Budgeting may suck, but it sets you free

I’m starting to feel rich.

Very rich.

Rich enough to be able to do anything or get anything that I want.

Am I rich?

On paper, no, not really.

If you were to look at my current financial situation, you’d probably tell me I’m not rich at all.

Judging myself by my own standards, I wouldn’t consider myself rich.

Nowhere close to being rich.

The difference in my net worth from a few months ago to now is very small.

In fact, I haven’t even had any stable income for the past few months.

So why do I feel rich?

I feel rich because I have things under control.

No, that’s incorrect. I feel like I have things under control.

I’ve realized that I can macro- and micro-manage my life and shape it into what I want.

I know what’s going on in the small frame of today, and I’m beginning to see the bigger picture of what can happen tomorrow.

Whatever I choose to do, it’s a choice and I have complete control over it.

It’s my responsibility whether positive or negative things happen.

If I have regrets because I didn’t do something, that’s still my problem, as I chose to not do it.

What I can’t control, I don’t worry about.

Or at least I try not to – I still do sometimes.

There is nothing that I can think of that is out of reach.

Buy another car? Sure.

Buy a house? No problem.

Start a business? Definitely.

There is absolutely nothing that cannot be done in this life, and I have just started to realize this.

That is why I feel rich.

How did this happen?

I wouldn’t really know where to begin with this question – life is complex and every one thing leads to the next.

If I had to pinpoint where a leaf started turning over, it would be late 2015 just after I had just been promoted at work.

It was quite a change for me at the time. I was nervous, but super excited to have moved up a rung in the corporate ladder for the first time in my life.

New title, new team, new responsibilities – I was starting over in having to prove myself again.

My new team didn’t yet need (read: trust) me to get on calls so I also had free time on my hands.

A whole lot of free time.

So I read – a lot.

I also did a lot of time wasting things like browsing aimlessly through Facebook and other social media.

The benefit of working at a corporation sitting in a cubicle means you can do non-work related stuff without letting on that you’re not actually working.

What eventually got me hooked was an article series a buddy recommended me to read – Jim Collin’s Stock Series.

Collins introduced me to a new concept called Financial Independence.

I read it through once.

Then again.

Then once more for good measure.

Of course, the content was fantastic and super informative (he has since published a book encompassing the Stock Series which I highly recommend) – but what stood out to me most was the zero bullshit tonality that came through the lines of the post.

I’d never seen anyone write like that before.

(That’s a huge lie)

There were other blogs too – Mad Fientist, Mr. Money Mustache, 1500days, RootOfGood, Financial Samurai – that had the same no-bullshit content.

(Want to know what bullshit content is? Check out any article on CNN Money)

How did they do it?

How were they able to write that way?

Weren’t they scared that the readers wouldn’t like what they said and leave hateful comments?

What if their employers saw what they said about them and about working?

Weren’t they worried about hurting people’s feelings?

Collectively, all of the above have happened, but they had no problem with it.

Why?

Because they had what Jim Collins calls FU Money which – as I would soon come to learn – is incredibly powerful.

 


What is FU money?

I want you to think about something that’s bothering you right now.

I mean something that’s really bothering you.

It could be a job, a living situation, a relationship with someone – anything.

Something that stresses you out, something that keeps you up at night when you have to get up early the next morning.

Something that you feel is really getting in the way of you living your life.

Doesn't it feel good to write it out?

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘Throw money at the problem to make it go away?’

Most people will say that you can’t do that – it doesn’t work, it’s wasteful, it’s irresponsible.

I’m sure CNN Money has a post about it.

Well, fuck those guys.

They don’t believe in you, and they don’t want you to believe in yourself.

You can do it, because I say you can.

If you say you can’t then you don’t believe in yourself, which is sad.

FU Money is what you throw at your problem to make it go away.

Not literally, of course. You don’t even need to do any throwing.

In fact, FU money is most effective if you don’t throw it. It’s the fact that you can throw it at your problem, if you wanted to, that makes it powerful.

Having FU Money gives you the ability to make all that bullshit go away – the ability to craft your life into something that you can enjoy, rather than dreading over having to get up the next morning and pressing snooze on your alarm a bunch of times because sleeping is so much better than what’s ahead.

Of course, if that’s your idea of a great morning, then maybe FU money is not for you.

Let me give a specific personal example.

A few months into 2016, I decided that I wanted to leave my job and do something else.

But – I didn’t want to follow the herd:

  1. Find a job while still working at my current job
  2. Give my two weeks notice
  3. Leave two weeks later

That made no sense to me.

I  still don’t understand how you can find the best next job you can while still working at your old job.

Might be because I sucked at it.

But I’d think I’d be so eager to get out of my current job that I’d be more willing to accept less-than-ideal offers.

I had also seen it happen many, many times so I already knew how it was supposed to go and feel.

You start interviewing in secret at work

You call in sick one day to go to your onsite interview

You come in every day telling yourself how “over this” you are and hope you get the next offer

You start telling people “don’t tell anyone this, but I’m gonna  get out of here soon”

You get your offer, you rejoice, then walk into your manager’s office with a sense of well-deserved pride

It all seems sleazy and dishonest, too.

Sure, you may say the company you work for is sleazy, dishonest, and treats employees poorly all the time, but think about who is going to be immediately affected by your departure. In other words, who is going to have to do more work when you give your notice?

I didn’t even want to begin a new job right away – I wanted at least three months of free time.

So, I figured out what my monthly expenses were – easy because I started budgeting at the beginning of the year – and multiplied by 3.*

Simple! All I had to do was to put money aside each paycheck, and whenever I reached the desired number, I’d be free to go.

If I did, I could leave my job AND not need income for three months.

Wonderful.

By July, I had maxed out my 401k, IRA, and HSA accounts for the year to keep my taxes as low as possible.

By September, I realized that I would be ready to go at the end of October.

I let my manager know.

And now, for something completely different:

“Hold on, think about this, don’t make any rash decisions,” he said, and laid out three options:

  1. If you feel like you need a break, take a leave of absence for a few months. Come back when you’re ready and your job will still be here.
  2. If you’re tired of the role itself, I’ll put you in touch with some other managers to help you get promoted.
  3. If you’re completely set on leaving, finish out the quarter so I can make sure you get your bonus.

WOW. FU money is powerful.

The crazy thing was that I had no idea these options were even available to me.

If I never got my FU money, I never would have known.

Leave of absence? I could have my free time with complete job security!

Promotion? Who knew I was already eligible? I could take another step up that corporate ladder within a year!

Stay another month? I hadn’t made any promises to other employers, so no problem!

After thinking it through a bit, I went with the third option.

I didn’t truly want to stay – I already had my heart set on what I wanted, so the other options, although tempting, did not sway me.**

Who wouldn’t stick around for a short month for another paycheck and a bonus payout  on top of it?

People who just give their two weeks notice and leave, that’s who.***

The only thing I had in place was the arbitrary timeline I was following.

I could change it just like that because I created it.

To top it all off, staying another month meant another month’s worth of income and a bonus check, enough to buy me another two months of free time.

This FU money was really something else.

 


Why you need to get it

FU money allows you to live without needing to work for some period of time.

The ultimate form of FU Money will allow you to live for the rest of your life without needing to trade your time for money.

Once you get there, you have reached Financial Independence.

Obviously, I haven’t reached financial independence yet.

Heck, the FU Money I built during 2016 would allow me only five months of independence.*

But that’s the beauty of it – you only need to get as much FU money as you need to go do what you want in a given time period.

It could be a month, two months, a year, five years – whatever.

Want to take three months and backpack around Europe?

Want to relax for a bit and figure out what you want to do in your only life?

Want to try your hand at starting up a business for a year?

You need time and money to do all these things. FU Money gets you the time and money you need.

Seriously, time is expensive. Why do you think you get paid so much to spend time at work, especially when you don’t spend all of it actually working? (Don’t worry, your employer knows)

And it’s not just the time you spend at work, it’s also the time and money you spend enabling you to work.

Eating lunch. Commuting. Dry cleaning. Maintaining your car. Feeling tired and lazy when you get home. Thinking about how to be better at your job. Dreaming about the things you want to do when you have the time.

It all adds up.

FU Money lets you be in control. 

You control what you do with your own time.

You control what you do with your own money.

You “pay” yourself to work on your own mission.

 


Figure out how much you need

Do it now.

You already know what you don’t want to do, how you would feel if you didn’t have to do it, and what you would do instead.

If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.

If you bookmark this page for later, you’ll never do it.

I’ve been there many times – there are so many projects I’ve started and thought about starting but never even got past step 1.

Step 1: Start.

Part of the problem is that I never did any planning, and that’s the hardest part.

Once I put my plan in place to leave my job, executing became so much more easy. I just had to follow my own instructions.

My own instructions. Not my manager’s, not my family’s, not my company’s – my own. And boy, did it feel good.

So what I want you to do is PRESS START.

After all, life is really just a game.

 

A note on taking advice

When I talked about my plan to leave my job, conversations would typically go like this:

“Oh, congrats! Where are you going?”

Nowhere, really.

“Huh? You’re not going to work?”

Nope. I’m going to take time off, then look for another job after three months.

“Wait, what if you don’t get another job? What will you do?”

Not worried about that. I think there are a lot of great opportunities out there. Besides, some of my friends have gotten great jobs after getting fired!

“You’re so lucky! I wish I could do that. You should travel!”

 

There are a few things that are funny about the way people would react to my plan:

  1. Huh? You’re not going to work?

My answer didn’t fit within most people’s narrow view of how things are supposed to work. People expected the small talk to be the usual: I tell them a company name; they give congratulations and ask what they do; I tell them what they do; they tell me good luck and to have fun. The expected my answer to be just like everyone else’s.

You can only truly know something once you experience it, and experiencing something new typically requires taking a step outside of your safe and secure**** bubble.

  1. Wait, what if you don’t get another job?

This was a huge concern to a lot of people, including half of my family. They had this concept ingrained in their heads that if you have any gaps in your resume you’d be automatically denied from any job that you’d apply for in the future. Plus, if you don’t do anything productive while you’re taking a break, no employer is going to take you seriously.

My dad would say, “You’re basically ruining your chances of ever getting another job, and you’re gonna end up working at McDonald’s. Do you want to end up working at McDonalds for the rest of your life?

Gee, where have I heard that one before?

It baffles me that people think this way. You’re not allowed to take time off unless you go to a 3rd world country to take profile pics with poor children (and maybe a house you kinda helped build) you’re not being productive, wasting your life, and ruining future employment opportunities.

  1. You’re so lucky! I wish I could do that.

You can. What’s stopping you?

On my last day as I was saying bye to a coworker, he said that I was lucky to be able to take time off, that most people can’t just decide to take time off work like I’m doing.

I explained that this wasn’t something I decided to do yesterday, that I planned it out and worked towards it all year.

He said that he, like most people, have families, mortgages, car loans, college expenses and other obligations to worry about, so it can’t be done, even with that sort of planning because there’s not much left after all that.

True, so I explained that my situation was unique, just as his would be if he decided to do something. It would also not be easy, of course.

Then he said “Yes, but…”

Oh, I see now. Your sense of helplessness is stopping you.

But don’t worry, I’ve talked to enough old people to know that the feeling of helplessness goes away at some point, usually when you realize you have a limited amount of time before you are really, truly helpless.

It’s not lost on me that for some people doing what I did would require much more work, effort, and time. It may take my coworker a longer time to get his own FU money. Or it might take him less time (he does make a lot more than me). I don’t know his situation so I can only guess.

Yes, he may have a mortgage. he may have a car loan, kids to put through college, and many other obligations.

But did anyone force him to agree to those things? Is there only one way of dealing with them? Any obligations that he currently has are things that he said yes to himself. He got into them, so he can get out of them or alter their terms.

Unless he thinks he’s so special that it’s just not possible for him. Then it’s definitely impossible.

  1. You should travel!

Thank you for your suggestion. I’ll take that into consideration.

 

Most people were supportive of my decisions, but some were not.

For example, I caused my family a lot of anxiety around the part where I didn’t have another job lined up.

They had a million reasons why I shouldn’t do it, why it was a horrible idea.

But when I pressed them for why it was a bad idea, they didn’t have any good evidence or experience to back up their advice.

You’ll have a gap on your resume.

So what?

Employers won’t take you seriously if you have gaps.

Why not?

Well, that’s what I’ve heard.

You don’t have a plan of what you’re going to do the next three months.

So what?

Employers will think you’re lazy and not motivated.

Why would they think that?

Well, that’s what I’ve heard.

So here’s my advice to you about how to handle advice from someone:

When you get advice, don’t take it at face value. Try to figure out why that person is giving you this advice.

If the why makes sense and it’s not some edge case that you know isn’t going to be a problem for you, then consider it.

If the why translates to some form of “Well, that’s what I’ve heard” then you can assume it’s bogus and move forward with your life.

Taking advice from someone with a narrow view of how things are supposed to work will only cloud your judgement.

 


Notes

* In my calculations, total expenses included work-related expenses – commuting, lunches, car – but these went away when I stopped working. I could last nearly six months on the FU money I would save to cover three months with work expenses excluded, plus the additional bonus payout I got for staying another month.

Do you know how much it costs you to work?

 

** In hindsight, the best option would have been a combination of the first and third. Taking a leave instead of quitting has immense benefits – keep your healthcare, employment status, 401k vesting, negotiating power (never give up negotiating power so easily) – but I didn’t know that at the time. Had I combined the two options, I would have still been able to move forward exactly as planned with added benefits.

 

*** Think about this from the perspective of your manager:

If you have already accepted a job offer when you give your notice, you’re saying that you’ve made up your mind about leaving. Nothing can stop you from leaving. If you’re going to a competitor company, your manager may not even legally be allowed to try to retain you. The first thing on your manager’s mind will be how to find someone VERY quickly that can replace you. In your employer’s mind, you’re already done.

If you go to your manager and say that you want out, but don’t have any pending event requiring you to leave, your employer would – given you’re doing your job – have every incentive to get you to stay. You could get a raise, less work, more favorable terms, even more stock – It’s much cheaper to retain an existing employee than hire a new one.

Giving two weeks notice typically limits your negotiating power.

 

**** Most bubbles are not actually safe or secure, they only seem that way.

 

1 thought on “Budgeting may suck, but it sets you free”

  1. Hey great advice, I agree that budgeting carefully and planning can help immensely when it comes to doing what you want.

    I also think though that even for people who budget well, ultimately fear keeps them from taking risks. Being able to take risk is probably just as important as budgeting.
    Keep writing, this is good advice 🙂

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