Living Below Your Means
My Secret

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By DrZenRoot
March 12, 2004

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The Secret

For about five and a half years I have been a small piece of a huge corporation. I started wide-eyed and hit the ground running ready to take on the world. I had great early success and promotions came easy.

Then the clock turned to 2000. The industry quickly hit rock bottom and this company's stock price became #500 in performance of the Fortune 500 for two straight years. Opportunities dried up along with virtually all raises and bonuses. This company is by far the #1 employer in the area and when they started laying people off there was nowhere within 300 miles to go. I was one of the 'lucky' ones who always survived. Meanwhile the job market got worse and I felt more stuck.

On more than one occasion I watched a 40 something co-worker box up his stuff, tears running down his (her) face, begging not to be fired. One in particular I knew had just taken a home equity line of credit and just about spent it all.

So I started working less and reading about personal finances more. I always work hard to do the best I can at work (I consider it a free education) and have a good reputation here, but I don't exactly stand in line when there's more to do. I also turn into a pumpkin at 5:00.

I once had a boss who used to rejoice whenever his employees bought a house. The secret of the employer, he rejoiced, was that when you buy a house they've got you for the next thirty years. This guy also used to proclaim that raises served as short-term motivation, so he didn't recommend them much.

Fast forward to 2004. Tomorrow the bonus checks go out, which will the biggest ones the company has paid in a while.

And this time, I have a secret. Tomorrow I will be completely debt free except for my mortgage, the payments of which are roughly 1/10 of my income. Surrounded by peers who drive better cars, live in bigger houses, and golf at better clubs than I, I am financially independent. I could walk away tomorrow. It would hurt, but not for a while. It has been written on this board 1,000 times among the SUV and 'in my pants' threads, but this time it is my turn. I don't need my job, and I don't need the stuff it can buy. Living below my means has given me a colossal freedom. And I can now, at age thirty, start counting the days to retirement, which for the first time in my young life, I can see.

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