Another benefit of not having debt

I’ve written about how not having debt gives you power, though I can’t find the particular post at the moment. But I remember when I got my first mortgage. I went to a party, and my boss was there, along with my five other bosses, and the big boss got this look in his eye when I said I’d bought a house. That look in his eye said one thing: I own you, and I can do whatever I want to you.

And he did. From that day forward, all of the assignments nobody else wanted fell on me. Anything that was destined to fail went to me. And the cycle followed me from job to job, then stopped, like turning out a light, the day after my wife and I paid off our mortgage. It was the closest thing to magic I’ve ever seen. One day, I was the guy who got assignments at 3 PM on a Friday that were going to take me 8 hours to get done–and they had to be done by 8 AM on Monday, and one day, I wasn’t that guy anymore.

I tested it again this month. I turned down a job that offered me a $7,000 pay cut. Nothing unusual about that, right? Not in this case. In this case, rejecting that pay cut meant I didn’t have a job anymore.

That’s the world of contracting for you–the worst side of it. My employer lost the contract I was working, and the winning company interviewed me, looked over my job duties, and for whatever reason, decided I wasn’t worth what I’d been making, so they offered me my old job back, for less money.

Lots of people asked me why I turned them down. Well, the job wasn’t helping me advance my career. Nothing I was doing there was making me a better information security professional. If I took the offer, I was basically committing myself to six more months–minimum–in the doldrums, showing up and collecting a paycheck, but my resume would look no better at the end than it does right now.

That’s nice, but what about the bills?

That’s the thing. I have no house payment and no car payments. I do have mortgages, but not on the house I live in. Someone else pays those, and we take a small profit every month. I can afford to wait and see if there’s something better out there.

Taking a $7,000 pay cut as a reward for nine months of good work–I was nominated for employee of the quarter in my first quarter of employment–didn’t have to be my only option.

Yes, it’s disruptive. I don’t want to live off savings and rental income for an extended period of time. But we can. There’s no guarantee that the next job I find will pay what my old job did, but if I end up taking a pay cut, at least I can take a job that gives me relevant experience that will help my next job be a move up, instead of a lateral move.

Not having a mortgage and a car payment means I don’t have to settle. I can think about where I want to be in five years, and I can think about whether what I’m doing this year helps me get there, and I don’t have to sit in the doldrums out of fear of not being able to make a mortgage payment next month.

Looking back on the last nine months, I only have one regret.

My boss in 2008 knew I had no mortgage and no car payment. All of my coworkers knew. Some of them thought I was weird, driving a six-year-old car, but they knew that was why I was doing it. And when I changed jobs in 2009, my new boss and new coworkers knew the same thing about me pretty quickly. It kept their demands reasonable. But when an  opportunity to work closer to home came along in 2012, that was one thing I don’t think anyone knew about me. And looking back, I got stuck with the jobs nobody wanted to do.

I never mentioned as I re-interviewed with the new company that I could afford to see what else was out there. I mentioned–after turning their offer down–that I’d interviewed somewhere else for a job that paid more and offered work that would advance my career, and I’d be foolish not to wait and see if that lead panned out.

If I had it to do again, I would have mentioned all of those things around the time I talked about my threat modeling experience.

I wondered for a few years if not having debt caused you to give off different pheromones and made it automatic, like magic. I know now that isn’t the case. Your attitude probably is different, and maybe some people are observant enough to pick up on it, but not everyone. It’s probably best to mention it.

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