Don’t Need This Stinkin’ Job

Recent contractual turbulence at my 9-5 job has people nervous. Funding is uncertain. Job cuts are likely. 

Thanks to my expertise and training, I should be OK.

But the situation reminds me that the pursuit of financial independence prepares us for corporate layoffs and recessions, even if we’re not 100% financially free yet. A potential layoff is precisely why I build multiple income streams.

Moreover, the efforts I’ve spent over the past 3+ years building a side business further empowers me as I earn money from online business ventures. And the passive income streams I’ve built and highlight in my quarterly income updates pay me regardless of market fluctuations or what’s happening at my job. There’s some comfort in that. 

This all reminds me of a piece I wrote in July of 2015. Today’s post is an updated version.


A few years back, I was part of a corporate strategy meeting with my employer’s business partner. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss an upcoming contract renewal bid for a large project. Our team was the incumbent, and this re-compete was expected to be highly competitive. Tens of millions of dollars was at stake.

Attending were 30 or so corporate honchos, analysts, small business partners, and key players who would be critical in formulating the proposal. One of those key players was the manager overseeing the project.

The meeting started with a standard round-the-room introduction of who’s who. No one, including myself, had anything impressive or interesting to say. Until it was the manager’s turn.

Don stood up and said, “Hi I’m Don. I’m the lead on this project, and I’ve been doing this stinkin’ job for 18 years…” he paused for effect, “and I’ll probably be doing this stinkin’ job for another 18 years!”

The attendees roared with insincere corporate laughter.

We Won, But Not All of Us

Months later, the contract was awarded to our team. The strategy that came out of that meeting was to low-ball the bid. The customer wanted cheap. Cheap won.

The project continued on the same path it had been on for the previous 18 years, with Don in charge, delivering robust solutions to complex organizational challenges. Whatever that means.

Don continued his ways, following strict company and client policies, never once straying from what he was supposed to do or say. He was a by-the-book kind of guy.

Then one day we got a short-notice invitation to a team lunch meeting. We’ll have pizza, so please show up.

That day the executive team announced they were bringing in Bob to be the new project lead. No explanation was given.

Nobody thanked Don for his 18 years of leadership. Don was done.

I Don’t Need This Stinkin’ Job

With Don getting tossed without explanation, it reminded me of the nature of my career. IT contract work can come and go rather quickly. That’s because the technology is always changing, and large IT projects are costly, mostly because the workers are costly. Money can be saved efficiently by cutting a few people here and there when needs change.

Since I’ve seen the sudden disposal of many decent workers over my career, I’ve always been prepared for the day that I’m suddenly let go. The best defense, of course, is to be an indispensable team member. But what if the contract is eliminated and everyone is fired, or they cut back enough people that I’m included? Then what? I’d be done too.

The nature of the industry I work in is another strong motivator for pursuing financial independence. As I aggressively pursue financial independence, my financial security increases each step of the way. Every day I work and each paycheck I receive makes me financially stronger.

The longer and harder I work, save, and invest, the less I worry about potential job cutbacks, and the more empowered I am in my career.

You can look at your employment situation and progress towards financial independence in four broad stages:

  • Strapped – You need any stinkin’ job you can get
  • Reliant – You need your current stinkin’ job to maintain your lifestyle
  • Flexible – You don’t need your current stinkin’ job, but it’s a good vehicle for pursuing your financial goals
  • Free – You don’t need NO stinkin’ job at all!

Here’s a graphical way to look at it:

don't need this stinkin chart

Strapped – You Need Any Stinkin’ Job You Can Get

People who need a job, any job, are strapped for cash. These are the minimum wage earners, new college grads with loans coming due, or anyone that needs a job pronto to pay the bills. They can’t be picky, because without a job they’ll have to go into debt to pay the bills.

This is the worst financial situation you can be in. No one should be satisfied being strapped for cash as it gives you no leverage when it comes to finding a better job.

Reliant – You Need Your Current Stinkin’ Job

Once a worker makes it out of a strapped financial position, they’ll find themselves in the next stage of their career, reliant on their current job. Perhaps they’d rather be doing something else for a career, but they can’t afford to leave their current job because it’s the only way maintain their standard of living. Anyone that lives paycheck to paycheck in order to maintain a certain lifestyle is in this stage. To get out, they’ll need to step off the damn treadmill.

Highly paid attorneys, corporate executives, doctors, and some entrepreneurs often fall into this category if they are reliant on a particular job or career to maintain their lifestyle. Country club memberships, private school tuition, frequent fancy dinners and big car payments can take up a significant amount of cash flow.

Some people never make it out of this stage. When more money is earned, more money is spent. Happiness does not increase as success increases because of the want for more. This psychological phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill. As Investopedia puts it:

The tendency of a person to remain at a relatively stable level of happiness despite a change in fortune or the achievement of major goals. According to the hedonic treadmill, as a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.

While many people of all incomes remain entrenched in this stage for years, those of us who desire career empowerment on the way to financial independence should aim to make this stage of their career a quick pass through. Do so by earning more, spending less, and investing the surplus (i.e. The Triforce of Wealth).

Flexible – Don’t Need Your Current Stinkin’ Job

This category comprises people who are on the right track to full retirement, but haven’t gotten there yet. They save and invest diligently, building a plentiful net worth that they can fall back on in case of an extended jobless period. They choose to work at their current job because it’s the path of least resistance (NSFW) to financial independence, but could get by on a lower paying salary, especially one that made them happier. They have the flexibility to take time off for travel or family matters, and can afford to explore starting a business or creative self-employment.

The test to see if you’re in this category is simple. During your next annual review, if your boss isn’t willing to give you a raise or suit your needs as an employee, could you muster up the confidence to say, “I don’t need this stinkin’ job” and walk out?

On multiple occasions, I’ve gone into meetings with my boss where I was willing to quit if my expectations weren’t met. Going that far was never necessary. But not needing the job gave me powerful leverage when negotiating employment terms.

By pursuing a path to financial independence, you become stronger and more secure each step of the way. Our family always has an emergency fund of at least 3-6 months of expenses in the bank. But even if that was depleted in the case of a layoff or other work stoppage, we’d still have our passive income and business income to fall back on. Plus our assets.

We could sell some of our stocks to pay bills. We could tap into our home equity to cover expenses for a period of time, or sell the banana stand. We could even access some of our Roth IRA retirement savings without penalty to get by if we had to. That’s far from ideal, but in a really enduring jobless situation, it’s an option.

Mathematically, our family could survive for many years without any employment. If we moved somewhere much cheaper, our current savings would last even longer. Doing this would drastically slow our retirement and college savings, but it could be done.

Free – Don’t Need NO Stinkin’ Job At All!

Finally, of course, is financial independence. After many years of building a financially secure portfolio of income generating assets, eventually you’ll reach your crossover point when you’re free to do whatever you want.

Over time while your career and pursuit of freedom progresses, you’ll move through the graphic from above. Get out of a Strapped situation as soon as possible. Then into the Reliant phase where you’ll focus on paying off debts, keep living expenses low, and aggressively save. As you move through that stage, you get close to the Flexible stage where your options increase, especially if you’ve built side income. Eventually, when you’ve hit your savings or passive income goals, you’re Free from all work.

Adding Time to the x-axis, the chart now looks like this:

don't need this stinkin' job chart 2

The curved line will vary depending on how aggressively or slowly you progress. The key is to move out of the Strapped and Reliant phases as fast as possible over to the right. Once on the right side of the curve, you still need to work hard to reach freedom, but your financial strength, career empowerment and flexibility will fuel your progress.

Where’s Don Today?

I learned later that the customer wasn’t happy with Don’s ability to provide the appropriate human resources to a high-profile subset of the contract. He couldn’t because the company low-balled the contract and didn’t have the hourly rates to pay the right technical experts to do the job. Someone had to go. Don was a scapegoat. Firing Don wasn’t going to fix the problem.

Bob came in and took steps to alleviate the staffing issues by convincing the customer that higher rates were needed to hire the right experts. After 18 years, Don probably didn’t have the gumption to make that happen.

Don was in his mid-fifties and not ready to retire. He was hoping to ride this gig out for another 8-10 years before calling it quits. My hope is that he is flexible and will take advantage of this opportunity to do something better. He still has a job with the company, but his days could be numbered. Don’s future at the company is out of his control.

2017 Update: Don stayed with the company and landed a deputy role on another project.

What about you? Where are you in your career? Could you muster up the courage to tell your boss “I don’t need this stinkin’ job!”?

Photo credit: Emmet via Pexels

11 Responses to Don’t Need This Stinkin’ Job

  1. TheRetirementManifesto July 27, 2017 at 8:33 am #

    I’ve worked in Corporate America for the past 32 years, and have seen dozens of Don’s come and go. He was lucky to find another role in the company, I’ve seen many who were forced out in their 50’s but weren’t financially ready to retire.

    You’re 100% right – a big advantage of the FIRE mentality is to move yourself from the “Reliant” to “Flexible” to “Free” quadrants. Don’t assume you’ll always have your job. It’s less secure than you think.

    • Retire Before Dad July 27, 2017 at 8:47 am #

      Don was treated like crap. By the company and client he served (not to his face, of course). The company took “the customer is always right” path and dropped him like it was nothing. I do think his tenure helped to keep him on. But it was his efforts to find a new position within the company. 18 years, you’d think he’d be treated better.

  2. Mrs. Adventure Rich July 27, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    Currently, I am 5 years in with my first employer out of college (which has been great!). Between Mr. Adventure Rich and I, we are in the “reliant” phase… though I would say reliant on the job in order to facilitate aggressive investing and saving. We could take a step back, take another job, take a pay cut, but since we keep our spending relatively in check, it would take more of a hit on our investing and savings than on our lifestyle.

    My company (Fortune 50 company) is a great place to work, but I do always keep myself in check and remind myself that this could end any day… and that is ok. I like what I do, I work hard and the resulting paycheck is creating many incredible opportunities for our family in the future. Being in my late 20s, I see myself continuing for some time as we build to financial independence.

    • Retire Before Dad July 27, 2017 at 10:03 am #

      My company isn’t so big, but I carry the same mentality. Use this current job to aggressively save and invest and build other streams on income. The past five years have been healthy. When the economy turns sour, even just a little, corporate America isn’t afraid to drop anybody. That’s part of the bargain.

  3. brian503 July 27, 2017 at 9:51 am #

    You have to approach every job / position with a no guarantee attitude. Corporate America will spit you out at anytime, it’s not personal, it’s just business they will say. Well when you can’t pay the rent, that kind of feels personal. Always in your best interest to insulate yourself from these situation by managing your money well.

    • Retire Before Dad July 27, 2017 at 10:05 am #

      I know you went through a layoff and it hit pretty hard. I have not. But I try to keep myself comfortable with a layoff if it comes. Nowadays, I feel losing my job would help with my side businesses, giving me a ton more time to explore those. But the main drawback is healthcare for my family. That always puts a damper on the numbers.

  4. Money Tree man July 27, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    Hey RBD!

    Long time no speak! What an amazing matrix. Fully captures the situation I’m in; Reliant.

    I aim to be at flexible by the end of 2019.

    A lot of recession talk on the twittersphere so I’m not sure how that will impact my position. Hopefully, the worst case scenario is I stay on reliant for a while.

    Only piece of feedback I’d give is you need to give your graphic a name, because it is too cool to be nameless!

    I was thinking the RBD Job – Dependency Matrix

    =]

    MTM

    • Retire Before Dad July 27, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

      I was into matrices back in 2015. I hope it helps illustrate my point.

  5. Steveark July 27, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

    I was in the free mode the last several years of my career but still enjoyed the work. The biggest reason I ended up retiring early is that my management did not know how to manage someone who was financially free and to whom additional money was not of much importance. They kind of had two management techniques, one was to throw more money at you and the other was to threaten your job. If you didn’t particularly care about the money and you certainly weren’t scared of losing your job they didn’t have a clue how to motivate you. I think that is a real problem for anyone who is at a high level of fortune 500 executive management and has lived frugally and is financially free. You are surrounded by people who are sweating it on that hedonic treadmill because they are spending more than their $750,000 annual compensation (somehow) and can’t afford not to work. I still can picture the perplexed look on my CEO’s face when I told him I was just working for entertainment because I already had more money than I could ever spend. It was like I was speaking a foreign language to him and he raked in many millions every year. Needless to say I left within a year because there was no way it was going to work out after that. And life now is very sweet indeed. I still work at some things I enjoy a couple of days a week but it is strictly on my terms!

    • Retire Before Dad July 27, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

      Thank so for this. I can’t imagine earning millions and spending most of it. Though it doesn’t surprise me. I know some business owners who were making bank prior to 2008. Then the crisis hit and they were so worried about keeping their kids in private school, and how the one could keep his vacation home. But that kind of behavior is normal. Kudos to you for bucking the trend. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Oldster July 27, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

    I’ve been Don. It sucks. This is the reality of the corporate world today. It is a lesson worth repeating. Make a note to republish this in a couple of years.

Comments Welcome!

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes