So, some coworkers of mine said something interesting to me the other day.
They were discussing the fact that someone from their division was retiring. He was, they pointedly informed me, only in his mid-fifties. My reaction was something along the lines of “Okay, sure. My dad’s is fifty-some and he’s planning to retire in the next year or so. Your point?”
Their reply was that retiring now left him with maybe 30 years of life left, and that it was weird that he was retiring now. What was he going to do with those 30 years? But then, as if to excuse the odd behavior, another coworker mentioned that “he’s the investing type”.
The conversation ended at that point, but I spent the rest of the day thinking about it. My coworkers had some very distinct ideas about the man’s retirement, and it kind of shook me that I not only didn’t agree with them, I’m not even sure if I really understood them.
For example, the 30 years comment? In retrospect it could be taken two ways.
The first, which is what I think they meant, is that 30 years is a long time to spend without a purpose of some kind of keep you busy. The most obvious purpose is, of course, a job, but it could just as well be volunteering, a hobby, or looking after grandkids. If this is how they meant the comment, then I really hope that they hadn’t actually thought too hard about what they were saying. For starters, the ‘standard’ retirement age is 65, only 10 years off. As far as I can tell, keeping yourself busy for 20 years vs 30 years shouldn’t be that much of difference. If you’ve found something that you enjoy (writing, for example) wouldn’t it be great to have an extra ten years free of work to devote to it?
Yes, I realize that retiring in your fifties throws off the idea that most of your life is spent working, as opposed to being in school or being retired (assuming you live until 85, and that you graduated at 22, retiring ten years early would mean you only worked for 39% of your life, as opposed to 51%). Still, I maintain that this shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Why would my coworkers even bother to comment about it?
The second way the comment could be taken, is that 30 years of retirement is a much harder thing to budget for than 20 years of retirement. The extra savings and compound interest during those ten years would be significant. If they meant it this way (and I really don’t think that they did) then the investing comment, at least, would make more sense.
But if they weren’t thinking about money when they made that comment, which I’m pretty sure of, then what on earth did they mean by “he’s the investing type”?
As far as I’m concerned (and almost all of the PF community would agree with me), there shouldn’t be a group of people that are the investing type, because that would imply that a lot of people just aren’t. I’m not talking about people how most people live paycheck to paycheck and don’t learn to save, I’m talking about the idea (that the statement seems to imply) that when it comes to investing, you either have something that makes you an investor, or you don’t.
This strikes me as a debilitating mindset. I know, for a fact, that the coworkers involved in the discussion contribute to the company’s (rather generous, actually) 401k plan. But they have to go out of their way to designate this one man as the investing type, as if he’s an anomaly or specially gifted or something. What does that mean for them, then? Are they doomed to being forever pushed around by financial advisers and the current DOW numbers?
Obviously, I’m being a bit over-dramatic, here, but the conversation frustrated me because I don’t think this is a healthy mindset. So what if someone decides to step out of the path of “retire at 65 and you’ll be fine because you contributed the minimum to your 401k needed to get the full employer match”? If they’ve crunched the numbers and decide they can retire at 55 (or, heaven forbid, 35), more power to them. It doesn’t mean that they have something magical, just that they prioritized differently, and wanted the extra years of retirement so that they could go windsurf in Puerto Rico.
I’ve put a lot of time and effort over the last three years (or so) into learning about personal finance. Over that time, I’ve been gathering the courage and resources necessary to decide my own future: how many luxuries I choose to own, how much money I set aside each year, and how long I need to work before I can retire. It’s tremendously empowering, to know that I can make an informed choice on those topics, now.
But my coworkers are seeing the results without seeing the effort and the process. So, all they can say is “he’s the investing type”, which is rather missing the point. We can all be “the investing type”, it’s just that you have to take the time and effort to make the important steps between high-yield savings account, and well-balanced portfolio.
Trust me, it’s worth it.
So, a little while ago, the program that I’m working for had a HUGE and VERY IMPORTANT deadline. We were kind of rushing to get everything ready by then, so we wanted someone working on the hardware 24/7. However, because there were only really two people that could do that (myself and my supervisor), that meant that I was put on a 12-hour night shift (10pm to 10am) for about a week .
So, I thought I’d share some of the pros and cons of that experience.
- You never quite know what day it is. When you work over the transition between one day and the next, your internal calendar kind of quits on you. “So, I was working on fixing that error last night . . . yesterday, I mean. Oh, wait. I guess it was technically this morning, but I’ve gotten eight hours of sleep since then, so . . .”
- Finding food is difficult. Either you’ve packed a lunch, or you hope that there is a Denny’s or something close by. I couldn’t even go out to the local IHOP, though, since I couldn’t leave the hardware alone for any length of time, so I kind of lived off of frozen meals. Even now, I keep an emergency can of soup at my desk in case I get pulled on to a weird shift unexpectedly.
- If you get stuck on a problem, there is no one to ask for help. You either have to hit your head against a wall trying to solve it, or you find a way to work around it until the morning when everyone else shows up.
- It gets rather lonely when you have to spend 10+ hours not talking to anyone. You can’t go out to lunch with people, because no one else is having lunch at midnight, and you can’t call up one of your friends to chat. Also, the next day, you have to turn down invitations to lunch because that’s when you go home to sleep.
- When everyone else comes in the next morning all fresh-faced and rested and in their nice clothes, you feel horrible in comparison, because you’ve come off your huge shift and are tired, rumpled, and starting to get cranky.
- There is no one else there to watch you or make you behave. I did a lot of singing/humming/talking to myself. And, since the lab floor is nice and smooth, I would occasionally break out into dancing. It was amusing, especially at 3am when I was really feeling the boredom. I also got to wear whatever I wanted. This means that, instead of business casual, I was just plain casual (and more comfortable because of it).
- When I made mistakes (and, trust me, I made a lot of them), I got to fix them/cover them up before anyone else saw them. It can be kind of embarrassing when you compile and find that, ooops, you forgot a semicolon at the end of one line of code and now you’ve got fifty error messages. On night shift, you can take the ten minutes to find and fix the error so that your supervisor only gets to see the nice pretty finished product when he walks in in the morning.
- Since you’re working a shift directly opposite of everyone else, traffic is never an issue. Rush hour traffic never affects you. And, when you get to work, you can park as close to the building as you want, since everyone else has already left for home. Also, since you’re already in the office come morning, you’re never late for the 9am meeting.
- Once, my supervisor took pity on me, and brought in coffee and pastries when he came in for work in the morning. We sat through the morning phone conference munching on croissants.
All that being said, it was an interesting and informative experience. I encourage everyone to try it at least once, if they can.
Until next week.
So, I work at an office. A large cubicle farm that requires a map to get around.
No, really. I have the floorplan of the building in my internet bookmarks just so I can find other people’s desks. It’s loosely based on a grid system, but the building is broken up into different sections so it ruins the effect.
Should you care, I’m somewhere around P-20 (I think).
Anyway, the point is that the whole place is rather gray. And I haven’t been at my desk long enough to generate the amount of paper clutter (post-it notes on the walls, photos of kids, certificates for years spent with the company, etc) that makes it feel lively and lived-in.
What I do have, however, are paper cranes. A lot of them.
You see, when I focus really hard on a problem, or I get bored, or I get distracted, or I become frustrated, (or any reason, really) I start folding paper cranes. It gives me something to do with my hands, sort of like twiddling your thumbs or knitting.
I first learned how in elementary school in conjunction with reading the book “Sawako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” for class. Then I forgot how for a few years until I hit Junior High and was a volunteer at the local art museum. We taught visitors how to fold cranes (can’t remember why), and I pretty much had the process memorized after that.
The nice thing about origami, is that all you need is some scraps of paper to make it work. And, let me tell you, at the office, there are a lot of scraps of paper. My favorite are used sticky notes, but I usually use the standard printer paper (after it’s already finished a useful purpose). Think of this as my version of recycling. Each standard size sticky note becomes four paper cranes. From an 8 1/2″ by 11″, I can get (wait for it – give me a second to calculate this) 64 PAPER CRANES.
Have I mentioned that I make my cranes really small? Really, really small? I’ve been making them for so long that the only way they keep me entertained anymore is to make them in miniature.
Also, I make a lot of them. I can make 40+ a day (actual amount created is usually in inverse proportion to how productive I was in the office. Take the cause and effect however you will). I’ve been keeping track, and since I’ve started working this year, I’ve made almost a thousand of them.
It’s kind of annoying actually, I’m running out of mugs to store them in. I keep having to empty them into ziplocks and hide them in the bottom of my drawers. I’m really not sure what to do with them. I keep thinking I’ll run a thread through them and string them up in bunches of a hundred, but that almost seems like more work than it took to fold all of them.
Anyway, the point of this is, that I have an interesting office habit. I think my supervisor is still trying to wrap his brain around the concept of origami (that I’m making all of these out a single piece of paper each without any cutting). It’s just something to amuse me since I don’t listen to music or use a stress ball or anything.
Also: I apologize for the picture quality. The battery charger for my camera is hiding somewhere in the one moving box I haven’t unpacked. These were done with my (dumb) cellphone.