Over 50% of Americans would take a 20% pay cut for work-life balance. But can they retire?

How much is quality of life worth to you? It turns out, most people believe it’s 20% of your paycheck.

Of 16,086 adults worldwide surveyed between Aug. 11 and Sept. 1 by Ford Trends, 52% overall and 51% of Americans said they would accept a 20% pay cut to prioritize their quality of life.

“They are opting to step away from the constant hustle of career advancement and are willing to accept the potential sacrifices that come with prioritizing their own well-being,” the survey said.

While a better work-life balance may benefit your mental health, and may be necessary, taking a pay cut could negatively impact your financial health, advisers warn. It’s important to understand the financial consequences of doing so now and, especially, in retirement.


“That’s an alarming statistic that so many people are willing to do that,” said JB Beckett, founder of financial planning group Beckett Financial Group. “Over the long term, it’ll hurt your financial health.”

How did 20% fit into your budget?

Say you earn $60,000 a year. If you took a 20% pay cut, that’s a $1,000 per month pay cut. Over a year, that’s $12,000, and over 10 years, it’s $120,000.

To put that into perspective, see what that 20% could have paid for:

◾ Median U.S. rent for a one-bedroom apartment in December was $1,593, according to rental site

◾ The national median monthly mortgage payment in December was $2,055, the Mortgage Bankers Association said.

◾ The median price for an existing home last year was a record $389,800, the industry group National Association of Realtors said.

◾ The average American household spends more than $1,000 per month on groceries, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

◾ In 2024, Americans are expected to spend $2,407 on gasoline, down 2% from 2023, predicts gas app GasBuddy.

◾ An iPhone 15 costs between $1,000 and $1,500, and a monthly cellphone bill averaged $157 in a JD Power 2023 survey.

◾ A one-week, one-person vacation, on average, costs $1,986 in the United States, and that jumps to $3,971 for two people, according to travel budgeting site Budget Your Trip. A Forbes Advisor survey of 1,000 Americans showed Americans on average took 2.1 trips last year and 40% planned to travel more in 2024.

  • $250 is the median among Americans who save say they put aside each month, a 2023 Nerdwallet survey showed.

If you take a 20% pay cut, you may have to find a way to fill those holes or cut back in other ways.

This is one change that isn’t likely enough to fill many holes. But just as an example, "if you enjoy Starbucks lattes every day, you might have to say with a 20% pay cut, maybe I have to cut back on those, too,” Beckett said. Basically, "you’ll have to balance what are the most important things.”

What could 20% mean for your future?

"The bigger deal is the effect it has over the long haul,” Beckett said.

For example, if you save $60 per week for 40 years, you’ll have over $1 million with just an average 6% to 8% return, he said. “If I take a 20% cut, then I may not have $60 per week to save, and then what? Taking a pay cut means you may have to cut in other areas. Will people stop saving for retirement?”

Americans already don’t save enough for retirement. One-third of the 1,000 Americans ages 60 to 65 surveyed by Nationwide Retirement Institute in November said they’re considering returning to work. Half of them cited fear of running out of money or currently running out of money as their top reason for doing so. 

Last year, a Schwab survey showed Americans, on average, believed they needed $1.8 million to retire, but only 37% think they’ll achieve this target.

“People tell us we will live longer than our parents did,” said John Carter, president and chief operating officer at financial services giant Nationwide Financial. “If we’re going to live longer, we need more money.”

Calculate what you need: Tips on how to make a retirement calculator work for you

Taking a 20% pay cut doesn’t help with any of that, Carter noted. Instead, it can cause financial shortfalls that add to household stress.

A Forbes Advisor survey last year on divorce showed the biggest source of conflict was career choices. Finances ranked sixth.

“Financial stress is a real killer,” Carter said.

How's your work-life balance?
How's your work-life balance?

What’s a better approach? 

If you’re burned out, financial advisers say try these tactics first:

◾ Talk to your employer to find ways to restructure your duties so you’re not so stressed out.

Find another job that fits better with your lifestyle but doesn't require a pay cut, or at least a smaller one if it does.

Are there any times a pay cut may make sense?

Yes, if you get a financial benefit elsewhere to make it worthwhile.

For example, if someone has a job paying $100,000 but doesn't have great health insurance, their family could end up paying $10,000 out of pocket in health insurance costs each year. If that person switched to a job at a state university with better insurance and college-cost benefits, they could come out ahead – even if the job paid less, say, $80,000 a year. That worker could save $10,000 annually on health insurance expenses, not pay full college costs for their kids, and maybe get a pension at retirement.

“That can be significant in that case – a pay increase,” Beckett said. “Of course, your kids would have to agree to go to that school.”

Medora Lee is a money, markets and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.    

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Work-life balance in exchange for a 20% pay cut could hurt retirement