Will Those Jeans Cost You a Week of Work?

It's a whole new way to look at buying a pair of jeans. Or those cute new sandals you saw last week.

Say you're out shopping: Do these two phrases sound like they're referring to the same amount?

"They're $200, sure, but I really like them!"
"I'd have to work two full days to pay for those, but I really like them!"

Framing your purchases in terms of hours worked is a great way to put things in perspective. After all, $50 probably means something very different to you if you're making $100 an hour versus $10.

Your results will sound something like this: "This brunch cost me three hours of work." "There goes another hour of answering phones to get this eyeliner."  "I worked two whole days for this train ticket!"

We made this mental math simple by building you a calculator to figure out exactly how many hours you're spending each time you swipe your card.

First, select a spending habit (example: that twice-a-week $10 work lunch). Then input the hours you work per week, the number you see on your paycheck and how many times you get that check each year (such as: 45 hours, $1,400 per paycheck, 26 paychecks) and hit calculate.

Oh dear. You could be working 62 hours—almost a full week—to afford that lunchtime sushi and falafel.

And it works for a single purchase, too. Those Citizens of Humanity jeans? 13 hours. Brunch with unlimited mimosas? 2 hours. Plane ticket to Vermont? 22 hours.

Going forward, use this new lens to think about whether your next purchase is really worth it. Ask yourself whether you'd rather have that designer sundress/spa treatment/fancy dinner out, or if you'd rather not work however many hours. You might not be able to quit your job just yet, but if you choose the "I don't want to work that much" option, it's a good clue that whatever the purchase is, it isn't worth your money in time.

Now it's your turn: Play with this calculator and, if you feel compelled, share your calculations in the comments. Don't be embarrassed—we're all friends here.

In the meantime, we'll be over in the My Money Center ... revising our budget.

Sweat Equity Calculator

Cost of Spending Habit

Hours Worked Per Week

Amount Per Paycheck

# of Paychecks Per Year

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  • Erin Frank

    I do this all the time! But for years I’ve employed a different approach when it comes to shopping for clothes. I tend not to look at price tags…right away. Then I try clothes on and ask myself—and friends if they’re with me—”What is the monetary cuteness of this dress?” Or pants, or shirt. No matter how cute it seems, if there is a notable discrepancy between my perceived value and it’s actual price I won’t get it. It’s really helped me keep from spending that extra $10 here and there, and makes finding a great deal a snap. Something worth $50 to me that’s only $25? Yes please! Lately I’ve turned this into a valuation of other goods. I recently bought a pie-making machine. It cost me 1 hour of work. I look beyond just that number to think “How many hours of enjoyment will I get out of this?” When I started listing all the pies and quiches I wanted to make, how I can try freezing them and thawing them out on busy days, and giggling about it to my husband, I knew it was worth it.

  • Michelleawagner

    6.5 hours for True Religion jeans. I’m ok with that.

  • Deborah Connor

    I totally put things in terms of hours worked.  It’s especially easy, because I round down to $10/hour (have to make sure SOMETHING is going in to savings or bills). My mom taught me that trick a long time ago. My problem is that I’m ok with working X hours for this, and Y hours for that, but generally X + Y + whatever else = more hours than I can actually get at work…..

    • Valerie

      I’m in this boat too! It’s great perspective for lots of things, but on the other hand, I can catch myself saying “yeah..its a full day of work, but why work a full day if I can’t enjoy something for it??”

  • Alexandra Coxcuzzi

    14hrs for a $200 diane von furstenberg dress on sale. This is after putting 15% per paycheck into 401K but still …

  • Jill

    17 hours per year for my coffee habit.  I love coffee and, since it makes me more productive at work, I think I’ll keep it.

  • This advice is really good for women who have out-of-control shopping habits. Enforces some good decision-making. However, I’ve found that a lot of women actually don’t enjoy shopping – it’s stressful precisely because of the money involved.
    Instead of asking, “how much is this going to cost me in hours worked?” I would prefer my clients ask themselves how much mileage they’re going to get from the purchase. A $200 jacket might take 10 hours to work for, but they might be able to wear it over several years – making it a good investment.

    • I agree. When I first saw “your clothes have an hourly rate” I thought it was going to be how many hours of wear you got out of them. It’s more cost effective to work 20 hours to buy an item, but not have to buy it again for 10 years, than work 5 hours for an item I have to replace every year.

      • FinanceGirl

        I think it would be an interesting idea to combine the two concepts. I’m going to get x amount of wears out of this item, and it costs x number of hours to buy it. That’s x minutes worked for each wear.

  • Engchik.blogspot.com

    This is how I always shopped- started in college when I made around $5.50 an hour. But so was two beers on a Friday night. Were those two beers worth the 1 hour of working? Certainly not. Just one beer please! Now, I still compare items I want to what I make an hour. I make much, much more, and it’s very important to keep it all in prospective, as well as a cost per use.

  • Mara

    Oh great, something that will make me even more wary of spending money!  Haha. 

    • Mara

      Talk about depressing, I just put in my yearly mortgage payments…  749 hours a year! 

  • Melissa Coco

    I’ve been doing this for years! It’s been really helpful in keeping me from spending money on little things I don’t need and puts bigger purchases into perspective as well.

  • Melissa Coco

    I’ve been doing this for years! It’s been really helpful in keeping me from spending money on little things I don’t need and puts bigger purchases into perspective as well.

  • Val

    31 hours to pay for my cruise ticket. But I need a vacation so, WORTH IT!

  • Val

    31 hours to pay for my cruise ticket. But I need a vacation so, WORTH IT!

  • FinanceGirl

    This method doesn’t really work for me. I actually do it without realizing it sometimes though. For example, a couple days ago I wanted to make a purchase on Victoria’s Secret. I almost didn’t buy it, then I thought, “Oh, that’s only one night of working, and I’ll wear my new undies for a couple years.” So I made the purchase. Now I’m starting to rethink it. Most things I think about buying are worth it to me if I just strictly think about the number of hours worked, but then I have no money left to spend on the things I actually need. Having a budget works way better for me. Then, instead of buying a bunch of things that are all “worth it” to me, I have to compare the items and decide which is MOST worth it.

  • Karen

    You need to make this into a phone app!  It would be so much better to calculate it right there as I am staring at the item.  Another comment is that you should also have it show hours per month and how much you spend a month.  That would be more applicable to how we all think about our paychecks and bills.  Lastly, you should make a spreadsheet to figure out how many hours we work per year, and then you can add everything into it so you see after buying everything how many hours it took you.  If you buy too much, you will go past what you actually work and you will need a second job to keep that lifesytle up! 

  • myriss89

    How is 62 hours “almost a full week”? Was this written in Japan?

  • myriss89

    This doesn’t work if you have debt, because the money you earn has already been spent. Like, I have a ton of student debt. Just because I can earn $200 for designer jeans in 3 hours does not mean I can afford them.

    I personally won’t be able to afford that for another several years of frugal living, during which time I’ll wear the thrifted designer jeans I still feel guilty for having bought.

  • In the past, I used that test daily for
    smaller purchases, typically under $100. For larger purchases, I consider the
    opportunity cost of the one or two things I would most likely spend the money
    on if I did not spend it now.  I ask
    myself, “Is this item worth giving up X?”

    For example, I found a good apartment for
    $1,600 per month and a great apartment for $1,900 per month–$3,600 more yearly.  I asked myself, “Is the great apartment worth
    giving up 1 or 2 international trips? Or is it worth skipping dinners and other
    social events and eating cheaper quality food to make up the different? The
    answer to both was “No.” The great apartment was not worth the
    opportunity costs, thus I stuck with the good apartment. 

    This “opportunity costs test” helps me
    remember that I have a finite amount of dollars and motivates to spend them on
    what I value most!

  • Monique

    Joing this has really been a eye opener for me, and im in the process of making alot of changes thanks, LV