Musings on Early Retirement

It’s 11:30am, and a guy in the cube diagonal from mine has been making lots of personal calls. Speaking rather loudly. There’s also a couple of people who’ve been walking around the cubes talking about measurements. And two guys down the row keep holding a conversation over the cube walls. I’m tired enough that focus is a bit tenuous to begin with, all this extra noise is making it worse. And my work has pretty much maxed out my computer’s resources to the extent that playing music would just be asking for trouble.

It’s times like this that I wonder if all those early retirement folk have it right.

Most of the time I don’t think early retirement is for me. I don’t want to scrimp and hoard every extra dollar, or spend all my time earning more, so that I can have “freedom” in ten years. Sure, 10 years isn’t all that long but who knows what will happen in that time – I could be paralyzed in an accident, get cancer, or my bone issue could cause my joints to wear down and make physical activity extremely painful if not impossible. The first two of that list aren’t terribly likely but that last one has a decent chance of happening (I was just told to avoid sports like soccer or I will definitely wreck my knee completely).

So instead of working towards early retirement I prefer to find a balance where I still save so that I won’t have to work my entire life, but still enjoy life now.

Other reasons I’m not making early retirement a goal:

I actually like working. Sure, I don’t like every aspect to working, but they’re usually worth putting up with to some extent. Instead of focusing on getting out of the workforce my plan is simply to get better jobs, whether that means working for myself or someone else.

The amount I would need to retire now and feel comfortable would be at least $2 million. Longevity runs in my mom’s family so I could possibly have 60-70+ years of retirement – that’s a lot of unexpected expenses, inflation, etc to be able to cover. I also assume that retirement means actually retiring and not earning a paycheck. To me, retiring then going to work means you’re no longer retired (with the exception of part time work done for “fun”). Theoretically I could invest in rental properties to generate income, but managing them would be a job itself and paying a manager would be expensive.

I’m not sure retirement would be good for me. I’m socially awkward on a good day and retirement would make it far too easy to become a hermit. At least while I’m working I’m forced to go out and interact with people on occasion. I hope to eventually improve my social skills to the point where this isn’t an issue but there’s no guarantee that will ever happen.

And so I still go to work. On my weekends I ski, hike, camp, do housework, or just take it easy. When I get home from work I practice music and do other hobby stuff – or just take it easy. If I wanted to I could probably fill all that non-job time with freelance work and make a ton of extra money but I would burn out quickly. The fact that I don’t have to make that extra money would make it even harder to maintain that kind of schedule because I’m not very motivated by making money for the sake of making money.

Not everyone agrees with me, the web is full of blogs and websites dedicated to retiring as soon as possible. Some of them write as though anyone who doesn’t want to retire early is an idiot. Have I delayed retirement by buying a more expensive house? Probably, but to me it was worth it. Could I retire earlier by taking on more work? Absolutely, but I’d likely be miserable until then. Maybe I’m underestimating how great retirement is and it really is worth the sacrifice to get there as fast as possible but it’s not like I’m miserable now, in fact I generally enjoy life.

Which is why I do spend money on wants. When I job hunt I look at more than just the money. I am saving for retirement and would like to be able to do so when I’m 60 but am prepared to work until I’m 70 or later if necessary (I don’t think it will be). As I get older I might change my mind but I’m not going to make drastic changes now for a future might. I’ve found a balance that works for me and that’s really what’s important.

Taking Control Step 2: Where Are You Going?

It’s been almost six months since I started this blog… and it’s taken me almost six months to finish this post…

Once you know where you’re at financially, it’s time to see where your going.

To find out, track your expenses. Just because you have money left over every month doesn’t mean you aren’t wasting  any. And I’m talking about wasteful according to your goals and desires, not what others might call wasteful, so if you really like that $4 cup of coffee and you can afford it, enjoy. On the other hand, if you don’t have any money left over, is that $80-120/month really that important to you?

I use to track my expenses. It’s automatic, I just have to go in every once in a while to make sure transactions are categorized correctly. I like automatic. If I had to write each purchase down it would never get done. Mint isn’t perfect, it doesn’t track my car loan because I don’t have a web log in for it, but it works for all my other accounts.

If you aren’t comfortable giving Mint your account log in information there are other options like Quicken and You Need a Budget where the information stays on your own computer.

Some people like doing it by hand. A notebook, spreadsheet or mobile budgeting app is all they need. Having to write down every purchase does make you more aware of what you’re buying and can even help curb spending. If you’re good at journaling this probably is the best method.

Whatever method you choose, the idea is to know what you’re spending your money on and how much. How much do you spend on clothes every month? Or eating out, or any number of categories? Add up the numbers. It might be painful, but look. Don’t judge. If it’s bad remind yourself that you’re doing this exercise so you can do better. Don’t make excuses, either. If the money has been spent it’s been spent and it is what it is. Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up over the totals.

Once you know where you’re heading now, it’s time to decide where you want to go, short and long term. Maybe you have some definite goals already, like get out of debt or save up a down payment for a house. If you don’t, that’s okay. Figuring out what I want from my money was a fairly lengthy process for me and I’m still revising my plan. If you have no idea what to do I’d start with the big three: deal with any debt you have, make sure you have a healthy emergency fund, and start preparing for retirement.

Getting out of debt is generally pretty simple – pay more money each month. Whether you get that extra money from savings, working a second job, or cutting spending is up to you.

Figuring out the right amount for an emergency fund takes a bit of work. At minimum it should cover your insurance deductibles and max out of pocket for your health insurance, expenses for however many months you could be unemployed if you get laid off (or at least enough to cover what unemployment doesn’t), and any other large expense that could come up with little or no notice. If you don’t have health insurance or comprehensive car coverage, you’ll need a larger emergency fund.

Figuring out what you’ll need for retirement is a lot more work and relies on a lot of guesses – how much inflation should you account for, what returns will you get from the stock market, what will your expenses be, etc. The farther you are from retirement the more guessing you need, but that’s no excuse not to start saving (was that listed in my excuse post? If not, it should be.) Start saving something, even if you don’t have a plan yet. If you want to take early retirement save more.

Personal finance is just that, personal. Retiring in my 30s isn’t a high priority for me but some people make it their ultimate goal. The trick is to decide what YOU want – and it’s okay to start simple. My goal right now is basically to keep my expenses low, max my Roth IRA, contribute to max the match in my 401k, and start investing in non-retirement accounts. Obviously I need to do some refining – what number should I keep my expenses under? If my income increases can I increase that number? Should I make a goal to increase my income? I used to have some other short term goals regarding cash hoarding to buy a house but that’s been done so it’s time to make some new ones.

I’m a fairly laid back person, the kind who takes a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of attitude. Buy while my finances aren’t necessarily broken, they could be better. Fortunately I’m also a geek who likes making things more efficient so I have to draw on that side of myself to do this kind of work. ‘Cause it is work.

Alright, I’m off to think about goals. Again. What are your goals that you’re working on?

To Freelance, or Not to Freelance

Every once in a while I think about plunging into the world of freelancing. And why not? I could work from home, set my own hours, and generally be my own boss.

Of course, I’d also have to pound the (electronic) pavement to find clients, deal with said clients on my own, and would still have to do what the people paying me want.

So there’s some good things and some bad things.

If I did decide to try freelancing I wouldn’t have to plunge in head first, I can start by working on the weekends or after work. If it went well I could then decide whether or not I wanted to quit my job and do it full time. However, I’m mostly thinking about the consequences of doing it full time because that would be the ultimate goal, doing it on the side would be temporary.

There’s probably a million pro and con lists on the web for freelancing so I’m going to focus on what pertains most to my situation.

First issue, finding clients. As I mentioned in the job hunting post I’m extremely awkward socially so I don’t have a large network to work with. Networking in general is a skill I seriously need to improve. So is talking to strangers. Sites like craigslist and elance might help, but I’ve heard that the competition for gigs can drive the prices down to insanely cheap levels (which might be a good wage in Asia, but not here in the US).

Part of finding clients is being able to market yourself. I’m a web developer, I can right front and back end code for websites. If you have a design I can turn it into a web page and can do some basic server work as well. However, I am not an artist and can not call myself a web designer without stretching the truth. I’m also not a writer and don’t know if I’d be comfortable with creating content. Trying to all this to a potential client who doesn’t understand the basics of the web can be tricky.

I’m not sure if I’d be able to cope with the stress of income instability. As a side job it wouldn’t be a problem, but how would I feel if I was freelancing full time and had a couple of slow months? I hate dipping into savings, even if I was saving to spend. I would probably practice income smoothing by taking a set paycheck even if I’d earned more, but would I be anxious if I then used that “savings” in slow months when I didn’t earn enough? Even if I had 6 full months of expenses in savings?

I also worry that I could become even more of a hermit. Then I think that might not be a terrible thing, but then I think that thinking it’s a good thing is a sign of going too far into hermithood already. Also, going to the office forces me to deal with people even if I don’t want to, which helps me improve my limited skills. It’s also possible that I’ll go the other way and want to get out of the house when I’m not working, which could be expensive.

Finding clients and dealing with the fluctuating income are my biggest concerns. The biggest pro? Setting my own schedule, at least to some extent. I’ve alluded to my sleep disorder that makes getting into the office at 9am every morning difficult. I won’t go into detail now, but being able to do most of the work on my own time and just having to schedule meetings would be huge. Seriously, health-improving huge. It would be a dream. I’d still aim to work 40 hours a week, just on my own schedule.

There are other pros as well. I enjoy starting new projects, something I don’t really get at my current job because I work on a single application. I also like to be able to switch back and forth between projects. The greater variety of jobs means I’d have a chance to learn and use a greater variety of skills. I’m more comfortable working in my own home than going to an office. So there’s more to freelancing that appeals to me than just the schedule to help balance out the cons.

I’m not concerned about some of the cons other people cite regarding freelancing. Working for yourself is more expensive because you have to pay for everything an employer typically covers, which needs to be considered when setting rates. I already do my own tech support at home so although I’d miss having an IT department to call it isn’t something I need. I also keep my home computers (a laptop and desktop) up to speed so there’s no extra expense there. I have no one at home to disturb me during working hours because they don’t understand that working from home is still working.

The more I type the more I think that I should just stop thinking and start doing. At least dip my toe into the freelancing waters to see how it feels. Maybe I’ll decide that it is way too much work to find jobs and I’m better off with the 9-5. Worst case, I don’t find any work at all and am out just a little time. But who knows, maybe I’ll end up with people lining up to hire me. Okay, probably not, but I won’t know until I try, right?

But which should I focus on, the freelance job hunt or the regular job hunt? It’ll probably take a while to build up the freelance business enough to quit my regular job, possibly a year or more, but if I take a new job with the intent to quit soon I don’t know if I’d feel right. At the same time, I don’t know if I’d want to do both for a full year. This winter is a good time to get started since I won’t be able to ski (which usually takes up a lot of my free time) but once spring comes around I’m going to want to get back into hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities. If the business is on the verge of going full time then it won’t be a hardship to sacrifice a few more weekends, but can I do it for an entire summer?

Right now I’m thinking that I’ll focus on the freelance job hunt but continue to be available if I get calls from recruiters.

Ugh, just thinking about freelancing and I’m feeling a combination of elation and dread. I like stability and routine. Freelancing could mean losing a lot of that. But that’s the point of starting it as a side project, if it doesn’t go well I’d still have my job, if it does then I’d go into full time work with a better understanding of what it will be like.

I completely reserve the right to change my mind at any point in the future.

Tips for Taking Your Lunch to Work

One common tip for saving money (and eating healthier) is to pack your own lunch instead of eating out. Which makes sense, home cooked food is almost always cheaper than eating out. But although it’s fairly easy to get some sort of meal from your house to the office, the result isn’t always good making it hard to resist the temptation of going out. So, here’s some stuff I’ve figured out to make the whole ‘brown bagging’ thing better. Some of it’s pretty obvious, but maybe someone reading this is starting at the beginning.

Take food you like

Peanut butter sandwiches are cheap and easy, but although I could choke them down at my desk I only like peanut butter when I’m hiking or camping and trying to eat them every day would send me to the drive-thru in no time. However, if I bring in my homemade tacos I don’t miss Taco Bell at all. I also tend to crave hot meals in the year-round AC of my office, a cold cut sandwich might be easy to make but will be absolutely unappealing at lunch time.

Pack components separately when appropriate

Taking a single dish meal is convenient but can make reheating a pain when one part only needs 30 seconds but another needs 90. Also, some meals start to lose something when they’ve been assembled, for example taco shells get mushy when the filling sits inside for too long. I also like the flexibility of being able to eat part of my lunch early and save the rest later without having to reheat it too many times.

Take enough food

When I was a kid dinner was the big meal of the day and my packed lunches were fairly small. It took me a while to realize that as a grownup I like to have lunch as my main meal instead, which was why I liked the days when I went out better – I’d get a bigger serving than the little lunches I carried. When I started bringing more food it was easier to stay in.

Get a good cooler and reusable ice blocks

After my first few jobs I learned that you can never rely on the public fridge. Either it doesn’t get cleaned out and there are molds on the brink of sentience, or it gets cleaned out too often and you risk your food getting thrown away. Some places I worked had completely packed fridges and I couldn’t always find room. So far I’ve only worked one place where someone was accused of stealing food but I assume it happens in other workplaces. By carrying a cooler I avoid all that drama and the food I want to keep cool stays cool during my commute. A good cooler doesn’t have to be expensive, I think I paid $12 for mine.

Plan for food to be reheated

When I cook certain things for lunch, like hamburgers, I don’t quite cook them all the way. I do get them up to temperature for safety, but I take them off sooner than I would if I was eating them immediately. Then, when I heat them in the microwave, they finish cooking instead of drying out. When packing spaghetti, I use more sauce for much the same reason. I refuse to microwave certain things, like pizza or some fried chicken, and will plan to either eat them cold or I won’t take them at all. If my office had a toaster oven I’d have more options, but they don’t.

Keep emergency meals on hand

Unless you’re a cooking fiend, or have a stay at home spouse, or are otherwise in the habit of cooking lunches (or dinner with leftovers) on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you’ll run out of fresh meals before you’ve cooked some more. By keeping something in the freezer – home made or store bought – or pantry will keep you from having to buy something else. It’s also handy for those (rare) occasions when I cook but fail to produce something edible.

Find other ways to get out of the office

Some days I would go out to lunch not because I wanted to buy food, but just because I didn’t want to stay in the office. Other alternatives are to eat outside, take a walk, or just plain go for a drive. It can also help to just go to another part of the office away from my desk.

Give lunch its own place in the fridge, and get everything together the night before

I can barely function when I get up in the morning, so if I have to hunt around the fridge to get everything together for lunch I will forget something. Often, something important. By putting everything in one place I know exactly where to go. Which doesn’t mean I never forget the green beans that were right next to the mashed potatoes, it just happens a lot less often. This might not be an issue for morning people.



For a while after I got this job I did pretty well on the bringing lunch to work routine, but then I was focused on getting the house ready for sale, then selling my house, and I slipped until I was buying lunch almost every day. But ever since I had my knee surgery a month ago I haven’t been out to lunch once. At first it was somewhat forced, getting around was difficult and it wasn’t worth the effort to drive somewhere and try to manage a tray with crutches. Now it’s pretty much become habit again, one that I’m trying hard to maintain. Writing this post is really just a reminder of what I need to do to keep that habit going.

CONFESSION: I don’t know how to job hunt

As I mentioned in my last post I’m thinking about looking for a new job. There’s just one problem – I don’t really know how.

How am I employed now, you might wonder? I did it by doing all the wrong things. Namely, I posted my resume online and waited for people to call me. Which worked, I’m very lucky to be in a field with high demand and recruiting companies who go out to look for employment candidates. But not every employer hires a recruiting company or calls candidates themselves. I’m willing to bet that many of the best employers don’t have to, they advertise that they’re looking and wait for the applications to come in. By advertise, I mean they put it on their website and maybe post on a job board.

Now, a good recruiter can be great to work with. They can act as a go between so that you can be completely up front and frank with them and they can be more politic with the hiring company. They often know more about the company than what’s printed in the job description and can help find a good fit. If you don’t get the first position most recruiters will hold on to your resume and call you when other opportunities arise. If you’re lazy (like I can be), having the jobs come to you is rather nice.

But there are downsides. Recruiters cost money – the hiring company pays the fees (at least in my field) but that makes you more expensive than a direct hire. As I mentioned, not every company uses outsourced recruiters so by relying solely on them you’re missing out on a lot of opportunities. Some recruiters care only about getting you into a position so they can get their commission and will discourage salary negotiation, or even push you into taking a lower wage than you want or lie about the position/company to make it seem more appealing.

In short, if I do job hunt I’ll continue to use job placement agencies but this time I want to take more control and actually look for jobs. But how? I know of a few ways, I just don’t have much practice at them:

  • Networking – ask people you know about open positions. Unfortunately my social skills are lacking and my network is pretty small, but it doesn’t hurt to try anyway.
  • Job Boards – if you’re in the technology field, is where it’s at. It’s my profile on this site that got me my last few jobs but I haven’t actually searched and applied to the posted jobs in a while. Craigslist is probably worth a look as well. I might take a look at other sites like… is Monster even running still?
  • Visit the Sites – Some companies only advertise openings on their website. It’s a bit more time consuming but if there was someplace that I really wanted to work for I can always go to their site and see if they’re hiring for anything I can do.
  • Ask – It’d be nice to get something close to home but as far as I can tell there are no tech companies located up there. Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a real estate agency that wants to hire a web developer. I might also be able to find some freelancing clients if I decide to go that route, but that’s another post.

As you can see I have some ideas on how to job hunt, but knowing the theory and actually doing it? Totally different. Especially with my social awkwardness that occasionally blows up to social anxiety. Which is why I like the lazy job hunt method so much. Unfortunately the tech field will change, a new technology will sneak up behind me and become the hot new thing making me not quite obsolete but not nearly as marketable, so I’ll have to learn to job hunt properly eventually anyway. That or find a company that I can stay with for the rest of my life – which would be nice – but I’m not holding my breath.

Since I started writing this post last week I have decided to start looking to see what else is out there. That doesn’t mean I plan to quit my job, but if I do find something better I’m open to jumping ship. I find job hunting while employed to be awkward but I’ll manage it somehow.

ps- In my last post I mentioned having a second interview but hadn’t heard back about it. Just after I hit publish I got a call, they really liked me and were discussing the “next steps”, whatever that means. Then the recruiter called this morning to tell me that they were still trying to get in touch with the manager. So there’s still a chance that this could turn into an offer but there’s also a chance that the process might slam to a halt for whatever reason – they’re too busy to focus on hiring, they decide to transfer from within, they aren’t busy enough to hire someone, they change their mind about me, etc etc. That’s the one good thing about job hunting while working, it’s easier to be patient with drawn out hiring processes. And you can be pickier. Ok, that’s two good things. I still prefer to look for a job when I don’t have one.

My Focus Right Now: Food and Job

When it comes to making changes to lifestyle, habits, or just starting something new, it’s hard to do everything at once. So, although I have several things I want to work on I’m targeting two for the moment – food and job.

Food – I hate cooking. Ok, hate’s probably too strong of a word, but just slightly. I would rather clean the bathroom than cook. Mostly because it takes me five minutes to clean the bathroom and even if I cook something quick there’s still at least five minutes of cleanup to do afterwards.

And so between getting ready to move, then moving, the knee surgery, I let myself get lazy with food prep to focus my energies elsewhere. The bit of “cooking” I have done has been of the pull it from the freezer and reheat it variety. Which is better than going out for every meal, but still not great for the wallet or waistline. Also, I’m a picky eater and will only eat a few different frozen meals. I’ve tried bringing cold cut sandwiches to work but the overly-strong AC in my office makes me crave hot meals.

But the move is done, I’m still limping a bit but don’t need crutches, which means it’s time to try to get back into the habit of actually cooking. I say that like I’ve actually been in the habit, even though my cooking sprees tend to die after a few weeks at most. If at first you don’t succeed try, try, try, keep going, try, you’ll get there eventually, try, try, don’t give up yet, try, try again. And again. You might need to tweak your approach after the first couple of failed tries, but keep working at it.

Which is what I’m doing, I’m going to try to get back into the habit of cooking again. A few things I’ve learned from past attempts:

  • Keep frozen meals on hand in case of cooking failure. Resorting to them is still better than eating out and it alleviates some of the “what if I get it wrong” stress.
  • Start simple. It’s easier to get back into it by using familiar recipes first, then experiment.
  • Don’t stress over saving every dollar possible. It’s okay to not use the absolute cheapest ingredients, or even splurge on some nicer cuts of meat once in a while. Once I have more of a routine and know what ingredients I need to keep on hand it will be easier to shop for bargains.
  • Cook in batches. I’m perfectly fine with eating the same meal for an entire week, unless it didn’t turn out too good.
  • Anything that came out barely edible or worse – and can’t be fixed – needs to be thrown out immediately. It doesn’t happen too often, usually when I’m trying a new recipe or I get distracted while cooking.
  • I need to learn to freeze stuff properly. I’ve seen too many things come out of the freezer frost-bitten or just plain freezer burned, and freezing will allow me to make larger batches and not have the food go bad before I can eat it. I wonder if I could cook some components, like brown rice, in a large batch and freeze in portions to be thawed and used later…
  • I also need to be more realistic and flexible in my meal planning. I always eat lunch but I don’t always eat dinner, so planning to have 10 meals during the week will likely lead to spoiled food. But sometimes I do eat 10 meals. Learning to freeze things properly will help with the above.
  • I need to be more flexible with recipes. Just because something calls for ingredients I don’t like doesn’t mean I should discard it immediately, it’s often very possible to adapt it to something I do like. The same goes for a spice I don’t have, or a specific cooking item…
  • I need to actually look for more recipes. Now, before I need them.

Ok, that was more than a few, and there’s more but I’ll stop here. I guess I have enough to do a whole post just on cooking…

Job – My second focus right now is figuring out what to do about my job. As I mentioned in my last post there are some changes at work that I don’t like and it’s making me think about moving on. In fact, when a headhunter called last week to see if I was looking I said yes and I’ve already had two phone interviews for a new position. Except, the last one was Tuesday and I haven’t heard back about it, so it might not go any further.

Which is just as well because really, what do I want in a job? A flexible schedule is one of the big things I’m missing at this current job. The ability to work from home on occasion is pretty much a need as well. A full-time work-from-home position would be great. My dad’s girlfriend recommended me for a position like that at the company she works at but I’m not really qualified so I don’t expect anything to come from it.

So I know I want a flexible schedule and the ability to work from home, but that alone isn’t a fulfilling job so what else? My current position allows me to design elements of the application from the ground up which I enjoy, but I don’t want (and am not qualified for) a full software architect role. I prefer working in small teams but if I was to ask a potential employer about the role, what should I ask? I’ve been in this field for over three years now, you’d think I’d have a better idea but I don’t.

So that’s why “job” is a focus. It isn’t just about job hunting, but figuring out what it will take to make me leave my current position. Or if I even want to leave, there are still things there that I do like and there are benefits to staying with this company for a while. Maybe I should start looking for alternatives to full time jobs, like freelancing. I’ll need to do a lot of research for that last one, and even start freelancing on the side first before quitting my full time job, but it’s definitely an option…

Obviously, if I didn’t have a job I’d be plowing full steam ahead on the job hunt. But I do have a job, a decent job even, so I have the luxury of time and pickiness. I jut have to actually make a decision instead of just pondering the issue as I’ve done in the past.

Are you making anything your focus right now?

Bad Job, Wrong Job or You?

One of these days I’m going to find the perfect job where there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Okay, probably not. Even my favorite jobs had something that wasn’t right, like overly blasted AC or a loud chatterbox a couple cubes over. I really did enjoy my previous job, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have gripes about being short staffed and deadlines made unrealistic by that short staffing. Or being called at 4am after a deployment even though there was nothing I could do about the issue, they just wanted someone from my team on the call.

So, no job’s perfect. Even people who say they have the perfect job probably have something less than ideal they have to deal with, it’s just that everything else is so great it’s easy to overlook those issues. Because with a lot of jobs that’s kinda what you have to do, deal with the stuff that isn’t great and enjoy the stuff that is. But odds are you’re spending a good chunk of your life at work, so there’s a limit to how much you might want to “deal with”.

So what to do you’re having a hard time dealing with your job’s downsides?

Bad Job

If you’re miserable at work it’s entirely possible that you have a bad job, a job where there’s abuse, needless safety hazards, and other general unhealthiness. I say needless safety hazards because some jobs, like firefighting, are inherently unsafe but firefighters are provided training and equipment to make it as safe as possible. However, if a fire station was unable to provide helmets that would be a bad job.

If your boss offers you a promotion if you’ll sleep with him, you have a bad job. If your employer wants you to do something illegal, you have a bad job. If you find yourself in a situation like this you must act or you’ll likely end up hurt. You could quit, try to fix the issues internally, report illegal actions, etc.

Wrong Job

A wrong job isn’t necessarily a bad job, it just isn’t the right one for you. A germaphobe wouldn’t be able to handle many of the jobs showcased on the tv show Dirty Jobs, but I see some of them and think, “I’d enjoy that kind of work.” I wouldn’t be happy in sales or other people-facing positions because I prefer to hide out in my cube and deal with a computer most of the time. Some people want a challenge in their job, others just want to clock in and out. My youngest brother needs a solid structure of “this is what you do and this is how you do it” with regular feedback, not something he can get from any manager.

The main trick to figuring out if your job is the wrong fit is in knowing yourself. As I mentioned above, I’m not a people person. That doesn’t mean I would hate a position that required dealing with people more often, but it does mean that the job would wear on me because it would require more effort and energy than my current people-lite job. That kind of energy drain is far worse for me than that ceiling light that’s been annoying me for the past several months. And the hallway on the other side of my cube that people like to use for impromptu conferences? Not nearly as bad either.

So if you find your job hard to tolerate, why? Is there something you can do to change it, or is it time to make a career change? Before you do make that change, be sure you’ve figured out what it is that you’re looking for (or avoiding) first.


If you’re miserable, going to work will feel miserable as well. If you resent having to work your way up to the top, no job will appeal. If you have health issues, financial troubles, a broken relationship, it probably isn’t your job’s fault but you might blame it anyway. The point is, you might hate your job but the problem itself actually lies in you.

If you’re truly depressed, well, there’s probably nothing I can type that will help you magically turn it all around so that you feel better. So all I’ll say is please take care of yourself, whether that means improving your health or seeing a professional.

But for most other issues, attitude really does make a difference.

If you resent having to start at the bottom, why? If it’s because you think that you’re just that awesome, prove it. Go in to work and show them just how great you are. No one is going to give you anything just because you say you’re the best. Also, if you feel like you’re asked to do tasks that are beneath you – they aren’t. I don’t care if they’re asking you to empty waste paper baskets when you were hired for something else, unless the situation is abusive just consider it part of the job.

If you’re stressed out because money is tight and you’re underemployed, do something about it. If spending is an issue, get it under control. If you really just aren’t making enough, get a second job, or look for something that pays better. In the meantime (and I actually hate this phrase but sometimes it’s true) be thankful you have a job. Even if it’s working fast food for minimum wage, you have something that’s bringing in some money and some is better than none. Don’t let yourself feel trapped, just because the situation isn’t great now doesn’t mean it won’t get better.

Learn to deal with it. Life ain’t perfect so suck it up and accept that there are things you can’t change. If the problems you’re having at work aren’t related to the two sections above, get tough and cope. If you really want to you can hunt for something different, just realize that it probably won’t make you happy.

In fact, that last statement is worth stating twice – your job might not make you happy. I was joking with one of my coworkers about how I didn’t want to mess up his “pride and joy” and he told me that his pride and joy can’t be found in these four walls. He spends a lot of time volunteering and working with the homeless, I’m sure that’s his pride and joy much more than the work he does here. That doesn’t mean he hates his job, just that he finds more meaning after work. So maybe you have a cause, or hobby, or family that truly makes you happy rather than your job, and you see a job as nothing more as a necessary evil – just because it isn’t the highlight of your day doesn’t mean it has to be terrible. Yes, it might not be as much fun as coloring with your kids, but go ahead and have fun in the office anyway.


This is a topic I’ve been considering lately because there have been some changes at work that I don’t like. I also feel like I’ve been lied to, I was told during the interview process that they’re flexible on scheduling yet that isn’t true at all. This doesn’t make the job a bad one, I’m just wondering if it might be the wrong one after all or if I should just suck it up and deal with it.

I’m also tired of listening to people complain about their jobs. A bit of venting is healthy and I have no problem with that, but there comes a point where I just want to tell people to shut up and do something about it. Tips for finding jobs is a whole series of posts itself but seriously, there are jobs out there. Do some networking, maybe get more education. Or decide that there are enough upsides to make the downsides worth it. Don’t stay someplace that makes you miserable, but don’t be miserable because it isn’t perfect.

Big News Post and Breaking the Rules

Lots of stuff has happened since my last post way back when…

The first piece of news, I moved! About a month ago I sold my house, bought a new one and hauled all my garbage up into the mountains. The new place is much quieter, you step outside at night and bam, stars in your face, I see at least a few deer everyday… I do need to be aware of bears, though.

The next piece of news – my student loans are completely paid off. I knew I’d get enough equity from my house to cover the loans at 6.55% (with auto-pay discount), but I got enough to pay them all off. Except, I almost didn’t. I did get rid of those higher interest loans at the beginning of the month but then I started deliberating over what to do with the rest. Pay off the loans? Invest? Save it for home improvement expenses? Well, as I already told you I decided to get rid of those last loans. Outstanding balance? $0! Now I just have to decide what to do with the $350 I used to pay each month. Oh, wait, I have a more expensive mortgage now…

According to Mint I’m getting very close to a net worth of 6 figures. Which doesn’t mean much because most of it is home equity and therefore untouchable. Instead I track my cash worth – cash and investments minus debts – and that’s still far in the negatives because of the mortgage. Still, my net worth just a few years ago was only $20,000 so I must be doing something right.

In other news, I recently found out that I tore my ACL last year, which explains why my knee’s been wonkier than usual. That’s right, I’m done with the good news and just dropped the bad news without warning. I had surgery a week and a half ago and am still getting around with the help of crutches. Yet another argument in favor of emergency funds, once I found out I needed surgery I was able to take the next spot without having to figure out how to save for the copay.

I’ve started talking to headhunters when they call instead of just telling them I’m not in the market. There are some changes at my current job that are going in a direction I don’t like, and really, what can it hurt? I don’t know how active I’ll be in this job hunt, but I am worried that I haven’t even been here a year and I’m already looking to leave. Maybe I should just go back into contracting where it’s expected to stay for just 3-6 months. More job musings in another post.

So how am I breaking the rules?

I bought a more expensive house. In the PF world the rule is to keep your living expenses low since it’s often the biggest item in the budget. Which makes sense, but my philosophy has always been to save where you can so you can splurge where it matters. Well, my home matters to me. It’s my home, my refuge, the place where I can go and find peace. If I was a frequent traveler it would make sense to compromise more but I’m not, I’m a homebody. My mortgage is still within reason and even with utilities is less than 30% of my take home so it’s not like I’m being reckless.

Of course, personal finance is just that, it’s finance for your own personal needs. For me it makes sense to pay more for a house and not travel a lot. Others prefer the opposite. Some won’t travel as much but will instead eat out at fine restaurants, or buy more clothes, or work on cars as a hobby, etc etc. Then there are those who will forgo any extraneous spending in favor of increasing the bank balances at any and all costs, but that’s not me.

Another rule I’m breaking – I still have a few thousand left from the sale of my house and I probably won’t handle it “optimally”. I could put it towards the car loan or new mortgage, which are now my only debts. I could stick it in a non-retirement investment account. I could up my 401k contributions to the max temporarily and live on the remaining proceeds instead. I could replace the non-functioning gas fireplace in the family room with a wood or pellet burning appliance and there’s more than enough left to cover that.

The first few options – paying down the debt or investing – might be the smartest but I’m leaning towards the fireplace option. The house has central heating but it runs off of propane and there aren’t enough vents for the larger rooms. After the initial cost a good insert or stove will be cheaper to run and with the wood stove upstairs I might need the furnace on only the coldest days. Also, it’s a mountain property, you have to have a nice fire to sit by while you sip hot cocoa and watch the snow fall. Even if I didn’t have the extra I’d probably take the money out of savings anyway to do this, I think it would enhance the comfort level of the house that much. And did I mention that it’d be cheaper to run than the furnace?

So that’s what’s been going on. Between the move, working on the new house, my job and knee surgery I really haven’t been paying much attention to the blog. But I’m back now!

The High Cost of My Idiocy. Or, a Tale of Medical Expenses

I hate going to the doctor. I find the business of medicine extremely difficult to navigate and I’m often unsatisfied with the result of the visits. However, sometimes you just have to go.

A few months ago my dogs got into a fight, something they do about once a year. If you’ve never seen a dog fight then let me tell you, it’s pretty scary. So I wasn’t content to let them fight it out, I had to try to break it up.

One doctor told me about 90% of dog bites happen when people get between fighting dogs. I believe it. Can you tell where this story’s going? That’s right, I got bit. Right on the hand. It could have been worse, I’m not sure if I was saved by my own reflexes or if the dog realized I was there and pulled back, but it was still a fairly deep puncture wound.

I didn’t want to hassle with ER fees. It happened late at night and I was going out of town the following morning, so I decided to take care of it as well as I could then find an urgent care clinic when we got to the area we were staying. Well, there was no urgent care in that little mountain town and I ended up in the emergency room anyway. I considered skipping the doctor altogether but there was quite a bit of swelling and pain so I wanted to be sure there was nothing seriously wrong. I’m a musician, I need my hands! They thoroughly cleaned out the wound, prescribed an antibiotic and gave me a tetanus shot.

Total due for the ER: $474.33

Total due for the prescription: $24.79

After a few days I realized that the top inside strip of my thumb was numb. I called the nurse line for my insurance company to see if I should get it checked out or wait a bit longer. She told me to see someone immediately, that night if possible. I went to an urgent care clinic near my office only to be told to see a hand specialist.

Total for the urgent care: $130. That’s right, I paid that much for a doctor to glance at my hand and tell me to see someone else.

I made the appointment for the specialist. The verdict? There’s nothing he can do. In fact, he was surprised the second doctor even bothered referring me. He did think it was just a contused nerve rather than severed and said the feeling would return in time. While I was there I asked him about a finger on the other hand that has limited mobility so I was able to get that checked out as well (there’s nothing he can do for it either, but it’s good to know.) I’d been meaning to get that finger looked at for years so it made the visit worth the time and money.

Total for the hand doc: $232.42 Includes x-rays for my wonky finger.

Total for all visits and meds: $861.54. All out of pocket because I haven’t met my deductible yet, however some of the amounts were reduced because of the insurance company’s negotiated price. Still, that’s a lot of money to pay for a few seconds of foolishness. Of course, it could have been much, much worse. The tooth could have broken or crushed a bone, or tendons and ligaments could have been torn, or an infection could have set in, or any other number of worse things so really, I got off lightly.

I paid the bills with a credit card to get some cash back then paid the card off with savings. I increased my HSA contributions through payroll and will reimburse myself with pre-tax dollars once the balance is higher. I should’ve had higher contributions to begin with but that’s another story.

The moral of the story – don’t try to break up fighting dogs when you’re by yourself. Especially when the dogs’ weight combined is greater than yours. If there’s another person there you can grab the dogs by the hind legs and “wheelbarrow” them to keep yourself out of the action, but stay away from the heads.

The other moral of the story – keep an emergency fund so that you can pay for unexpected expenses that need to be paid. Case in point, while I was in the urgent care waiting room a woman was there with her daughter. The receptionist told Mom that their insurance couldn’t be verified and they would have to pay up front, $125 for the visit plus $50 if they did x-rays. Mom was shocked and soon left with a heavily limping girl. Maybe they were going to another clinic, maybe Mom decided that since the girl could put some weight on it the injury wasn’t urgent enough to pay out of pocket, but an emergency fund would mean that she could have paid it then worked with the insurance company for reimbursement.

PS- In case you were wondering, my dogs settled their fight while I was tending to my wound and promptly went back to being best friends. They got a little scraped up but had no serious injuries. Also, my thumb is back to normal and I only have a small scar to show for this whole thing. And a slightly smaller savings account.

Are you as busy as you think you are? I’m not.

As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot going on. Selling a house, buying a house, extra work at my job, and all the usual life stuff.

But although I feel like my schedule is packed, it really isn’t.

I’ve started packing, but so far my packing sessions have been a few hours here and there to get some of the basement dealt with. There are a few things in the upper level I can pack now but I’ll wait until my moving date is closer to pack the rest.

There isn’t much I have to do about the selling. I’m waiting to hear back on what the buyers want me to fix from the inspection, I’m waiting to hear back from my sellers about the failed well test, and I’m putting way too much mental and emotional energy into waiting.

The extra work at my job doesn’t require that I work over time. In fact, between time off for attending inspections, letting the electrician in and stuff like that I’ve worked a little less than 40 hours in the past couple of weeks.

The life stuff is the usual life stuff. I can’t slack on cleaning like I sometimes do, but that typically takes just a few minutes a day to make sure everything’s put away at night. Between soccer and softball I have two evenings occupied during the week but most of my weekends are free now. Unless I have to house hunt again. See, there I go thinking I’m busier than I am because I’m mentally blocking out that time even though it’s not an issue yet and might not become one.

I feel busy mostly because my brain is busy. My buyers jumped on the house hard and fast, will they start to have second thoughts? The well failed a bacteria test, the sellers have agreed to chlorinate the system but won’t take any further action if it still fails. I don’t want to move into a house with failing water so if they don’t fix it I’ll have to start looking for a house again. Seriously, I’m giving them a pass on the non-working fireplace that they were completely dishonest about, I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the water be drinkable. I’m also nervous about the inspection of my house, most of the issues are minor but the buyers could be scared by the aluminum wiring.

My solution?

First, I have to recognize the problem. It usually takes me a few days of feeling like I’m running around when I’m not to realize it.

Second, I determine what is it I actually have to do in the immediate future. I have to keep the house in generally clean shape but I don’t have any large projects left. I have softball on Wednesdays and starting tomorrow I’ll have soccer on Fridays. There’s nothing I can do about the buying or selling right now but wait.

Third, create a schedule. I keep a to do list on my phone with the days of the week. Under each day I put what I have schedule for that day and any additional tasks that need to be completed. I keep at least 2 weeks of tasks on there, sometimes a month if I have a long term project active. It really helps me keep perspective on what I need to do and by when.

Most of the time, the schedule shows that actually, I’m not that busy. If I have a free evening I can pencil in something fun, ie video games, just to make sure I take some time to relax.

What’s all this have to do with money? When I’m busy – and I know I’m not the only one – I tend to make “busy” excuses. Don’t have time to cook, I’ll just buy lunch. I’m too busy to deal with this, I’ll just pay the fine. Or maybe I forget to pay a bill on time and have to pay a late fee.

Sometimes I really am that busy, when my schedule is packed full and I have too much to do and too little time to do it. But those times are rare and I need to be able to differentiate between real busy and feeling “busy”.