cash on pricey stress-relief activities that add up to more than a vacation each year. For instance, are they drinking more after work? Drinking expensive coffee during work? Going out to eat because they’re too tired to cook at home? Indulging in “shopping therapy” to get their minds off work?

I’ve seen too many cases of employees working overtime to make more money, then wasting that money because they’re too tired to make good decisions. So what can you do?

I’d never tell someone to work less or switch to a lower-paying job. I will advocate that you make your financial planning a priority in your free time. I realize how this sounds: “You want me to give up a weekend picnic with my family so I can calculate my debt-to-income ratio?”

Then again, we all have weekend chores. Figuring out your finances is less time-consuming and less messy than cleaning out the garage or gutters — and the payoff is much higher.

I promise you this: If you dedicate one hour every other week — one episode of a TV drama — to really studying your finances, you’ll see a difference in your bank account within three months. Then you’ll sleep much easier.

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