I’m kind of an atavistic type. That’s a favorite word of the legendary Hunter S. Thompson, go and get Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from your library if you have never read it. Loosely, it’s an adjective describing characteristics that are a throwback to an earlier age or era. That’s partly how I come to loath certain parts of modern “progress.” Now, this is not a judgement of anyone who uses or loves certain products or services that I find useless and repulsive. I embrace it as part of what makes us all unique in values and actions. You’re likely to find some of my favorite activities and products extremely jack-asstic. Over the years as we run along the yellow brick road to independence I have developed almost a physical aversion to things like advertising and marketing, Continue reading “Investing in Things I Loathe”
Before You or Your Friends or Relatives Tap that 401k to Pay Bills, Push Pause for a Moment.
I’ve been wanting to address this subject for awhile now as I have seen firsthand what I believe were bad money moves made by a couple of friends the past 10 years. I know most of you reading this will likely have a fully funded emergency fund that could get you through a few months of hardship like an illness or job loss or natural disaster. The people reading blogs like this generally have their shit together (in matters of money, at least). Continue reading “Your Retirement Assets are Protected”
2017 Sucked the Big Boner of Untimely Death
Death is never timely I like to think. 2017 kicked our family square in the nuts with the passing of two of our peers who were not only close friends but younger than my wife and me. Part of this is a cautionary tale and part is for a general reminder that you can recover from a lot of hardship whether it’s your fault or not but there’s no coming back once you meet the reaper.
I met the Commander when we were both temporary employees at a big chemical Research and Development Site in the early 1990’s. I had long curly hair down to the middle of my back and he looked a little like El Diablo and it’s a small wonder they hired either one of us, but he was a least a qualified chemist from a good program and a little graduate school too. I was just a technician on the 10 year plan to a bachelor’s degree, poon tangin’ around looking for some interesting trouble. We kept a healthy distance in the first few months as something told us both that the economy was just coming back out of the hopper and Continue reading “When Your Peers Die”
It’s a fun little thing but I do own a bunch of these names and want to track a bunch of others and will remove some and add some names as any changes may come up. I want to take a long at active picking versus an index over time. I have other growth stocks in my personal account but I wanted to watch this dividend type portfolio as a “safer” alternative with a little growth thrown in. There is a mythical $1000 invested in each name for a total of $45k and hopefully the site adds in the cash to the total return when the dividends are paid out. I intend to add 2% or so to the S&P for it’s yield at year’s end. This should be fun. Wooooo f’ing Hooooooo. Enjoy the ride.
Apple $173.74 $1,000.74 1.45%
AbbVie Inc. $99.60 $998.99 2.83%
Automatic Data Processing $117.71 $1,000.54 2.12%
Aflac $90.66 $998.17 2.00%
Amphenol Corp $89.73 $1,000.49 0.84%
Activision Blizzard $66.60 $1,004.33 0.45%
Becton Dickinson $223.54 $1,001.46 1.32%
Badger Meter, Inc. $47.15 $1,004.30 1.10%
CBOE Holdings $132.40 $1,003.59 0.83%
Cognex $66.83 $1,001.78 0.27%
CME Group, Inc. $152.81 $999.38 1.73%
Canadian National Railway $81.50 $993.49 1.56%
Costco Wholesale $185.36 $1,000.94 1.07%
Carter’s $117.80 $1,001.30 1.27%
Cintas $159.89 $999.31 1.00%
Calavo Growers, Inc. $87.20 $1,002.80 1.07%
California Water Service Group $42.80 $1,001.95 1.65%
Dassault Systemes S.A. (ADR) $109.07 $1,003.40 0.38%
Walt Disney $109.25 $998.50 1.53%
Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. $63.06 $998.87 2.03%
Ecolab, Inc. $134.97 $1,001.48 1.20%
The Estee Lauder Companies, Inc. $130.07 $1,004.14 1.15%
Gilead Sciences $78.79 $1,000.63 2.66%
Hasbro $92.29 $996.73 2.43%
Hormel Foods Corp $35.39 $998.56 2.06%
Ingredion $138.12 $999.99 1.72%
KAR Auction Services $52.05 $1,000.40 2.70%
Lowe’s $94.09 $998.29 1.73%
MasterCard $159.50 $1,001.66 0.63%
McCormick $101.42 $1,001.02 2.02%
Microsoft $87.72 $1,001.73 1.90%
Vail Resorts $212.80 $1,000.16 1.97%
Nvidia $222.43 $998.71 0.27%
Piper Jaffray Companies $89.75 $997.12 1.42%
Rollins $47.14 $997.95 0.97%
RPM International $52.63 $997.86 2.39%
Starbucks $59.94 $1,001.51 2.03%
Sherwin-Williams $419.86 $999.27 0.80%
Target $70.73 $995.88 3.59%
Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. $35.33 $998.28 1.01%
Texas Roadhouse $56.67 $1,000.79 1.49%
Verizon Communications $51.66 $1,000.56 4.57%
Waste Management $87.27 $1,000.11 1.94%
Williams-Sonoma $53.10 $999.34 2.92%
ExxonMobil Corp $86.11 $998.88 3.55%
I Enjoy Researching Them and Following Them
We started this whole investing thing when I ended up with a windfall of about 15k in 2005, right before the huge market downturn. Sure, Mrs. Smidlap and I had 401k’s at our jobs. Mine was excellent with low fees on a bunch of index funds and a generous company match. Hers was a real ripoff for a small business with some of the fees nearing 2% with no match as the record and CD business was in the process of dying its slow and painful death. The one thing I miss about her plan from the thieving rotters at Principal was a Real Estate Separate Account. This thing was not a REIT as they owned physical properties around the country and collected rents on them and it used to return around 10% per year like clockwork, almost in a straight line from lower left to top right of the chart. The one thing about this fund was that during the financial crisis of ’08 and ’09 it was illiquid as they would not sell properties in order to return peoples’ funds. I respect that and they eventually went back to churning out these gains, but I digress. I just wanted to get that out there for all the REIT fans.
So, this windfall hits and we never spent a penny of it as we had plenty of cash flow from jobs that funded our modest lifestyle. Instead of blowing it on a car or big vacation I started some research on the internet about different account types and how to invest this cheddar. I had a job at the time working a swing shift in a chemical plant and a decent amount of time on my hands to read all about finance. The best free resource I found at that time was Motley Fool where I spent months and months reading all I could about the best way to invest and how to value stocks and the like. I have read enough in the Personal Finance blogosphere to know that for some reason people have some aversion to the Fool. I can only speak to my experience that the free materials had me end up with a couple of fully funded Roth IRA’s and an after tax brokerage account.
My Equivalent of MBA Training (hint: the tuition was paid to the school of hard knocks in the form of some underperfoming assets)
So, here I am with 3 brand spanking new account with funds in them. I started researching what to buy and ended up with about 8 stocks with positions of a couple of thousand bucks each. Some of these worked out well and a couple worked out not so well but the biggest lesson I learned was to never stop learning. I watched them religiously on my Yahoo screen and made watch lists and all that bullshit. This went on through The Crisis and I kept devouring more and more financial education wherever I could find it. I read the big Peter Lynch book and The Intelligent Investor and even a Jim Cramer book, which was full of shit, although entertaining. At one point, on my own, I uncovered TSLA, FSLR, and TREE. FSLR was gangbusters when oil was over a hundred bucks a barrel and then came back to earth with oil. I also owned too large a percentage of the portfolio in a refiner MLP called CLMT. The things I learned in the period from 2005 to 2013 were to have a good reason if you’re going to buy or sell and not to chase dividend yield. You see, CLMT ran upon hard times with too much debt and ended up putting the dividend on hold while they restructured. The selling too early mistake without reason hurts a little more for some reason. I must have owned TSLA around 25 or 30 bucks when they first came public and Lending Tree I know I owned at 17 bucks a share. I found that one from a screen of PEG ratios for profitable companies. Have you ever heard about TREE stock? You’ll never hear it mentioned on CNBC or your favorite business channel yet it’s only risen to about 20something times it’s value in about 8 years and TSLA about 10x. I know hindsight is 20/20, but Jeeziz. Even with the wounds and the “tuition” I love stock investing. I don’t have many hobbies outside of staying kinda fit in order to counteract the fine wine habit, but knowing more about stocks if a productive one.
I Decided to Get Some Help in the Form of a Stock Newsletter
Despite what you may be thinking, I am not on the Fool.com payroll or anything. Hell, I’m just some chucklehead on the internet amusing himself with this writing, so for chissake, don’t listen to me! Really, though, I had some extra bucks a couple of years ago when Mrs. Smidlap was still wringing the last juices from the record industry and I was working my nuts off on all kinds of mandatory overtime in the lab. Mostly I saved these dollars but this time I took the plunge. Here is why: 4-5 years prior I read a Special Report on the Fool that was like pulling teeth to finally get to read with all the marketing crap to wade through (the really do try to sell the Bejeeziz out of their services). The report was on the future of Media Stocks and the thesis was that “content is king.” At the time they recommended Disney, Discovery Network, and Scripps Network. The 2 small networks were the interesting ones with those trashy DIY and cooking shows and the like that many of us watch with guilty pleasure. The thing is: they’re dirt cheap to produce and we can’t stop watching them so you end up with very profitable content. Well, those 3 went gangbusters over that time period and I had this extra money that would have bought a pretty good case of wine on vacation but I was sold that I should buy the Stock Adviser service for 360 clams/ 3 year subscription. It’s been 2 years and I could not be happier with the investment.
At first they were a pain in the ass as bothering me in my inbox with trying to up-sell me to the next level of subscription, but them Mrs. Me taught me to “use the unsubscribe link instead of just being enraged, you Big Dummy.” She was right, as is often the case. Other than being bombarded with “spam-like” marketing materials, the service has been fantastic for me. They put me onto winners like NVDA at 25 bucks and MTCH at 13. There were some mediocre duds in there but the huge winners have more than made up for those and I have sold those small losers like CMG and TRIP. Now I want you to know I don’t just blindly go and buy any and all recommendations but carefully consider the upsides and downsides in the articles for the picks. I would never try and convince anybody to follow this approach but I did want to say what has worked for me. That’s for the cult of Vanguard index fund bootlickers who thinks that anybody buying individual stock is either a Rube or a Philistine and probably a little of both.
What Else is Going On?
I’ve been making stocks, soups, and rendering fat from ducks, chickens, and beef. Animal fat is delicious, you see, and it’s very satisfying to render your own and clarify it to a nice pale yellow that will keep a long time in your fridge. We’re still purging our things on Ebay and I am back at the Work Gym treadmill, which is right across from my building. Big Brother wants to pay me to work out at lunch each day? Who the hell am I to say no?
I’ve been doing a lot or blog reading around the personal finance and frugality realms the past few months. A lot of the content is really good and well written and pretty entertaining.
Well, I was reading a post that said something like “would you watch a show on FI/RE?” and some people replied they would and some said it would be too boring, etc. My big idea came when I thought people might watch it if it was done as a madcap zany comedy! Picture some Goofball like Kevin James from King of Queens or Seth Rogan as Mr. Irresponsible, with the usual suburban set-up where they’re drowning in debt despite the appearance of making a good living. What if Mrs. Irresponsible, the matriarch of this family of 4 with their finances secretly all poon tanged up starts reading these same blogs and joins the community and decides to do something about it?! darn it!
I can picture it now: Mrs. I does a ton of reading and starts commenting and it all gains momentum and she starts her own blog to start making the changes. Pretty soon the thermostat is down to 56 degrees in the middle of winter and Mr. Irresponsible can about see his breath as he eats his dinner of black beans with a glass of water on the side when a week ago it was seared tuna with chardonnay at his favorite restaurant! I’m rolling around laughing my ‘nads off just thinking about it.
Oh, wait, there’s more. She starts selling all his sentimental crap in order to downsize houses and reduce debt, but Mr. I is having none of it! So, that’s the initial idea. Now I just need some big baller like Steve at Think Save Retire to help me get it off the ground. I doubt that will happen because nobody ever reads this damned stuff but you heard the idea here first! 12-22-2017.
What do you think? I’ve got more scenes in mind and I think it could make 97 minutes of pure fun. I’ve noticed one thing in the reading I’ve done around this subject is that some of it is 100% serious. I think a community that can laugh at itself or anyone who can laugh at themselves is better off. It could be like a modern day version of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell in Overboard.
What Else is New in Smidlap Land?
- The selling is going very well. It’s crazy at almost 50 years old how much shit you accumulate. It is very daunting once you get started. I would say we’re sold about 70 items on our Ebay but it might be time to balance this with a bunch of throwing stuff away too. There is a fine line between getting money for that Walter Payton rookie card and wanting all the worthless cards gone.
- It’s Christmas time, so Merry Christmas, you hosers. We’re travelling across snowy New York to Saratoga to see some family so that is usually fun.
- Mrs. Smidlap had some pretty good success in a couple of art sales so between that and the Ebay we haven’t really noticed her lack of a traditional J.O.B. Turns out they are overrated.
How was your December? Blast away in the comments and let me have it. I can take it. Oh, and here’s another on of the dog.
NOT FINISHING COLLEGE IN A TIMELY FUCKING MANNER
I was one of those scholarship lucky 18 year olds with a knack for doing standardized tests very well without having to work too hard at it. I also grew up in a small dying town in Upstate, NY with simple values. Looking back it was a decent place to grow up and stay out of trouble. My old man was a prison guard and mom stayed at home and we had the usual “stuff” that any country family had, but we were 6 miles from the nearest town and social time was tough with a corn field on one side, an orchard on another, and a neighbor and some woods on the others. I learned to love sports and even with a homemade training routine was the top cross country runner for 3 years in my crappy little town. I had the grades and credentials and couldn’t wait to get far away from there.
Well, I landed in Norfolk Sucks, Va with a full academic scholarship, excluding room and board. My folks willing threw in their share and I had a couple of reasonable federal student loans (2500/year I think) and off I went from the country to a big crappy violent city. I tried my hand at Division I cross country and was completely overmatched by people who put in the work to be very good at it. My grades were fine but some kind of balance was missing. I think I was expecting Animal House for a social life but it wasn’t exactly that. My grades were fine for a couple of years and I didn’t miss home but didn’t like Norfolk either, although skipping class and going to Virginia Beach had its merits. I didn’t know where I wanted to be but I knew where I didn’t want to be. This showed itself as a common driver over the past 30 years on my path to Financial Independence.
So I transferred schools after 2 years to a fancy liberal arts college in New York State. I had enough credential to go for more prestige in a school but a good friend in Virginia put it accurately: “Fred, what are you going to do? Go to a party at Dartmouth with mustard stained sweatpants?” He had a good point about cultural fit. Me might have said the same about where I landed this time. This time I still got decent grades and was moving along in the program but still had the wanderlust and boredom. I quit after that third year and moved to Buffalo to sleep on a couch in an apartment with Baltimore Hank and his running friends.
The financial impact probably is obvious as I kicked around doing goofy ass jobs in different cities for the next few years before I finally landed a lab job that paid my tuition at the same fancy liberal arts school. It didn’t need to be a cultural fit as I only commuted there within walking distance. My advice to anybody in that early situation is do what you need to just finish the program and then go and screw off where you would have that degree in your pocket throwing off more fun cash than the alternative.
Now, most all the downside to not finishing on time is financial. I still lived on the cheap and had some of the best times of my life without really a care in the world. I drove a series of $1000 cars (in the 90’s you could get a usable car for that) and shared apartments with good friends. The chemical company who hired me and paid my tuition paid enough to get a lot out of my system of the things I felt I missed in my country ass upbringing. I got comfortable in many situations and around all different classes of people. While I was blowing off student loan payments and accruing astronomical interest I learned how the other half lives when I discovered good wine and good food.
It was kind of a curse that a girl who worked in our ghetto wine store turned me on to Stag’s Leap Cabernet and some Oregon Pinot Noir and Bordeaux instead of starting with the cheap crap. I remember my rent was only 150 bucks at the time so it was all affordable and pretty soon I was taking vacations and going to the Beverly Hills Hotel and to Napa Valley wineries. Life seemed good but my finances were taking the savage beating they richly deserved with that behavior. One last upside is that, having gone wild and carefree in so many ways, there is no crisis in my 40’s because I can pretty much say I have been there and done that with regards to many peoples’ bucket lists.
So, that’s how not to start out but this is really a tale of redemption. More on that later.
Frugal Things We Did Before We Knew That Was a Thing
- Free Furniture – I likely said we were in the process of selling/ donating/ throwing out a lot of the crap in our house, which is big and full. I got to thinking about it and looking around and at least a lot of it is full of free stuff. Mrs. Smidlap has been a curb shopper on big garbage day for 20 years since she bought the place. We have a whole front porch set-up (wicker chairs, nice metal glider couch, farm table, etc) which cost a total of zero bucks. Some were curb finds and others were cast offs from downsizing family members who were going to junk it. Formal dining room furniture was all cast off stuff too from people who were buying new. This is pretty high quality stuff too that folks are just willing to discard for our enjoyment.
- Keep our cars forever – I bought a new little Mazda b2300 pickup in 1995 (no air conditioning and didn’t even come with a radio) and kept it for 15 years. Mrs. Smidlap bought a new car in 2005 that we’re still driving. Like my Owlie’s Dad used to say about a car: “Hone ‘er ’til she don’t.” That is free Vermont gibberish/wisdom that I’m not even charging you for. The bonus is that the little truck was in a New Orleans hailstorm and the insurance paid me a couple of G’s ($1000’s for you gutter snipes) for some little surface dents that was mine to keep. I drank that money, but that was before I was cured of the bad finance habit.
Moral of the Story is Better Late Than Never
I didn’t really get my financial shit together until I met Mrs. Smidlap in 2002 and the first few years was getting to around even. The rest of the race has only taken about 12 years (including the Great Recession). You know what could have derailed all that irresponsible fun for me?
- Having kids
- Having a huge house or car debt
- Poor health
- Having a spouse who expected me to be responsible (a reasonable requirement)
There’s some food for thought. Got something to say, Smidlapper? Go nuts, I can take it.
p.s. I was having some trouble with WordPress and comments. Could you try and leave a test comment at least and if the site doesn’t allow that, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. thanks for looking in here.
Hey smidlapper, i’ll be you ate and drank too much at thanksgiving this past weekend. i know i did. Worry not, we’re both still here to talk about anticipating events and needs before they become an emergency. Here’s some food for thought on the subject, Chubbs.
You may have read we had our roof replaced and that went fairly smoothly, although the first crew damaged our driveway and dinged up the neighbor’s house a little. Let’s just say not paying in full until completely satisfied with a completed job should be obvious. We have not paid in full as these things have not been addressed.
But back to the subject at hand: If you want to own a big f’ing house then you need to anticipate that shit happens. We had a little roof repair 5 years ago and the contractor told me the roof had about 5 years left. Then something interesting happened when we changed insurance companies. The insurance agent said she wouldn’t shop around our homeowner’s policy due to the condition of the roof she could see from google earth! Imagine our chagrin at us letting it go that long. Well, at that point we maybe could have squeaked another year or two out of the roof but the thought of needing this job on short notice would make your sleep less restful, to say the least, so we bit the bullet and spent the dollars. Sure it was painful to pony up several 10’s of thousands of hard earned jack which could have bought a lot of wine or fun times, but the potential downside was worse. The best and most reliable contractors are booked months in advance for a reason. Let’s say we went for the big delay and for the cover our big ass 1860’s house to leak and then decided we needed it fixed? This might have resulted in water damage and a litany of other poop that would have compounded something that could have and should have been avoided. See how that went? Hooray for us for acting like responsible adults. Trust me when I say it hasn’t always been a guarantee.
We paid off our house about 4 years ago, so how nice for us. One thing about this big life step is that you then own all the equity in your home. When we suspected we needed this major repair I got to thinking we might not want to necessarily want to pony up the home maintenance fund along with the emergency fund and pay that back off, leaving us less liquid if a real emergency did come up like injury or job loss. Enter the Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). Now I would never say we should borrow (even at a decent rate) BUT we went and opened the HELOC at least 6 months before we might have possibly needed to use any of that money. It doesn’t cost anything to open the line of credit and allows some flexibility and liquidity but it takes a long ass time to get all that stuff approved. I hope we don’t ever need it but I hope we don’t need the fire department either, for that matter, but it’s in place if we get in a liquidity pinch.
SELLING OUR STUFF AND DOWNSIZING
This is the one that really got me thinking about doing stuff ahead of time. We have no intention of leaving our palatial estate any time soon. This is the best position from which to get the most for your valuable stuff when you’re not under the gun to do it. We’ve been listing our crap near the maximum where we think it will sell and just posting up a ton of items. If they don’t sell? No pressure, just adjust and put them back up there. The pace of it all is very manageable and we’ll slow way down during the holidays when Mrs. Smidlap is more busy selling her art. Like that ballerina in the picture here.
I really think the throwing away is going to more fun than the monetizing. Hell, I can’t wait to get down to just enough stuff to stock a big 2 bedroom apartment. We’ve been looking around the place and saying “I didn’t even know we had that” and other things like “I can’t believe somebody paid me 130 bucks for those sunglasses you got for free in the 80’s.” I like these new hobbies like downsizing that at worst are cost neutral and at best can make you a little while you get on the healthier side of the “shit i possess” ledger.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
It’s easy when you know how.
FREE ACTIVITY OF THE WEEK
Streaming WWOZ 90.7 New Orleans. When I lived there I had this on in my apartment 24/7 for two years straight and when we go to visit our friends have it on the same way. If this music doesn’t put you in a better mood then seek help. http://wwoz.org/listen/player
Feel free to say your best or worst in the comments. I can take it!
welcome, Smidlapper, to the mostly lower case (e.e. cummings) version of my babble.
you might want to consider cost of ownership regarding repairs on the old beast before they arise. i think i mentioned mrs. smidlap bought this monster house before we met and we generally love and appreciate living here and doing what we like with it. hell, we might even retire and keep it as a rental property, who knows? i just wanted to touch on the home maintenance bucket of your regular split of your income. i know you have your buckets set up, right? these are those expenditures that regularly occur and you know they’re coming. they never don’t come (like my grammar?). we have ours set as vacation/gift/repair, emergency fund, Roth IRA’s, tax, FS overtime, and MB art income.
i mention this because we’re right in the middle of what could be a shocker for some. we have an 1860’s house in buffalo. it’s big and stone and generally awesome. well, it turns out we had an appox. 70 year old asbestos roof and it finally came time to replace and it is happening this week. well there are some funky rules around this type of work but i understand it boils down something like this. the owners are allowed to remove those roofing tiles themselves (death trap for unskilled on a high pitch, 40 foot peak on slippery old tiles), or have the roof repaired with no big permit. the problem with our place is these brittle old shingles easily break and are tough to repair. there was already an old layer of wooden shingle underneath so another layer over the asbestos was no option. well, let’s just say with the abatement the cost of a new roof in our case around thirty thousand american dollars! doh! if any readers want my takeaway, here it is. 1. know what is up there when you decide to buy the place so you can prepare and get the cash in place for crap of this magnitude. 2. if you already own an old house like this, adjust home repair budget accordingly, even if it hurts. 3. don’t blow all your hard earned repair fund every year on cosmetic wants, as you never know when a big ticket item like this eats up several years of that fund and you already spent it on granite countertops.
Free activity of the week
making a phone call. you see, i never have owned a cell phone and can barely operate one due to my aversion and contempt for the antisocial devices. i got tired of paying verizon for land line service as normal people still make the occasional call. i ditched them in favor of a google voice account. you do need an internet connection and i had to buy an OBI device for about 40 bucks. but now with this set-up i pay zero bucks a month for unlimited calling in the united states of ‘murica. it might even include canada.
Quote of the Week
“no good can come of this.” — i said this to a group of friends who wanted to save a recording of a bachelor party in the 90’s. they took the advice and we destroyed the evidence.
What we did right and wrong
in the “right” column, mrs. smidlap started listing on eBay last week and even sold something. i kinda huck finned her into that one but now we have 16 listings of stuff we don’t use or need. i consider that a win/win as even if the stuff brought in zero dollars it’s still decreasing the crap and clutter in our house and taking up some spare time when that spare time could be spent on the other side of the ledger out in the world wasting dollars. i also came to an agreement to see my drum set to Tequila Mick in New Orleans. The stipulation is that he’s flying here and renting a car and i’ll help him drive it back to NOLA. in other words, what could go wrong?
in the “wrong” column, we didn’t need those giant 12 ounce pours of free bourbon at the tropical isle bar. sometimes free is your enemy. mark it down!
as always, feel free to comment on this substandard content. blast away, i can take it.
Hey Smidlapper, have you ever wondered about the gravy train employment of a member of an Auto Worker’s Union or a Steel Worker? I’ll tell you about my experience for some perspective and all about the golden handcuffs that come with it.
I was just a bachelor’s level chemist when I got to Buffalo in 2002. I had a series of decent paying salaried positions along with a mini-retirement and a couple of good manufacturing problems solved in my pocket. I had just met the future Mrs. Smidlap who had just bought an enormous stone house in a beat up rust belt city (more on home ownership later). So rather than continuing making industrial silver compounds across the state and seeing one another when we could I decided to take the plunge and just try and find work in the B-lo. I has lived here before and knew there was a large chemical industry at one time and even had a few interviews before I made the move. A year or two went by and I did a bunch of temporary work and then a stint as a brass factory supervisor (brassmaster), and a chemist at a fly-by-night nutraceutical maker. Those were really crappy jobs and by the time we were hitched up and finished a sonoma valley honeymoon i was unemployed again. We were living off MB’s salary as a music business mover and shaker which really let us know it wasn’t too bad living off one income, except for the boredom of being home all the time.
The whole time I was looking nationally for jobs and went on some interviews but we really didn’t want to leave MB’s employer to whom she was loyal. Then an employment agency called and said they had a contract position at Big Brother Corp if I was interested. The interview took 5 minutes and they told me about the swing shift and the pay rate and the type of work and I accepted. I figured I would try it out while I kept looking for a normal day job on salary. You see, BBC is one of those huge conglomerates known to write a decent check and offer good benefits and all that kind of stuff. I did the assignment for 9 months and summer of 2005 they hired me permanently as a lab analyst, where I was overqualified.
- The pay is unusually good for the qualifications required. It was much higher than I ever got in prestige salaried Chemist positions. It was in short order I paid off any consumer debts and Mrs. Smidlap was never one for taking on “shoppy” kinds of debt so that just left us with my big student loan balance and the cheap mortgage on our big ass house. I didn’t get very spendy but I did buy a new bicycle for about 500 clams which I have ridden about 50 miles the past 12 years (well meaning but bad purchase). The upside of the bicycle is that there is nothing wrong with it and I could use it any time. MB bought her own bike this past summer the right way, at a thrift market for 40 bucks.
- The higher pay rate got us looking at an opportunity to get on the right side of the ledger and examine the things we liked to do. We built up a large emergency fund pretty quickly which sits in savings and we have never touched. Then we started a “bucket” system where we funded 3 buckets every paycheck: vacation/gift/home repair, Roth IRA’s (the gift of tax free income in retirement), and tax as our taxes weren’t in escrow. I added 3 more columns for my overtime dough, MB’s painting income, and some cash we keep around. MB is a fantastic artist marybegley.com and we wanted to keep these funds separate as the incomes were irregular and we didn’t want to count on them from month to month.
- The benefits were pretty good. I had a pension that accrues until 2018 when it goes away, but it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye and I anticipate BBC offering to buy that out in the next year or two so I can put it straight to an IRA. Health insurance and employee match are standard and excellent. In other words, they’re everything you would expect from a soul-sucking conglomerate. This is the bargain I made to work beneath my qualifications for a whle: money.
- The overtime (mostly voluntary and occasionally mandatory) is the greatest side hustle you can have. It was 1.5 times during the week and double time on Sunday if you worked 7 straight days. That was such a good motivator I must have knocked out 40k in student loans and about 60k in mortgage in 6 years while still living off our regular pay and having a good time. I even turned down a bunch of opportunities to work even more to try and achieve some balance of enjoying life. It’s not like I was breaking rocks, just testing plastic and putting in the long hours.
- There is a seniority system, which is good and bad for me. When the economy took a dump in 2009 we cut a bunch of jobs and people got laid off. The upshot of that is that with a little seniority I got booted from the lab to the factory floor (bad part) but the factory floor jobs weren’t that bad and paid well and I kept making money and investing during generational lows in the stock market (buy low!). This happened 3 times where I had to work production but I made some good pals doing it and made some lemonade from the lemons. I always ended up back in the higher paying lab role after no more than a year or so. i’ll give you the downside to the seniority system in part II (the bad).
So, the bucket system for funds we knew we were going to spend was the start of our financial independence (FI) travels. We always knew that if something happened like a layoff (MB lost her job 6 months ago) we could adjust down the vacation category and we did that and life didn’t change much at all, so much that we might leave it lower. In the meantime I was reading everything I could about saving and investing and paid off all the reckless spending fun of my youth (I get to keep the crazy memories of all that). I’m sure there are others but that’s some of the good that comes with this kind of work.
Quote of the Week
When you’ve won the game, stop playing.
Free Activity of the Week
Dog Walking. I walk my little boxer to a fantastic park about 1.25 miles from our house. Often the other dog owners will ask me if we’ve been to this dog park of that one. I tell them I prefer not to drive in that car in order to take a walk if i don’t have to. Just go out the front door and start walking. That works for running too.
- They started working on replacing our roof yesterday. More to come on this.
- We sold one item on Ebay in our quest to de-clutter. I sold my drums to Tequila Mick from NOLA. Now he has to just come get them.
- I shredded about 50 pounds of junk mail so lets call it a good week for accountability.
- Had a great time seeing Pipps and TM in the big sleazy. It’s always good to be back and drink Sazeracs, eat raw oysters and All that Jazz poboys, and mostly see old friends.
As always, feel free to comment as you wish. Blast away, I can take it.