The Job Experience, StartupVille: Years #9 and #10

Telling My Manager

Well, not rich but you know

Well, not rich exactly.  But not the other thing either.

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.

Me too.

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.

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19 Responses to The Job Experience, StartupVille: Years #9 and #10

  1. Steph says:

    Hi, I love your writing and this blog is rapidly becoming one of my favourites. I am glad I am not alone in enjoying doing *nothing* and liking pottering about. It’s very difficult to explain to people though. That’s why some blogs etc are a bit of a refuge in a crazy consumerist world. Please keep writing… You are very good at it.

    • livingafi says:

      Thanks for the kind words. It *is* hard to explain that you’re okay with doing very little and just enjoying being alive without work or too many other distractions. A lot of people have trouble with this idea. For years I tried fairly hard to pretend that I liked working and being ultra busy but, truth is, I really don’t. (God knows I’ve had my share of years where I did nothing but work… glad that’s just about over.) Keep up the “pottering” – that makes me happy.

  2. Jennifer says:

    I can relate to your comment about being judgmental about other people who are not as financially saavy. I have found myself constantly internally judging my coworkers and friends, even more so as I become closer to FI, and it makes me feel like a toxic person. Maybe this is just part of my personality that I have to live with and try to keep under control.

    • livingafi says:

      Right, I frequently wish I could turn that part of me off (the judging.) The best I’ve found I can do is a) catch myself thinking these thoughts and b) intentionally push them aside and continue to pay attention to the moment. It’s very difficult to make this level of awareness go away entirely. Fact is, you’re an expert in personal finance, and experts in any field can’t help but notice details in their areas of focus — whether they want to or not. All of that being said, it can get in the way of relationships sometimes. Might be one of the very few negative aspects of FIRE.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear about the infertility woes. We’re not even in the same category (having children should be possible–with assistance), but it was still very disappointing and frustrating. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to have no control whatsoever 😦

    • livingafi says:

      My sister in law has two children (boys), and we’re spending a lot of time with them. It’s not a perfect substitute for having some of our own, but they’re pretty awesome to hang around. Sorry about your own challenges in this area – it sounds like you have options to explore, which is encouraging.

  4. Frankie's Girl says:

    Wow, what a bizarre situation waiting out the startup company’s survival/failure… I was on a sinking ship (along with my husband, who I met at work) and we both bailed after a certain point. They were discussing outsourcing our main work to India (with disastrous results, I might add) and I broke down and jumped ship shortly before it got to that point, but the husband held on for almost 2 before finding a better place… and the company was dissolved within 6 months after he’d left. We weren’t FI at that point, so not really much choice, but it does make me wonder if we’d have stayed and rode it down if we had been FI. I heard that there was a nice little severance package – but only about a month’s worth of pay, so not enough incentive to hang on.

    And the kid thing. Been there, done that, and still beyond angry at the fact that we can’t have children. And punch-in-the-gut bonus – blew lots of money in the process of just trying. Much sympathy and empathy for you and your wife.

    • livingafi says:

      Hey FG. I’m really sorry to hear about your own, as you put it, ‘kid thing’ troubles. I don’t think you ever really get over it — you eventually just learn to deal with the disappointment. Re: outsourcing, I find it interesting how many frustrating experiences overlap between jobs and industries. I know that it saves companies money, but there’s a significant cost in terms of morale, productivity, and service. It was smart of you to leave when you did. Just another reason to want to achieve FI, so you no longer have to worry about your current company pulling the same moves and putting your job at risk. FI means your job != your survival, which is a rare and awesome achievement. From what I understand, you’re practically there.

  5. I love that discussion you had with your manager about your stash. I recently had a conversation with one of my coworkers that went like this.

    Coworker: So how long could you last if you lost your job?
    Me: Well it’s hard to say….if I cut way back, maybe two possibly two and a half……..
    Coworker: Months????
    Me: Decades.

    The expression on people’s face is always same….total confusion. I just smile inside and carrying on with my day.


  6. Have you considered adoption or fostering? Just curious.

    I am miserable – depressed, want to set the place on fire miserable – when there’s nothing to do at work. I HATE standing around and pretending to work, partly because it’s usually just busy enough my bosses will bitch if, gasp, I talk with another co worker. Fuck retail.

    Can you tell I love my job?

    • livingafi says:

      Sorry work sucks to that extent. Prior to landing office-jobs, I worked retail in spurts through high school and college, and being idle in that sort of environment is definitely more difficult. In some jobs, you can, in the privacy of your cube, fritter away time. But I still remember in retail that if there’s nothing to do you still need to stand around on the floor and wait. This makes time pass agonizingly slowly. Totally feel your pain. Re: adoption, not seriously, no. The truth is we spend most free weekends with my SIL and kids (our nephews) and somehow that helps a lot — two adorable boys, 6 and 8 now, old enough to play foursquare with, young enough to not yet be embarrassed about hanging out with an aunt and uncle 🙂

      • Tom says:

        I got a good chuckle from your reference to playing Four Square with your nephews. (Though maybe you are referring to some app?) At the risk of revealing my online identity, I can say that I was Four-Square champ for two days one summer at the youth center growing up. You likely heard of me. 🙂

  7. FriendSinceCollege says:

    Just to confirm how loyal livingafi was to StartupVille, I will let the readers know that we used to hang out pretty often during this period (and still do). Since I have kids we would stay in most of the time. I remember a night when StartupVille was in its death throes. LoyalEmployee already knew that the sale to Mega was done and didn’t tell me. I work at Mega, doing something unrelated, but still I was surprised that he could keep it in. The next morning I checked Y! And saw the news that the acquisition occurred.

    I should mention too that I worked at SoftwareCompany as well. I started in 2004, right as livingafi was leaving. And just for completeness, my other option at the time was at FinancialCompany, so when that didn’t work out, I think you can guess who I passed that opportunity on to… To say the least I find the irony that we have hop-skipped jobs over 10 years remarkable, and pretty accidental. Given my similarity, it’s great to have a friend that is doing this. I am getting a free education (price of a couple beers, bought in NH). Glad to read these and see how things are moving along.

  8. Amy K says:

    I love that you had such a positive impact on your manager. My husband also had Tea Time on his calendar for a while at his previous job – I think it did great things for morale to get together just to shoot the breeze.

    I’m in a Do Nothing job now and it’s pretty sweet. I consider looking for a place closer to home once in a while (half an hour on Rte 3 and 128 each way) but there’s no way I could find something this cushy.

  9. Pingback: Confessions from a High-Paying Job | microBillionaire

  10. Alex Kenzie says:

    Like thegoblinchief, working at a job with no work makes me depressed beyond belief. So drained and de-energized! Gah.

    Anyways, I’m definitely enjoying passing the time by reading your blog. Thanks!!

    Side note: not sure if you cover this later, but did you have a totally mustachian wedding, or did the union ding the bank account a little bit??

    • livafi says:

      We spent about 2K on our wedding with thirty-ish people which is a decent amount per head — we kept costs down by instead being sure to not invite too many humans. Immediate family and inner circle friends only. She didn’t want a nice ring, though, so I saved money there. “Let’s buy a house with that money instead,” she said. That’s my kind of woman 😉

      BTW, sorry to hear about your own job-related woes. Keep your head up, though, you’re on a path that will lead you out of this. And you can always look for other opportunities along the way. God knows I did.

      • Alex Kenzie says:

        Wow, well done! We spent $7k on a 50-people wedding (open bar – need I say more?) but with the generousity of our guests, ended up breaking even.

        In four months I’m moving to a bigger city with more opportunity, so I’ll be into a new job soon enough 🙂 Your experiences definitely inspire me! Many thanks.

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