Thursday, February 7, 2013

Feast or Famine

Being poor is not something that is foreign to me. Growing up I never had much dough despite having started work at age 15. I can remember freshmen year of college when I was literally living off of Top Ramen and whatever free beer I could find abandoned at a house party. I would, in the years immediately following, find ways to drastically increase my income. But as the story goes, I eventually abandoned those strategies.

Things didn't change too much after school. Immediately strapped with student loans, car payments, rent, insurance, and just the overall high cost of living in San Diego, I struggled to stay afloat despite working 70+ hours a week across two different jobs.

Eventually things started to get better. I was hired on full-time at the TV station. The gig came with full benefits, 401k with company matching, overtime pay, vacation and comp days. It was pretty solid compared to anything I had done in the past. Right around this time my father and I sat down and discussed my fiscal future. He educated me on expected rates of inflation, median housing prices in the area, interest rates, and loan consolidation and repayment options. We mapped out a plan. Based on all the aforementioned data, we theorized that if I stayed within my budget and continued to earn a modestly increasing wage year over year, that I would have enough savings and cashflow to put a down-payment on a house within 6 years time.

We had this discussion in early 2001. Roflmao. As we all know, median home prices in Southern California more than DOUBLED from 2001 -2007... and it just kept going. And everything else just got more expensive along with it. So much for well laid plans. There was no way to have predicted the huge rise on living costs, so I continued to be right there on the edge of poverty, despite making $75k a year. As it turns out... I am lucky that I did not become a home-owner when I had wanted to, as I would now be in far worse shape... but that's for another post.

Through it all, I kept up my end of the bargain and steadily increased my income year over year. I even found creative ways to supplement more normal income... but I also found ways to spend more and more. One day I woke up and realized...Yep, I'm the broke guy that drives a BMW. I am sooooo California.

When everything was going down at Qualcomm, I could've spent the weeks leading up to my last day looking for a job so that I could start new work immediately. That would allow me to take the lump sum severance money and eliminate my debt entirely. I could start over fresh. That was my natural instinct. But then I stopped and got a bit nostalgic. I realized that I had not taken off more than maybe 8 or 9 consecutive days in the past decade. I also had not done any of the traveling that I always talked about.

So for the first time since I was 15 years-old... I stopped working. It was fantastic. It was marvelous. It was... a short-lived retirement. It served so many purposes. One of which was to illustrate just how fast the money goes when you have none coming in.