Why do women work so much?
October 30, 2012 10:11 AM   Subscribe

I know several women who have multiple jobs. I know their first full time job pays pretty well. I pretty sure they make just as much as me or more. I feel like I am very comfortable in my finances. But yet several of them have a second job, some even have a 3rd job.

Being that it's rude to talk finances in our society, I really haven't asked them what the deal is. But I am starting to wonder if they have a secret addiction. Maybe designer shoes, or cat hoarding, or crystal meth, I don't know... or is it more about keeping their time occupied?
posted by udon to Work & Money (63 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
It's nonya bizness.
posted by Doohickie at 10:15 AM on October 30, 2012 [19 favorites]

Without further information this is just a random guess based on my own experience. But maybe student loans? Mine could keep me three-jobs-busy (if I didn't like sleeping, that is.)
posted by kythuen at 10:16 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

There is no way to know why they do this without asking them, which you don't want to do. Maybe they have student loans or family that they are helping out or medical bills from the past or maybe they do love shoes or maybe they dream of financial independence at age 40. Whatever it is, not your business, unless you're close enough to ask.

OP: what doohickie said.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:17 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

A difference in tax scenarios, taking care of parents or children, or having a fair amount of school debt can make a huge difference in lifestyle. (Also, increasingly, I've found that school debt also means a fair amount of credit card debt for folks, which has a crippling amount of interest due.)

I had a supervisor who I was extremely close to, and I happened to find out that she made about 8k more than me. But due to taxes and the inordinate cost of covering her husband through our work's health care package, her take home pay was comparable to mine.
posted by politikitty at 10:18 AM on October 30, 2012

It can be rude to discuss finances so don't ask them about the money. Ask them if they are considering a career move or are they doing something to help someone out or are they just curious about this other field. If they give you the cold shoulder then drop it otherwise you've opened up an avenue for them to talk about why they choose to spend their time.
posted by mmascolino at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2012

Do they have kids and you don't? That seems to be a HUGE driver of financial security.

As a single woman, I can live -- even live well -- on very little money.

People I know with kids get much more stressed about career and income stuff than I ever do.

Other ideas --

Credit Card Debt. I know a lot of people who live (or used to live) beyond their means and now are chained to their jobs, or have second and third jobs, in order to stay afloat now that the chickens have come home to roost.

Ownership of big stuff that can't be quickly downsized if you don't make enough money this year. Houses and cars are the ones I can think of, but there might be other versions of that. This is another way that, as a single woman, I can get by on a lot less money. I don't have a $1000/month car note + insurance payment. If shit gets bad, I can move out of my apartment and into something cheaper.

Higher standards of living that they're willing to work more to afford. I know a lot of people who fall into this. In fact, most of the people who look at me funny when I take months of "funemployment" or go backpacking around the developing world are also people who wear nicer clothes than me, eat out more than me, spend megabucks at resorts rather than traveling cheaply, etc. These people tend to be absolutely chained to their income, to the point that they often take second and third jobs to keep up appearances.
posted by Sara C. at 10:21 AM on October 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

Maybe they have student loans. Maybe they're saving up to buy a house, or putting aside a nest egg for when they have kids. Maybe they're working on their retirement. Maybe they just want to assure their financial security in the future. Maybe their different jobs advance their career goals in different ways, and they're laying the groundwork for a more advanced role in the future. But I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the most likely explanation for being a really hard worker is probably not cat hoarding or meth addiction.

And honestly, I think you could ask them without it being rude. You don't have to make it about money specifically, you could just ask if they enjoy their second and third jobs, and what their career goals are.
posted by crackingdes at 10:22 AM on October 30, 2012

Also, yes, crippling student loans. That's another one that tends to keep people tied to insane work/life balances.
posted by Sara C. at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Bag Lady Syndrome"
posted by SassHat at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe they just like nicer things than you? Especially if you are a man--you probably wouldn't realize how much time, effort, and/or money for a woman to achieve an "average" look, compared to a man.

Maybe they have more dependents?

Maybe they're saving for having a child or going to school or retiring early?

If I had time, I'd have a second job. (I work full time and go to grad school for fun.) I was taught: You either spend time spending money or you spend time making money. So why not have a second job? Or third?
posted by ethidda at 10:23 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Money isn't the only reason people work. I always had a second job until I had kids, and once they're off at college I'll probably pick up more freelance work or some volunteer work in addition to my dayjob.
posted by headnsouth at 10:24 AM on October 30, 2012

Some people take a PT job because it's in a field that interests them.

I worked PT retail and enjoyed it -- good customers, great co-workers, fun company, 40% off a store that I would have shopped at anyway, and I got to play with all the new products. I always described it as a hobby I got paid for.
posted by hmo at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone I've worked with who had multiple jobs had one or more of the following:

A: Children.
B: Children and a spouse who doesn't work.
C: Child support.
D: An insane amount of student loans.

One poor guy had a PhD in biology and worked 3 (4?) jobs. He supervised a biology lab for the lab portion of a college class. Then he also worked at a local grocery store bagging groceries. I forget his third job. I think it was something for on-call work though, since he wore several pagers. He used to fall asleep standing up.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:25 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

One of my best friends always had a couple jobs while I had one (she's a social worker, I'm a librarian, so pay is similar). Here's why:

--School loans for her and her ex-husband (including private loans for him)
--Loads of credit card debt

They lived on credit cards and student loans while in college/grad school, while I lived with my parents and paid all my bills on my $8/hour job. She finally got out of debt and is way into Suze Orman these days. Some people don't learn money management early (or ever!) and I'd imagine that's the reason many people work multiple jobs.
posted by jabes at 10:26 AM on October 30, 2012

I'm about to get a (very sporadic) second job, but while the money will be welcome, it's something I absolutely love doing and am excited to have as a point on my CV. But yeah, I mean, "comfortable" means different things to different people. Maybe they're worried about the future (or would like to retire early/make up for lost income during maternity leave,) maybe they have student loans, maybe they are looking at future student loans from grad school. If I didn't prioritize time spent with my partner, I'd probably be looking at weekend jobs that would help further my grad school plans and career interests. Or maybe they just enjoy many things and are lucky enough to get paid for them.
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:28 AM on October 30, 2012

Hi, I arguably have three jobs. Only two of them pay, though. Like the women you describe, my "first job" pays my bills, and arguably, I only need the one.

But the second and third are in areas that I love, that I'm passionate about, and that I'd likely do anyway if circumstances were different. They also provide an emotional outlet for me where my primary job does not. That is to say, I can allow myself to be passionate about these two other jobs, get invested in them, and "own" them emotionally whereas I must always adopt a demeanour of professional detatchment and non-investment in my primary job.

TL:DR, it's an outlet for creativity, passion, etc., that my soul-sucking primary job does not afford me.

Note: I have no kids.
posted by LN at 10:30 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Most of them are single like me, live alone like me. Went to school the same time as me.
I finished paying off all my student loans. So that's why it confuses me.

I know there are differences with girls and guys. Most guys can do their own car repairs and save money there but still have to buy tools.
Girls may spend more to look good, but they do get lots of drinks bought for them. So there's an balancing point somewhere in there right?

Not to be specific, but one friend is in the medical field, she also works as a server at a restaurant. Don't really think that's a hobby.
posted by udon at 10:31 AM on October 30, 2012

I suspect that what you regard as paying "pretty well" differs from them. They probably feel like their first job barely covers expenses, and the second job is to makes ends meet, or possibly serve as a "backup" in case they get laid off from their primary job.
posted by deanc at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2012

Debt (student loans, medical debt, credit card debt, mortgage, etc.), family members to support (children/out-of-work spouse/aging parents), ambitious savings goals, desire to retire early... there are dozens of reasons.
posted by scody at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2012

Ask them, but don't ask about the money aspect. Ask what they like about their other jobs.

Back when I worked a full-time job, I also worked other jobs to make connections and to learn other skills, and to promote my own work. So, when I had a full time retail job selling high-end jewellery, handling the estate department at our store, and training employees in our area on POS systems, sometimes I worked seasonal shows and weekends for an antique dealer who'd mentored me, because I handled different items, practiced my sales skills and expanded my client base. I would work an auction house's jewellery previews for the same reason (plus the excitement of handling great jewellery and meeting others in the field.) Later on, when that work led to running the jewellery etc. department of an auction house, I taught some ROMLife courses and brokered jewellery purchases for friends.

It was always nice to have fun money, but when the fun part of my job became work, it was time to go and find more fun. I was always learning and growing. Even now I patchwork, because I realized that temperamentally, and now having a kid, I'm not suited to a 9-5 lifestyle. It's nice to do two very different things now. So, it could also be a way of exploring a new career without having to make a big scary leap.
posted by peagood at 10:32 AM on October 30, 2012

I know a ton of people who do a bit extra in the service industry to help pay off debt. Even small lifestyle differences can make a huge difference, but sometimes it's other things. Maybe they're saving up for a house, creating a "backup" savings, like designer clothes, or racked up a huge amount of credit card debt in college in addition to student loans.

And what's "very comfortable" for you could be "just scraping by" for them, or "OMG I have no spending money."
posted by DoubleLune at 10:35 AM on October 30, 2012

I have four jobs. And I subscribe to this theory of young womanhood: http://thegloss.com/career/bullish-maybe-work-life-balance-means-you-should-work-more/
posted by araisingirl at 10:36 AM on October 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

Also, get off me, bro. Some women also repair their own cars AND buy their own drinks. Surely you can't be under the illusion that all of us are running around drinking for free and changing nary a headlight or tire. Womp.
posted by araisingirl at 10:37 AM on October 30, 2012 [91 favorites]

I technically work three jobs right now, though only two of them take significant amounts of my time and unless you know me pretty well, you'd have no idea why. It goes roughly as follows:

Full-time day job: Primary income source, also worked to provide health care for me and my partner (see below).

Part-time one-woman side business: Started years ago when I was between jobs to help bring in some cash. It's in a totally different field that I really enjoy, so I kept going even once employed again, with the thought that I'd build up some client base and maybe do this full-time one day. Only now, and this is the part you'd never know if you're a casual acquaintance, my partner has a debilitating mental illness. He is able to work enough to pay a couple of bills and keep himself in clothes and medications and therapy, and from the outside I think it probably looks like he's got a decent-paying job and contributes his share. But basically, I'm paying the mortage and the food and the utilities and the just about everything. And covering his healthcare because we can't afford for his insurance to be through a job that he may not be able to keep. And I'm trying to save against the day when he may not be able to work at all, or may need more expensive care. So now, I still like that job, but every cent of that money is needed to fill the void that his contributions used to make. Plus! Because he is my domestic partner, his health care through my job is *way* more expensive than a spouse's healthcare would be. So I may be making the same amount as someone at my pay grade with a husband, but I'm actually taking home enough less to hurt. Which is a choice we made, I'm not complaining about it, but it's another thing you don't know about me unless you happen to know about domestic partner tax consequences.

Third part-time job: I switched jobs a few months ago, and am still consulting a bit for my old job. I answer questions here and there, help with the occasional project where they could use my expertise, etc. Partly it's the above - I'm facing an uncertain future for my partner and building as much cash security as I can. But also, I genuinely liked that job and those people, I know my leaving left them in the lurch because they are short of research funds (part of why I left), and I want to help them out as I can. And I care about the research participants I got to know running that study, and staying with the program lets me find out from time to time how their treatments are going, which is satisfying for me.

From the outside it probably just looks like I'm a workaholic nutjob. Trust me, I'd rather be home reading a book than doing any of this stuff.
posted by Stacey at 10:38 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband is not a woman (obviously) but he has a well-paid professional job, a part time bartending job, and a side business. He has the extra gigs among other reasons because he likes the work, the bartending gets us ridiculous discounts at a major hotel chain and has union benefits, because he is getting risk averse in his old age and wants something to fall back on if the main job goes bang, because extra cash buys us nice treats, because the side gigs are social and his main job is not, and because he sends money to his mother back home every month.

Any of these could be applicable to your female friends, but we don't know. Maybe they have massive gambling debts. Or maybe they buy tools for their cars and don't get as many drinks bought for them as you do (what?). Or maybe they read personal finance blogs and are fired up to retire at 40. Anything is possible!
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:39 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most guys can do their own car repairs and save money there but still have to buy tools.
Girls may spend more to look good, but they do get lots of drinks bought for them. So there's an balancing point somewhere in there right?

Somewhat OT/not a real "answer", but this is not a great way to look at things.

Women can totally do car repairs, and some of us even own tools! Also, I can count on one hand the number of times I had drinks bought for me by a dude by virtue of being female within the last year. Certainly not enough to offset major expenses.

Body image/"feminine" gender presentation really does represent a major expense for women that men don't deal with. One has a choice as to how much of this stuff one wants to do, but it's very common for a typical American woman to spend thousands of dollars a year on stuff like bikini waxes and manicures and fashion forward clothing. And the sky is really the limit -- there are juice fasts and designer handbags and weight loss boot camps and anal bleaching and vajazzling and really everything you can imagine and more.

Even as someone who is a pretty low-maintenance woman (to the point of nonconformity on some things), I would guess that I probably spend $1000 a year on toiletries, personal services, and clothing.
posted by Sara C. at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

araisingirl, that response was intended to the person who suggested that women spend more to look good. I was just making a point guys have their expenses too, even on looking good.

And to the other person, I wasn't say girls can't do car repairs. Just that guys will be cheap that way and just do it. So maybe I answered my own question.
posted by udon at 10:40 AM on October 30, 2012

On preview, I see you're asking about a slightly different life phase. But I had jobs 1 and 2 when I was much less entangled with a partner than now - as I mentioned, I just liked keeping that second skill honed, and had an eye toward eventually switching into it as a career path.

I also bought my own tools at that stage, and have never been one to let people buy me drinks - that seems like a really weird and totally unrelated layer of gender politics to be adding to this question. I know plenty of people of all genders who work multiple jobs, for many different reasons.
posted by Stacey at 10:41 AM on October 30, 2012

Not to be specific, but one friend is in the medical field, she also works as a server at a restaurant. Don't really think that's a hobby.

When I was in my 20s restaurant work as a side job was definitely, if not a hobby, a thing I did for fun. Waiting tables and tending bar is a ton of fun, great for your social life, often resulting in vocational and avocational connections you'd never have otherwise.
posted by headnsouth at 10:42 AM on October 30, 2012

Most guys can do their own car repairs and save money there but still have to buy tools.

Not sure this is true across all areas/cultures: I've lived and worked in 4 different states in the past 15 years, and I've known precisely one guy who was maybe capable of doing his own car repairs beyond simple things like changing oil or a battery, and he still used the garage for a lot of things.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 10:46 AM on October 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

I don't think this question is answerable at this level of detail. Maybe it's financially motivated - possibly debt, but possibly they really like saving money. Maybe the second job offers certain training or networking opportunities that the day job doesn't. Maybe there are perks in the second job (socializing, discounted product if it's retail, etc.). Maybe the second job is what the person loves and the day job is what pays the bills.

And I don't think any of this - working, spending, or budgeting - is necessarily divided across genders. Men work multiple jobs, too, and can dispose of income just as easily as women, and both men and women can be frugal or careless with their money.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:47 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, folks have a wide variety of tolerance for savings. I have one friend who feels out of control if she isn't saving more than 50% of her income (after maxing retirement accounts). Other folks feel fairly comfortable saving only a fraction of their income.

Also free drinks doesn't come close to keeping up with fashion trends and looking nice. How much can you really spend on drinks in a month? If I had my dream budget, I would be getting my hair cut every six weeks (60-80 plus tip), mani/pedis twice a month (40 plus tip), monthly spa days for facials and massages (~200 plus tip depending on quality)

Then we get to the wardrobe: few hundred per handbag each season, a few hundred per shoes. And maybe two nice outfits a month to slowly rotate my wardrobe (maybe 300 dollars).

Yes, men can spend a ton of money looking nice. But the quality you get for the money spent is still much easier on the wallet for men than women. And there is still a lot of pressure that women need to spend the money to look nice. A poorly dressed man isn't socially ostracized in the same manner.
posted by politikitty at 10:50 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

It is also possible, that despite you being pretty sure that they are getting paid well based on their job titles, they are not actually making as much as a man would in the same job.
posted by sawdustbear at 10:51 AM on October 30, 2012 [20 favorites]

I never had any student loans, but I lived in the San Francisco bay area and I had my own apartment. Crippling rent to live in decent housing drove me to moonlight at Macy's.

A lot of guys I knew at the same age were comfortable with roommates, or in neighborhoods that were dodgier than mine (although I lived in Oakland, I shudder to think, if that was the case.)

I was pretty spendy at that age, although not deeply in debt. I just liked to live in my own space and it cost me big to do so.

I knew someone who at the age of 25 had a 4 bedroom house. She rented out the rooms, and still worked 3 jobs to make her mortgage payments. She was VERY incented and motivated to own that house.

You never know and you may never know.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

araisingirl, that response was intended to the person who suggested that women spend more to look good. Some guys spend more as well.
Yes, that was me. I was suggesting their "normal" spending might seem extravagant or even addictive to you. My personal example: I spend ~$500 on clothing and shoes each month, and more on my woodworking and tech hobbies. I spend about 10x to 100x the amount on clothing that my partner does. I also choose to own a car, which is significantly more expensive (to buy and to maintain) than his motorcycle. We split all shared bills equally, except for rent, which I pay more of because I own the house. (And my house needs its roof replaced before the end of the year, which is about ~$9k.)

So to me, to be the modern woman I want to be, I should provide all my own comforts. I want a house and a car and nice clothes. And even though I'm "only" in my mid-20s, I want it NOW. So I have to make enough to pay for it all. In addition, because I own things that may need emergency maintenance, I'm motivated to make more money to give myself that financial cushion.

My boyfriend, previous to living with me, was happy to live the "bachelor" style. Sure, he has a nice bike and motorcycle. But it's the little things that add up.
posted by ethidda at 10:52 AM on October 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

I guess most of the guys I know have just as much financial troubles, I guess the females I know choose to do something about it and get extra jobs. I guess I was just comparing my own and making and an unfair generalization.
posted by udon at 10:53 AM on October 30, 2012

This has nothing to do with people being men or women. It has everything to do with the individual financial situation and approach to money of the people you know. Period. Trying to figure out what is going on in their lives, compared to yours, without asking, is fruitless. As everyone is telling you: it could be anything at all, or nothing at all.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:54 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think your insistence on viewing this as a gender thing is weird, and focusing on specific expenses like tools/drinks/purses is wildly sexist. Not all or even most women do more paid work than men (in fact, quite a lot of women stay out of the workforce altogether) so it is quite ridiculous to say that the females you know who work several jobs are doing so because their vaginas told them to.

If your friends really are addicted to designer shoes/cat hoarding/crystal meth, you would know by looking at their feet/house/teeth, not their bank account. Maybe you can cut out the super clever gender stereotypes and try again. Why do people work more than what seems necessary? Because they have more needs, more wants, or maybe just more ambition than you.
posted by acidic at 10:56 AM on October 30, 2012 [15 favorites]

No it's not, in my pool of friends, most of the women work multiple jobs and most of the guys work very little. I just forgot to look at the fact they all are just bad with money.
posted by udon at 10:58 AM on October 30, 2012

No it's not, in my pool of friends, most of the women work multiple jobs and most of the guys work very little. I just forgot to look at the fact they all are just bad with money.

That has more to do with your choice in friends than the grand difference between Man and Woman.
posted by acidic at 11:05 AM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're in your 20s? What plans do you have about housing? If you're that age, and thinking about getting somewhere nice to live, maybe starting a family, it behooves you to think about putting away some money. Also, let's say you can start a small investment portfolio, with compounding interest will add up to something big later. (Well, we hope it will. Maybe just savings instead.) Do not underestimate the number of people who have already thought about what they need for kids and retirement and are scared shitless.

I see people have already piled onto you for sexism but I'll just say, I've been in and out of part-time retail for years and I would say in the stores I've worked in-- sporting equipment and bookstores-- it's not more men than women. Even in the bookstores. Huge numbers of people looking to have kids in the next few years and feathering their nests. Or thinking about other expenses. And also, some people slip into retail or food service/bartending after a layoff or not knowing what to do, and then keep doing it after they get a day job just because why wouldn't they?
posted by BibiRose at 11:06 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

30's, I'm in my second house. They are in their 30's too.
posted by udon at 11:08 AM on October 30, 2012

(Early 40s) I work two jobs, because in order to live alone slightly near the city I grew up in, and in order to have enough money to afford "basic" things like cable tv and a cell phone, it's necessary. My mortgage is half my take-home pay (without the second job).
posted by Melismata at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2012

Maybe it happens that the men you know happen to have trust funds, and the women don't. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the women you know make ~77% of what their equivalent male counterparts make, so they have to work more to earn the same. Maybe these people have family members they help to support (ailing grandmother or sister or whatever). Maybe they want to have hefty retirement funds. Maybe they have credit card debt still chasing them from college. Maybe their rent or cars cost more. Maybe they have a chronic illness that requires extra expense. Maybe they eat out more, or cook gourmet meals.

Really, there's no way of knowing, and your gross gender generalizations have no merit whatsoever.
posted by greta simone at 11:09 AM on October 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

I was just looking for a woman to share her experience without asking one of my female friends. thanks for contributing anyway.
posted by udon at 11:14 AM on October 30, 2012

I was just looking for a woman to share her experience without asking one of my female friends. thanks for contributing anyway.

To digress a moment, I think it's actually kind of great that your first impulse is to gather data before pestering the people around you. That's precisely what I - as a feminist and queer person - would advice if someone did have a gender-specific/sexuality-specific question, because that way (as you perhaps surmise) you're only asking for advice from people who feel moved to give advice, not saying "educate me, it is your job to educate me".
posted by Frowner at 11:20 AM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're presuming that my experiences -- because I am a woman -- are the same as your female friends, for no reason other than that we're women.

What if I asked you why men work so little? Could you explain to me why my husband works only one job, based on your experience, any be certain that you'd get the answer right?
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

[OK, udon, it's time for you to take a step back here - this isn't a discussion forum. Thanks. ]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2012

Another point to consider is the old gender wage gap. Women do, on average earn, less than men in the same jobs.
posted by redfoxtail at 11:28 AM on October 30, 2012

Working, working at diverse jobs, working a lot, even if it's because you need better income to account for debt or outcome does not make one "bad" at money. It's a money management choice, possibly, or a time management choice, maybe. Or likely any number of dozens of situations. It's simply not in anyway worthwhile to speculate on the fiscal management and needs of people whose choices have zero bearing on your choices. You did not pose this in such a way as to learn ("my friends have primary careers and side jobs, what are the possible benefits and pitfalls?"), but to satisfy your own gossipy-bent curiosity.

FWIW, I have always, always managed side jobs in addition to my primary careers--and my primary careers have been, and currently are, good ones. I've done this because there is an innate restlessness about my make-up and I feel out of sorts and insecure relying on and dedicating all of my energy to one project or job. Sometimes my side jobs have been "pedestrian" in comparison to my primary career (your example of a friend who works in healthcare and also as a server), and that has typically happened because of people--I wasn't it love with the people I worked with at my primary career, but those I worked with in the side job were awesome and I wouldn't abandon them. Sometimes my side jobs encompass advocations or potential career advancement in a different or in the primary career.

The extra income from 20 years of this kind of career orientation has been so variable, over time, as to be barely worth mentioning. I manage my finances as if my primary career is my only job, and if side jobs bring in additional income and it is significant I bank it or it covers a transition to something else (the last primary career transition I made required additional education, for example).

You simply can't overlay your fiscal and time management values on others--way beyond the personal ethics of it, it just doesn't teach you anything, at all. I work the way that I work in this life for no reason other than it's what feels right for me. I explained it to you, in response to your question, as an example of the huge variety in data points that add up to basically nothing you can apply to any kind of conclusion.

Obviously, you have communicated here that you are pretty comfortable with how you manage your time, work, and money. Awesome--you have uncovered your working life orientation. Just like you would not invite others to speculate on why on earth you would stick to one job at a time without trying on other jobs on the side and send all your cash to the student loan people instead of traveling to a developing country where money could be of some real use (etc.), you are unable to speculate on any reason why (fiscal or personal) someone else works and lives as they do.

If you find yourself genuinely curious about the working life orientation of one of your friends--in other words, you want to know why they manage their work life they way that they do because you feel their answers may help you learn to consider burnishing your own choices--then ask them. If your question is coming from that kind of place, it is unlikely to offend them. If it sounds like you secretly suspect they have a drug habit, they'll catch that, too. I've been able to tell the difference, over the years, when others have asked me.
posted by rumposinc at 11:33 AM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

Student loans is my first guess, child support my second, credit cards third (mostly because with credit cards bankruptcy is an actual option.) A distant fourth is "hatred of debt," because if you absolutely do not use credit cards but you want to live a stereotypical middle-class lifestyle, you really need to make quite a bit more than the average person actually makes. This is why so many people have a better lifestyle after they get married: many of their expenses do not scale upwards 100% (especially housing & entertainment; food, transportation, and utilities only sometimes.)

I graduated with a relatively small amount of student loans compared to nearly everyone else my age, and I will be taking advantage of the "pay 15% of your income for 25 years and then we give up" option. A few of my friends graduated with a quarter of my loans and had paid them off in ten years; quite a few more took out far more than I did and have a lot of credit card debt, and/or have second jobs.

If I were capable of pulling it off, I'd absolutely have a second job right now. As it is, I have a low lifestyle standard compared to most other people with the job I have, and I have very little saved for buying a house or a new car, and I have crappy (by my standards) retirement savings banked, as well.
posted by SMPA at 11:46 AM on October 30, 2012

Being single plays a big part in it, too. Here is a good article about why it's more expensive to be single.
posted by Melismata at 11:51 AM on October 30, 2012

Mentioned but I think not emphasized enough: some people really do it for fun. It's their social life; they thrive on being busy; they hate to sit around the house at night. A friend of mine commutes to a very stressful job, comes home and tends bar all weekend at a place down the street. She just likes to get out, without spending a lot of money. I started working in bookstores at a time when I didn't think I needed the income, just thought it would be cool to work in a bookstore. And it is, retail culture is fun.
posted by BibiRose at 11:54 AM on October 30, 2012

And here is an article about how some consumer items are more expensive for women, like dry-cleaning and deodorant. (Down at the moment due to the hurricane.)

And here is an article about how it's more expensive to be a woman in general (cites Jezebel article mentioned above).
posted by Melismata at 12:09 PM on October 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who is constantly working multiple jobs, even though I'm pretty sure she financially doesn't have to. I suspect that it is because she hates being lonely, and bored, and having several jobs keeps her happily in the distracted/busy/stressed/overachieving mindset. If you really want to make this a man/woman distinction, there are some decent guesses upthread, and also, I think women can be more socially motivated in general. Waitressing and working retail are stressful, but also hyper-social. Being overworked means you'll never be lonely, and you have a built in excuse as to why you are upset/stressed.
posted by fermezporte at 12:49 PM on October 30, 2012

i think being a single income household plays a big part in it. i have a contract position which is no different than having a full-time job (and i will soon have an actual full-time job) where i make a more than a decent amount of money to live comfortably if i manage my money precisely. but i still take on freelance projects on the side (i used to be a full-time freelancer), as well as get an extra income by renting one of my guest rooms on a short-term basis (which, when rented, covers about 2/3 of my mortgage each month). the freelance work allows me to do more interesting projects than i might get at my contract job. the extra money allows me to pay for nicer things: i'm a clothes horse so i probably spend more than most ppl on clothes or at least on better items; i also like to eat out with my friends a lot at nicer restaurants (altho, thankfully, in portland, that's less than it would be in comparable foodie towns like new york and san francisco); take weekend trips a few times a year, as well as a nice vacation and a couple of weeks off at the holiday to visit my friends and family in my hometown. the money also goes into paying for major (and minor) house expenses because i do own a house as well. i also have a nice car that i finished paying off last month. and there are the student loans. i also don't have/want credit cards so everything i pay for is something that my bank account has to cover.
posted by violetk at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2012

I don't know about your friends, but I can tell you about my personal experience. I have a full-time, fairly well paying job. Then I have 2 side jobs which bring in a bit of extra money. I am married, in my early 30's with no kids. Most of my friends don't work as much as me, but they don't all have as nice of a car as I do, or as expensive of a house. Just going from renting last year to owning a house nearly doubled our cost of living, so that is a huge expense right there. I could live on less, but right now I am trying to save a bunch to build up a security net for if I lose my job and also for when I plan on having kids soon. I also find that the more I earn, the more I spend, so its sometimes hard to feel like I'm getting ahead. I also started off my independent life with huge student loans and credit card debt. My goal is to pay it off ASAP so I can put money elsewhere. I am also saving a fair amount for retirement, since we completely emptied those accounts to buy the house. So I guess my reasons are that I like nice stuff, have high expectations for my finances, but spend a bit more than I should sometimes on stuff like eating out, entertainment, etc. I don't plan on always working so much, as I feel like I am burning out a bit lately. But I do want a bit of extra $ in savings before I have kids because I will probably not be able to work as much as I do now.
posted by photoexplorer at 1:02 PM on October 30, 2012

I'm 30, single, no kids, no weird shopping addiction and have two jobs.

One is a professional office job that's mentally challenging. It pays my bills and gives me room for saving some money, even after my exorbitant student loan payment. I have a nice budget that works with my salary from this job.

But it can be kind of boring and draining and I don't like to always track my money. So I got a side job as a waitress and I allow myself to blow my tips however I damn well please -- not on a huge shoe collection or anything, but just cash in my pocket to pick up a doohicky that's not otherwise in my anal-retentive budget. If I don't feel like buying anything, I put it in a cookie jar and forget about it.

Most importantly, it gets me out of the house at least once a week. It shakes up my ho-hum routine and gets me talking to people I wouldn't otherwise -- professional drunks, college kids and bitter old men who drink alone. It's a big change from sitting in an office chair all day, keeps me in touch with real people and is a lot of fun!

ALSO: I recently rewired my dryer and installed it with along with my washing machine, using my own tools AND changed a car battery with borrowed tools AND I'm pleased to say I've never let someone I haven't met at least twice buy me a drink.
posted by mibo at 1:25 PM on October 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

I currently have two jobs; one full time and one part time. I do this because I've had times where I've lost my full time job, and had some security in knowing that I at least have a part time job where I can pick up more hours, and continue to look for full time work. Being jobless is a nightmare of mine, considering that I'm single.

I've worked two jobs several years ago when I was living in an expensive city, and the second job provided a nice addition to my income. Plus it was completely opposite from my day job, and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.
posted by cleo at 1:36 PM on October 30, 2012

In my personal finance class recently, I came across the concept of diversifying your sources of wages as being just as advantageous as diversifying your investments. So if you lose one job, you still have money coming in, just as people diversify investments so that if one doesn't work out, another might.

It may be that these folks have expenses you don't know about (elderly parents they're supporting, maybe), are bad with money and can't live within their means, they're trying out a new career or launching a business that they want to quite their "day job" for, or they're saving up so they can retire early. Probably each of them has a different set of motivations.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:57 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's a saying - if you want something done, ask a busy woman.

I've had multiple jobs since I was a teenager. Why stick with one boring, soul-sucking day job when you can also be distracted by other things? I've done mystery shopping, event security, modeling and performing, focus groups, writing, and lots of other things while working a career-type job. It gives me extra money, or is a hobby that pays for itself, or keeps me from being bored. I know women in their 30s who waitress, work retail, or do other side gigs for the same reasons - it depends on the woman what her particular reason is.

Statistically women get paid less than a man for doing the same job, and women tend to have more student loan debt than men (source: an NPR show I heard a few weeks ago - apparently parents have been more likely to pay for their son's education than their daughter's, a trend which is changing and therefore made the news) and also more credit card debt. Anecdotally, the women I know also tend to be more "go-getters" than the men I know, preferring to work multiple jobs, contribute more to retirement, save for a house, and pay down debt, and the men seem to like video games more than any of those things. (This is not a blanket statement about men and women in general, but is a trend that applies to at least half of the people I know personally.)
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:20 PM on October 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I now work as a freelancer, I used to have a full time job programming. I would also occasionally take 1-2 external clients (moonlighting) for small projects also doing programming projects. Why? Because it's nice doing something different, sometimes I got along with the client well (not a friend but someone pleasant), and would allow me use different skills I wasn't using in my primary job.
My full time job paid the bills, but the occasional extra client allowed me to have more fun money. I bought my Vespa and accessories with the income of one client, for example. This is actually pretty common among web developers I know as their full time job paid for all the basics and savings but then they'd have extra money for more party fun pocket money.
posted by xtine at 5:00 PM on October 30, 2012

> Not to be specific, but one friend is in the medical field, she also works as a server at a restaurant. Don't really think that's a hobby.

I tend to figure out how I can make a few extra bucks from something that I enjoy and might be doing in some context anyway. Not coincidentally, I was underemployed for quite a spell when I was younger and I get some comfort out of having at least a trickle of cash from another source besides my primary job.

Waiting tables isn't a hobby per se, but it may scratch an itch that her "real" job doesn't. And if she forgets the salad dressing, no-one dies. (Anecdotally, I know very few nurses who DON'T have some sort of side-job for exactly this reason.)
posted by desuetude at 5:20 PM on October 30, 2012

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