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We Really Are Different
Old 03-05-2010, 07:12 AM   #1
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We Really Are Different

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend at work. We were talking about career, etc. I mentioned that in 5 years or so I expect to finish this part of my life and move on to something else, like consulting, small business etc. and I could see it lining up in part because DW has been self employed for years. Her reaction was to be interested but that she could not do it. She had thought about it and realized that after taxes, expenses, etc. She was only making 30k net a year. But she keeps working because this is half the mortgage payment (!).

After I recovered from the flash of terror at the thought of a 5k monthly mortgage payment, I was struck by how different the FIRE tribe is from the populace. My friend is no dummy. She is bright, has a finance MBA from a top school, was a VP at an investment banking team for years, and has no trouble having (and voicing) a non-majority opinion. Yet here she is working a job that is beneath her and does not make her happy and cannot or won't see that there are many other paths besides the treadmill of work.

Thank gawd I stumbled across intercst's page when I was 26 and bored at work. And thank gawd I have all of the examples on the board. There but for the sauce (and meatballs) of the Flying Spaghetti Monster go I.
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Old 03-05-2010, 07:14 AM   #2
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Old 03-05-2010, 07:22 AM   #3
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Yes, we are an odd bunch!

No, we won't be bored in RE!
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Old 03-05-2010, 08:11 AM   #4
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I'm glad to be a member of this oddball bunch.
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Old 03-05-2010, 08:12 AM   #5
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It's surprising how many people follow convention without ever giving it a second thought. How many people get marrried and have children because that is simply what adults do? And how many upgrade their house, automobile, and wardrobe at the earliest possible moment because that is simply what people do?

There isn't a whole lot of thought involved, in my opinion. A lot of folks just sleepwalk through life along a well worn path simply because that is the direction everyone has always gone.

Good for them, though. Because what they're doing makes what I'm doing possible. So hats off to them.
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Old 03-05-2010, 08:14 AM   #6
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If I had a dollar for every well-paid professional techie I w*rked with who got themselves stuck in this vortex...
There is definitely a huge difference between the LBYM crowd and the rest of the planet. I definitely like being part of the LBYM camp.
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Old 03-05-2010, 08:20 AM   #7
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Good for them, though. Because what they're doing makes what I'm doing possible. So hats off to them.
What he/she said.
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Old 03-05-2010, 08:37 AM   #8
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... the thought of a 5k monthly mortgage payment...
My friend is no dummy.
I'm not sure that I can reconcile this cognitive dissonance. And maybe she's beginning to wonder how she got into this situation-- especially during the lowest interest rates of the last 60 years!

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She is bright, has a finance MBA from a top school, was a VP at an investment banking team for years, and has no trouble having (and voicing) a non-majority opinion. Yet here she is working a job that is beneath her and does not make her happy and cannot or won't see that there are many other paths besides the treadmill of work.
I think employment security, especially with that size of mortgage payment, is a huge unquantifiable fear for most people. It's impossible to visualize retirement or ER, let alone plan for it, when every month is a race against the howling pack of debt wolves.

Last night spouse and I had a "you will know when it's time to go" epiphany during a family discussion. (Kid's having trouble with a high-school teacher and wondered in exasperation if she'd ever see this situation again at college. Hah!) Some jobs (or the lives around them) are so good that not even Dilbert's PHB can make a dent in one's happiness. No matter how bad the workplace or your life gets, if you're basically happy in your work then nothing can really kill your buzz.

But if a job (or its surrounding life) isn't good then a PHB can become a problem that nothing else can overcome. It might even be a focal point and a metaphor for all the other issues. When it's an all-consuming issue and all your time is spent trying to cope with a bad job, a bad boss, or other bad work things... then maybe it's time to stop trying to fix a bad situation. If there's nothing really good about it, then even if you fix the PHB you're still left with nothing really good.

I literally had the same PHB in two different jobs about seven years apart. The first time I worked for him I just couldn't believe that anyone could be both so incompetent and still so evil. I was also struggling with mid-career issues, chronic sleep deprivation new parenthood, and a huge shift in personal/family priorities as Navy stopped being a fun life and started messing with family life. But I'd just rotated ashore from sea duty, and when your quality of life rises from a "1" out of 10 to a "2" then the 100% gain makes it hard to notice the fact that your life still sucks. At the time I couldn't see past my military career and I couldn't even spell ER. But I could see a lot of problems with my boss, and that repair effort became an all-consuming obsession while everything else languished. Because in my mind the boss was the source of all the other problems, not just an isolated symptom. Even if that PHB had been replaced with the Leader of the Year, everything else about that command (and my Navy life) would still have been... not much.

Today, after years of ER and with the confidence that comes from financial security, I can see that I should have immediately resigned from active duty, joined the Reserves, maybe taken a few months off, and continued my career with a better boss (and a bunch of other better things too). But obstinacy, the fear/uncertainty of unemployment (we had an $1800 mortgage payment!), and a perceived lack of job skills kept me on the treadmill. The only resolution was the boss' eventual transfer, and I never got back to examining the other issues.

(BTW Brewer I've always envied your confidence to chuck a sucky job to go find another. It's the key factor in not getting locked into a bad situation, and I think it gives you the stamina to deal with workplace problems while staying secure from the knowledge that you can walk away from them.)

Seven years later my same PHB turned out to be the only guy in the Navy willing to take over the command I'd already been at for three years. By this time we'd worked through the career issues, workplace quality had dramatically improved, our kid was sleeping better, we'd worked through our priorities, and we were just about finished executing the ER plan from hell. I'd say we were at 8 or 8.5 and waiting for ER was the only thing left.

By the time I'd reacquainted myself with the "new" boss and realized that he was even worse than before, I also appreciated that there was nothing he could really do to me or our working conditions. In fact the command was running so well that his usual behavior would lose him what little support he had and cost him his job. As I saw how much I'd changed over the last seven years, and how much worse he'd become, I actually felt sorry for the guy. He spent most of his time hiding in his office (tormenting his admin asst) and letting the XO run the command. We essentially avoided each other for my final 18 months and I hardly ever had to see him, let alone deal with him.

The moral of the story to our kid was that difficult people are always around us. If they somehow become the biggest problem in our lives, an all-consuming focus overwhelming anything that's good-- then maybe it's an indication that there's nothing else really good in your life and you need to change your life. It's not worth wasting more time trying to fix the boss to raise workplace quality from a "2" to a "3".

Having low debts, let alone being on the path to an ER goal, makes that life-change planning a lot easier.

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I thought this was going to be a New Jersey thread...
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Old 03-05-2010, 09:06 AM   #9
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Perhaps you planted a seed and your friend will see things different at some point in her life.
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Old 03-05-2010, 09:13 AM   #10
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I'm not sure that I can reconcile this cognitive dissonance. And maybe she's beginning to wonder how she got into this situation-- especially during the lowest interest rates of the last 60 years!
Meh, she lives in Westchester where mortgages the size of the national debt are de riguer. I suspect she was also including the escrow for RE taxes, which would make the RE taxes I pay look like pocket change.
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Old 03-05-2010, 09:50 AM   #11
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It's surprising how many people follow convention without ever giving it a second thought.
It's not surprising to me. We are bred to be self-destructive consumers, and billions of dollars are spent every year, by advertisers, to keep us addicted, and blind to the fact. Only a few people sense that there is larger reality out there, and a lot of them are on this board!

BTW, how are we bred to be self-destructive consumers? Who would the hot girl with the tantalizing, child-bearing hips rather go out with: the guy in the Porsche, or the guy in the '91 Civic?
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:03 AM   #12
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It's surprising how many people follow convention without ever giving it a second thought.
Life metaphor: Life is a big raging muddy river, filled with debris. Most people are underwater, being carried along with no control, bumping into things. They can't see what's happening. Some get their heads above the surface now and then, and others are in kayaks.
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:11 AM   #13
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Brewer, you’re not the only one that sees these differences. The senior execs where your friend – and you - work see them as well. Living in Westchester is an addiction that is incredibly costly, with a $5K mortgage just the beginning. The increasing dependence on the income (especially bonus) together with the inability to change, however, is the leverage the company uses to coerce people into taking lousy jobs, putting up with ever increasing crap, dumping it onto others, and eventually losing some (or all) of their humanity (and self-respect). The simple fact that you see and feel this way probably makes you ineligible for many senior opportunities simply because you are not easily leveraged, therefore not easily controlled and as a consequence, risky.
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:18 AM   #14
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I'm not sure that I can reconcile this cognitive dissonance. And maybe she's beginning to wonder how she got into this situation-- especially during the lowest interest rates of the last 60 years!

This is quite common in Westchester, even worse in parts of Conn. With home prices in the “nicer areas” averaging more that 750K and taxes at 2.3%, lots of folks had $5K monthly and thought they were lucky. For a while, at least. Now all they need to do is keep their $250k jobs – for the next 20 years or so...
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:21 AM   #15
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Thank gawd I stumbled across intercst's page when I was 26 and bored at work. And thank gawd I have all of the examples on the board.
A-men. I was in about the same spot a few years later and even though DW and I are by nature LBYM'ers, I had little direction about what was actually possible. We're still 5+ years from being able to unplug from the corporate world but just knowing we can start a new phase of our lives/careers in that short of a timeframe is very inspiring & rewarding. It also makes it far easier to pass up on frivolous spending that we see others around us doing daily.
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:29 AM   #16
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Eh, I always knew I would not rise too far because I am not good at being politic.

But I guess I go through life thinking that people live their lives thoughtfully and that things that are real clear tome are real clear to others. Unaccountably, this has proven not to be the case many times...
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Old 03-05-2010, 10:32 AM   #17
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None of my former co-workers lived in a place like Westchester, but most spent their entire salaries. What amazed me was that when the subject of the TSP came up, many did not even remember how much they were contributing or what funds they were invested in, and did not even know how to check their balance online between annual statements. When I retired, almost all of them expressed some envy but said they thought they probably would never be able to retire because of their bills.

Here on the ER Forum, I am pretty sure our priorities are different. No quantity of designer clothes, blackberries/iPhones, expensive hair salons, Corvettes, home renovations, or travel could possibly even begin to replace the joy and satisfaction I have felt in the past few months.
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Old 03-05-2010, 11:17 AM   #18
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I have learned quickly to keep my "FIRE at 45" plans to myself. My parents seem to think the concept irresponsible... my friends (the few that I've told) view it as impossible. For a time, I was even feeling some guilt over my plans. I can honestly say that I don't know a soul who follows a LBYM lifestyle... everybody is maxed to the hilt. Nobody understands why DW and I choose to live in a 850 sq. ft condo when our household income is 140k... I drive a 10 year old truck when pretty much everyone I know leases a shiny new vehicle every couple years. Our net worth will cross 1 mill before my 40th birthday in two years, and of course nobody that knows us will have a clue because we lack so many of the "status" items they feel they must have.

Until I found this site I was wondering if what DW and I were doing was the wrong approach to life... now I know better.
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Old 03-05-2010, 11:37 AM   #19
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It's surprising how many people follow convention without ever giving it a second thought. How many people get marrried and have children because that is simply what adults do? And how many upgrade their house, automobile, and wardrobe at the earliest possible moment because that is simply what people do?

There isn't a whole lot of thought involved, in my opinion. A lot of folks just sleepwalk through life along a well worn path simply because that is the direction everyone has always gone.

Good for them, though. Because what they're doing makes what I'm doing possible. So hats off to them.
Nice post.

I was always one to go against the grain, whether it was being childfree, an atheist, or having interests not generally associated with people my age.

One good thing about LBYM was that I knew if I ever needed something badly enough I could just go ahead and buy it without worrying about how I would pay for it. When my old fridge busted 9 years ago, I just went out and bought a new one. Same for my old bed, a PC which could not be made to work better due to its hardware constraints, and my old car of 15 years which became far too costly to repair and maintain. When I needed to fly to Florida following my only remaining grandfather's death 6 years ago, I did not have to worry about the total cost of the trip.

I feel bad for people who, when they are faced with these things, have to worry about how they will pay for these things or even ponder whether to move ahead with these purchases.

Even now, as I am ER and only 46, I can still go out and do any of these somewhat costly things if I need to, without worrying about the cost. (The car is only 3 years old so it won't incur any big expenses for a while.) Any possible negative effect from a reduced income is not present while only the positive effect of not working is present each and every day.
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Old 03-05-2010, 12:44 PM   #20
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Meh, she lives in Westchester where mortgages the size of the national debt are de riguer. I suspect she was also including the escrow for RE taxes, which would make the RE taxes I pay look like pocket change.

I remember going to my boss's house in Westchester during one holiday... I was surprised at how small a $1 million dollar house was... heck, I am trying to sell a house that is bigger (and nicer also) than hers and have it priced at $120K with no takers... such is the difference in location...
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