Coffee heat rising

Money happens…

SDXB, a fellow who found his way clear to jump off the hamster wheel in his late 40s and never went back to the workplace, is fond of saying that “money happens.” By that he means that he never seems to lack for money (and it’s true he lives well, despite having little or no visible means of support) and that occasionally unexpected little windfalls happen.

Truth to tell, he has always made money happen. Until he reached retirement age, he supported his bumhood habit by occasionally volunteering to go TDY with the active-duty Air Force Reserve, in which he was the highest-ranking non-com in his job classification. The military pays certain people who are effectively temp workers pretty well, and reservists who stick with it get a nice pension and health care, plus access to commissaries and base exchanges around the world. He also did a fair amount of freelance journalism, especially travel writing, which underwrote trips you and I would regard as vacations and provided some nice tax write-offs.

He insists that a person who is willing to live frugally, who has even minimal resources, and who makes bumhood (read “permanent unemployment”) a priority can live comfortably without having to labor in the salt mines. And for him it’s worked: he’s almost 70, and he hasn’t held a steady job since the day he got up from the editor’s chair at a Scripps-Howard newspaper and walked out the door. He climbed on a plane, flew to Hawai’i, and camped on the beach for a month, where no one could reach him by telephone. He’s bought two houses in cash and he buys his cars in cash; he travels, he never wants for entertainment…and he doesn’t go to work.

Well, I’ve always been too cowardly to pull that one off, even though he kept assuring me that I had more than enough to live on and that money happens.

Now that I’m about to be forced to get out of the editor’s chair myself, though, I’m discovering that the guy may be right. In the past couple of days, money has happened three times.

Two happenings occurred yesterday. First, a client from bygone days resurfaced to ask if I’d edit a new project he’s cooked up. It was short and easy—I got through it in just a few hours and will bill about two hundred bucks. While I was playing with that, the phone rang, and lo! There was the chair of the English and Humanities department of Phoenix College, an inner-city branch of the community college district, conveniently located about eight minutes from my house.

Asked she, would I take on, at the last minute, a 200-level course in journalism?

Happy to, said I, but I’m already signed up to teach the maximum number of credit hours the district will permit.

No problem, quoth she! Because it’s an emergency hire, she can get an override.

You’re on! said I.

She said she’d have to be sure the course actually makes before forking over a contract, but it only needs 18 students. It’s a hybrid course that meets once a week, and when I looked over the district’s requirements, I realized it’s much the same course I’ve taught several times at Scottsdale!

So. This fall, in the four months running up to Canning Day, I will gross ninety-six hundred extra dollars with this side job as a community college teacher. Since our office is winding down, I doubt if this will cause much strain; after all, the “two” GDU courses I signed on to teach in the spring of 2008 morphed into four, and I survived.

Meanwhile, an hour ago I finished reading another detective novel for pay. A pretty darned good one, too: well written and clean. Another $250 in the busker’s hat.

Money happens, but money unhappens, too. A few mutual fund, IRA, and 403(b) statements materialized toward the end of the week, showing that my devastated investments are reviving a little. Since reaching their April 2009 nadir, they’ve climbed about $9,000—and that’s after I took out about $15,000 to pay off the Renovation Loan. Still, the total of retirement savings is down $126,792 from the high balance in May of 2008: thanks so much to the greedy bastards and misguided dogmatists who’ve run the country and the economy this past decade or so.

Think of that: a hundred and twenty-seven grand lost in the collapse of the Bush economy. If that money hadn’t unhappened, I’d have plenty to retire on without a worry in the world. On the other hand…if the economy hadn’t crashed, I’d stick with a boring job for the next three years and not be about to embark on the grand adventure of bumhood.

Win some, lose some. Maybe being pushed to quit working, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, is worth a little money unhappening.

Hamster and hamster wheel, Dimitar Popovsky, Wikipedia Commons
U.S. Dollar Bill, public domain

5 thoughts on “Money happens…”

  1. Like you, I have been too cautious to Step Off the wheel. But it has been my exact experience that money happens, expecially if you say yes to it. In the meltdown of markets, in which my retirement fund went effectively to zero, I had to ask myself what was it all for, anyway? I could’ve been living in the cash economy, travelling on the cheap, doing stuff that makes my heart sing and not have a retirement fund. Instead, I have been working like a dog, bulking up my retirement fund and going into debt, and I have no retirement fund.

    Hmmmm. The debt stands between me and the ability to step off. Debt represents the absence of freedom. So I am focusing on getting rid of that obstacle and then yes, stepping off. Why not? What have I got to lose at this point? The career that I have come to hate? My (cough cough) retirement security? Makes no difference anymore. I am inspired by SDXB and his story, thanks for posting it.

  2. @ Chance: That’s exactly correct. SDXB has NO DEBT. By and large he pays for things in cash. He does use credit cards, but he pays the balance in full each month.

    At the time I met him, he did have a small mortgage. He had purchased a condo for about $40,000. Then along came the savings & loan crisis, precurser to today’s economic fiasco. Then as now, the bottom fell out of real estate. Owners in the condominium couldn’t sell their places, and so many walked, leaving them to the banks. Others converted them to Section 8 rentals. As a result, the place went downhill.

    I was renting a condo in the same little development. A drive-by shooting led me to buy a house and move out. He followed, moving in with me. Amazingly, he managed to give his condo back to the bank deed in lieu. (The bank sold it for $12,000, shades of the bubble!).

    He now was paying me rent, in the amount of half my mortgage payments. This worked out OK for a while, until we couldn’t stand each other anymore. Then he bought a house down the street from me. Interestingly, at that time he had enough cash to buy it outright (he got a smokin’ deal on a fixer-upper). In spite of not having held a steady job for many years, he had that much cash in the bank.

    From what I can tell, this had to do with sheer frugality: a combination of smart investments before the S & L crash, avoidance of debt, and cultivation of very frugal habits. Once he owned a dwelling and a car outright, his expenses dropped to near nothing: insurance (assuming he carried homeowner’s at all), taxes, utilities, maintenance, gasoline, food, clothing, a few household goods, and whatever he needed to keep himself entertained.

  3. He should write a book about all this. Or at least a blog. He has a lot more real-life knowledge (b/c he’s older and has done it) than most of the personal finance bloggers out there. Or you can do an “as told to.”

    As my late father (he died in November, just after the major tanking of all his accounts) said, “You only lose money when you sell at a loss.” So if you can make it for a while without drawing down, there is hope. Of course, I don’t know what my father would be saying now.

  4. @ frugalscholar: I’ve suggested to him many times that he has the makings of a bestseller there. He’s never done it, though. I guess when it comes to writing he’s a sprinter, not a marathon runner: He does a killer feature, but the prospect of spinning out 350 or 400 MS pages must look like more than he wants to do.

    Yes, if I could just wait another five years to start drawdowns, I’d be more than OK. The problem is, that’s no longer a possibility: I’m out on the street in December, and at my age I have virtually no chance of finding another full-time job. What employers see when they look at a 64-year-old job applicant is a) higher health insurance premiums (because older people run up high medical bills–even if you’re in excellent health, the chances of an expensive ailment rise with every month you age); and b) someone who is going to quit in one to three years. The ageism inherent to our culture aside (and it’s a significant enough issue that one probably ought not to put it aside), these are excellent reasons not to hire an over-60 worker.

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