Monday, April 21, 2014

We're Back...


I bet you're all, 'Wow!  Spicy Princess, way to fail at your New Year's Resolution!' and you'd be right... I am still slacking at posting.  BUT (yes, this is all-caps important) it is because The Executioner and I have been busy.  What have we been doing?!?  Oh, you know... attacking one of our goals.  Goal #3 - MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  What is said goal? 
  • Relocate to a property in the woods with large acreage and a modest house.
That's right.  We moved into the woods at the end of March and have been busy, busy, busy in doing so.  My hope (hint hint) is that The Executioner will appear any day now and write more to tell you all the this-es and thats.  

So you can get a picture of our definition of 'property in the woods' - I went for a 5 mile run today and passed: 8 - 10 driveways, 1 (yes one) car (that was in motion that is), 1 happy dog that came out to greet me, and was able to run in the middle of the dirt road for most of the journey.  I'm so excited to grow food and enjoy the serenity that our forever home brings.  

That's the update for now.  I hope your goals are coming along too!

~ Spicy Princess

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Worth the Price/Greatest Gifts Ever...

Happy March!

This weekend we helped a friend move.  This friend is in his early 20's and as I was lifting some of his stuff, I had a recurring thought.  That thought was 'wow - I'm glad I paid $XX for our _____.  The quality is so much better!'  This got me thinking to a few other things that I have either paid a decent price for, or, as is more likely the case in my situation, have asked for it as a present and my very generous parents have bought it for me.  A few things that fall into this category:
  • My Vitamix!!!  I got this for my 30th birthday and we use it several times a week.  I drink a smoothie everyday and am able to make 4 at a time with this powerful blender.  I didn't have to pay for it - but if I had, it would be worth every penny.
  • My food processor - I have a Cuisinart 14 cup, too many functions :) food processor and love it.  Once again - shout out to my mom for getting this for me for my birthday (something that was on my list).  I have a ton of food allergies and make almost everything homemade - bread, hummus, getting into even making my own vegan milk.  Anyways - this bad boy can make 14 cups of hummus at one time.  Hello awesome.  
  • Good outdoor winter gear - it is winter (you're welcome for sharing the obvious) and it is really cold.  It has been a cold winter.  This winter (if you remember back to my splurge) I bought some boots and a winter coat.  Well let me tell you - I have spent probably close to 500 on outdoor stuff this year and have never been happier with it.  I am sure I have gotten that much use out of it already - and the best part is that I will use it for all my future winters until it wears out.  
  • The final thing I would put on this list, which is what triggered my thinking, is that I now own "real" furniture - it is not the particleboard junk our friend had - we have a dining set, dressers, and coffee tables that are made from real sturdy wood.  I bought our dining set and living room entertainment pieces from Pottery Barn before I ever knew The Executioner and my sister was moving in with someone and they decided to get rid of their 6 piece Pier One bedroom set (not the bed - night stands, TV stand, huge Armoire, 2 dressers).  Present day Spicy Princess wouldn't buy that, but young SP was all about buying the Pottery Barn stuff.  It all worked out in the end - the stuff is decent and has held up 8 years with little to show (err - maybe there is a scratch from a certain small dog who decided he should run across the coffee table once...) in the wear-and-tear department.  And, being the miser that I am, I still look at the pieces and feel like they are too high quality for me - so would never think of getting new stuff just for the sake of getting new stuff.  
I am sure I have other items that will go on this list, but those are what I am thinking about right now.  What items have you purchased or been gifted that you feel are totally worth the price for a higher-end quality?  

Final thought - I know when I was growing up it was always poo-pooed for people to give/get things like irons or other important basic necessities for gifts for holidays.  I, as you can see from above, feel that getting something like a really nice blender, or (if I was going to need to iron frequently) a nice iron and ironing board that would make my life easier and I would enjoy using regularly is a MUCH better gift than a fancy bracelet or purse that I am going to use once and never again.  

Have a great March - I'll try to get back soon and give you more updates!


Monday, February 24, 2014

A new good habit

I'm back - and in a new color yet again.  Hopefully you are not singing "You got so many colours make a blind man so confused" by Scissor Sisters now.  

I stumbled across an article last fall/winter about how employees using (a newer version) Outlook on their smart phones are susceptible to having all of their data erased by their employers.  Apparently it is a theft protection process where employers can go in and wipe out a phone remotely through Outlook if the phone has been compromised so that private information is not revealed.  This was a NPR story, however I hadn't heard much more about since then.  However, in late winter, my employer decided to update our systems, including Outlook.  It had to then be erased and reloaded onto your smartphone.  When I started to do that, some warnings came up, asking to give my employers permission for different things.  I didn't have a chance to read it, so decided against loading it onto my phone.  Plus, it was right before the holidays - I figured it was a good time to take a technology break.  

Fast forward to present day - I still have not loaded it on my phone.  I can access my email through a website if need be.  And, if I am "on" for work - I don't have access to email (in theory).  If I am "off", I am sitting in front of my computer, where I can access email via desktop.  

My new good habit is this: I am checking email a lot less frequently.  It started as I was "off" and trying to design something new for the company. At first, I had my email open and wasn't getting much work done as an email would pop up and I would dutifully reply in .025 seconds upon receipt.  And then I noticed how unfocused on my project I was.  So I shut email down for the day, only checking it a couple of times a day. That was good.  But, then it got better.  

See, I was still in this awful state of feeling like I always had to know what emails were there, and so was checking email right before going to bed.  Well if that isn't a great way to ruin a good night's sleep, I don't know what is.  I would get myself all fired up about how I needed to reply to a recent email and wasn't fully relaxing and stepping away from work.  I have now been a full two months without having checked my email before bed.  In fact, I am pretty good about shutting it down at the end of the day. If, like tonight, I need to go in to get some other data, I acknowledge that I received some new emails and that they are dark bold and waiting to be read, and get my material I need and leave.  I have discovered something mind-altering - the emails will still be dark and bold and wanting to be read in the morning!  

This, for me, is one more small step towards breaking away from the mentality that I am my work, my work is me.  It's a small step - but it is a step in the right direction!

~Spicy Princess

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Death to the Job is Like...

Lately I've been doing a significant amount of thinking about death to my full-time job (as in stopping work, not this blog).  Not because I am really unhappy there.  Presently, I am in the middle of a LOT of activity, and I have volunteered myself for a few additional things as I can see in the long-haul how these decisions will help position me for being an essential member to the company I work for. However, since this is not always the feeling I have around my job, it has led me to think more often about the end of my full-time job.  

I like analogies.  So I will explain through one of those.  This analogy works for me in thinking about where I am now and where I am going to be in a few years with my job.  Today's analogy might not be popular with some of you out there due to personal experiences/situations - please know that my intention here is not to offend/hurt anyone with it.  

To me, death to the full-time job is like (a really good version of) cancer.  

For starters, it is believed that there are cancer cells in everyone's bodies, however some bodies create a more conducive environment for the cells to thrive, while others don't and so the cells remain dormant.  I agree - I think that everyone has some death-to-the-full-time-job cells in their bodies - the difference from cancer cells, obviously, is that some people TRY to help these cells flourish.  Like The Executioner (TE) and me.   

A few months ago work was really stressful.  I was feeling pressure, unappreciated, overworked, and not happy.  I went for a consult (a conversation with TE) who listened to my symptoms and made a diagnosis.  He broke the news to me gently, I am in the early stages of death-to-the-full-time-job.  At that point, the death-to-the-full-time-job was concentrated to a few select areas and might or might not spread throughout my body.  TE continued to talk to me about this.  Death-to-the-full-time-job could be removed from my body and I could be remedied of it.  On the other hand, he also pointed out that I don't have to work - I could give into death-to-the-full-time-job.  I wasn't ready to hear that news though - and so I denied, denied, denied.  I'm only in my early 30's - how could it strike me so soon?  No, I have to keep working so we can retire comfortably and early.  We need my income, we will perish without it.  Blah, blah, blah. 

As I sat with that diagnosis, and rethought about what TE said, I felt the death-to-the-full-time-job taking root throughout my body - it was spreading quickly and penetrating deeper.  I realized that although the news was surprising, it shouldn't be.  I mean, I always kind of knew this (hasn't it been our goal since death to the mortgage started?!?), but it wasn't something that I considered on a daily basis.  It always seemed like a future thing - not a now thing.  Hearing it from him made me face my reality though.  I have death-to-the-full-time-job and I don't have to work.  After contemplating this information for a few days I did what most people would do - I started working differently.  I decided I would let the death-to-the-full-time-job cells grow and I would encourage them to do so.  Since that initial consult, I have said no to 2 projects (first time in this job that I have said no to anything), I have delegated a lot more to others instead of doing it all myself, and I have focused on the work I like to do. 

I would say I am now at stage II or stage III of death-to-the-full-time-job.  I now accept the fact that the end of the full-time job is inevitable.  I know that it is in me everyday, I feel it like a dull ache.  Sure, work is not always my favorite past-time.  But, I am part of some interesting and inspiring projects and am looking forward to where they will take me.  I am enjoying it more often than not right now.  And so, I fight the death-to-the-full-time-job for right now.  I know this will not always be the case - there will come a time where I am not enjoying work anymore and am ready to stop fighting.   

I am living with death-to-the-full-time-job and,to the outside viewer, nothing looks different from Spicy Princess four months ago.  However, I know things are different.  I make decisions thinking about my death-to-the-full-time-job and the impact these decisions have on my future.  I selectively take on work tasks that provide me with skills I could use in alternative jobs and also highlight my value to the company.  That way, when death-to-the-full-time-job metastasizes and has control of all of my body (and mind), I feel prepared to succumb and work part-time somewhere.  And, the company feels I am so valuable that having me part of the time will be better than having no Spicy Princess at all - alleviating the stress of me trying to find a job somewhere.

For now, it is not a hard fight to stave off death-to-the-full-time-job.  However, there are still times that I like to daydream about the time when I will blissfully hand myself over to death-to-the-full-time-job.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Start to the End...

Happy 2014!  This year is going to be our year... I feel it.  It will be the year that starts our death to the full-time job.  Which is exciting.  

One of my 2014 goals is to write more on my blogs.  So, here I am.  Before I go too deep into this though I want to clarify a few things:
  1. I can't remember what font I write in to show that I am not The Executioner (TE).  Oh, and I don't find it important enough to be consistent by looking back at previous posts.  I am pretty sure my writing will quickly show anyone who is reading that I am not TE :)
  2. I am terrible at replying to comments.  It is my stretch goal.  I also give TE permission to reply on my behalf.  I'll try... that's the only promise I can make. If you post something and I don't reply - please don't take it personally.  I have most likely replied to you about 200 times through conversations in my head, but I haven't put them down here.  I don't know why... it is one of my faults.  I fully admit it.
Alright, now that I've stated those points, I'll start on my first blog entry for 2014.  

Since we paid off the mortgage in 2011 I've felt that I've been kind of lost.  Lost because I haven't had a clear target in my mind.  Prior to April 2011, the target was a huge bulls-eye with ZERO MORTGAGE written in the center, which every action could be measured against.  Walking through the grocery store and wanting to buy a sweet treat, I would stop because I would see that buying said item would take a couple of dollars away from ZERO MORTGAGE and I would realize said item was not worth it.  This worked in all areas - everything that was about to be purchased was measured against how high of a need was there.  If it wasn't high enough (and there was a pretty high threshold), the purchase was not made or was reduced in another way.

Post April 2011, our target has not been as measurable or concrete.  The goal has been "build our savings".  Well, walking through the grocery store and looking at said item sweet treat then became a rationalization game.  True, I won't be helping to save as much, but we'll still be saving because buying said item sweet treat won't cost nearly as much as going out to dinner.  You can see the game I was playing with everything.  And it all came to a head this past month.  I justified that I needed a new jacket, 2 pairs of boots, jeans, and a couple of other things.  You can imagine my horror as I look back at how out-of-control I was.  

Last year one of my 2013 goals was to look at anything that was about to be purchased and consider was it worth the life energy it cost and would I be able to use it many years down the line.  I greatly reduced the amount of work-related clothing, shoes, and accessories I buy.  I did this by realizing that I have a great wardrobe that fits me well for work.  I have enough that I don't need new things. I looked at many great sales on dresses in 2013 and thought 'this would be a great dress to own for work' and then thought where else I can wear that dress.  The majority of the time the answer was nowhere, which meant I admired how pretty the dress was and then left the site/store.  So far, none of the items I saw have been thought of again once I walk away.

I can't undo the new things I have bought recently.  And, truth be told, I am extremely happy with my purchases.  I will get a lot of use out of them right now as well as when I am no longer working full-time and am instead walking the trails around our little house in the big woods, working in the garden, or going out to do a chore in the wet spring or fall.  This little spending spree that I've been on has re-awakened my saving side.  I am ready to appreciate all that I have and not want more.  All that I need, I have.  

As I look at our net worth, I now have a target in mind - I am no longer lost.  I want to be a millionaire.  I want to be it as quickly as I can be, too.  So, that is my goal for right now.  Everything I consider buying will be weighed against this - will taking this money away from being that much closer to becoming a millionaire be worth it?  If the answer is no - how else can I achieve this same outcome?  Can I find an alternative, wait for it to go on sale, make a sacrifice somewhere else?  Or, can I wait a week and see if I still feel the same way of needing whatever it is? 

I am excited for what 2014 will bring.  It is starting off right - I am no longer lost.  And, I have the best (and most handsome) partner to help me if I start to lose my course.  

Spicy Princess


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Nonexistent Part-Time Position

At the office the other day there was an exhibition of sorts which was meant to highlight some of the groups and resources available for professional growth and advancement within the company.  I attended and poked around the various booths for about an hour.  One of the booths had the label "Staffing".  They talked to us about the tools available for managers to hire new employees, and for employees to look for career advancement opportunities.  I am not particularly interested in changing jobs at this point, so I started to tune out for a few moments, but at the end of the presentation I decided to take the opportunity to ask a question I have been wondering about for a while.  I asked why it was that I had never seen any part-time positions offered within the firm.

The Staffing folks told me that they don't offer any part-time positions, period.  They did admit that some people do end up moving from full-time to part-time due to personal circumstances, although rarely, "on a case-by-case basis".  But they said that most people are interested in working full time, so they (Staffing) don't bother creating part-time opportunities.

I followed up by asking if people nearing the end of their careers ever asked to scale back their hours.  The Staffers exchanged blank looks with each other and said they couldn't remember any examples of this.  They said the part-time work arrangements usually come from people who have extenuating family circumstances which limit the amount of time they can dedicate to work.

As I was returning to my desk afterward, I chatted with a co-worker who had been with me at the Staffing booth when I asked the part-time question.  He told me that I'm an unusual case:  no debt, no mortgage, no dependents, no need for benefits (our health insurance comes from my wife's employer) -- 100% of my earnings goes into saving.  So even though it seems strange to me that there isn't more demand for professional part-time positions, I am certainly the exception and not the rule.  He thought that most people at our company feel they need the benefits and the pay that comes from a full-time job in order to support their lifestyles.

Meanwhile, I've been reading a number of news articles lately about low-wage workers (mainly in retail and fast food) who want the opportunity to work more hours but must deal with employers who purposefully keep hours below a certain threshold to avoid providing certain benefits, etc.  It makes me feel somewhat out of touch to find myself wanting fewer work hours when so many others want more.  Of course, one big difference is that I am working for a company where even a part-time salary would handily exceed full-time pay in retail or fast food.  I'm not interested in taking one of those very low-paying jobs just for the sake of reducing the time spent at work.  I still value my own time more than that.  Another big difference is that we are not struggling financially.  My wife and I had opportunities to increase our incomes based on our professional experience and performance at work, and we took them, while at the same time taking aggressive steps to reduce our expenses and debt -- in essence maximizing the utility of our income.  I bet we spend far less on discretionary expenses like cell phone service, restaurants, and television than the average retail or fast food employee does (for example, in the case of TV we pay nothing since our antenna picks up broadcast channels for free).  So if those who are struggling financially want the opportunity to work more hours to earn more money to make ends meet, doesn't it logically make sense that those who are not struggling should want the opportunity to work less?  That's how I see it.  But I seem to be in the minority.  The prevailing attitude is:  if money is good, than any opportunity to earn more money must be taken.

Although the Staffing contacts didn't give me much to go on, I was intrigued by the possibility that part-time work may be available to me if I ask for it.  As Staffing said, it's offered "on a case-by-case basis".  I suppose I can present the best case possible for myself and see how my management reacts.  I think I'd want to pick the right moment for this, though.  I'd want to do it at a time when I was prepared to face the possibility of not working at all for this company anymore.  Perhaps if my request was denied I'd have to deal with some backlash, a stigma that I wasn't interested in pulling my weight and would prefer to have an easy job while everyone else picks up the slack for me.  I might be put on the short list for the next round of layoffs -- who knows?  Honestly I don't know what to expect.  Still, if my request was granted, I'd be a much happier person.  A three-day workweek would be pretty nice.  I think the earliest I'd want to take a stab at this would be at the end of this calendar year, when we have reviews scheduled.  I'll mull it over and seek the opinion of my wife (who obviously would be impacted by a change like this).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Freedom from Fear (at work)

When I first started working for my current employer, I was a cash-poor young twentysomething who didn't know exactly what I wanted to do for work, but knew I needed an income of some sort.  Fortunately, it didn't take me long to find a job with what I thought were a lot of positives:  a decent starting salary, a respectable company on solid footing, and room for professional growth. The one negative:  I chose to take on a 40-minute drive to and from the office each workday, which could be longer in bad traffic or bad weather.

After a couple of years of this, I decided I was tired of wasting so much of my life behind the wheel of the car, so I moved to within 5 miles of the office.  This cut my commute down to under 10 minutes.  After I met my wife and we got married, we bought a house in the same area.  I can now drive to work in around 15 minutes, or preferably, spend a little extra time and enjoy a wonderful ride on my bicycle that lasts just over half an hour.

Unfortunately, my employer has multiple offices in the region.  There is another office about 45 miles from my house which I occasionally must go to for project meetings.  I try to minimize this as much as possible, because traffic during rush hour can make the 45-mile trip last up to two hours each way.

This morning I was summoned to the other office to help with a presentation.  I got up early and caught a bus which crawled through traffic and deposited me near the office around 1 hour 40 minutes later.  I walked a few blocks to the office and got set up and ready for the meeting.  Fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time, I received an email stating "Sorry for the late notice, but today's meeting is canceled."  Irritated, I caught a bus back home and worked the remainder of the day from my local office.

My manager had also made the trip this morning.  He decided to drive and had left his house before 6 AM to avoid rush hour, getting to the other office around 7 AM.   Another presenter in the meeting had flown in from another state.  All of us had wasted our time and effort to get to this particular office from our remote locations.  It seemed to us like the organizers of the meeting couldn't be bothered to cancel the meeting any earlier than 15 minutes before the scheduled start time.

This is not the first time this sort of thing has happened.  This is probably the worst example, but other meetings with this group in the same office have been previously canceled with less than 12 hours notice.  Since the meeting organizers are higher-ups in the organization, I can't decide whether they simply don't respect our time, or are ignorant of the effort we put in to travel to other office locations for meetings.

Later in the day I received an invitation to the rescheduled meeting in a couple of days.  Years ago I would have sucked it up and planned for another early morning on the bus.  But given our current financial situation at home, I no longer feel any fear of sticking up for myself in situations like these.  I told my manager I wouldn't be making another trip this week, and would attend the meeting remotely (conference call).  After paying off the mortgage and developing a healthy cushion of savings and investments, I find it's much easier to say no to certain work requests which would make things harder on myself.  Of course, it's wise to choose battles carefully, but since my goal is not to cling to a career any longer than I have to, I feel no obligation to suck up to the higher ups or avoid ruffling feathers.  If nobody else is going to respect my time, my own self-respect is going to win out.

One somewhat surprising revelation is that by feeling free to speak my mind (instead of toeing the company line), I've actually gotten positive feedback for saying things that everyone else is thinking but hesitant to put in words.  It's liberating in a way.