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Do You Take The Guaranteed Money in Your 20s?

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[Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Martin of Studenomics and now Start Freelancing Now, where he helps you make more money with what you already have.]

I was chatting with a good friend who hates his job. He always complains about his job and how much he hates it. That's perfectly normal. What bothers me is that this guy is talented and could easily make money elsewhere. I finally asked him why he didn't just quit.

"Because it's guaranteed money. I'm in a good position. I can't get fired and the money is guaranteed."

That makes total sense. Why risk something that's guaranteed? Why rock the boat?

What do you go for in your 20s? Should you take the guaranteed money or take some risks?

What's the case for taking the steady income?

Life is crazy enough. Your income should be predictable. Why risk how much money you have coming in on a consistent basis?

An acquaintance of mine, James, took a steady job with lower pay and less qualifications needed than he holds, just to have steady pay and benefits. We had a debate about this one day and he told me that he simply doesn't want to take any risks with his work. He wants something that's guaranteed, predictable, and stable. He wants a routine that he can stick to. This means that he wants to wake up at the same time, prepare his food in advance, and not have to worry about any deviations from his routine.

There's also the argument to be made for budgeting your money. When you have the same amount of money coming in on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, you can easily create a budget that you can stick with. With an irregular income, it's a bit more challenging to stick to your budget.

When you have the same money coming in, you can plan for all of your expenses, save up for future expenses, and live below your means. You don't have to worry about not being able to cover your bills because your income was lower than expected.

You won't get rich quick. You won't be cruising in a Bentley. You will have safe financial future.

What about the argument for taking risks?

“You want to be afraid, really afraid, take a look at what your life will look like not if you try and fail, but if you keep on keeping on for decades. That’s the real nightmare scenario for most people.” — Jonathan Fields

I don't want to throw any catchphrases out because it's careless to suggest that you quit your job to follow your passions without a real plan.

My argument here is real simple. Life's too short to spend it doing something that you don't like. I believe that you should find a way to pay your bills doing work that you actually enjoy and makes you feel good at the end of the day. 40 hours a week is way too much time to be spent on being depressed or hating life.

Time to finally answer the question...

Do you take the guaranteed money in your 20s?


I love the idea of starting an online business with no money and taking some risks. Others are not so keen on this. The truth is that you don't have to work for yourself to take risks.

How can you take risks with your career?

  • Travel abroad to find work.
  • Go back to school to upgrade your skills.
  • Work for a small startup.
  • Take a job with lower pay that offers growth potential down the line.

What I'm getting at is that you owe it to yourself in your 20s to take some chances. Life's too short to be miserable.

The worst case scenario with taking risks is that you fail. So what happens then? Nothing. You can go back to work. Is that really so scary?
What would you guys do? Take the guaranteed money in your 20s or take a few risks?

Last updated on October 26, 2012.

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14 Responses to “Do You Take The Guaranteed Money in Your 20s?”

  1. Money Beagle says:

    I took more chances in my 20’s when I was single and young than I do now in my late 30’s. I think that your 20’s is the best time for that, since down the line family will likely make you less risk tolerant.

  2. I think the key to understanding James’s mindset is to separate job satisfaction from life satisfaction. Job satisfaction is a portion of total life satisfaction. James is choosing to sacrifice some job satisfaction because he feels that it enhances satisfaction in other aspects of his life.

    I’m at a point where I’m at the second highest job class for my role. I COULD work an extra 20 hours per week and chase that final promotion … but in truth, it’s really not worth it to me. The extra money I’d earn wouldn’t compensate me well enough for the extra time.

  3. Meghan says:

    Ideally, I’d say take the risk but I certainly haven’t, and 30 is but a month and a week away. There comes a point when the income is too good to walk, even if the job is unfulfilling, especially if there’s a good chance you won’t be able to get a similar job later (government work for example). The boring job pays for great quality of life outside working hours, and that counts for something!

  4. robyn says:

    of course if you take the guaranteed money in your 20’s that includes a government job you can retire from in 20 years with a pension and medical benefits and THEN you go do what you want with the rest of your life you have the best of both worlds don’t you? for some of us, ANY job is good enough because we don’t have a safety net of spouse with medical/retirement benefits. and if you don’t have a family safety net, you can end up on the street.
    btw your friend is full of it. if he REALLY hated his job he’d leave. it allows him to compensate for whatever other needs he has, be they OCD or ADD or a touch of aspergers as opposed to haveing to deal with the learning curve of new people and places and OMG the paperclips don’t line up…

  5. Meghan says:

    Whoa there! Your assumptions or understanding of our retirement schedule and benefits is way off! I’ll have 36 years of service before I am eligible for retirement without a penalty. 42 years for the full pension, which is half of what it used to be. I had 11 years of private full time employment before that. I’ll also be paying for insurance, not all of it, but a big portion of it and will be in my mid 60s if I’m prepared. I’m 29 now. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that on top of what I invest personally and Social Security (?), I will get almost 1% of my high 3 (or 5 or 10 years) of salary when I retire. That’s the only real benefit to working for the Federal government. In exchange, I swear an oath and am prohibited from having a second job that has anything to do with my training and industry, or from investing in areas that the rest of the public is free to invest in. It’s not a perfect job. I’m decently safe, but I also got an award today and have the highest performance rating. I’m appreciated, maybe not by the public but by those who know what I/we do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t stick around for those perceived benefits. I’d love the option of supplementing my income with something other than retail.

  6. Tommy Z says:

    There is no such thing as guaranteed money. Even governments are laying off these days. Pensions are going under.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Tommy Z,

      In some ways you are right about there being no guaranteed money. Nothing is really that guaranteed nowadays. For example, there is no guarantee, I won’t get hit on the head by a falling safe like a cartoon later today. That said, we can talk about virtual guarantees and I think that’s what we were talking about here. My wife’s military job for instance would fall into the category. It takes an agreement of congress to eliminate here position. Even so, she’d then be able to apply for another position.

      As far as pensions going under, at the military level, they are also pretty much guaranteed for those grandfathered in. I can’t imagine a scenario where the government just says, “We are breaking these contracts.” Good luck to the politicians that do that. They’ll cut money elsewhere if they want to keep their career.

  7. robyn says:

    let me tell you about the private sector: no maternity leave. period. share of costs for medical insurance: 200-800 per MONTH. pension: NADA. if i”d been smarter when i was in my 20’s [i’m 53 now] i’d have done what some of my friends did: entered the armed forces for 6 years, went into the reserve and after 20 years total they pensioned out. they used the fed to pay for their BAs and JDs and MBAs. it is not the same now but having no frame of reference for this friend, not knowing if he is 20/30/40, i can only specultate. as for investing, you can only do that if you have disposable income. welcome to the rest of the world.

  8. Meghan says:

    Both of you are correct. To save money, first they will go from the “high 3” in calculating the pension to a “high 5”. The next step if money is tight is to pro-rate (this is common practice now for grants). Maybe your wife is entitled to $40,000 a year in retirement, but everyone gets 80%. I expect the same thing to happen in Social Security. Outside of military service, we can be hit by Reductions in Force as well, but our system is based on tenure and performance rating. As long as you have your 3 years in and get outstanding ratings, the agency would try to take care of you. It’s important to be known and for the higher ups to know your name, just like in the private sector. I’ve been laid off before when our entire office was shut down with no notice in the private sector and it sucks. At least here, they have to give 6 months in notice. That 6 month cushion is why I feel decently safe. Even if my job were to be cut and no other position was available, I’d have time to find something else. You don’t always get that luxury, and it is things like that which make the government and its safety hard to leave for adventure.

  9. Meghan says:

    Robyn, I understand your frustration but it isn’t our fault that your benefits aren’t better but society’s. If we as a nation demanded better, we’d have it. Your friends may have excellent pensions if they started in the armed forces in 1982 or before and kept the original system. It changed for the rest of us 30 years ago. I’m off work for a couple weeks from having shoulder surgery (love that the iPhone only requires thumbs and no actual arm movement). I pay about $200 for insurance but everything besides a routine visit seems to be a $150 co-pay, I’m out $1700 for this shoulder issue on top of premiums, so insurance has gotten worse for everyone. My parents are paying $800 a month for private insurance and that hurts, and I don’t feel that it’s right. We also don’t have maternity benefits other than what’s required by FMLA. You are certainly not alone in thinking that the benefits are fantastic and in some states, they are for sure! We all are in this together. A lot of my customer base includes people who did not or were not able to properly save for retirement, and it is sad. Hearing an elderly person cry because they can’t afford food or medicine because their rent went up is disheartening and all of us are reading this blog because we don’t want to be in that situation. Hopefully our preparation and wise decisions will pay off!

  10. “let me tell you about the private sector: no maternity leave. period. share of costs for medical insurance: 200-800 per MONTH. pension: NADA”

    That’s not universally true, although it’s pretty common.

    I have a defined benefit pension (as well as a 401(k) that has a bit of a matching contribution). My company allows paid sick leave to be used for maternity leave. The sick leave is so generous that by the time a woman is with the company a couple of years, she’ll have accrued enough sick time to take off 12 weeks paid. I’m not exaggerating – this is very common. it’s noteworthy when a woman has to use unpaid time for maternity.

    I personally have 200+ sick days built up, in spite of the fact that I actually stay home when I’m sick. A friend of mine has battled cancer twice in the past decade and didn’t have to take unpaid sick time either time.

    My wife works in the public sector. No pension (although her employer matches more in her retirement account) and a maternity/sick leave policy that pales in comparison to my employer’s.

    Our health care plans are roughly equivalent.

    The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (a branch of the government) does provide a safety net for those with pensions – so even if your employer goes under, you won’t completely lose your pension benefits.

  11. […] Do You Take The Guaranteed Money in Your 20s? “What do you go for in your 20s? Should you take the guaranteed money or take some risks?” Lazy Man and Money […]

  12. Tommy Z says:

    @Lazy Man

    I think it is a mistake to think your wife’s military job is guaranteed. Military spending in America is more than the next highest 10 countries combined. That makes me think we are spending way too much on the military.

    Additionally, the only way we can afford to spend such a large amount on the military is if China decides to lend the money to us. Although China and other lenders have not cut us off completely, things are trending in that direction already.

    Eventually, the government will be unable to borrow additional money…I do not know when…but it is a mathematical fact that it WILL happen…and when it does…the military might be an area that gets cut before throwing senior citizens out on the street.

    • Lazy Man says:

      I would agree that we are probably spending too much on the military. In fact, I read recently that the Army didn’t want any more tanks, but the government pressured them to take them because they need to keep the tank building companies in business (I’m purposely over-simplifying this huge issue for brevity in this space).

      My wife is a pharmacist, which isn’t the typical job in the military. She works to make sure the senior citizens in nursing homes are getting adequate care. However, before that she was in Federal Prison for dealing drugs… giving medicine to inmates. There are a wide variety of similar jobs available that aren’t typically thought of as being related to military. Now these jobs could all be legislated away, but the government doesn’t typically kill government jobs very easily. Making things easier, she is eligible to retire with the pension in 7 years, and things really don’t move that fast at the government level.

      Also, pharmacy happens to be Kiplinger’s top major for college graduates with a low unemployment. So even if the military job goes somewhere, she’d likely find another in the private sector. Not that it would help with the pension in that scenario, but it isn’t a bad plan B.

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