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Today’s guest post comes from Rob at “Getting Canned”. He’s had quite the FI journey so far and I really think you’ll enjoy reading his story. From unemployment to geoarbitrage, Rob’s been through it all. Nobody can tell his story better than he can though. Enjoy the read!
First of all, thanks to Cody for allowing me to tell my story here. You’re doing great work in the FI community and you’re ahead of the game. Looking forward to seeing what comes next from you. Keep it up!
I think my motivation to achieve FI really started in the midst of the financial crisis around 2009 or so after a job loss left me long-term unemployed. It’s difficult enough dealing with financial losses from a stock market & real estate crash, but the double whammy of being unemployed for more than two years really leaves you feeling powerless to improve your situation. It lands a direct blow to your self-esteem as well.
The experience served as a motivator to eventually develop and come back stronger than before and make sure that I’m never in that powerless position again regardless of any economic situation. It was a driving force in my journey towards FI.
But let me back up a bit to the start of my career for some perspective prior to my getting canned. I accepted my first “real job” just prior to graduating from college. After a year in sales, I found my way into HR and gravitated towards the technical side of things learning HR information systems. In the mid-2000’s I started to branch away from being a full-time employee and spent a year contracting at a few companies which I really enjoyed and which was fairly lucrative. Ahh, the mid-2000’s economy.
Contracting vs Full Time Employment
With contracting, you spend some time at a company picking up new skills and when the contract ends you move on to the next company to learn and grow some more. It’s fairly common that contracts run around 3 to 6 months. You start to gain an appreciation for the different ways companies do things and pick up best practices across different companies. There was something I enjoyed about not being so married to a job/life situation for years and years all while continuing to learn and improve my skill set. But with contracting you typically don’t get employee benefits.
After a year of contracting, I figured it might be good to return to full-time employment so I could contribute to a 401k and get regular benefits. I landed a full-time job as an implementation consultant at a payroll software company. The company was going through some changes and reorganization and they hired a large batch of implementation consultants and I was one of them. This was a newly formed role which was a mix of business analyst and implementation specialist. They hired a batch of 25 or so…
…They Didn’t Need 25 Consultants
My thinking is that when a company hires a batch of 25 people, I’d have to imagine they expect there will be some attrition and they actually only have a true need for maybe 21 consultants or so. Some may quit. Some may not make the cut. I discovered I was being paid a bit more than some of my coworkers and I’ll be the first to admit that my skillset wasn’t beyond theirs. In short, I was probably overpaid. Well after a few months I was presented with a few missteps that seemed minor to me and was ultimately let go. I believe a few others ended up being let go as well. Rather than being gentle and saying let go, let’s be straightforward. I GOT CANNED!
The 2008 Financial Collapse
The job market I was thrown into around November 2008 wasn’t great. I figured it would rebind in a couple months and I could take a passive job search for the time being. But this was the very beginning of the 2008 financial crisis, a financial collapse that saw white collar professionals end up living in tent communities after losing their homes and being long-term unemployed.
Weeks turned to months and before I knew it, it was the two year anniversary of me losing my job. I applied to positions at every level job I could imagine. Consulting roles, analyst roles, customer service roles, retail, food service, sales, waiting tables. No luck.
After two years of not working and so few interviews that I could count them on one hand, I came across a guy in a local pub that just returned to the US after spending a year teaching English in Asia.
Going to Asia to teach English would normally seem like an “off the rails” irresponsible life choice to me. I would have focused on the opportunity cost of not really earning and saving for retirement and lost time developing my career. But opportunity costs didn’t really factor in when I didn’t seem to have much in the way of opportunities.
Further chat with this global traveler teacher revealed that the qualifications to teach English in Asia were within reach. For many schools, the main requirement is being a native English speaker and having a college degree.
Rather than continue to be a cog in the machine of the unemployment income system, I decided to go for it. Within a month or so I was on a plane heading first to Tokyo, Japan for a layover and then transferring to fly to Taiwan. I had no idea what to expect. I figured if this turned out to be a horrible situation I could stay for a week or two and call it a vacation and chalk it up as an interesting life experience.
I landed at Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan I think around midnight. A Taiwanese man picked me up at the airport. For the first time in my life, I was greeted by someone holding a sign with my name at the airport arrivals! He drove me to the school which had two floors that provided a dorm-like living for teachers. My room was a bit bigger than a closet. I was tired and jet-lagged and slept.
The next day, I ventured out alone to explore while other teachers were busy with classes. It’s unexplainable the feeling you get walking around on the other side of the planet for the first time. Chinese signs everywhere, kids looking at you like you’re from another planet, little blue trucks driving around playing advertising through a megaphone in a cutesy Chinese voice. The sites and the sounds and smells are unforgettable. If you’re ever in Taiwan try to track down some “stinky tofu“. It’s better than it sounds!
But the experience of being unemployed taught me a few things. I was qualified and skilled but this was a time in history where very few people were able to get work.
- There are elements of finding a job that is largely out of your control. The job market is good now but another downturn is almost certainly going to happen in time.
- How prepared are most of us to have our income shut off? This to me, was a primary driver for the desire for financial independence. I didn’t want my happiness and survival to be at the mercy of the job market or a recruiter’s judgment of my font selection and choice of words on a resume. Be prepared for the worst because it can happen.
- I also saw the need to continue to refine skills and always be educating yourself so you can deliver value across different job markets in different economies.
The experience of unemployment strengthened my notions of how important it is to diversify income streams. It planted seeds in my mind of looking to generate income in ways beyond the traditional path of working a 9 to 5 job. Hopefully, these ideas will be helpful if you’re fired or if you simply want to build and maintain income streams.
Regardless of your desire to retire early, it’s simply smart to have other income streams than your W2. Consider some of the following:
Filing for Unemployment
Every state or local area may have different rules but broadly speaking, it’s typical for states to give unemployment whenever an employee has a certain amount of time being employed and when they are let go through no fault of their own. I’ve often understood this to be defined as employee misconduct. In other words, as long as you try your best, if you’re let go for making honest mistakes, you’re still eligible for unemployment.
Owning stocks gives you a piece of ownership of the profits of companies. Rather than envy the rich, it’s better to emulate them. If you have ownership in companies you typically get a share of the profits these companies generate on a quarterly basis. Rather than put all your eggs in one basket with a stock or two, diversify with an index fund that owns hundreds of shares of stock. Diversify further with bonds. Slowly but surely you’re building income producing assets which can help sustain you without working.
It’s very common for the wealthiest of society to own real estate. This is not without good reason. It provides diversification and there are tax benefits. It provides a stream of rental income. You don’t necessarily need to purchase property directly. REITs or Real Estate Investment Trusts provide investors a way to buy shares on the open market so you could get started with a few hundred dollars.
I wish I knew as much in 2008 as I know now because if I did, I would have focused on freelancing to build side income. I had a vague notion that people were making some money with blogging but I didn’t grasp it enough to implement it and set the idea on the shelf. Well since then I found the motivation and have launched my blog, “Getting Canned” detailing my story along with providing some resources for others that have been fired to get back to prosperity and on the path to financial independence. The site provides guidance on filing for unemployment, how to start a website as well as ideas to generate income. I’m also looking for stories from other people that have lost their job so feel free to contact me if you’d like to share.
If you’ve lost your job, you’ll be looking for income ideas but it’s always wise to cut the expenses as much as possible too. Geo-arbitrage was key in cutting expenses.
When your income is shut off, you re-prioritize and quickly realize many things aren’t necessary. Fashion falls off the radar of importance and you evaluate what’s necessary under a new lens. Living in another country helped me learn minimalism. Being cut off from the American marketing system helped as well. A couple pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts were my only outfits for more than a year.
An MRI in Asia can be done for under $100 USD. Someone, please explain to me why even with insurance, you’ll typically pay at least $1,500 in America? Getting out of the US will safeguard you from medical and health insurance expenses as Americans pay an ungodly amount for healthcare in the US.
Food & Housing
Again, outside the US, the cost of living for food and housing is often considerably lower. Many countries have a cost of living where you can live fairly well for around $1,500 to $2,000 a month.
In the end, if you’ve been terminated from your job, even if it’s a scary unpleasant experience, it’s usually for the best. Don’t stay where you’re not appreciated. Let it be your motivator to develop and eventually grow beyond the need for W2 pay. If you’ve lost a job and would like to share your story you can submit it on my blog here. And if you’re wondering about me, I’m back in the US these days working but with plans to head to Asia and go freelance before too long. Thanks for reading.
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