Overtime is to EMS, like country music is to Texas. It’s really hard to talk about one without mentioning the other. They go hand in hand. For most of us, it’s not just a perk, but a necessity. Making ends meet can be difficult, especially when your drowning in debt. But when is enough, enough?
If your regular hours don’t produce enough income to cover all of your expenses, then you have to either reduce your expenses or increase the hours. If you’ve been reading my #MoneySmartMedics series for any length of time, then you probably know that I’m a huge advocate of reducing your monthly expenses as low as you reasonably can. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you either can’t, or already have.
Is Overtime Worth It?
OK, so overtime is great, right? It’s paid at a higher rate, it’s usually plentiful in our field and it doesn’t require us finding another job that could conflict with our current schedule. On paper it seems perfect, but in reality it could be killing our careers. Too much overtime can cause you to hate your job and resent your employer. It’s just not healthy. We need balance in our lives in order to maintain our sanity.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you not to work extra hours, because I know that’s not always possible. But what I will say is that you need to seriously evaluate your situation and determine exactly what you need. If you’re just blindly picking up as many hours as you can with no written plan as far as how to use that extra money, then you’re going to burn out quick.
If you’re living on a written budget, then you should have a really good idea of exactly what is going out every month. Ideally, this amount will be less than your monthly income WITHOUT overtime. But if it’s more, then you need to know exactly how many extra hours you need to work to make up the difference.
If you’re only having to pull 1-2 extra shifts a month, then you’re probably fine just working the extra hours at your full-time job. But if it’s getting to be much more than that, then you really need to consider other options.
When is it Time to Get the Second Job?
I know I’m bound to get arguments on this, but hear me out. Like I said, on paper, overtime just makes sense. Realistically, however, it can suck. To me, the burnout outweighs the benefits of the premium pay rates.
If you’re getting to a point where you’re starting to feel resentment or just flat out getting tired of your job, then it’s time to get a second job. Yes, chances are, you won’t be making the same amount of money as you are working at overtimes rates, but your quality of life can significantly improve by making the change.
For example, I recently decided to take a part-time job doing fire dispatch. Until now, my options were either standbys, or extra 24-hour shifts. Either way, the availability of those was far from consistent and it usually requires me to be flexible last-minute. I was constantly finding myself having to give up plans to meet my income requirements. Now I can not only schedule my extra shifts over a month in advance, but I can do it in 8-hour shifts instead of being gone an entire extra day.
So about the money….
You’re probably thinking the same thing I was: “I would rather work 1 24-hour shift than 3 8-hour shifts”. Here’s the thing: I work a 24-on, 48-off schedule, so an extra 24 means I’m working a 48 hour shift. I would typically pick up one of those each pay period, which might not sound like a big deal, but after getting only 1 day at home over a 4-day stretch, it gets old quick. When I started dispatching, I figured I could work at least 2 8-hour shifts every pay period and come reasonably close to what I was bringing home with my extra 24. Yes, it’s less money, but I’m doing something different and I know I get to sleep in my own home on all of my off-duty days. Trust me on this, it makes a difference.
Try Being Creative With Your Second Job
Getting a second job can actually be really exciting if you play your cards right. For me, learning to do fire dispatch has been an awesome and challenging experience. I actually look forward to it. I didn’t look forward to overtime.
Just because you work as a paramedic full-time, doesn’t mean that you have to do that all the time. Try doing something new. Developing a new skill set can be both exciting and beneficial. Even better, get creative on ways that you can use your training and knowledge as a paramedic to start a business. I’ve seen paramedics start side businesses doing everything from providing CE classes to blogging and even being a personal tutor for EMT and paramedic students. One of my friends took the time to learn programming and he now creates iPhone and Android apps for EMS professionals. Trust me, the possibilities are endless.
Look at the Big Picture
At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for you and your situation. Having said that, you need to make sure you actually doing that. Personal finance is so much more than just a math equation. Make sure you take everything into consideration when making a financial plan. Look at things like the amount of time it’s going to take to pay off debt, how much family time you will be missing out on, and whether or not you’re running a risk of burnout.
If you take nothing else away from this article, just remember this: Always be intentional with your time and your money. Give every dollar and every hour a job. If you’re working extra, know why you’re doing it and exactly how much you NEED to do. Most importantly, just have a goal and a plan. It will be the difference between success and failure.