I read a post that made me think quite a bit this week. Madison from My Dollar Plan has a list of 15 tips for saving money while you still have a job. I looked down the list and saw things like 401k Matches, Tuition Reimbursements, Insurance – a pile of perks that people get with their jobs. Since I’ve been without a typical full-time job for a year now, I thought I’d go through the list and really see what I have given up.
- 401k Match – I didn’t get matched funds in either of my two jobs dating back to 2004. So I didn’t lose this when I left.
- Flexible Spending Accounts – None of my companies have offered this benefit as well.
- Tuition Reimbursement – Two previous companies offered this. For the first one, I applied for a class on client-server technologies (I was a computer programmer). I was told that this wasn’t relevant enough to my job. I followed up by asking what class teaches FoxPro for DOS in 1999 (answer: none). At the next company the hours prohibited me from taking the class and I had to get a B+ to qualify for reimbursement. That was too much pressure for me. I didn’t want my job performance to suffer because I had to stay up doing homework to qualify for reimbursement.
- Wellness Programs – My last two companies didn’t offer these either. Previous companies offered a gym membership which was really nice. However, I use the gym in my own apartment complex than I ever used my gym membership back then.
- Frequent Flier Miles – Much of the time, travel isn’t big for a software engineer. I didn’t give up much of this benefit.
- Health Insurance – This is the biggie for most people. I have been using my wife’s policy so this was no loss.
- Employee Discounts – I didn’t get these with my most recent jobs, but when I worked for Papa Gino’s (a New England pizza chain), the discounts of 50% off your food were great. It wasn’t unusual for the manager to send you home with a pizza for the family if you worked a solid shift.
- Investment Services – I’m in the minority here, but I found that much of the time, I could prepare myself as well as the people who were brought in to talk about 401Ks. Though I will miss grilling them whenever they say something slightly misleading.
- Industry Subscriptions – I used to love getting PC Magazine and eWeek back in the day. I have found those publications of less interest. I would rather have Business 2.0 if it was still around.
- Company Car – That would be sweet, but I never had a reason for one.
- Free Events – Companies I’ve been with have had one or two yearly bonding days. These were great and acted as mini-vacations.
- Free Meals – My last company was big on this. I never had to pay for lunch or dinner. I miss it greatly. However, since I’ve been on my own, I’ve been eating healthier and still fairly cheaply.
- Employee Assistance Programs – I’ve never used one of these before and I haven’t had a need of one since. For some, they provide value, but not me.
- Friends – This is another big one. I didn’t go out for beers on the weekends with any of my co-workers, but I felt like I got along with them well.
As I look through this list, I probably gave up less than most people. The biggest thing I can think of is about $60,000 a year in income. Wait, that’s pretty big. Let’s see what I’ve gained…
- Freedom/Time – I’ve had the freedom to do a lot of the things that I’ve always wanted to do. I have time to fit in other things.
- Health – With that free time, I’ve found more time for the gym. I’ve had more time study healthy habits. I’ve had more time to go grocery shopping and cook dinner. In short, I feel healthier than I have in some time.
- Fun – The extra time has allowed me to catch up with some of the household chores: laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. This means that my wife and I aren’t always catching up on the weekends. Instead we look to go to fun things like garlic festivals.
- Extended Vacations – Before I took this time off, I’ve never had an employer act positively to the conversation of “I want to take a month off.” Now I don’t have to ask, the question becomes one of “Can we afford to go to Phuket?”
- Save Money – I mentioned saving money by cooking and shopping, but I also save money by not driving to work. My transportation costs have gone way down.
- Tax Breaks – I never would claim the home office deduction when I had a full-time job. Even though I use it for my alternative income, it was too much of a risk of audit. Now that I work out of home full-time, I’m sure the IRS looks at my home office as a more legit expense. There are other tax savings as well when you run a business.
My hope is that within the next two years, my income will be up to where it was before I left. At that point, I’ll have the best of both worlds, time and money. It’s a long road and it won’t be easy. As a friend said the other day, I’m still far away from where I need to be.