Telling My Manager
At some point during Year 9, I’m having a private discussion with my manager. He’s being super-candid with me, which is one of the many things I liked about him. He didn’t pretend that just because he’s my manager that some subjects are off the table for discussion.
So we’re talking about the state of the company and, you know, it’s not looking all that great. This is right after the decision to look for a buyer for the company has been made, and a few of the senior engineers have already jumped ship to go and work for a more viable startup.
And he’s depressed. Our conversation goes something like this.
You aren’t thinking about leaving, too, are you?
No, not really. I mean, if the right opportunity fell out of the sky and hit me on the head, maybe. But I’m not actively looking. Despite everything, I really like it here. The people are great.
That’s good. But also risky, you know. I’m not sure what I’ll do if this place goes under. Will you be able to be out of work for a while?
I’ll be OK. I have a bit of money built up.
You’re lucky. I might be able to float for two or three months before having to raid my IRA. You?
I could probably go six or seven years.
His eyebrows raise and his face pushes forward even as his nose angles down to the floor. The last time I saw him go through this awkward series of motions was the day that he had inform our team that he’d just fired the two deadweight guys in an effort to cut salary. It appears to me that he’s surprised, deflated, and apologetic all at once, a rather tough look to pull off. But he’s quick at recovering, pulling his head back up and resuming the conversation.
How the fuck did you manage that?
I save a lot. And don’t spend much outside of my home, food, and commuting. You know, the basics.
Oh. Well, it’s easy for you. You have no kids.
Yeah, true. Probably somewhat easier. But I think I’d still save a lot, even with children. Maybe slightly less.
So why are you working then? If I had that kind of money, I might leave myself. Take some nice vacations.
Here, it’s my turn to do a double-take. This guy is in his early fifties and just told me he doesn’t have much money — he’s living pretty close to month-to-month — and yet he’d take time off if he had substantial savings. Sometimes my brain is cruel, and the judgmental part of my mind starts jumping to unfair conclusions about people. It didn’t fail me here. I think: That’s why you don’t have this kind of money. Because when you have some, you think of ways to spend it. Besides, your own proposed plan is a triple-whammy of stupid: You lose income in the present and simultaneously increase your spending rate while also reducing your future income because by the time you come back you’ll be several years older and significantly less employable because of the gaps in your resume. It’d be the worst possible decision to make. You’d never retire.
I always hate myself for a split second when my brain is popping out thoughts like this. They strike me as fairly disgusting and I really like this guy as a person — I have no rational interest in thinking bad things about him. But the fact remains that he makes a lot of bad financial decisions. An image of his car pops into my head, unbidden: his 2007 BMW 6-Series coupe in the parking lot. They go for about 100K. I know he commutes down from New Hampshire and it takes him about an hour each way — another massive expense made even worse by the fact that he’s burning through this uber-expensive car in the stupidest way possible, by putting 300 or so commuting miles per week on it. This is the equivalent of buying the world’s fluffiest bathroom towel on the planet and using it to wash bird shit off of your deck; you’re not really enjoying it the way it’s meant to be enjoyed, plus it ain’t gonna last long if you keep using it that way.
But I digress.
Why are you holding onto all of that money, anyway?
It gives me options in life, that’s all. Makes me feel like I can do whatever I want to do.
That’s pretty cool. You’re a smart guy, and I’m glad you’re planning on staying here while the place gets sold. If the right place buys us, it could actually end up working out good. You never know.
Yep, that’s my hope. Some big place buys us with the intention of keeping the core technologies while retaining the engineering staff. I’d be relieved for the H1 guys.
If you ever want to go over ways to save money for yourself, let me know. I’m FULL of good ideas in this area, and I promise it won’t hurt. Much.
Yeah, yeah, sure.
He says this sort of dismissively and I don’t think he’s going to follow up with me.
But something cool happened. Over the next month or so, he continued to ask me questions about how I managed to save so much money and I went through the basics: controlling car-related costs, reigning in restaurant expenses, cancelling monthly outflows like gym and club memberships and learning how to exercise without those constructs, taking satisfying vacations on the cheap, simply not buying shit, like rarely logging into amazon, never going to shopping malls, those sort of things. Seven or eight months later he told me he definitely had enough to live on for half a year or more, and he felt a lot more relaxed about the future of the company.
After all, if the place did collapse and he was thrown off of the top story of StartupVille’s building, he now had a lot more time to land on his feet.
The most surprising thing? He sold his car for 70K and bought a used 3 series instead for a third of that at 22K. (This is what passes for frugal in the Land of Engineers.)
Still, I was really happy to be the catalyst for positive change in his life. It made for a more peaceful manager.