Why ‘Lost Earnings’ is a Bullsh*t Excuse That Will Hold You Back

June 18, 2012

While walking around Washington, D.C.’s peaceful Roosevelt Island last weekend, my boyfriend and I started scheming on a big trip.

We’re in the very early stages of scheming, when you throw out all the possibilities and all the obstacles and all the what-ifs to get a sense for whether the dream could ever really happen.

One of the downsides that came up was lost earnings.

Now, I know lost earnings — or the money you would’ve earned had you been working rather than following your dream — is a reason that’s often cited for not taking a career break to travel through Asia or sail across the Atlantic or go on some other adventure. I even mention it briefly in my eguide on how to take a career break to travel.

Except here’s the big, fat truth: lost earnings is bullshit.

Lost earnings is the WORST possible excuse for not doing something you want to do. Why? Because most of us spend everything we earn. Which means that whether you’re sitting in an office or traveling the world, what you earn (or don’t earn) will not have a drastic effect on your future life. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it.)

The view when you get out from behind your desk.

The view when you get out from behind your desk. (Shenandoah National Park)

If you’re saving, now that’s a different story. If you put away a significant chunk of change each month, you will suffer from lost savings when you’re not bringing in a regular paycheck. (That’s still not a good reason to stay home, but at least it makes sense.)

But here’s the thing that’s often overlooked: if you’re leaving home for an adventure (as opposed to taking a career break to, say, launch a business or start a family), your living expenses will probably drop dramatically as soon as you hit the road. So long as you get out of your lease, pause your gym membership, cancel the cable you won’t be using and more, you won’t need nearly as much money to travel as you would to enjoy your day-to-day life, especially if you live in a city.

That doesn’t mean you won’t need savings to travel. You will, of course, especially if you aren’t planning to earn income during your trip. (And, unfortunately, particularly if you have monthly student loan payments.) But the point here is that you need far less money to, say, hike the Appalachian Trail than you do to rent an apartment and hit up happy hour and pay your car insurance and cover all the other expenses that come with your usual standard of living. And if you’re spending less, you can afford to earn less, too.

So forget about lost earnings. Here’s what should factor into the equation instead: your lost LIFE. Do you think you’ll learn more by backpacking through Africa or sitting behind a desk? Which six months will you remember a decade or two or three later? What’s your reason for living — to earn so you can spend, or to get out there and experience something awesome?

Now, I’m not advocating going into debt to follow your dream. Actually, I advise the total opposite: proactive saving while you scheme (usually by increasing your income), putting the financial pieces in place over a period of months or years so you can turn that dream into reality.

But don’t use lost earnings as an excuse to not do what’s calling you. All the other things you could lose are far more important.

Thinking about taking a big trip? Check out my digital guide, How to Take a Career Break to Travel.

Photo credit: Ben Collins

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    6 Replies to “Why ‘Lost Earnings’ is a Bullsh*t Excuse That Will Hold You Back”

    • This is exactly how I live my life!!! Couldn’t agree more.

    • Kola says:

      love the idea of thinking about lost life instead of lost earnings. definitely a retweet worthy post

    • Therese says:

      “So forget about lost earnings. Here’s what should factor into the equation instead: your lost LIFE.”

      “All the other things you could lose are far more important.”

      OOh, love how you phrased this, A, and SO true. Definitely sharing this one with my newsfeed 😉

      Oh, and also… I’m planning a trip to Thailand this fall/winter… beyond excited 🙂

    • Thanks for this great post! We have been spending a large portion of our income to travel lately (we haven’t been on any one big trip, but have been taking 3-4 smaller trips each year) and sometimes I wonder if we should be putting that money towards other things.

      The conclusion that i always come to is that I don’t think that I will get to the end of my life and say “Gosh, I think I traveled too much.” Most often, I hear people expressing regret about the opposite, that they wish they had traveled more.

      You will probably always have some sort of debt to pay down, that is never going away, so enjoy the time that you have now. Go where you want, while you have the opportunity.

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