Getting to FI from a Union Manufacturing job, part I (the good)

21077676_10155441108767420_1131869097689509169_nHey 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 Good

  • 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 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.

This Week

  • 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.

Trip to New Orleans

10708600_10152701972137420_5472003178619527323_oWe Smidlaps go to New Orleans once a year on average since I left there in 2001.  I’m not sure we would want to live there again as it’s not quite as safe or affordable as Buffalo, but I sure do feel at home there.  I loved the city for my time there and it loved me right back in my mini-retirement.  This is the one and only airplane trip for the year as Mrs. Smidlap lost her jobby job back in late spring.  Let’s call this one a splurge as there was still some steam in the vacation “bucket” of hard earned dollars.  I know of a bunch of internet philosophers (bloggers) who eschew most all discretionary spending in order to “retire” by age 31 while saving 127% of every paycheck and it makes for good reading and I’m happy that works for them.  If you’ve read any of those you might think:  those crazy Smidlaps are going to blow up the budget and won’t be able to get out of the daily grind by 2020 spending on air trips to NOLA on only one income!  Well, I make 2 points here.

The first point is that 3 months ago I finally got a bid to a day job where I no longer report to a food chain of jagoffs and dildos like Nurse Ratchet from Cukoo’s Nest and her bands of misfits that couldn’t manage a 2 hole shithouse.  There will be more detail that some might not know about working in a union manufacturing plant in a future post.  But gone are the mandatory overtime (which was lucrative but exhausting) and overnight swing shifts and the mundane nature of the work.  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I was swinging a hammer turning big rock into little rocks on a chain gang the past 13 years.  I was just testing plastic in a lab, but that came with long hours for people I didn’t respect.  So, the new j.o.b. came with a 10% pay cut (shift premium) and overtime opportunity that went from practically unlimited to something approaching zilch.  This came just as our cushy two incomes with no kids turned into one.  At first glance it would have seemed like a good time to throttle down the spending side of the ledger, which we did.  So why the decision to spend up on this trip?  The thing that really made the difference was quality of life in the new position.  Now there is less urgency to leave the workforce.  That brings me to our balanced approach to the splurge, best drawn as an analogy about not forgetting to enjoy the journey while you’re focusing on the endpoint:

Churchill was asked to cut funding to the arts in order to support the war effort in World War II, he responded “Then what would we be fighting for?” 

My new job doesn’t suck.  It’s not even close to sucky.  I work a set of hours which I chose (7:30 to 4 works for my life) in a nice clean lab and report to a guy whom I respect.  It’s like a miracle to be treated well around here but I was the blind squirrel who found the acorn on this one.  So after working every extra shift (see Overtime as a Side Hustle) for about 13 years and saving at least 80% of the extra cheddar just to have the financial freedom to quit that nasty job, when we finally got right up to the amount we needed the job changed and ceased to blow.  Is that ironic?  I’ll leave that to the internet police to decide.  So now I get up at a civilized hour and drive my 13 minute commute.  I put out some effort for the boss with the mutual respect (it’s better to report to a chemist than an engineer).  I maybe go to the gym at work for 3 miles on the treadmill at lunch time.  Do some more work and home by 4:15.  I’m not curing cancer or changing the world but it’s not dread and I’m not sure what I would do at that point if I didn’t have someplace to be 40 hours a week.  So New Orleans splurge it is.

We booked the whole thing with points as I had one of those Southwest credit cards for a few years which I just ditched for Chase Freedom one with a 150 clam bonus then 1.5 cash back and no annual fee.  We never paid any interest on either one but the Southwest one had a 69 dollar annual fee which I was always averse to paying.  That was good for about one free flight a year but I think we might be flying less and cash back is more flexible.  So hooray for free flights and hooray for us.  Boarding our boxer dog costs a couple of hundred and we got a 3 night hotel stay and one night with our friends Tequila Mick and his lovely bride.

We’re planning to hang around the legendary Mr. Pipps for some food and oysters and drinks tomorrow night.  Then we’ll take it easy on Thursday and look forward to lunch at Commander’s Palace with Mick and Mrs. Mick on Friday.  If you’ve never been to Commander’s, I think it’s the best restaurant in NOLA and has been for quite some time.  Hopefully the weather is good and we’ll sit outside on the courtyard patio.  Every time we’ve been there in the past has been memorable and lunch is steal at almost every place around town.  Having friends for it is the icing on the cake.  I look at it like all the things we do really well (drive older cars, no cell phone for me, eat at home from food we’ve cooked 99% of the time, etc.) are worth it to me in order to be able to do things like this little trip.  We value things like this, especially seeing old friends.  There is more to come either during or after the trip.

Best Thing Last Week

The Dodgers are in the world series!  I starts tonight.  As a lifelong sports fan I haven’t been able to celebrate a championship for one of my teams since 1988.  Go Blue!

Quote of the week

No matter where you go, there you are. — Buckaroo Banzai

Free activity of the week

I know the frugal minded are always looking for rewarding activities that don’t cost mad jack in order to participate.  I’ve read about hiking in the woods and hitting up the free concert in the park.  Well my free activity of the week usually has those beat.  Are you ready?  My free and frugal activity of the week is coitus.  ’nuff said.

Feel free to comment or share.  Just blast away.  As always, I can take it.

My $17,000 Nap

I have only been at this individual stock investing thing since about 2005 and 2006 when I started to take my finances more seriously.  I has gotten hitched to my spicy pepper pot, Mrs. Smidlap, in 2004 and gotten my best paying but shitty schedule soul sucking job as a QC chemical analyst job with BBC (Big Brother Corp).  Bottom line is that we now both had decent incomes and after I bought a bicycle we basically kept the same lifestyle and started fixing our dollars.  but what about the nap?  the $17k one?  

I’m getting to that, Smidlapper.  I came into 15 thousand clams as an early inheritance and we never spent a penny of that, contrary to the behaviors of my earlier life where it would have all gone to booze and Frisco Burgers at Denny’s.  Somehow, now we were a team (still a wine guzzling team, but a team) in my simple mind.  So instead of paying down my long ignored and 8% student loan debt from the 80’s (I know and don’t need to hear it), I opened us each a Roth IRA and put the balance into a taxable account.  I have been investing in individual stocks since that fateful day with varying degrees of success but this isn’t about that really.

In early 2014 I made a speculative investment (something I would not do now) in Plug Power (PLUG).  One of my ex-coworkers from the R+D job in the 90’s had worked for the for a while so at least I knew it was a real place trying to do something.  Well I must have taken a couple of thousand of my hard earned cheddar and bought some at around 2 bucks a share.  Well, there was a lot of activity and interest at the time in these alternative energy stocks (the make forklifts that run on fuel cells) and it started getting some coverage and I bought some more (more reckless and baseless maneuvering I wouldn’t do now).  I ended up with about 3000 shares total and within a month in March, 2014 I was watching CNBC with Mrs. S around 8am after another thankless 12 hour overnight shift (more on these kind of jobs in a future tirade).  PLUG is going crazy and parabolic.  I logged into the ol’ Ameritrade to watch it in the premarket and called MB to tell her what was going on.  I said our position was worth about 34 G’s and asked if she thought I should just put in a sell order and lock in the big win.  After a little huddle we decided to let it ride!  That’s also the name of the greatest horse racing movie ever, in case you doubted it.

Well, when you work long overnight hours you sleep during the day and MB went off the her day job as a mover and shaker.  I brought the computer to the night stand and went to sleep and woke up around noon and the damned shares were trading for 5 and a half bucks or roughly half of what they were 4 hours prior before the nap.  Doh!  I said some bad bad nasty words and sold the whole thing, still making a profit but 17 thousand bucks lighter.  So that’s how you too can take a 17,000 dollar nap.

But, you know how our lives changed that day?  They didn’t.  We still lived the same way with the same behaviors despite the numbers on the screen changing.  So, the way I see it, those numbers many of us chase don’t mean anything until you buy something with them.  It’s not that we don’t care but you learn to roll with that kind of thing and go on with living your life.  So when a chiseling sidewinder from Citron Research shorted SHOP last week and put out some muckraking “research” and we had a big position there that took a 20% dump we didn’t panic.  Keep calm and carry on, ya big Smidlapper.

Quote of the Day Life is a shit sandwich.  The more bread you have the less shit to have to eat.

Fitness:  Ran 3 treadmill miles at work today in 21:40 and the same yesterday.  Weighing in at 187 pounds of love.  I could wrestle the champ at this weight.  The Welsher, my rival, should know that I’m gunning for him

Feel free to blast away with any commentary.  As always, I can take it.

Why I made my own site

Mighty Smidlappers:

I know you were wondering (or not) why this nutter Fred would think anyone would want to read these ramblings.  Part one of the reason is for my own accountability.  You see, I just uncovered a piece of paper from a family meeting (just Mrs. Smidlap and myself in attendance) from 2009.  On that paper were some debts like our mortgage balance, student loan balance, car loan and a little credit card.  Well around this same time I was feeling like a wage slave as a union worker in the Big Brother Corp. chemical plant where I was making a dying.  In the 8 years since then we have managed to wipe out all of that debt, owning all of our stuff except for a little car loan (with interest of 2 dollars a month).  Hooray for us, right?  Well, the getting there was full of plenty of oh-shits as well well as atta-boys.  We built up a good nest egg with some fits and starts and I think we could just about call it quits from the rat race soon.  The accountability part I mentioned?  There were some semi simple line items on a do-list from 2009 that we haven’t finished in the 8 years since.  We don’t have a last will, completed beneficiary forms, a sealed driveway or replaced moldings in our bedroom of the 1860 monster house we own.

So I thought I would start just listing these items and successes and failures where I could pay attention to them more closely.  After all, only a knucklehead or shitbird couldn’t manage to get a driveway sealed given 8 years to complete this 1 day task.

What is something you just can’t seem to get a start on?

Part deux of why I’m doing this is that somebody might read some of this and avoid a big mistake or follow up a success or just be entertained or nauseated.  Just chug on over to Smidlapland and it’s all free.

Lastly, I used to post some opinions and comments on a poplular social network but that platform grew tiresome so I cut it all down to a dozen “friends” from several hundred.  I was thankful for many kind comments that said they would miss my abrasive sarcasm and observations.  So I thought, “just let those dubs know that if they miss any of the so-called ‘content’ or entertainment i provided, it can now be found here.”  So maybe you all will help a brother out and I can get 10,000 comments a week and quit my job just to do this… or it might be just me, myself and my list of unstarted tasks.

This week I am hoping to:

  • Sell one item from our house, or at least list one.  I’ve never sold anything on ebay so getting started is a high hump for the Smidlap family.  We are really trying to decrease the junk in our massive house (2800 square feet of living space with the equivalent or the same for an attic and basement here in Buffalo, NY).  So that’s over 5000 feet of floor space and I swear the joint is f-u-l-l with a capital f-u.  I really want the largest items gone first and that means the drumset that I don’t know how to play.  I’m thinking this will bring the most dollars bang for our time.
  • Decrease the 7 years worth of mail in the dining room.  I was just reading an article that suggested trying to just do something one percent better this week, so I’ll be starting there, at the very least taking care not to let this weeks’s mail build up.
  • Help Mrs. Smidlap empty her attic studio.  Did you know Mrs. me was a painter?  Her work is here :  Well, the big and expensive news is that we’re getting a new roof this fall and renovating the attic studio with insulation and hopefully drywall if there is money left in the budget.  Well, it turns out that when you have a total roof tear-off you must empty the space below of anything of value, which includes all of the art work and stuff to make the fabulous art.  So I am hoping to spend at least a couple of hours walking items down the treacherous attic stairs.  This is a tough one for a naturally lazy s.o.b. like me.
  • Drink some wine.  I’ll need it.

Best thing I did last week:

  • Stopped reading the shitty yahoo front page.  Also reduced consumption of most links people shared on a popular social network.  I read about it here: and feel better having reduced that junk to near zero.

What was the best thing you did last week?  Rubbing one out doesn’t count.

There you have it.  Feel free to blast away with questions or comments.  I can take it.


Day 1

Welcome Smidlapper,

My little family of 3, myself, Mrs. Smidlap, and our trusty pooch, Banjo! Smidlap achieved something of a milestone towards financial independence this year.  I also hadn’t learned anything meaningful or fun in some time so I thought I would try sharing how we did what we did and why.  Things you might see if this turns out to be fun and entertaining:

  • Money matters like some investing philosophy and simplification of our lives and the struggles (past and present) around that
  • Our mistakes – maybe you won’t make the same or have made the same and that’s always worth a few laughs.  (remember when I bought that rusty Mercedes money pit?)
  • Our fun and successful travels and relationships – and some that sucked moose pud
  • Thoughts and opinions on stuff we like – we like dogs, wine, and wine…. and New Orleans

This will not be my first retirement.  About 20 years ago, around age 31,  I quit my first decent paying real job and moved to New Orleans at the urging of my good friend Mr. Pipps.  Well, I had been to NOLA in the past for a couple of Jazz Festivals and a couple of work trips in Bayou Lafourche in my work as an R+D chemist.  This, however, took some semi-titanium cajones to pack up  and leave safety and security behind.  So this little retirement was the best decision I ever made.  I worked in a couple of hotel bars and a dive, all in the French Quarter, played golf for about 6 bucks a round and ate and drank and carried on with the crazies.  At the end of my 2 year I had only driven my little truck about 1500 miles and felt like a hadn’t worked a day.  So right now we’re trying to figure out how to enjoy the next retirement as much as the first one.

So stay tuned for some great stuff to read at work when you should be working and productive for THE MAN.


Oh, and feel free to sign up and or chuck a comment my way.  Go ahead and blast away!  I can take it.