Job Expenses Adding Up?

Jobs have a lot of hidden and “optional” costs that can really add up. Every workplace has its own culture for on-the-job spending.

I’ve worked in places that took up a collection every time there was a celebration or a leaving. Some charged  a calculated price for every cup of coffee.

I’ve worked in places that had a “social fund” used to buy birthday, baby, wedding, get well and retirement cards and gifts. You’d contribute a set amount monthly and someone would organize and buy. I’ve worked in jobs that had a coffee fund, where everyone chipped in enough to cover the group coffee supplies. Both of these plans were meant to spread out the costs evenly.

Sometimes you are hit up daily with every employee’s kids’ fundraisers, and sometimes your co-workers do home sales and have their catalogues in the staff room, or they invite the whole crew to their house for a sales party.

My current workplace has 4 social events in December, and an optional gift exchange. But the staff teams rarely go out after hours throughout the year. I’ve never worked at a job where staff went out to Happy Hour at 5 pm, but maybe that’s because I’m a librarian! Related to that, since I’ve always worked in a non-profit environment, there is no jolly employer handing out bonuses or picking up the tab for work functions.

These schemes never please everyone! There’s always a staff member who falls behind on the social fund or the coffee fund, or never has cash on hand for a collection, or doesn’t have correct change, or is waiting for pay day. Sometimes there is social pressure to agree to a “fund,” even though some staff begrudge their contributions – such as the one who only has an occasional cup of coffee, but pays a full share. And, what if a collection is taken for a retirement gift, but the proceeds are skimpy? Should staff try to figure out the norm and pay equally, or just let it be a freewill offering based on how well they know the recipient?

One place I worked installed coin-op coffee makers and vending machines to reduce conflict around shared expenses and clean-up!

The most difficult work expense situation I ever faced was early in my career. I was granted time off and expenses to attend a conference in another city. I was told to collect receipts, submit them for reimbursement when I returned, and I would get a cheque within the month, before my next credit card bill was due. However, my employer had no commitment to doing this in a timely fashion, and I was out-of-pocket for two billing cycles – to the point where I had a hard time making rent and buying groceries! Sadly, this held me back from signing up for future professional development opportunities.

Every job outside the home has direct costs such as transportation, childcare, and a professional wardrobe; and indirect costs such as commuting time, or shift work that impacts family routines. Usually these are kept in mind when accepting the job in the first place.

I feel very fortunate because my current workplace has free parking. Our staff room has a fridge, microwave, electric kettle and toaster, so it’s easy to eat in. And, we are all a frugal bunch, without any rivalry over cars and TVs and vacation destinations! If anything, there is a friendly rivalry over how little we paid for something at Value Village or Winners 🙂

Because the big expenses are manageable, I don’t sweat the small stuff, but I understand those who truly have to pinch pennies to get by.

However, what really irritates me are the staff who leave dirty dishes in the staff room sink,  or who leave a crumbled cookie on the counter for a week rather than taking the last one and having to wash the plate! Grr!


  1. been there done that and have the t-shirt. What’s worse is when you’re the only woman working with males, as they think that as you’re the woman, you should be the one to clean up after them!!!


  2. Sonia

    I’m also a librarian and while the coffee & water fund can be difficult to keep on top of (I’m one of the ones that needs a constant reminder! but I do make my payments); the truly difficult costs to manage are the travelling ones. I need to travel an average of 2-3 times a year, with one of those trips often being an international one, and while I do get reimbursed fairly quickly, it’s the costs acrued while on the trip that aren’t covered that really get to me…rarely are my per diems high enough to cover the true cost of meals at my destinations and things like meals on travel days (rarely covered due to how my employer calculates per diem days) can really add up when there are limited options outside of convention centers & hotels

    • I can relate to this. My feelings change depending on whether I’m funded to travel for conferences (because professional development has personal benefits) or for WORK. Trips also take their toll on personal time because of the travel days and long hours. I usually enjoy work travel, but there are a lot of financial and time costs to factor in!

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