What Getting Fired Can Teach You About FIRE

A fired you isa lot like aFIRE'd you.

I got fired in 2013. There’s not much to say about it – it was the result of a work-inappropriate tweet – but I’ve made my peace with it because I learned so much. In a way, I was granted an accelerated look at what life would be like if I were retired. If you have your doubts, click that link. Two years of barely needing to work changed my outlook on wealth and retirement, and I was only 25 at the time. Even then, I knew FIRE wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If your FIRE number is your only goal, financial independence won’t make you happy. Only finding common ground between your values and priorities will. (Sorry for the hokeyness, but it’s true.)

Anyway, it’s 2018 now, and I found myself out of a job again. I wasn’t fired, but being pressured to leave due to an interpersonal conflict is almost worse. I’ve already lined up my next step, but there were a few weeks where I felt listless and unmotivated. After all, putting three years of hard work into a place meant more to me than money! It’s okay though; these things happen. In the end, it even turned into a great learning opportunity!

At first, I’d honestly settled back into my old ways. I ate out to numb the boredom, drank more, and racked up a dumb amount of screen time. This didn’t last long before I started feeling like crap. Suddenly, I remembered I’d written articles about quantifying happiness in one’s pursuits and purchases. It turned out I was just completely lacking in purpose. With no professional obligations for the time being (which was like being retired), I had nothing to do!

In one way, this was horrible. It meant I’d mismanaged my priorities to the point that I didn’t have any, but it also gave me the chance to tackle these problems before achieving FI. (For my numbers and strategy, read this and this. There’s a chance some level of FI could come sooner than I think.) I suddenly saw my retirement, and I didn’t like it. I needed purpose. It turns out I actually need work, at least for now. It’s a value of mine to be productive, so I had to prioritize it. This taught me I might never need full-on FIRE though! Maybe barista FIRE was the target now! More importantly, this also taught me I needed other, better goals. These are all good things to know before becoming financially independent. I’m just a workaholic. What can I do to become more?

I’m sure we’ve all, at some point, been less employed than we would’ve liked. I’m glad I got fired once or twice because it helped me learn how I act when I’m suddenly regifted an extra eight hours every day. If you found this post through recently getting fired, here’s my challenge to you: Note down how you feel, what your new motivations are, what you now prioritize, and how fast you start itching to work in some capacity again. After the honeymoon phase of FI when you travel the world for months or buy guinea pig armour just because you can, you often find that an FI’d you is still… you. A fired you is a lot like a FIRE’d you. What do you want when you don’t have to work? Some of us are too busy to find out. Answer that question honestly, and getting fired might be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement.

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Why Coworkers Don’t Talk About Their Salaries (and Why We Should)

if financial success and work is a game,

The gender wage gap is a thing. Bitches Get Riches illustrated this best when they said “This is not open to discussion” and made every word a separate link to census data and economics journals. Anyway, know it’s true, even in my past workplaces. I’m now paid $2 more per hour than my previous (female) assistant manager. Guess what: I’m not the assistant manager. Obviously, something’s going a little fucky here. That’s why I’m trying to do something about it.

Paraphrasing from a now buried tweet I once saw, “Men shouldn’t consider themselves allies unless they disclose their salary to female coworkers. This is the only way we can achieve wage equality.” I agree, and I’ve been extremely open to anyone who’s asked. I also kinda think everyone should disclose their salary to one another, for a couple of reasons. First though, let’s weigh the cons.

The main problem I hear is it might put a target on your back. Sometimes, people will think it’s unfair you’re getting paid more than them. (Spoiler alert: Sometimes, they’re right.) I’ve had coworkers go out of their way to try and sink me, but the end result of this was I actually got much better at my job. With management seeing me go above and beyond in my work, the naysayers have mostly slinked away. Besides, any misguided attempts at revenge would be a race to the bottom. Being a good dude and trying to boost them up instead is a race to the top. With this mindset, that target no longer seems so bad. It just seems like part of the game. Let’s come back to this in a second.

The other obvious problem is this results in coworkers making a snap judgment about workplace hierarchy. I don’t really think I “outrank” anyone, by the way. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all the same cubicle. We’ve already established wages aren’t objectively fair (and most of them are far too low across the board anyway), so let people think what they want, but try to boost them up too. This is actually one of the best things you can do to increase your own salary. If I’m a manager with three employees, and they’re paid $30/$30/$23, when Employee #3 asks for a raise, giving them $27 is almost a “Why the fuck not?” Here’s the sweet part: If you’ve got a great connection with your coworkers, and you’ve all been open about your salaries, Employee #3 can knowledgeably ask for more! This even makes your boss look good. Managing a team of highly paid professionals looks great on paper. Managing an unmotivated clusterfuck of minimum wage underlings? Not so hot.

Your workplace is just a game, and everyone’s in it to win. Done right, there are no losers. Your “boss” is a coworker. That’s it. They want success too. Stop comparing the extra money and focus on yourself. “How can make $3 more per hour,” not “Debbie’s a bitch for being richer.” Besides, if you’re here, you’re on your way to wealth already, partly because you’re smart enough to talk about money openly. If financial success and work is a game, you should know the rules and how other people are playing itBurying your head in the sand helps no one. Bringing down your workplace helps no one. You know what does help? Community over competition. It’s not even a competition! Go to work, boost up your team, and be open about how much you make. Any temporary feelings of inadequacy might suck now – “Ben makes HOW much?!?” – but knowledge is always good. After all, if someone is doing the same job as you, but makes $40,000 more per year, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Wouldn’t you want to look into that opportunity too? Just resist the urge to bring them down. Race to the top, y’all. Let’s all get rich together, and embrace the workplace. If you’re still working, you might as well love it.

You Work For Yourself, or How To Fire Your Boss

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Depending on who you talk to, I’m either a half-retired entrepreneur or a lowly wage slave. You can read about my five sources of income and decide for yourself. Whatever you think of me though — and whether or not you think of yourself as an entrepreneur — doesn’t matter today. All you need to know is, starting today, you work for YOU. You no longer answer to a boss or clients you don’t want to. You’re now in charge of everything. Your only goal now is building the career life you’ve always wanted. Here’s how.

*****

I get it: It’s easy to feel trapped by a job. Remember “K”? He’s now welding long hours with a nasty 1-hour commute every day. Even at one of my workplaces, management changes are happening, and it hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. I started looking at other opportunities for the both of us. In just minutes on Craigslist, I’d found backup options. I found “K” a welding opportunity in the same city, and it had the potential to reduce his commute time by 75%! I found a job almost identical to mine on the other side of town where there’s considerably less traffic, potentially saving me time and gas! In the end, we decided to stay at our current jobs, but feeling trapped was no longer an issue. We weren’t, and we came to realize we were never really trapped in the first place. There were always options, mere minutes away and at our fingertips. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like I can “fire” any job I don’t like and “hire” any job I want. If that doesn’t sound freeing or realistic to you, here’s a practical way you can get closer to making this a reality.

Losing income between jobs is a real problem. This is why virtually every personal finance writer suggests creating an emergency fund. A simple three months of income stocked away is all you need to become a boss. It automatically increases your “hiring” and “firing” abilities, and gives you more time to find the work situation you really want. You’re no longer taking the first thing that comes along so you can put KD on the table. You have the freedom to flip through job descriptions — I think of them as résumés — and “hire” what’s right for you! Build an emergency fund that covers three months of income. If you feel like you can’t climb the job ladder, there’s your first rung.

Pull this off properly and your whole worldview might change. You might realize your “boss” isn’t really the boss of you at all. They’re just a coworker. The tasks in front of you aren’t mandatory. It’s a gig you’re doing, and you get to choose if it’s worth it. Feel stuck? You’re not. You have THE ENTIRE GODDAMN INTERNET to help you find a new job to hire. Don’t like your job? FIRE IT.

I’ve always told freelancers they should make every job decision based on passion, profit, and prestige. Whatever you’re doing, do it for at least two. Start thinking of yourself as a freelancer, and think of your bank account as your business. Job hopping is the new normal anyway, so in a way, we’re all freelancers.

The truth is you’ve been your own boss all along. Are you ready to work for yourself?

Pride Was Making Me Poor

my pride cost me

When people ask me what I do for a living, I don’t even hesitate. “I’m a wedding photographer,” I tell them. “I’ve been doing it for 10 years!” Lately, the next question has been weirder: “So you do it full-time?”

That’s usually where my brain stalls.

*****

The truth is, no, I don’t do it full-time. I haven’t done it full-time since 2015, but how do I explain to people I was only shooting “30 days a year” and making ends meet, but decided to take on “three days a week” working at a liquor store too? A quick bit of napkin math then reveals an unglamorous truth: I actually work as a liquor store clerk 5x more than I do as a photographer! Though being solely a wedding photographer was enough for me to get by, I realized that a boost in income from working a regular job too allowed me to save more, attack my debt, and get out of the house more. By the numbers alone though, I’m more a liquor store clerk than I am a photographer! WHY WAS I LYING TO PEOPLE?

Well, there are two answers to that: 1) It’s a matter of marketability. In order to get more wedding bookings, I needed to present myself as a wedding photographer first. Presenting myself as a liquor store clerk isn’t gonna get me more liquor store bookings, ya dig? 2) I had a lot of pride associated with being a wedding photographer. Entrepreneurship was sexy, wage labour was not.

I was actually turning down shifts because in my mind, I was a wedding photographer first. It wasn’t until I decided to help my coworkers out during the holidays that I realized how much I was saying no to. In 2017, because there were times I’d rather be sitting at home just content with being a wedding photographer, one of my lowest liquor store paycheques was $389.14 for two weeks. My most recent paystub just arrived: If I pushed my limits a bit, two weeks could net me $1,048.01! My pride cost me over $1,300 a month.

Someone coined a word for this a while back: “egotrage”, what Mr. Groovy calls “The strategy of advancing your financial position by doing something that is ‘beneath’ your socioeconomic status.” In that article, he talks about how his ego kept him from attaining wealth at an early age. “A man of my stature–I did have an illustrious journalism degree from Long Island University, after all–didn’t wash cars.” (Sound like anyone you know?)

I’ll just admit it: I was afraid. I was afraid that working 40 hours a week doing wage labour would somehow negate everything I’d built as an entrepreneur. In reality, I’m adding to it. The extra income will allow me to buy that Profoto A1 with less financial strain on my business. My seniority at the store will allow me to increase my flexibility with time off, letting me take on new photo opportunities. Simply getting out of the house will improve my mental health and allow me to form new connections with people. It was all an obvious win, but my pride was holding me back! Well, it’s time to let that go. From now on, I’m no longer allowing “wedding photographer” to be my defining attribute to the detriment of everything else.

On the other hand, I have no idea how to introduce myself at parties now. Thoughts?

*****

“So, what do you do for a living?”

“Uh, I’ve got, like, five jobs. Can we please talk about something else?”

My Five Streams of Income

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According to this, “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income” and “29% of self-made millionaires had five or more”. Meanwhile, this article starts breaking down “7 different income streams”, but some of their recommendations are things most of us should be doing anyway, like investing. Other ones are downright odd. Do you consider your spouse’s salary as a stream of your income? I don’t. I don’t think you should either.

For this article, I’m laying out the five streams of income I actually count. If you count my index funds or the fact I’m technically a SOCAN-recognized composer who’s only earned pennies in royalties, I have more. I’m mainly counting my side hustles that actually put money in the bank though. This is how I make my money.

My main gig is I’m a wedding photographer. My smallest package is $990 (two hours) and my largest package is $4,995 (twelve hours). My secondary gig is as a liquor store clerk, making a paltry $13.50/hour. I could choose a more lucrative job, but this is pure fun for me. I could spend all day talking about wine, and I’d actually be less happy making $20/hour doing something I didn’t care about. My third gig is as a landlord. In March, I’ll be looking after two renters/roommates, and you should know this is actually more work than I thought. For now, any rent money I make is going back into renovating the property. Both bathrooms need to be redone, but this is an investment for the future. A beautiful bathroom will enable me to charge more for rent once my friends move on. My fourth gig is I write for pay now, and make $0.15/word on assignments. This is currently super fun for me! I can do this anywhere I want, and if I had an idle gig where I’m just needed as a warm body — think security guard or exam invigilator — I could be earning twice the pay for the same hours! In just one week of November, I was able to bill a startup $225 for three short blog posts. I’m looking at developing this as one of my main sources of income in the next few months. My last gig is a questionable one, but it technically counts as investing. This one deserves its own paragraph.

Early in November, I started dabbling with cryptocurrency. I now own small slices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and IOTA. In just six weeks of casual trading, I’ve put in $800 and I’m somehow $500 ahead. Before you drop everything and throw your life savings into Bitcoin though, you need to understand the technology and the risks. This is why I consider my cryptocurrency investing a “gig”. I read this and this in the past month, and I stay up-to-date on trends. It’s a job. I don’t advise you getting into cryptocurrency blindly. Everyone thinks they can time the market, and people have lost their life savings believing that. I’m fully aware I could lose my entire investment at any time. If you try this, proceed with extreme caution. I know friends of friends who have lost $10,000. Know the risks. This, as a hobby, is my fifth and final gig.

You’ve heard of “fuck you money” (FU$), but I love the idea of my multiple “fuck you jobs”. Liquor store lays me off? That’s fine. I can replace a whole month of clerk income with a single wedding shoot. Roommates moving out? A little extra writing, and I’ll still make my strata payments on time. When new roommates move in, rent will actually go up because of the shiny bathrooms! If I lose my entire crypto investment? My index funds are still making profit, and I’m sure I can come up with something to make up the loss, like renting out my camera gear. I truly believe YOU CAN ALWAYS MAKE A BUCK. With full-time employment becoming less and less stable, diversifying your streams of income is just as important as diversifying your investments. It’s just the smart thing to do!

Remember: “65% of self-made millionaires had three streams of income”.

How’d you like to be part of that statistic?

Working Forever Might Not Be So Bad

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Taken from a previous post:

FIRE [Financially Independent, Retired Early] is generally defined as the stage a person reaches when the return on their investments is enough to cover their living expenses. A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25. (If you spend $25,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $625,000. Start saving.)”

You can read the rest of that post here, though my description of FIRE isn’t as accurate as it could’ve been. For one, since this is such a huge topic, I didn’t exactly account for inflation. The truth is if you’re 30 now, you want to aim for $1M by 65 if you want to Retire For Good (RFG). This is because $1M in 35 years only amounts to $500,000 of today’s spending power, or $20,000/year in returns based on the 4% rule. This also assumes you can live off $20,000/year. Some people can’t. From this point forward, please note I’ll be using a tilde (~) to denote future value, and no tilde to denote today’s value. Here’s a post to help you math out your saving goals now, based on ~$1M/$500K/$20K. Read those links, and the math should all make sense.

In any case, I now advocate working in some capacity forever. Here’s some of the reasoning as to why, but this little bit of math should convince you that working forever might just be the way to go. (Trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds.)

If $20,000/year is the goal, it’s very possible that someone at 65 could make that without too much effort at all. Remember, that’s only $1,667/month. In Canada now, what you can receive from Old Age Security ranges from $526-$874. Let’s aim for the low figure of $526, and subtract that from $1,667. (OAS is considered taxable income, so keep that in mind. Also, not everyone qualifies, so read this.) You’re now left with $1,141. Let’s also assume you have some savings. Let’s say you missed ~$1M by a wide margin and only landed at ~$400,000, or $200,000 of today’s value. Going by the 4% rule which spits out $667/month, that takes you down to $474. Now, I don’t know about you, but making $474/month, even in old age, seems entirely manageable to me. When retirees somehow watch 6.2 hours of TV a day now, making $474 per month working is a better use of time and will help you retain your health. This would only mean 31.6 hours per month at $15/hour. If that sounds bleak, it shouldn’t. At $20/hour, that number’s 23.7, or only 3% of your month! That’s only if you’ve completely messed up your retirement savings! If you’ve saved ~$1M, you’re done! You can coast! But if you’re like the rest of us and see yourself only reaching ~$400,000, you should understand you can work after 65 in a way that will actually be flexible, easy, and good for you, and you’ll still be perfectly fine!

Obviously, planning for old age can be kinda scary. There’s always the possibility poor health makes it impossible for you to work. This is why you should aim for ~$1M.

Society teaches us retirement is black-and-white. It’s not. Loads of retirees continue working to supplement their income. If you save properly now, you won’t have to work at 65, but you’ll probably want to anyway. I know I will. And even if you fuck up and don’t save ~$1M in this lifetime, a little bit of work after 65 can go a long way.

6.2 hours of TV time a day is 186 hours per month. Can you use <24 hours to plan yourself a more secure retirement, or are we crazy?

Let us know on Facebook. We’ll put any feedback in a future article.

Screen Time Is Ruining Your Retirement

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*ring*

“Snffxughphlbtfuck…”

*ring*

I opened one eye. I’d slept diagonally again. Jesus, what time was it? What day was it?

*rrrrrrrrring* 

“Ugh… Hello?”

“Hello? Ben?”

I sat up groggily. “Oh, hey, Grandma. What’s up?”

“I don’t know what’s happened. The TV won’t work. I don’t know how to fix it. Can you come fix it for me?” She sounded sad and helpless. I guess when you’re retired, watching TV is a pretty big deal.

I looked at the clock. I was hoping for a leisurely office day, but so much for that. Sudden errands tend to derail hours of productivity for me.

“Sure, Grandma. I’ll be over at 2.” I hung up, and rubbed my eyes.

Man, fuck TV.

*****

It turned out to be a simple fix. Unplug the cable box, wait ten seconds, plug it back in. Too bad it took me almost an hour to figure out. Asking my Chinese grandma what settings she usually had her TV on turned into a linguistic nightmare.

As I drove home, it kinda bothered me how reliant she was on her TV. I mean, I know how bad TV can be for people, but especially seniors. Only three weeks ago, I posted on Facebook, “It’s happening again. Free time is turning into screen time, and I’d honestly rather be working.” Did you know the average American watches over five hours of television a day? And that the “average retiree spends 43.5 hours per week” (or 6.2 hours a day) watching it? This is especially troubling for us because, if you’re reading this blog, early retirement is something you’ve been thinking about. I don’t want to retire just to watch 6.2 hours of TV a day! Do you? I’ve lived it. It sucks.

But then, I realized there was an amazing opportunity here. If, in retirement, the average person could change their 6.2-hour TV habit into something more productive – maybe even something crazy like work – they could find themselves with more health and money! Read this. Choosing to continue work in a quality vocation is obviously better than binge-watching “Friends” for the sixth time, so why not just work? Work is good, as long as it’s quality work. (Think more “entrepreneurship”, less “being a cashier”. Loads of successful entrepreneurs are actually in their 50s or 60s.)

Now obviously, I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t prepare for a complete retirement. You should still prepare for FIRE (or at the very least, HEAL). All I’m saying is retirement tends to go only three ways: 1) You create a retirement in which you thrive, do all the things you’ve ever wanted to do, and are never bored, 2) you create a retirement that seems fun at first, only to settle into a purposeless existence where you’re bored, or 3) you go back to work. What if I told you #3 isn’t actually a bad thing, and can help cancel out the ennui of everyone who feels stuck at #2? Almost all the people I know thriving in retirement are still working in some way! The retired industrial design teacher I know found funding to write a book. The retired professor of psychology I know is wrapping up a year editing a psychology journal. Another retiree I know is building a house and continuing to add to his net worth! What I’m finding more and more as I get to know successful retirees is work is good for retirement. It opens up opportunities for personal enjoyment and enriches lives, but TV doesn’t. STOP WATCHING TV IN RETIREMENT.

Working past traditional retirement age keeps your brain sharp and “may even help stave off dementia”. Also, any decrease in sedentary activities like watching TV is a good thing. If you spent even 16 hours a week doing an entry-level job you enjoy – like what I do now for $13.50/hour – the ballpark math of it is you’d add ~$10,000 to your annual retirement income just to stay mentally and physically active through work. I think it’s a no-brainer. Sell the TV, and get a job doing whatever the heck you want! By this point, you’re financially stable enough that you’re retired, so even that ~$10,000 is secondary! And you’re most likely so experienced in your field, you could earn way more! You’re just looking after your physical health and mental wellbeing, and getting richer because of it!

The bottom line is if you’re retired and have a TV, that TV could be robbing you of the longevity and prosperity you’d gain from casual work. Even at 29, I see that happening to me now, so I’ve cut weekly TV time down to 4 hours. I’m choosing to work more, and invest more energy into my business. From now on, Netflix and PlayStation have no power over me. I sincerely doubt I’ll be 65 and wanting to play The Last of Us: Part XLIII.

Whaddaya think, TV-watching retirees? Is it time to go back to work?