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It’s year-round bonuses at Me, Myself and I

The unexpected value of not getting a year-end bonus
Illustration: Change Exchange

Now that I work for myself, there are no bonuses or deductions. Everything means a little more. I spend money with my eyes open.

Here is a little something that I wrote for Change Exchange about this late last year:

It’s almost year-end bonus season, and for the first time in many years, having stepped off the treadmill of a corporate job, there is not a glimmer of hope that I will get one.

I know I am not alone. Times are tough, and a lot of people who are used to getting a bonus probably won’t be getting one this year. So how does bonus season look from the cheap seats?

For one thing, since leaving full-time employment, I’ve learned a lot about the value of money and time. That’s a bonus that will last well beyond the silly season.

I’m not one for regrets, but I love the clarity that comes with distance. Looking back, I’m questioning whether I treated my bonuses well. Was I appropriately grateful for them? What was the best thing I did with my year-end bonus? What was the worst?

The worst would have to be pulling out a bank card at a bar and saying, “Drinks on me!” I’ve had my share of paying the tab for things that provide no real benefit or lasting pleasure. But I won’t go into detail about that.

And the best thing? Investing aside, the best way to blow a bonus is on gifts, especially the gifts of experience. My top memory in this category was a gift for children who seemed to have everything money could buy.

I hired a magician for an hour, to perform magic at our table in a restaurant. What a treat for us all. We felt even more special when other patrons asked for their turn, but were told that the magic was exclusively for us.

This year, I’m approaching gifts differently, thanks to the change in my circumstances and the knock-on effect that has had on my consciousness.

When I received a monthly salary, I became disconnected from the actual cost and value of things. I would spend without considering the consequences, thinking there would always be more money, even if it meant relying on credit.

It’s different now that I am self-employed and my earnings vary. Even in the months when I earn more than my old corporate salary, I am more mindful of my expenses.

The experience of earning money has become more personal, which has changed my perspective on spending. It is now a multi-layered and intricate process, unlike the simplicity of receiving a fixed salary from someone else.

From pitching for work to quoting to invoicing, I am closer to getting paid for my skill, energy, and time. Putting a price on everything I do and hustling to get someone to pay that price is revealing.

When I worked for large companies, money would arrive in my bank account every month, regardless of my effort or the season. It was a set amount that differed from my stated salary.

I didn’t pay much attention to the deductions, such as the tea club and the skills levy. I was too busy to bother.

Now that I work for myself, there are no bonuses and no deductions. Everything means a little more. I spend money with my eyes open. I make sure I get bang for every buck, because I know how much energy and how many hours it took to earn.

Back to that bonus. I might not be in line for a 13th cheque, but there are many other little bonuses awarded to the staff at “Me, Myself and I”.

Since summer started, for example, I have frequently been awarded a lunchtime dip in the tidal pool. A sneaky and priceless little pleasure.

Stepping away from the machine and the busyness of corporate life has taught me what I really value, and that feels like the biggest bonus I could hope for.

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