Golden handcuffs

It’s an unhealthy relationship I’ve developed, this one between work and luxuries. It’s some kind of prostitutional dynamic, where I’m both pimp and whore.

I bill by the hour, so time is money. And money is treats; so the harder I work, the more I feel I can justify spending on self-indulgences.

When I’m exhausted, stuck at my desk late at night, cold and lonely out in the study, going hard out on some unreasonably short deadline dumped on me by some insufficiently grateful client, I think, “Well, I can definitely buy myself shoes with tonight’s invoice!” When I do a crazy week and Hapless has to do all the domestic stuff and I barely see the kids, we say, “Well, this will pay for our ski trip!”

Mostly this is a case of the tail wagging the dog. I’m not accepting all these projects because I want the money; I’m just keeping the client relationship alive by delivering what they need when they need it. Often, I’d rather have the time. I’d rather be paid in sleep, or magazine-reading time, or just peace and quiet. Downtime.

But the money sloshes in and then, when I can find the time – because spending money takes time – I slosh it out again. Occasionally, though, when I’m feeling guilty about some luxury purchase past or future, I’ll say yes to a job I’d ordinarily turn down, or pull out all the stops to meet a totally unrealistic deadline in order to secure the work – and then feel like that money should be ringfenced for rewards, because I suffered for it; and after all, I did it for the money.

The result is that I can, and often do, put not a price tag but a time tag on something. I consider a slightly too generous present for someone; and think, “Whatever, it’s just an hour’s work.” I’ll jump in a taxi if I miss my bus because it allows me to get in another half-hour of billable work before dinner. I never get round to listing stuff on Trade Me because the time involved isn’t worth the money.

But now I’m looking at inverting all that. Every hour’s wages I can avoid spending now is three weeks’ worth of fresh fruit and veg next year. The kids’ old buggies, car seats, bikes, snow gear; relics from my own wardrobe; they’re all suddenly potentially sources of income; hell, they could pay for our ski passes next year.

And if I pull this whole stunt off, I could be looking at the scarcest luxury of all: time. Acres and acres of time.

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