Tuesday, June 19, 2012

So yeah, about this blogging thing ...

see, here's the deal. I tend to post about a) sports, b) video games, and c) other little things that come up. Not mentioned above is d) my personal life, just because, well, I'm not that kind of person. You may have noticed this about me. (It was worse in the past, if you can believe it. At least now I'm more likely to answer questions ... back in the day, I'd probably have dodged those too.)

Once the NFL season was over and I finished my recap, a) pretty much took a break, except maybe for the NCAA tournament. The thing is that I can also just post on Facebook, which is easier, and so a lot of the little things just go there. (Plus I suspect more people read my posts on Facebook, even if not many read them closely. It's certainly not a format that encourages long, in-depth commentary, which I do like to bring.) That pretty much covers c). b) has been much of the same-old same-old, except for the bit of time when I was playing Diablo III a lot, and when I was trying to get as much as I could out of Dead Island before it made me too mad to play any more. (Multiplayer is interesting, at least.)

So ... I really haven't posted at all for a few months. Not because anything was wrong: on the contrary, they've been three of the more impressive months of my life, not so much with respect to big changes, but as a fulcrum for big changes.

Four years ago, an ongoing battle with my boss' boss left me without a job. In the long run, it was definitely a good thing - just like in Highlander, there can be only one, and you normally don't have to get too deep into office politics to figure out which of you it will be - but at the time, it was CHANGE. (I'd worked there 15 years.) They were good to me to the end and gave me a nice cushion, which helped get me to my second job.

Three years ago, my second job ended abruptly. (Thank you, recession.) I suppose I'm partly to blame for not demonstrating to the right people what I brought to the table, but then again, a number of coworkers did realize it (and were not happy about the company eliminating my position), so maybe this was just another variation on Company 1. If the wrong people decide you're not necessary, you may never win that battle. Anyway, they were also good to me, but the economy had changed, and so I went into contracting in lieu of permanent work.

Last year, work was kind of light ... but while I was in the middle of a one-month contract, my good recruiter called me up to let me know she had a possible full-time position for me. It was at a company not too far from where I live, maybe 20 minutes away, less than half the time it took to get to the contract company. We talked about the position and decided to come in at a figure that was the salaried equivalent of the hourly contracts I had with them. The person I was interviewing with was actually someone I'd worked with before. It was, in short, a great opportunity.

During that process, the company with which I was contracting let me know that they had a contract opportunity themselves at another company (weird, I know – just think of two middlemen instead of one), a long-term deal, six months or so. I said yeah, I'd be interested, but here's the thing: I'm interviewing for a full-time position, and if they make an offer, I'm going to accept. (They were, in fact, comfortable with the number we gave them.) The contract company seemed a bit surprised – I don't think they'd had someone say that to them before. In my mind, it was only fair. As a contractor, I'd rather take less money and have a better business relationship, so this was no different. They asked if there was anything they could do to match, but the thing was, it was a contract position vs. a full-time position, and the contract position was roughly in the same place, about 45 minutes away. You can't really offer time to someone.

So they said they wanted to put me up for it anyway, and we'd see what happened. I said OK. It turned out that the end client liked me, but for some reason, they wanted to know by the end of the week ... even though the contract was to start March 1, they needed to know the last full week in February. Of course the full-time company hadn't decided yet, so I had to turn down the contract position, and you know what happens next ... the full-time company hires the other person. (Apparently he had experience with a type of certification specific to that industry, something that I didn't have and couldn't have obtained, and thus nothing I had any control over.)

That was pretty much the low point of my contracting career. I'd lost out on a couple of other nice opportunities, but missing both of these was a pretty big blow, and with nothing lined up when the one-month contract ended, I was beginning to envy the cats for making a $35 bag of food (I buy the large bags) last a couple of months.

BUT. In March, the contract company gets in touch with the recruiter that placed me there and says hey, the end client couldn't find anyone, are you still interested? (This isn't really a surprise. There are few experienced programmers in this area with the skills I have, and few companies that use the tools I know, so it doesn't take long to get through the "list" for either group.) I say yes. So I start in early April as a contractor. The rate is lower than my normal contract rate, but hey, it's a long-term deal, and I wasn't really in a position to bargain. (My recruiter – not the good one, but pretty good themselves – did give me a significant raise above my rate for the one-month contract.)

I settle in to a routine, a welcome change from the last two years. Instead of short weeks and constant sales pitches (hate hate hate), it was 40-hour weeks and low pressure. I would say "casual", but that gives the wrong impression. Basically, my boss cared that we met our deadlines and communicated well. He was not the type to do a head count at 8 AM and 5 PM (you know the type). So I'd come in, knock out some code, and go home.

At the same time, I became aware that I needed a long-term financial plan, especially if short-term work would become the norm again. So I worked up an Excel worksheet with rows for expenses and columns for paychecks (kinda; I got paid weekly, but I divided the expenses into first-half and second-half of each month, probably from Company 2 where we were paid semi-monthly), and plotted out, as best I could, what was coming, what I was making (at least through September), and what I could afford to pay off. Apparently they call this thing a "budge-it". I made this budge-it fairly aggressive, cutting back a lot in some areas (bye-bye satellite) but being a little lenient in others (entertainment). Still, there were limits, because of the money I was making and the debt I had, so the initial plan was to basically tread water and take slow steps toward recovery.

Basically, what prompted the budge-it was that a few months back, I didn't get an e-bill from one of my credit card companies, and then I didn't notice that I didn't get one. They sent me a notice that I had a late payment, so I went online and paid it through my bank (because when money is tight, you do not give a creditor your checking information), but they punished me anyway: slashed my credit line and jacked up my interest rate. (And, I believe, that change prompted another issuer to slash my credit line, to which I said, FUCK YOU.) Thus the budge-it not only matched spending to income, but also tracked expenses so I'd know if this happened again. 

It didn't take long to make a name for myself at Company 4. The project began to expand, and soon it went from 6 months to 6-9 months to 6-12 months. People began to reassure me that there would be work for me there even after this project ended, although it was just planning and not fact at that point (the fiscal year hadn't rolled over, so budgets weren't set yet). So now I could extend my plan a little bit, if only in pencil (kids, that's what we used in the old days to write when we weren't sure if we'd have to make changes ... uh, write, like on paper ... uh ... never mind), at least until July.

So the fiscal year rolled over, and the budgets were set, and yes, they were planning to keep me around, well, indefinitely. You might say that keeping a contractor around indefinitely is penny-wise and pound-foolish, and I would say absolutely, but hey, don't let them know, OK? (It's usually a political thing. Hiring someone means an increase in specific costs on a department's budget. Hiring a contractor means an increase in cost on a project that doesn't belong to any one department.) And so I added categories to my budge-it as I remembered them, but stayed in water-treading mode. Eventually I'd put in enough hours that the recruiting company could offer me health insurance ... still no paid vacations, though.

And then the company that placed me there said hey, want to be a full-time employee? Now the catch was that the tools they use are not the tools I know, so there'd have to be a transition plan, but we'd work that out once my placement ended. (Surprisingly, the recruiter did not discuss salary with them. What? Dudes, that's what your job is. I tell you my range, you work it out with them.) So I decide to do it. My initial salary is roughly the same, but at least now I have vacation time. (And an HSA, which means money set aside for expenses, very nice. And portable. And it doesn't expire.)

But it was kind of weird. Not as weird as working through two companies for a third, but still weird, because I worked for Company 3, but I was always on site at Company 4. (There are benefits to this arrangement: I got to take advantage of birthday cake and such at both places.) And, of course, the longer I stayed at Company 4, the longer it would be before I would transition to Company 3 tools. I was reading up on my own, but that's not the same as practical uses for the tools.

At this point, Company 4 had dropped some hints that they'd be interested in hiring me, but there was no chance that would happen. (See political footnote above.) Still, the contract was going to be extended every chance they got, which was nice, but also raised the question above: can I really keep up on two sets of skills when I only use one? And can I do it when neither company is actually paying me to learn? (Company 4 did pay for on-site training, and Company 3 was paying for training materials, but that's not the same as learning on the clock, you know?)

So I'd changed employers once, but I was still a contractor. And then this February, my boss says hey, would you be interested in a full-time position if we can work it out with Company 3?

It turns out that someone was leaving the team, so instead of hiring an additional person, it would be filling an existing position, and there were no problems with that. I said sure. We discussed it in detail. I already knew what the work would be like – exactly what I'd been doing already – but the benefits would be nicer, because it was a bigger company, and I'd be working for the company where I spent my time. (Actually, the benefits are much nicer.)

Of course, you know how these contracts go ... there's a no-steal clause in them. However, if you have enough business experience, you learn that contracts are starting points, not ending points, and quickly, Company 3 said sure, you can talk numbers with him. (Imagine that I'm a defender at Portsmouth, but they don't need someone with my ability right now, so Wigan approaches them for a full-season loan. I play at Wigan that year. At the end of the season, Wigan would like to purchase my contract, so they discuss a transfer with Portsmouth. They work out the fee, and now I talk contract with Wigan.) Details will be hidden to protect the involved parties, but I was able to get a substantial raise ... significantly more than I was making at Company 3, and in fact, more even than I'd made at Companies 1 or 2.

I accepted, we made it official, and I now had a third employer in 12 months, all from doing the same work in the same office with the same people. BUT. Now, instead of treading water, I could do some damage, and unlike the mes of previous years, this me was doing damage to his debt instead of his finances. I redid the budge-it (at this point, it was current year + 1, six months at a time) to account for the increase in income, giving myself a little more to spend but a lot more to pay off, and I went to work. (Also as a bonus, I may get to work from home more often. Each day at home is 50 miles not on the car, which is roughly 1 gallon of gas – that's right, suckers, read that and weep, unless you have a Prius, in which case whatever. It's also 90-110 minutes not in the car.)

So yeah, sometimes it's hard. Soup for lunch is kind of boring. (Sure is cheap, though.) It would be nice to get the AC fixed. (You get accustomed to it. Don't worry, cats deal with hot weather much better than dogs. If I had a dog, I'd have had to get it fixed last year.) (No, really, it's OK. We didn't have AC at my mom's until high school, I think, and even then it wasn't central air, but a window unit. None of the dorms I lived in at Purdue had AC, and neither did my first apartment. It comes back to you in a hurry.)

But hey ... I paid off my car loan one month early, mostly because in addition to all this paying-off stuff, I also built up enough of a reserve that if something weird happens to a check, I'm fine. (It's still kind of weird seeing how much I net each month.) I set a goal to pay off the shitty credit card this year, and that'll happen next month. (I still haven't decided when to close the account. I'll probably wait a bit just in case. I couldn't care less about my credit score – that's just a big scam anyway – but I do want an emergency credit line if I need one.) The other card that cut my credit line will be paid off in December or January. My goal was to pay off $7500 of my debt this year; I should have that done by October. And on top of that, I had enough left over to buy myself a Kinect and a tablet.

The remaining credit cards are a bit bigger, so it'll take me longer to pay them off, but I have one planned to be done in 2014 and the other in 2015. At the same time, I'm putting more toward the principal on my mortgage, hoping to get it low enough to get the PMI removed so I can use that money toward other things. Obviously there'll be big expenses at some point - I've been blessed with good car health, so that'll run out eventually, and of course the AC - but once the main credit cards are dropping, I can handle those easily. If I end up getting raises or promotions, those will just get me to my goals faster. I didn't add those to the budget because this is more like bad-case planning (not worst-case). It's always easier to deal with more money than with less.

So. For the first time in forever, I'm actually cleaning things up. Yeah, sometimes it's tough, keeping track of basically everything, and that's, I think, why my weight hasn't really changed in six months, even though I'm within sight of the most I've ever weighed, ever. There's a limit to the amount of self-control people have. Right now, my weight is less of a danger to me than my finances are. Besides, it's kind of like living in a sauna for three months. JOKE. It's fine, really. I've been a Lions fan for 40 years, a little heat isn't going to bother me much ... although it's interesting how hot my feet get. (This is related to two problems: poor circulation, which normally manifests itself as cold feet/hands in winter, and poor sweat mechanisms. Nice if you're riding a bike - I don't wear gloves because my hands don't sweat - but not so nice in a warm environment.) Anyway, I can't really describe what it's like to be making positive changes in an area where, frankly, I've sucked pretty much my whole life. I've got a long way to go, but compared to where I've been, I think some people might not recognize me. (You should have heard ems when I told her I had a budge-it.)

See? It's much more interesting to wait than for me to post little bits at a time, plus it's not like I'm going to post all of this on Facebook. (That's the advantage of the wall-of-text blogging style. Most people won't get this far down.) And trust: if it was something really interesting, like dating, you'd already know about this. I mean, that's really what Facebook's for, right?

No comments:

Post a Comment

There was an error in this gadget