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The Work Hard, Play Hard Lifestyle Is For Chumps


Let’s talk about the work hard, play hard lifestyle that many people live by today. What do you think of when you hear the phrase work hard, play hard? I picture someone working 50-60 hours/week at the office, and then going out for drinks and adventure whenever he/she is off. The employers love this work hard, play hard culture because when you’re on the clock, you’ll be working hard for them. You can play hard on your own time.

Work Hard

I don’t have anything against working hard. It’s good to work hard, but you should work hard toward specific goals. If you are working hard for a corporation, you need to have further goals than just enriching the stock holder. Working hard to get promotions and financial security for your family is a good goal to have, but you have to examine the underlying motivation as well. Are you really working hard for financial freedom? Or are you working hard so you can play hard AKA lifestyle inflation?

Play Hard

I guess my real problem is with the play hard side of the equation. Play hard is code word for spending more money to many people. It’s not just play, but Play Hard. It sounds almost like a movie title. It even has a sequel: Play Harder.

Play Hard to me means partying hard – for example, drinking Grey Goose, eating toro maki roll at Masa ($450 per person), snorkeling in Maldives, or gambling at Monaco. Play Hard isn’t limit to activities because nowadays, it means living large. That’s why some people buy the 4,000 square foot McMansion, the $60,000 Cadillac, and a jet ski. After all, if you are working so hard, you deserve these things, right?

The tag line implies that you need to play hard to release some pressure after working hard. Is this true? Working hard can create a lot of stress, but aren’t resting and relaxing better remedies for stress? Playing hard and spending a lot of money will only exacerbate the cycle. You work hard to earn more money so you can spend it. Once you get used to spending all that money, you need to keep working harder to buy even bigger and better things.

Work less, live more

Work hard shouldn’t be coupled with play hard. If you are working hard, you should know what you are working hard for. Don’t fall for the work hard, play hard motto that corporate sells. Instead, work hard so you can achieve financial security. This means get rid of debt and build your net worth. If you are at it long enough, you can shoot for financial independence. Invest in income generating assets instead of playing hard and in time, your investment will be able to pay for your living expenses. That’s why I worked hard for many years – so I can work less and live more today.

Are you living the work hard, play hard lifestyle? If you are, do you have any rebuttals? I know play hard doesn’t have to mean spending a lot of money, but many people do this.

P.S. I found that Work Hard, Play Hard is apparently a hit song when I was researching this article. Check it out, it’s not bad. You’d want a headphone though because it’s full of expletives.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 38 comments… add one }
  • William @ Drop Dead Money September 24, 2012, 4:42 am

    If you work hard & play hard, you better like the first part, because you’ll be doing it till you drop dead. Because you’ll have nothing to retire on (and we all know where Social Security is headed).

    I’m much more into work hard, retire hard! 🙂

    It all depends on what you like and value. I’m not above the occasional steak dinner or two, or a nice trip every now and then. But those only come after the “retire hard” requirement is met.

    My father in law was a wine farmer and when he retired, he moved to a fishing village where he and an old friend bought a fishing boat. Every morning they would pick up a crew at the harbor and venture out. When they came back, they had a rule: pay the boat first. Everyone, the two principals included, had to give 25% of their catch to the boat. That’s what they sold at the harbor to locals, and the money this brought paid for fuel, maintenance, licensing, and so forth. That taught me a valuable lesson: pay the boat (the source of your retirement income) first. If, after that, you’re inclined to play hard, knock yourself out…

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 9:18 am

      I like the pay the boat first philosophy. 🙂 I’ll try to live by that motto too.

  • 20's Finances September 24, 2012, 4:50 am

    Definitely agree! More people would not struggle with retirement if they had similar values of saving as you do. I think some people play hard because they hate what they do for their. It’s one of the ways they accept the reality that they put themselves in by taking a job and/or debt that they regret later.

  • Nearing the beginning September 24, 2012, 5:51 am

    Do you ever think about how the spending conscious lifestyle impacts the country? If we were all keeping our cars longer and not buying the newest IPhone. The society we have come to know would most certainly dry up. GM wouldn’t keep pumping out cars if no one was buying them. No cars means no jobs for the workers that build them. No job means no money for the workers. The point is…without those mindless spenders that have to have the newest, fastest, coolest things, without those people “Playing Hard”, the world would be a terrible place to live. I’m glad I chose a different path, I hope the rest of the population has fun and Plays Hard.

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 9:20 am

      I agree with you about the consumption society. I’d rather have most of the population spending hard. It seems a bit selfish, but they don’t have to do that if they don’t want to.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor September 24, 2012, 7:14 am

    I think you got it right Joe. Work Hard/Play Hard usually means Work Hard/Spend Hard. It’s a prescription for ending up with both ill health and little savings. Better to Work Hard/SAVE Hard!

  • Budget and the Beach September 24, 2012, 7:58 am

    lol, I never took it quite that literal. To me it doesn’t mean the extreme you are talking about. Working hard encompasses more than just working for a company. It means giving it your best to make a living (I also like the phrase work smarter, not harder). The play hard makes me thinking of doing fun, adventurous things. To never giving up “playing” in your life, which doesn’t mean expenses dinners and hard drinking. I think the phrase is all in how you interpret it. No right or wrong there. 🙂

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 9:22 am

      Heh heh. Yeah, I know it doesn’t have to be extreme. Play hard can also mean sports and other free recreational activities. I wrote the post that way to get some reactions. 🙂

  • SavvyFinancialLatina September 24, 2012, 8:02 am

    I definitely see a lot of people work hard and play hard. Not really my motto. I like to work hard and play 🙂 but I don’t have the energy to play hard like a rock star.

    Should we feel bad for those people that have little retirement savings because they played hard when they were young? Would you?

  • Financial Samurai September 24, 2012, 9:13 am

    I can’t play hard any more in my advanced age.

    But, I still work hard during the 4 hours a day!

    What made you decide to call those who play hard, work hard, “chumps”? A departure from your norm!

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 9:23 am

      I wanted to try something different and get a reaction. I learned this from Len Penzo’s write a better headline session. 🙂

  • Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter September 24, 2012, 10:18 am

    We work hard, play hard, and save. 😉 Granted, our McMansion probably has made 2012 our Year of Splurge, but we generally are savers. Playing hard is cheaper when you are fine with doing it over board games and $4 Moscato at home, hahaha.

    • Steve September 24, 2012, 1:53 pm

      Years (or decades) of careful spending can be destroyed with a single splurge on a house or car.

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 3:39 pm

      Your McMansion is in Texas. That’s different. 🙂
      Still, how come you are going for the McMansion instead of a regular house?

  • [email protected]&More September 24, 2012, 12:05 pm

    I definitely use to work in a couple of workplaces that had this culture and didn’t understand why people wasted so much money. Now I work smart in a more laid back setting and still don’t spend crazy money and it seems to be a better balance for me.

  • Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog September 24, 2012, 12:47 pm

    You’ve got a good point here joe, but what would you say to the person that says the need to blow off steam after work, and that requires spending lots of money?

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 3:40 pm

      There are a lot of ways to blow off steam. I think physical activities like going to the gym, running, tennis, and other sports are much better ways to release stress than spending money. Mental relaxation like yoga and meditation work well too.

  • nicoleandmaggie September 24, 2012, 1:04 pm

    I tell my 5 year old to work hard, play hard at school every day. That way he is less squiggly at night when he gets home.

    • retirebyforty September 24, 2012, 3:41 pm

      Yeah, I think kids are different and really need to expend most of their energy.

  • krantcents September 24, 2012, 2:17 pm

    I would like to think I work smart! Working toward goals is working smart. In school, I am pretty intense and try to jam in as much as possible. I do not want to do “homework”. Playing hard means you enjoy your off time. I love snow skiing because I push everything out of my head when I ski.

  • Don September 24, 2012, 9:14 pm

    Sounds like you found a smarter alternative than the strategy that the corporations and media like to paint… Nice find!

  • Mike September 25, 2012, 5:31 am

    I think it’s important to realize what those goals are then try to develop a financial strategy based of that. Some seem to like the keeping up with the Joneses and others seem to be content with smaller things.

    • retirebyforty September 25, 2012, 4:50 pm

      Keeping up with the Jones doesn’t seem like a worth while goal to me. 🙂

  • Darwin's Money September 25, 2012, 1:40 pm

    How about work hard, play medium LOL? We do take our share of family vacations and enjoy ourselves, but I’m constantly pushing myself to be on top at work with various gigs on the side for additional income and security in the event of job loss. For now, most of it’s going into college accounts and retirement accounts to provide for some more playing later in life! But I don’t see myself taking my foot off the pedal now.

  • Roshawn @ Watson Inc September 25, 2012, 5:40 pm

    I definitely agree that financial security is a significantly better goal than playing hard. I don’t have a problem particularly with playing hard as long as you can still hit your goals. Not everyone can manage that, in which case, I think I am totally with you: why would you sacrifice your future so that you can “play hard.” I could go on, but it is clear to me that we definitely agree on most of the important points 🙂

    • retirebyforty September 26, 2012, 12:25 pm

      Playing hard gets more and more difficult as you age. 🙂

  • Pat September 28, 2012, 4:23 pm

    I never got the “play hard” mantra. You don’t need to play hard to network or enjoy life. Yes there’s adrenaline junkies out there (think base jumpers) but the vast majority of people aren’t cut out for that nor should they try. For example, a good friend of mine has networked with more people in high levels of management by joining the home brewing beer and wine club than he ever did doing extreme camping. Another friend got involved in politics by tutoring a politicians’ kid and that helped with his business application.

    To me, playing hard is equivalent to high risk / no reward, unless you’re said adrenaline junkie.

  • Matt September 30, 2012, 1:56 pm

    I was raised in a work hard/play hard family. Commercial fishing was our business and like farming, it is boom or bust. Being in a large self employed family with that type of income probably geared our life style towards work/play hard.

    That being said, there are very interesting differences in how my family members, including myself who has strayed away from the industry have created retirement opportunities. Some have put less effort in to investing and have a little to rely on, and some have $$M’s to retire on.

    The most obvious difference I see is those willing to invest some of that boom year $$ in to property, stocks, and other business ventures are those with the $M’s in the bank. I use that knowledge and tend to be ahead of the curve while just turning 30. I live in a house far too large and updated than necessary, but took it on as an investment. I drive a Porsche, but bought a used one at less than I picked up a Chevy for a few years back. Invest where you can, and spend wisely when you do splurge. I enjoy working and plan on having a good time on my way to retirement, even if it means it takes me until I am 75. All that means is that I had a good first 75 years, which is more than most get out of life.

    • retirebyforty October 1, 2012, 11:27 pm

      That’s really interesting. It’s great to hear that you were able to diversify your investment.
      So you think having a good time means splurging? Can you have a good time without spending a lot of money?
      Have you thought about living in a duplex? That way, you can rent out one unit. I wish I’d done that when I was younger.

  • Wayne @ Young Family Finance September 30, 2012, 7:08 pm

    I think I preferred the phrase “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Knowledge that work is going to have to happen, but that play has to happen as well in order to stay sharp and excited about life. Since when did binge drinking become synonymous with relaxation and time off? That is what I would like to know.

  • Jim Yih October 1, 2012, 2:31 pm

    Thanks for posting Joe! What a great discussion. I love it so much I wrote a post figuring that my response would be too long here

    • retirebyforty October 1, 2012, 11:28 pm

      Thanks for stopping by Jim. I’ll head over to read your response. 🙂

  • Mateo November 21, 2012, 11:02 pm

    Work hard play hard is a great quote or moto. I’ve worked my ass off my whole life and I balance it out with playing hard. It’s not for everyone but its for me. Take it for what it’s worth.

  • Suzie December 10, 2012, 10:18 am

    I’m not sure about other people, but working hard AND playing hard sounds awfully exhausting. This lifestyle might be accompanied by high medical costs? I think the mentality is hyped by movies and advertisements, and it’s just another way of saying you can “have it all” when you really can’t.

  • John February 16, 2015, 1:04 am

    I am a 21 year old college student and the other day I was visiting with a friend who recently moved to San Francisco to work for an insurance company from an esteemed east coast university. He visited during the week was free during the evenings and he was very inclined to move forward with the work hard play hard mantra after a long day at work, at dinner he confessed that his idea of a good time was drinking and going out and he told me stories of how during the last corporate retreat to Las Vegas he tried Cocaine and Ecstasy for the first time and I was shocked and just a tad dissapointed as I had always imagined him as a clean cut and upstanding fellow. Now I dont mind drinking once in a while and having fun after work hours but this idea of work hard play hard sounds insane , I would rather go out get some coffee and chill out with friends and in the week he visited I spent more hosting him than I had in my going out spending in the last three months ( its not that I don’t go out but I spend wisely.) I want to create my own company now rather than work at a work hard play hard firm because that just disillusioned me beyond what I can say.

  • James Kenisky September 22, 2017, 5:56 am

    It does not matter which one you choose. I hear all of this save so you can retire early. What a sick joke. Ok, go ahead and save all that money so you can retire at 50 when half of your body does not work and you sacrificed your youth so you can play hard now when you are old. Really! Plus when you get older you are not promised an easy retirement. You could have insurmountable health issues.

  • James Kenisky September 22, 2017, 6:00 am

    Plus you lose money to inflation every year. A dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow under this current system. Also, the current economic system is not a promise that it will be there tomorrow. We take that institution for granted like wifi. Most people are not educated investors. It’s all a farce!

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