Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A brief history part 2

We pick up with my first full time job, taken midyear 2005. It was several states away from 'home' and, in a very real sense, I was on my own. On the plus side, I had developed solid money habits in college and my starting salary was very nice for a fresh graduate.

After taking an exploratory trip before graduation where I had picked out an apartment, one of the huge advantages was that it was not only fairly affordable ($710/mth) but it was within walking distance of work, a nice way to encourage some daily exercise as well as save money on gas. I got myself saving into the 401(k) before my second paycheck, and contributing to my Roth IRA at about the same time (previously established from summer jobs).

Quickly it became a game -- how cheaply could I live? I set the goal to max my IRA and when it became obvious I would easily accomplish that goal I set out to max out the 401(k). Now it is important to realize that I started this job half way through the year - maxing the 401(k) would mean saving over half my salary. Unfortunately, the saving money game ran into the wall of a company limit of 50% salary contributions. Still, I maxed it out in that regard and lived as tightly as I could manage.

At this point I realized a few things - home being so close meant that going home for lunch was an option on a daily basis - I could go home and cook a hot meal which was more appealing than a 'brown bag' but kept the same savings appeal. In my subsequent jobs this would be a sorely missed advantage to my weakness for burger joints and other fast food. I also took advantage of company provided meals at every opportunity. The AC/Heat was off when I was away and combined with being in the 'middle' of the apartment tic-tac-toe board I was able to keep my bills low by leeching from their apartment's climate control. I cut my bills ruthlessly - open access point from a neighbor? No internet. I cut pay TV, kept no magazine subscriptions, and otherwise kept the monthly repeating bills to a minimum.

By getting into the game so early I never really felt deprived. I was still effectively taking home more than the tiny allowance I had in college, and since I only had a few paychecks before half of them were being taken out I didn't feel like I was cutting back. It was interesting to see other new employees, who I happend to know made the exact same salary I did (starting salaries for fresh outs were non-negotiable with this company, though very good), struggle. One workmate came in regularly on the 29th or so of the month asking me how he could somehow come up with enough money for rent - he ended up pawning some prized possessions and otherwise making some really tough sacrifices, and yet his life style seemed no better than my own; for all the spending he was doing the end result was a few more DVDs, meals out, and knick knaks along with a lot more stress.

I then had an amusing experience: while making a salary above the national average, with an emergency account, and every other sign of being a good steward of my money, I was unable to get a credit card. Mastercard, Visa, Discover -- I couldn't get credit because I hadn't had credit. Eventually I took out my old student ID and got one of the student cards that were pushed so hard just off campus. Something I'm fairly sure I wasn't allowed to do, but it never bit me. I got a solid cash back card that I paid off every month and started building a credit record as best I could without ever paying a cent of interest.

Eventually I realized that 'big corporate' life didn't suit me and I got a recruiting call from my father's home town. I jumped on that opportunity and got myself a 15% pay raise in the process. Thus my first job ended almost exactly a year after I had taken it, with a net worth that had risen by nearly 85% of the salary I had earned in that time.

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