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The Tyranny of Having a Real Job

A few weeks ago, a scary piece of paper came in the mail, addressed to Mrs. Money Mustache. It was an order that she report to the downtown Boulder courthouse for jury duty in early October.

The letter was careful to remind us that jury duty is an essential part of our justice system. Without randomly selected juries for court cases, we couldn’t hold fair trials, and a fair justice system is essential to a free society, and blah blah blah. While we were in full agreement with the philosophy of jury duty, it didn’t make the order to appear at 8:30am in a far-away city on a school morning any less damned inconvenient.

So on the appointed day, she zoomed off to the courthouse early in the morning, while little MM and I did our best to get him fed, clothed, and off to school on time without Mama’s help.  It was kind of fun, although we did forget his backpack, causing a stir in the morning lineup and requiring me to bike home and back to the school to deliver it.

Unfortunately, Mrs. MM had been selected for one of the biggest and most complex court cases in Boulder’s recent history – the “Michael Clark Murder Trial” that is all over the local news these days. The lawyers had pulled in over 300 potential jurors and were painstakingly questioning all of them to narrow it down to the required fourteen. So it would take three days of sitting around in a courtroom to even find out if she would be on the jury. And if she did end up getting selected, she would be committed to three weeks of daily trips to Downtown Boulder. About 15 miles away, at the peak of rush hour each morning, resulting in a one-way trip of almost 40 minutes. Then a return trip home at 5:25 PM, through the peak of evening traffic, and another 40 minutes.

All told, she’d be spending up to 18 days in court if selected, with a total time commitment of 157 hours and a total travel distance of 540 miles. Since her time is worth at least $50 an hour, it means she’d be spending $7850 of her time on the case, as well as $270 in driving costs (or more likely a single $88 monthly bus pass). The daily stipend for jurors is $50 after the first three days, meaning she’d get only $750 of this back.

With the appropriate amount of self-mockery, we whined and commiserated about the incredible inconvenience and hardship that had befallen our family. Eighteen family breakfasts would have to be sacrificed. Her daily tradition of a smothering kiss battle with her son just before he and I bike out of the garage to head to school would be missed. She would still be out of town when school ended each day, so I would have to do the after-school pickup as well. Her personal time during the day would be sacrificed, and by the time she got home each night, her son would be almost ready for bed.

At the end of the third day, she came home with the great news that she had not been selected for the final jury. Freedom had come early! All of us were overjoyed. Although she only made the trip three times, our family life had been shaken to the core. Every routine had to change. We had been living the tragically inconvenient life of a household with only one stay-at-home parent!

But wait! The horror story continues. Mrs. Money Mustache was so unprepared for the demand of being in far-away Boulder at 8:30 in the morning that she drove the car to that city for the appointment. All three days! The quarter-tank of gas we had been nursing since returning from our last family vacation in early September was suddenly burned up and she had to actually waste $35.00 of otherwise-useful money filling up the tank! On the first day, she arrived unprepared for the rainy weather and with inadequate food for 9 hours in a courtroom, so she found herself outside at lunch, freezing cold and looking for food. At this point she actually got back into her car and drove it to a restaurant in hopes of finding some lunch!!!

Written with fewer italics and exclamation points, this could sound like an average American day at work. But to both of us, the story is horrifying and nothing similar has happened to either of us in the subsequent ten. The sloppy, desperate inefficiency of that first day in Boulder left us both with an odd combination of lighthearted laughing and filthy guilt. Yet, much like even the most mundane events that happen in the MMM family’s lifestyle, it provided some extremely useful life lessons which we can reflect on for our own gain. And those lessons are:

1. Holy Shit, People with Real Jobs have unknowingly adapted to deal with mind-blowing inconvenience! 
I mean come on – going away after a rushed breakfast, being forced to drive every day, and coming home only as the sun is going down? Every day? WHAT KIND OF LIFE IS THAT?? What do you do if you have kids??

And yet, millions of people do it every single day. These people, even as they whine that they cannot accomplish tiny things like riding a bike to the grocery store or living without cable TV, are actually doing something infinitely harder every day. They deserve to be congratulated, and reminded of their own accidental badassity.

But then they need to be punched in the face, in order to realize that if you can handle a full-time job, you can DEFINITELY and very easily handle every other suggestion that Mr. Money Mustache makes here on this blog.  Compared to commuting daily to a 9-5 job, everything I suggest is a teeny tiny laughable mickey mouse effort.

You can read the whole blog, implement everything 100%, and be retired in 5-7 years. It’s way easier than this habit you have now, of missing out on every day’s joy of  a leisurely breakfast that begins a yet another fantastic self-guided day.

2. Most people handle the logistics of working in a perpetual “emergency last-minute survival mode”. The key to getting ahead is to Optimize.

Mrs. Money Mustache set her alarm clock too late. She had to rush through breakfast and run out the door. There was no time to bike to the bus stop and take the express bus – she had to drive directly to the court house. She forgot to bring warm clothing. She forgot to pack a lunch. And we live extremely far from her temporary place of “work”.

Everything was done in the most inconvenient, inefficient, and expensive way possible. This happens to be exactly how most people handle their work on a permanent basis.

If she really had a job in downtown Boulder, she would get a bus pass and learn when to set her alarm to allow a proper breakfast and a morning walk to the bus stop. She’d get her food situation organized so there would be no need to go out looking for food at lunch time. We’d start shopping for a place to live within a few miles of her new office. If housing was too expensive close to work, we’d consume less housing (i.e. a smaller apartment or rental house) to make up the difference.

Hell, even if we insisted on being crazy consumers and owning a large house in Longmont and commuting to Boulder (which thousands of people do), we could do much better than our current situation. Check this out:

 

Here we have a map of my town, Longmont, relative to Boulder. At the closest point, the cities are about 10 miles apart. But if you live in the downtown area where I live, you have to poke along for 12 minutes through traffic lights and other junk even to get to the Southwestern edge of town, where the road to Boulder begins. On top of that, the houses downtown are expensive, while you can get large, well-built modern houses down at the corner, still within easy biking distance of grocery stores and schools, at a much lower cost.

So why, in Flying Feathers*, are so many of my neighbors commuting from downtown Longmont every day to work in Boulder, instead of moving at least slightly less ridiculously far away? They say it’s because they love the ‘charm’ of the historic district and the ‘quality of life’ it offers.  But I can’t help but suspect that their perception of Increased Quality of Life is only imagined, a delusion made possible by Decreased Quality of Math.

I mean, a downtown commuter is spending an extra 24 minutes per day, 23 times per month. That’s 9.2 hours, or about $460 per month at $50/hour. (And yes, your time IS worth $50/hour – more on that in an upcoming article). On top of that, they borrowed an extra $100,000 for their house.  This is costing them at least $333 per month in interest and property taxes. Adding in the extra driving cost at a conservative $100/month, and these neighbors are wasting $893/month or $154,489 every ten years after compounding, just to live another part of the same town. 

The key to all of this “getting ahead” business is to never settle for inefficiency, and always strive to optimize. You won’t be able to do it all on the first day, but over time you can make small tweaks, which make your day just a bit more efficient and stick to your lifestyle as useful habits. As these solidify, you’ll free up more time, money, and energy to continue making bigger changes. You’re getting stronger, and yet your life seems easier.  Eventually you’ve got everything dialed down on autopilot, and yet your life is less stressful than it was when you were wrapped in a perpetual bubble of purchased convenience.

Some people say I am too extreme in my optimizations. “Waah waah, my quality of life will be affected if I don’t get to live near the fancy hipster pubs and coffee shops!”.

To them I say, “you’re the extreme one, for what has a bigger effect on your quality of life: spending every single day in a car and an office building just so your headlights can light up the trunks of big trees of the historic district as you drive home red-eyed and tired each night? Or being willing to make some changes NOW, to optimize your work situation, in exchange for a permanent life of freedom?”

In the end, we all get to make our own choices, which is a beautiful thing. Just remember that the choice of permanent full-time work so you can “buy more of the things you love” is costing you a lot more than you realize. And that every step you take towards optimizing your working life will cost you less than you think.

 

* that’s my new swearword. Please consider it to be  just as profane as “the fuck”.

  • Kevin October 21, 2012, 2:20 pm

    MMM, love the site and the basic concepts of Mustachian-ism, but some of the numbers in this post are a little loose and don’t back up your overall thesis. For example, you compared the $225 driving costs to an $88 bus pass – however the RTD bus pass from Boulder to Longmont runs double that cost – $176. The Driving vs Public Transit cost is very quickly competitive. This is before you add the additional costs of public transit – time, additional intermediate stops, waiting for routes that run only every 15mins in commuting hours (compared to on-demand with your auto), missed or late buses, commuting to the route itself from your home to the line, as well as from the terminus to your final destination. The 20 minute drive to Boulder is now easily 1 hour each way. At MsMM’s $50/hr hourly rate, this adds to the price of your bus pass dramatically. And this is before including the taxes sent directly to RTD, including the additional 0.4% sales tax you have been paying for a choo-choo train from Longmont to Boulder which will likely never be seen in your lifetime. Big fan of the bicycling, but I find advocating public transit, particularly in this example as questionable at best.

    Also, if the ranch homes in SW Longmont are “large, well-built modern houses down at the corner, still within easy biking distance of grocery stores and schools, at a much lower cost” compared to the houses downtown, how did you and the Misses’ come to live in one of those charming historical houses close to the coffee shops downtown? Have you considered selling or renting your current home to acquire one of these bargains by the faltering Twin Peaks mall? I believe people consider commuting as well as a whole host of other factors (rightfully) in where they establish their home. And if one of those factors is a hipster coffee lounge, well then God Bless America :)

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 21, 2012, 7:59 pm

      Well, Kevin..

      1) you can generally get bus passes far cheaper than sticker price if you find a way to get in on a group Eco pass.
      2) I took that bus to Boulder for about a month when I first moved here and it was almost as quick as a car. You put your bike on the front to create faster connections.
      3) You can work while you’re on the bus.
      4) Fuck the complaining about the Fast Tracks system, that’s off-topic.
      5) The reason I live downtown is because I rarely go to Boulder.. otherwise, I’d live in Boulder, or in the SW corner as noted in the article. The reason I pay more to live here is because money is no longer much of a factor for us. But it was a huge factor when saving for retirement.

      People consider mostly the wrong stuff when deciding whether or not to commute, which is why everyone ends up broke and wondering why. If my numbers were really that sloppy, I wouldn’t be Mr. Money Mustache. Which is the whole reason for this blog!

      Reply
      • frank July 23, 2013, 4:09 pm

        OK OK.. I admit it I’m becomming dangerously addicted to this site.. I’ve always wanted to retire early and live on way less that $25k. I always targetted $2M to be able to retire.

        I’ve never thought of .. well why?.. I’ve got about 1.2M now and the Wife want to work for a while.. why the heck am I leaving my house at 5am to drive 80 miles??????

        When should I retire.. do I really have enough.. the big fear is that maybe it isn’t.

        Reply
        • Mr. Money Mustache July 23, 2013, 5:40 pm

          Holy Shit, Frank!

          1: Congratulations – you are doing great.

          2: You need to quit RIGHT NOW. I’ll be waiting on the road at mile 79 of your commute and if I see you driving to work unnecessarily ONE MORE TIME, I’m going to stop your car with my sandal-wearing foot, haul you out, and punch you in the face. It will be with the greatest respect and love in my heart and solely in the spirit of education. But still, it will need to happen, because you are done working, my man.

          Reply
          • frank July 23, 2013, 5:47 pm

            Haha.. well I got a little project to finish here.. a bit more research to be sure $1.2M is enough.. Wifey makes about 30K and we got 15K in rent.. hoping to not have to touch the stash unless the roof blows off (which I will replace myself.. We built the whole house with our bare hands.. told you we’re cheap).

            Yeah I think I’m close..ish..;)

            Reply
  • frank August 5, 2013, 12:38 pm

    OK plans have been made..

    1) Airplane will be sold this weekend.
    2) clean out hangar and return to its owner and save $140 a month (ASAP, but as soon as someone shows up to take over the lease or Dec 31st when lease is up).
    3) Retirement financial plan appears to work (live off Wife’s earnings/benefits, plus a little rental income, don’t touch the ‘stash’, and keep it growing until Wife is ready to retire)
    4) Retirement date set of April 30th 2014 (assuming they don’t tick me off before then).

    Is it hard to focus on work right now?…Heck yeah!

    Reply
  • Norman Frank April 8, 2014, 6:22 am

    I hope Mrs. MMM took a book to read while sitting there waiting. At least some hand work to occupy her time there. Seems the court believes that retired people don’t have anything better to do than sit on juries, so it seems we get called more often. At least now I have learned to plan ahead and take my lunch, ride the golf cart to court, and take a book to read. The next time I’m taking some para-cord and a book on how to tie knots and actually learn something on their time.

    Reply
  • Parker May 13, 2014, 12:18 pm

    Wow, there was a lot of whining in that blog post. It’s only jury duty. Suck it up!

    Reply
  • Bob February 17, 2016, 7:56 am

    I do feel that there is not adequate understanding in some cases of what is involved when you have older children. Picking up a child and just “moving closer to work” and removing them from years of friends, activities they participate in (most of them for very low cost as part of the school) is not as simple as just saying “do it”. In the event of being divorced and having custody agreements, moving involves legal fees to get custody agreements changed and with difficult exes (which we have no control over) just a simple change of moving schools when we did move to save money cost over $5,000 in legal fees. A move to another city to be closer to work will be between $20 – $50K in legal fees (or we could just leave the children with their father and not see them again. Is that worth if for FI?)

    I agree with 99.9% of the things MMM proposes, but what is missing at times like in this article is an understanding that things change very significantly when your children are teenagers rather than young elementary folks and that not everyone has a situation that is fully in their control due to divorces that may not have been their choice either but that now impact their lives forever and make it very very difficult to make some decisions. It is not a waah, waah situation, it is a hard reality the gets looked at with dollars and cents, and I’m not sure that saving $175K in 10 years by moving closer makes sense when the cost is not seeing your kids again.

    Reply
    • STBJ March 1, 2016, 5:45 pm

      Bob,

      Your points make sense. MMM has an ideal situation and a like minded spouse. If a divorce and custody issues were on my plate I do not know what I would do. I am glad you agree with 99% of his approaches. I do too. I have found that I can apply 20% of his principles and see another $200 in additional net worth. I hope you can apply as many as you can.

      Reply

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