Early Retirement Journey

Reflections on 3 Years of Payroll Data

So while digging around to get my tax information together for this year, I stumbled upon a payroll feature that shows all our payroll data. Since I started tracking my income, expenses, and savings this year, I can’t help but notice trends. Some of the numbers were surprising, so I spent a little more time with the data and made some notes. I was also intrigued by how I managed to gross less this year (2018) even though my hourly rate increased and I felt the most overworked. Read on, you financial voyeurs…

The Data

*rounded to nearest $100 2016 2017 2018
Gross Salary $93,000 $98,200 $96,900
Federal Tax Withholding $14,700 $14,800 $11,000
401k $6,000 $10,500 $16,000
401k Roth $2,800 $450 $2,500
Annual Bonus $800 $3,700 $2,400
Paid Time Off used (hrs) 63 149 201
Hours worked 2000 1925 1806
Overtime worked 53 74 56
(Side Hustle –   $2,000)


First look. I really started this to compare my Federal Tax Withholding because it was a difference I was expecting; I just didn’t know by how much. I was expecting a difference in Federal Tax Withholding because I maxed out my 401k for the first time this year with the bulk of the contributions pre-tax. Looking at the three years of data, in 2018 when I maxed out my 401k ($18,500), mostly pre-tax, I kept $3,800 more of my gross salary and away from the Tax Man vs 2017 (my highest tax bill year).

First look – gross salary. I grossed the most from my 9-to-5 job in 2017 ($98,200) which is surprising because I made more hourly in 2018 ($44/hr). The difference between my highest and lowest gross salary is $5,200 but my hourly rate only increased by $1/hr over the same time period.  While 2017 wasn’t the year I earned the highest hourly rate (2018) or worked the most hours (2016), it was the year I received the highest bonus ($3,700).

First look – effect of 401k contributions on taxes. Also, given a $5k increase in gross salary between 2016 ($93,300) and 2017 ($98,200), I only paid $100 more in taxes ($14,700 vs $14,800). Why is that? This is likely due to an increase of $4,500 in TRADITIONAL 401k contributions in 2017.

Federal Tax Withholding

My highest federal tax withholding year was 2017 at $14,800. My lowest was $11,000 in 2018. My 2017 federal tax withholding was only $100 more than 2016 even though I made $5k more! How is that possible? Check out the difference in my traditional 401k contributions.

401k Contributions

I got hip to FIRE late 2017, early 2018. That was reflected in my decision to max out my 401k in 2018 and do so with majority in pre-tax contributions. I contributed $10,000 more in my traditional 401k in 2018 ($16k) vs 2016 ($6k) and increased my contributions overall each year. Thus my tax bill was lower in 2018 vs 2016 even though my gross salary was higher in 2018 vs 2016. That’s pretty good for a single girl with no real financial direction. 

Annual Bonus

My biggest bonus was in 2017. I filled in where the need was greatest and changed teams three times within my first year and a half. That seems to be reflected in my bonus that year. My bonus quadrupled from 2016 ($800) to 2017 ($3,700). It seems in 2018 they were less impressed with my contributions at work. I grossed less overall in 2018 than 2017, but I also appear to have worked about 120 hours less in 2018 vs 2017 (1806h vs 1925h). That’s three entire weeks less. What was I doing? Also, it’s amazing how that bonus can really bump up your salary. It’s like free money. Side note, dang how close am I to grossing six figures?!!

Hours Worked and Paid Time Off (PTO)

I worked the most hours in 2016 (2000h). It was my first full year; I guess I was an eager beaver. I also grossed the least that year. Go figure! I also took the least number of days off – likely because I hadn’t earned many vacation days. It was also so nice to finally be making some real money! Who could’ve anticipated all the feels of 2018. And apparently I took about five weeks of paid time off – it certainly didn’t feel that way! I only remember one solid week off for actual vacation (staycation). I think the bulk of that was illness, doctor’s appointments, Aunty MERJ and general malaise. I am kicking myself that I had FIVE weeks of unrealized vacation potential!


Looking at all these numbers 2018 was such a strange year. I seemed to have peaked in 2017 as I grossed the most compared to the other two years. I also worked more hours overtime that year and took about 3.7 weeks of paid time off. 

Strangely, even with my 2018 side hustle income of about $2,000 bringing my 2018 total earnings to right around $98,900, that’s an increase of only about $700 from my gross salary in 2017 with just one job. That tells me I really ought to focus on optimizing my earnings at my full time job. I got sick a lot in 2018 and the side hustle did not help. Of note, 2018 is also when we employees started doing our own time sheets. Human error is a real possibility. I have to be better about making sure to log my hours properly as it’s manual entry. Yes, we regressed.

I have to be better about making sure time sheet corrections are done properly. And I really want to try to get more hours of overtime by volunteering for extra responsibilities. I hope to accrue at least 2 hours of overtime a week this year (2019).  That’s really only an extra 15 minutes before my shift and 15 minutes after my shift. Do that 4 times a week and that should earn me as much I made working the side hustle each month of the four months I side hustled.

I have tapped out my paid time off, so I hope to build that back up and maybe accrue enough to take an extended vacation in 2020.  I won’t be able to do that in 2019 as I had hoped.

As hard as I felt like I was working in 2018, I think I was just feeling aimless, tired, stuck, and just not enjoying myself. I was not working smarter. So that is an area of improvement for 2019. This year, I hope to max out my 401k fully pre-tax; optimize overtime opportunities; continue my 11a – 7p shift as long as call volume stays manageable; and accrue some PTO instead of trying to use it all up on nonsense (to be fair, some of that random PTO was taken to avoid quitting).  I also secretly think it would be super cool to hit $100k in 2019! I was only $1,100 away in 2018.

Numbers for 2019

So in terms of numbers, here is what I would like to work towards in 2019:

Hours worked: 2000 (work smartly  + stay healthy + save PTO for longer vacation in 2020)

PTO: 60 hours (abt 1.5 weeks vacation)

Overtime: 100 hours ( ~2hrs/wk)

Mystical Math

I’ve been trying to figure out why 2018 was maybe kinda harder than the previous two years. I don’t know how I managed to work 200 less hours between 2016 and 2018 yet felt the most like quitting in 2018. So I did some mystical math…

How many work hours in a year?

40 hrs/wk x 52 wks = 2,080 hrs/yr

Our company gets 9 paid holidays.

9 days x 8hr/day = 72 hours off

So how many hours are we expected to be at work?

2080 hrs/yr – 72 hours of paid holidays = 2008 hrs

I am expected to work 2,008 hours a year.

But wait, we get vacation days.  So if we subtract the vacation days (in hours) for each year, how many hours was I expected to be at work each year?

2016: 63 vacation hours

2008 – 63 = 1,945 hours I was expected to be at work in 2016. Yet I showed up for 2,000 hours. That’s a difference of … 55 hours! I worked about 55 hours more than expected.

2017: 149 vacation hours

2008 – 149 = 1,859 hours I was expected to be at work 2017. Yet I showed up for 1,925 hours. That’s a difference of…66 hours! I worked about 66 hours more than expected.  This coupled with 2016 and we wonder why 2018 took such a toll on my life! ;p

2018: 201 vacation hours

2008 – 201 = 1,807 hours I was expected to be at work in 2018. Yet I showed up for 1,806 hours. That’s a difference of -1 hour. Whoops! I showed up one hour less in 2018. It was a weird year; I was sick a lot; and probably late a couple times;  and I was in charge of my own time sheet!

Well it’s been fun looking at the numbers as always. It’s so tricky, so let me know if you see any typos or data that doesn’t compute. I hope you  financial voyeurs have enjoyed a peek at my last three years of work history, observations, reflections…and it’s effect on my life! 🙂

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