What is Busy Tax?
I mentioned “Busy Tax” on my Instagram page a few months back and the response was overwhelming. As it turns out, we are all familiar with it, guilty of paying it, and want to cut down on it!
So what exactly is Busy Tax?
Busy Tax is the premium you pay for having a busy lifestyle. The busier we are, the more Busy Tax we pay, and the more we need to keep working as a result. So in theory, Busy Tax causes a vicious cycle of paying it because you’re busy, which eventually means you may have to work more, and become busier, to keep funding it.
About five years ago, my husband and I were working full time. In fact, my husband’s job averaged 60 hours per work. We were busy, so we paid a lot of Busy Tax. Within a year or two, we were picking up overtime just to afford to keep up with the financial demands of our lifestyles. As a result, we were working even more, and getting into debt at the same time.
At this time, we believed that increasing our income was the answer to our problems. We truly believed that earning an extra £10,000 per year would make us debt free.
But looking back, I think if someone handed us an extra £10,000, we wouldn’t have cleared our debts. We would have booked a holiday, or bought a car. If we had £20,000, we would have used it for a deposit for a bigger house. So in reality, having more money would just mean having more expenses to pay. And I bet we’d be paying Busy Tax on that holiday, that car or that house.
So how exactly do we pay Busy Tax?
If Busy Tax is a premium we pay for being too busy, what is it in a real life context? Are you guilty of paying for these?
The Best Meal is the One You Didn’t Have to Cook Yourself… Until You Get the Bill
Food is hands down, the expense where most of us are overspending. Thank you for listening to My Ted Talk.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t overspent on food at some point in their life.
So you know the drill here. You’re busy, and exhausted all the time. The last thing you want to do in the evenings in cook a meal and endure the clean up. So you order pizza, or pierce the lid of a ready meal, and relax. We all do it.
But the premium you pay for someone else to prepare your meals is huge. We all know that it’s expensive, and we accept it. In fact, we are so conditioned to accept paying a premium for takeaways that most of us think nothing of shelling out £25 on a takeaway, but consider spending three times this on a week’s worth of food in the supermarket to be too expensive.
This is something my household is all too familiar with. We usually jump on a Domino’s deal (sorry Domino’s, I do love you, but it’s time we ended things). It seems like a bargain paying £23.99 for two pizzas. But walking out of the supermarket with a basket of food that will feed us for two days (and six meals) for £23.99 makes me feel a bit ripped off.
“…We are so conditioned to accept paying a premium for takeaways that most of us think nothing of shelling out £25 on a takeaway, but consider spending three times this on a week’s worth of food in the supermarket to be too expensive.”
Recently, we invested in some pizza pans and started making pizza at home. Making two pizzas costs about £5, and takes around one hour from fridge to table. Busy Tax saved: £18.99.
The same can be said for convenience foods. Our generation is one of the first to be raised on ready meals lovingly zapped in the microwave from exhausted working parents. And because we are even busier, we’ve carried on the tradition.
But the problem is that we pay a huge premium for the convenience of preparing dinner by taking it out of the freezer and heating it up. Say the average ready meal costs £3 per portion, and to make the equivalent from fresh costs £1. That means every time you have dinner, you have to pay £2 extra. That’s over £700 per year. Not to mention the cost to your health, and the environment.
I’m not judging anyone’s choice to eat preprepared food rather than fresh; the decision to do so is very much up to the individual. Instead, I find it frustrating that our generation are busier than our parents, without enjoying the benefits they did. In general, our parents could expect a better quality of life in return for their work. For our generation, we work more and pay a premium on anything and everything that alleviates the demands of the lifestyle that we are seemingly conditioned to. And that starts with our basic needs, like food.
Home is Where the Heart Is, and Also Where All Your Money is Going
When it comes to buying your first house, it’s all fun and games. Until a few days after you get the keys and it hits you. You’ve just signed over the best part of your working life to fund the repayments. It’s a scary thought, and one that caused me a lot of anxiety.
When we first bought our home, we believed we would do a lot of the work ourselves. But six months in, we’d hired painters and decorators. Gardeners and handy men. A year later, we also had a cleaner.
“It’s ironic that our generation works so much to pay for homes they spend less and less time in because they are too busy working.”
We were both working full time, and felt overwhelmed by the many demands of running a home. Like many people, we outsourced what we could. It did occur to me that I was out working to pay for things that I could do myself if I wasn’t out working. But that’s the thing with Busy Tax: you get frustrated by it, and pay it anyway because you’re too busy to figure out a better option.
Our homes are our castles; a little extension of ourselves. We want to do our best with them. But for so many of us, who are already overstretched, the financial demands are crippling. It’s ironic that our generation works so much to pay for homes they spend less and less time in because they are too busy working.
When You Work Too Much Just To Fund Self-Care, You’re Doing It Wrong
Recently, “Burn Out” has become a recognised condition, and it’s about time. With many of us working and wired 24/7, burn out is an inevitability. The majority of burn out is caused by working too much.
So what do we do when we are burnt out? We book a holiday, a spa break or a get-away. To combat the demands of working life, we purchase a break where we can let our hair down. Preferably somewhere where said hair can be wrapped in a coconut conditioning treatment. While we sip a cocktail. Just sayin’.
But if you think about it: we create a lifestyle that we need to take constant breaks from. Working in this way means our bodies are crying out for rest, which means we need to keep doing the very thing causing our burn out to cure our burn out.
Six months before starting to pay off our debt, we took a break to Marbella. At the time, I was feeling burnt out from doing a lot of overtime. To fund the break, I needed to do more overtime. I spent most of the holiday in the hotel room, asleep or resting. The rest of the holiday came at a premium, with expensive treatments and drinking. We returned home with £500 debt from that holiday, which I paid for by doing what? Yep; more overtime.
And just like self-care, we pay a premium for beauty and hair treatments, many of these we could do at home with a YouTube tutorial and a bit of practice. But then again, that requires a time investment that many of us just don’t have.
There Are So Many Ways to Overpay
Above are just some of the main areas where we pay Busy Tax. Having reduced our expenses over the past two years by £1,000, I’ve become adept to noticing the premiums we pay.
Our household now runs on a lot less than it did, which means we implemented a lot of changes. For example, we cut our energy payments. Here’s a helpful post from My Love of Home that will help you to save energy, too.
We cook most meals from scratch. Our dog is groomed at home. We don’t outsource what we can do ourselves.
People chat with me a lot about finances, and what is apparent, time and time again, is how debt becomes a form of Busy Tax. To begin, we get into debt because our income can’t keep up with our expenses. Whether that means we overspend by £10 per week until we rack up a lump sum on credit card, or we make a one-off expensive purchase; both are Busy Tax. We are paying a premium by not figuring out what we can afford, living consistently within our means and saving for larger purchases.
By the time we rack up debt, we pay another Busy Tax, in the form of interest. If we don’t get our finances in order and allow our debts to mount without finding the best deals, interest can be a killer.
But that’s true of anything we don’t shop around for the best deals on. When we buy something without doing our research, we pay a Busy Tax on our purchases. For example, if I had’ve taken my car insurance renewal quote with my previous provider, I would’ve paid over £500. By shopping around to compare prices on comparison websites, and then getting £35 cashback with Topcashback, it came to £295.
“We are paying a premium by not figuring out what we can afford, living consistently within our means and saving for larger purchases.”
Someone who is really good at finding good deals is @ThriftyClair. Clair has a real knack for finding a lower price on things she’s buying anyway, and does an amazing job of sharing how she does this with her followers. Read her blog post here all about how she saves money by taking time to shop around.
So Are You Paying Too Much Busy Tax?
If you pay too much Busy Tax, you’ll know- trust me! The classic sign in that you’re finding it hard to make ends meet, despite bringing in an income that you should manage on. You might be focused on making money, and less so on spending it wisely. Which is easily fixed by putting together a budget, and starting to focus on cutting down on spending.
If you’re in debt, it can be a sign that you’re paying Busy Tax because your lifestyle costs beyond your means. You might be finding that life’s expenses are racing towards you and you need your credit card to keep up. That’s when you know you need to stop, breathe, re-assess what you’re buying, and get into some new habits.
For me pre-debt free journey, it was both; I was finding it hard to make ends meet, and sinking further into debt each month. What this meant was that my monthly debt and interest payments were rising, and in turn, eating away at my income. I needed to work more hours to fund it, which meant I was unknowingly paying more Busy Tax on my lifestyle as I struggled to balance work and life.
If this is you, it’s time to break the cycle.
How Can You Cut Your Busy Tax?
Basically, you need to swap Busy Tax for your time. Time is money, after all.
I know we are all incredibly busy, but at the same time, most of us waste a lot of time on social media, and watching Netflix. Seeing this image from @thecaribbeandub was a powerful reminder that we have a choice when it comes to how we spend our resources.
To cut down on Busy Tax, you need to cut down on those time suck activities. For example, I have a reminder on my Instagram account that lets me know when my time is up for today (you can access yours under the ‘Your Activity’ section in your account). Once it’s done, it’s done. Why not set reminders over your social media accounts to cut down your usage? If you can cut down on one hour from last week, that’s enough time to whip up this week’s batch prep.
Organisation is key when it comes to cutting your spending. When it comes to grocery shopping, you’ll pay a ton of Busy Tax by showing up at the supermarket with no plan. Plan out what you need and everything becomes much cheaper.
To illustrate, my food shop unfolds with military precision:
- I meal plan, taking into account the items we already have at home and what we can make with them
- My shopping is done via Click and Collect, which means we can control our spending, compare items and plan around special offers. The supermarket I use the most is Asda, and they have a facility online to create lists, which can be added straight to your basket. 75% of our shopping is the same week in, week out, so I add the list of ‘core items’ to my online basket, and then just add the variable items.
- I check Shopmium and Checkout Smart to take advantage of offers
- With my shopping down, I prep fruit, salads, lunches for the week and bulk prep dinners to freeze for later.
“If Busy Tax means swapping money for time, then swapping time for money should have the opposite effect.”
My routine seems time consuming, and in the beginning, it definitely is. But with my core grocery list, my food shop can be done in 40 minutes including pick up, instead of an hour and a half in-store. With the time I get back, I can do my food prep.
This advice can be applied to almost any area in which you pay Busy Tax. Buy items with what you already have in mind, utilise sales and special offers, and take advantage of cashback and promotions.
As for household expenses, clothing, beauty and grooming, you’d be amazed at what up-skilling yourself will do to your budget. Watch tutorials, read a book, even take a course. I used to spend £360 per year on gel nails, when there is an online nail course on Groupon for £19, and a gel nail kits cost less than £20 on eBay. Put in some time, and you’ll save a lot of money.
If Busy Tax means swapping money for time, then swapping time for money should have the opposite effect. When I cut my working hours in half after paying off my debt, my discretionary income stayed the same. Instead of wasting money on a lot of services and extras I didn’t need, I batch cooked, and planned, and became savvier.
Of course, this only works if you have time. What if you are paying Busy Tax simply because life is so hectic that you have no other choice?
“Even though debt, and spending beyond our means, is viewed as normal, we shouldn’t accept it as our fate.”
My advice would be to simply skip the odd expense, and you’ll see a decrease in Busy Tax. You don’t have to completely transform your eating habits from convenience to cooked-from-scratch. Just swap one takeaway per month for a frozen pizza, and a few ready meals for pasta and pesto. As for all other areas of life, it’s OK if you don’t upgrade your phone as soon as an upgrade is available. You can drive your old car until it’s done. Buy one item, not two. Let the car get dirty. It’ll be fine!
So if you read this and identify with the concept of Busy Tax, you aren’t alone. We should refuse to pay a premium for the privilege of being able to function in our busy lives. Even though debt, and spending beyond our means, is viewed as normal, we shouldn’t accept it as our fate.
To combat Busy Tax, we should approach purchasing by asking, ‘Am I paying a fair price for what I’m getting?’. We should prepare to up-skill ourselves, and become resilient against the demands of modern life. And of course, learn to thrive with less.