Escaping the Rate Race: Life’s Financial Trap

Posted by Pasha Jandaghi on April 5, 2021

What does the “rat race” mean?

The rat race is a way of life in which people are consumed by an aggressively competitive struggle for wealth and the pursuit of more possessions. This constant pursuit leads to the need to work more, which leads to the need for more possessions, ranging from a better car, clothes, nicer home, etc. The rat race stems from the human mindset of earning more money to sustain an ever-increasingly extravagant lifestyle. This extravagant lifestyle can lead to living on a financial edge and paycheck to paycheck; basically, money leaves right when it comes in. The rat race is an exhausting weekly routine of trading your time for money for your entire working life in order to compete with others for money, power, or status.

Where does this expression come from?

This expression comes from the race between two rats to get the piece of cheese first by trying to outrun each other. Through this process, they expend more energy than the reward is worth; this process signifies an endless, futile pursuit—a mad competition one embarks on. American businessman and author Robert Kiyosaki explains the rat race as a vicious cycle: “Get up, go to work, pay bills, get up, go to work, pay bills. . . . Their lives are then run forever by two emotions: fear and greed. Offer them more money, and they continue the cycle by also increasing their spending.” However, I am not attempting to condemn a 9 to 5 job, nor am I trying to villainize having a job. The rat race refers to the never ending struggle of working harder at your job, getting more money, buying more things, and repeating. If you really love your 9 to 5 job, and this job is something you are very passionate about which gets you out of bed every morning, then there is no need to stop doing that job. However, never fall into the trap of having to keep working more to be able to buy more things, depriving you of financial freedom. This type of lifestyle is not about your 9 to 5 job; it refers to living life on such an edge that you are always chasing the next best thing, and your greater life goals are neglected in the background because you always settle for the most immediate reward.

Why people get trapped in the rat race?

I am not saying consuming is a bad thing; I am saying that in excess it can be detrimental to your success and financial freedom. I am also not saying the drive to acquire wealth is a bad thing; I am saying that if you are in a desperately fierce, competitive struggle for wealth and power, you will ultimately defeat yourself by living in this horrible lifestyle. So, in this context, the desire to acquire wealth and power, when pursued passionately but not desperately, is actually beneficial to reaching your goals sooner. For example, the rat race is embodied through the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses,” which means you are trying to show that you are better than your neighbors by competing with them for more wealth, power, and expensive items. These actions go hand in hand with the term social proof: a psychological phenomenon wherein people copy the actions of others and buy what others buy in order to fit in. With this way of approaching life, you will be trapped in living another person’s life and not truly finding meaning in your own life because you will always be trying to do what others do, rather than finding what works for you. By always competing with others, you end up subjecting yourself to a time-consuming job, burdening yourself with unnecessary liabilities, and forcing yourself to continue your grueling lifestyle at a job you may not like, digging yourself deeper into this whole. People are generally subjected to the rat race through a combination of self-induced fear of poorness, lack of choices and horrible spending habits, and the inability to adapt to change one’s lifestyle. People get stuck in the rat race by trying to prove themselves to others with a showcase of material wealth; however, in order to acquire this wealth and power, one must earn money, so people fall into the hole of working longer and harder in order to be able to spend that money, thus, losing it instantly; this can be characterized as a hyperbolic disorder: choosing the sooner reward over the larger, later reward.

How to avoid the rat race

In order to escape the rat race, you must make active changes to your lifestyle and habits. For example, journaling your monthly expenses and budgeting your income will help you create more wealth. With this extra money, resist the temptation to splurge; rather, learn how to invest and exploit the power of compound interest . By using the extra money you acquire on useless items and not saving and investing, you ultimately will keep burying yourself deeper into debt and into the never ending cycle of working harder for money. Instead of wasting your money on the sooner reward, such as new shoes, car, or clothes, to impress your peers, use that money to acquire assets, such as real estate and stocks, that can in turn generate you passive income.

What's the point of striving to make and acquire more money when your relationship with money as a consumer means losing it all or having to work nonstop to fund that lifestyle? If you hate your job, go the entrepreneurial route: find a problem, create the solution, and then sell the solution. Start becoming financially literate by studying investment plans and how to generate passive income. If you enjoy your job but aren’t generating the necessary capital to support your lifestyle, all the information above applies: Start budgeting your money and spending less in order to escape the arduous cycle of trading in your time for money and then quickly spending that money in order to impress others and show off.


I am not here to condemn consumption. However, I do not support over consumption. The rat race doesn’t entirely refer to working a 9 to 5 job; it refers to those that trade their time for money in order to gain more money and then just spend it. It’s this never ending cycle of working harder and longer to gain more money in order to quickly spend it on expenses. However, by budgeting and limiting yourself to the amount of money spent on nonessential desires and then using that extra money to generate you more passive income, you will be able to become financially free and escape the rat race.

Three books I highly recommend for personal finance and lifestyle decisions are Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason. Also, I recommend watching youtubers, such as Dave Ramsey, Tai Lopez, and Graham Stephan, for business intelligence. Finally, when you are in the car driving, listen to the following podcasts: My First Million by The Hustle, How I Built This by Guy Raz, and The Ramsey Show by Dave Ramsey.