Paid a Pittance

This is a guest post by Robert, who lives in Calgary and works as a financial advisor retired at 34. He is married, has three kids.  Robert and his wife then plan to return to school and become teachers, eventually living and working overseas.

I’ve been working a couple odd jobs lately. One example is the civic census. For about three weeks, I went out almost every evening for two hours and knocked on doors. The weather was pretty good, people are mostly helpful and I enjoyed doing it. I’m not sure exactly how much it will pay, but I’m guessing around $1,000. That will work out close to $20 per hour. I used to earn more as a stockbroker, and I could likely earn more if I returned to work, but I feel like I’m helping my community and there’s the added benefit that I get paid to exercise.

I also decided to work a polling station for the provincial election that took place in Alberta on April 23. It was long, but not very demanding. We worked from 8:00am setting up our polling station (there were six “stations” or tables in a school gym), doors opened at 9:00am for voting and it was pretty quiet until about 4:00pm. Then it was busy until doors closed at 8:00pm. (The good news for democracy is that voter turnout was around 57%, far higher than 41% in our last election.) Counting the ballots took from 8:00pm to 11:00pm.

Besides the attraction of serving my community, I chose to work the election in order to better understand the democratic process. Since learning about democracy and government in grade 6, I’m haven’t been taught about how our democratic system works. As it is, I barely remember anything I learned in grade 6. Volunteering on a couple of campaigns and helping with the vote was a great experience to see first hand how our citizens choose the politicians that represent us.

The pay isn’t too bad, either. Because there was a senate selection, there was some extra pay beyond the regular rate. In fact, I earned $375 over a 15 hour day, which works out to $25 an hour. It may not feel like much money, but it seems fair for the work we did. When the returning officer phoned me to ask if I would help with the official count, I agreed. I had the idea that I would enjoy seeing the rest of the process: what happens to the ballots after they’re counted on election day.

When I showed up to the election office the day after, I was a little surprised by the work they had to do. All the materials that came back from the polls had to be sorted into three groups: trash, recycling (maps, forms and papers that were written on, directional signs) and unused materials. We spent about three hours just clearing the office of the items that we didn’t need. I was working with two retired people and we spent three hours. In fairness, the returning officer (who was probably as new at this as I was) warned me that the work was going to be manual and the pay rate would be lower.

At the end of the afternoon, she asked me to sign my pay claim form. It said: 3 hours x $12.00 = $36.00 total. I feel ungrateful for just how underwhelmed I was. $36? I made more than that in an hour as a stockbroker (whether working or just catching up on economic news).  I had to pinch myself and remember that I was working to serve my community and learn about democracy, not to earn income. And a good thing, too, because my wife just laughed at me when I told her I had earned $36 that afternoon.

Have you done a job for a reason other than money? Is it better to volunteer outright, or to earn something, even if it undervalues your abilities?

Early Retirement is NEVER Easy

During my post last week I had an excellent comment from Paul N which cover a lot of ground (so go read it), but I did want to focus on one of his points:

I think people come to your blog and look for guidance to some degree then may get frustrated by realizing it’s not as easy to retire at a young age as you may make it sound at times.

While I like to think I’m as honest with you all as I can be, I will point out something very important: early retirement is NEVER easy.  While I do try to positive and encouraging to others to go after your dreams and live your own life, I also don’t want to sugar coat it: it’s also a hell of a lot of work.

I think perhaps the disconnect on what people might think it is easy is I’ve got years of experience under my belt on thinking about these issues, so I don’t beat a dead horse on the difficulty involved.  To me the difficulties are so obvious that I often don’t dwell on them, but perhaps that is the flaw.  I tell you about the dream and my efforts to get there, but I don’t mention so much the negative side.

So with that in mind, what are the downsides?  In no particular order:

1) Sell Out Your Dreams First (Then Buy Them Back) – Ok, confession time.  I picked my chemical engineering degree mainly based on how much I could earn and I had some interest in it.  What I really wanted to be was a writer, but I knew the ability to make money in that career was limiting so I focused on a career with a better pay back to the investment of my education.  Now ironically I’m going for early retirement to be able to write more.

2) Get Uncomfortable – I realized something critical very early in life: I will never fit in.  This isn’t to say I won’t belong in some places, but I never fully fit it.  It’s just not in my nature to do it.  I’m me and I refuse to sacrifice that to gain acceptance so I’ve always been a little on the outside looking in.  So the result is yes I’m uncomfortable in all sorts of situations and going for early retirement only makes it worse.  For example, I don’t watch much TV so when people talk about the latest Big Bang Theory episode I have a completely blank look on my face.  I’ve learned not to dwell on it or limit my social interactions.

3) Saving is Hard Work – While my net worth statements on this blog show the good progress towards my goal, it does tend to gloss over all the little decisions behind those results.  For example, I don’t owe a cell phone.  My wife has one that I sometimes borrow.  Yet there are still times that come up where I wonder if I should get my own phone.  The debate happens every few months and ends up in a similar spot.  Do I really want to invest that much money into something I only have a use for every two months or so? The answer to date has been no.

4) Family Time – Perhaps the most obvious thing that doesn’t come up some weeks is yes I work three jobs (day job, school board and writing) which means some weeks I barely see my own kids.  Do I feel guilty? Yes, but as much as I dislike leaving them they are my motivation to be on the school board.  I want them to have a great education and the current system isn’t there yet.  Also I really enjoy writing and it is my passion in life so I’m not willing to give that up.  The result is I’m a very busy guy, but I’ve chosen this.  No one is forcing me to put in these hours and I don’t have to do it to pay the bills.

5) Goodbye Senior Management – While I do make good money via my day job I will never make huge amounts of money from a senior management job.  I know this and frankly so does my workplace.  I know I could work longer and have a much more comfortable standard of living, but I personally don’t need it.  Other people might, so they might want to spend the time climbing the corporate later.  In my case, I might move up one last level at most.

The end result of all of these things should be obvious, there is always a price to be paid for any decision.  Yes I can retire decades early, but I am paying for it.

The Hurt and The Lies

This is a guest post from Sheryl in Ontario, who is 40 years old with a grown daughter, and is trying to rebuild her retirement dream just 20 years too late for early retirement.

I admit it, sometimes I will tell a lie, or maybe just omit saying something so another truth is assumed. If my motive is for the greater good or to save hurting someones feelings, is that so bad?

April has been a skinny spending month for me after my horrible March, and I splurged on Saturday: $5 for a big slice of pizza and a drink while at work at my second job. I had not spent any money for coffees or food not prepared at home all month, so I felt that a small splurge was doable. That was the best pizza I’d tasted in a long time, it came from a small independent pizzeria. I saved half (it was a huge slice) to share with my boyfriend when I got home so we could both benefit from the splurge. I have no regrets about any of that.

It’s easy to talk about slashing expenses and saying no to going out or buying things,  until you have to do it for real.

On Sunday came the hurt of my goals and financial situation. My sister traveled from out of town (90 minutes away) to visit my parents, and for her husband to help me do some work in their yard. Mid-day came, and everyone (except me) decided to go out for lunch. I would have liked to go with them, but I just don’t feel like I can instantly find $20 to go out for lunch (my sister would have tried to arrange with me to split my parents bill). I had to decline the invitation to join them. When pressed for a reason, I didn’t feel I could say “I don’t have the money to do that”, so I had to reply with “It’s my only day off and I have things I have to do”. I’m certain that if I’d said it was an money issue, someone would have offered to buy it for me, but I just couldn’t do that.  I know my sister doesn’t have a big surplus of cash in her budget, and my parents bought lunch for me two weeks ago.

It would be different if it were a birthday or some other celebration, I would have found the funds, but to go for lunch, just because? Yes, I’m hurt because I chose not to join them, but I think I would have hurt more spending the money I couldn’t feel justified in spending.  I’ve done so well controlling expenses this month, I want to keep that momentum going.

I can’t help but feel that I got into the situation I’m in (having debt) because I usually just went along with what everyone else was doing, and do feel I’m now on the right track to become FI.  I know it’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things either, but right now, $20 is a lot to me.  I know one day, the bar of what is a lot to me will be raised, and dropping $20 won’t be as big a deal, but I won’t get there if I raise that bar now.

I’m not dwelling on this, and I accept this is part of the path I’ve chosen.  I wanted to write about it so perhaps some readers that have been in similar situations will know they are not alone.