The Minimum Wage Experiment

cocktail

Not actual photo of The Escape Artist

The Escape Artist has heard many fears expressed about financial independence.

One is the understandable fear of eating into your savings.  This often manifests itself in long debates about the Safe Withdrawal Rate.

Another line of objections revolves around the scary prospect of some one having no job to structure their time for them. What would they do all day?

“I don’t know what I’d do with all that time”

Related to these points is the fear that your spending will go up once you have quit and are no longer kept occupied full time by Megacorp Inc. / Big Law LLP.

After all, surely you’ll need to spend money on golf bats, fancy restaurants, Saga world cruises, electric garage doors etc etc?  Well actually no, this needn’t be the case.

If only there was some activity where you could swap some of your spare time after financial independence for extra money and something to do…

Hold on, there is! It’s called a job.  But I’m not talking about permanent wage slavery.  Not something that traps you and eats away at your soul. No, I’m talking about temporary gigs. After financial independence, you can stop worrying about how to earn the most money and start to think about what would be fun and interesting. And ideally where you get paid something (which always feels good).

For example, over the years The Escape Artist has spent quite a lot of money in bars and at festivals.  Could there be a way to spend time at these places without burning money?

Well it so happens that there is.  I’ve just spent a couple of days working as a barman at The Goodwood Revival festival of motor racing.  This experience was rich in comedy value.  And I learned a few new things as well.

I was working as a barman in a fancypants VIP area in one of the sponsor hospitality zones.  The sponsors included Aston Martin, Porsche and Jaguar Landrover.  I’m not quite sure what you need to do to get invited as a VIP guest of these companies but I’m guessing it might involve spending a shit load of money on their cars.

I was also amused to see that a couple of the hospitality tents were sponsored by stockbrokers / wealth managers.  At least the car makers don’t hide the fact that their client’s money will be going up in smoke.  If only financial advisers were that honest.

scalextric-tin-carsPersonally, I’m not a petrolhead.  I can appreciate the beauty of the design and engineering of say an Aston Martin.  Just not enough to fork out a life changing amount of money on what is, let’s face it, a motorised shopping trolley or a clown transporter.

In the real world, the car is never the limiting factor: it’s either the traffic, the driver or the speed limit. I have already established that a modern, second hand Skoda is more than fast enough to terrify myself.  So why would I need an Aston Martin?

The festival is made fun partly by the racing and partly by the festival atmosphere.  But the best part is the people watching and the VIP area is not a bad place to enjoy that.

There are 2 ways to get into the VIP area.  Option 1 is to become a zillionaire (or marry one), then spend several hundred grand on cars, earning enough credit to get an invite.

Option 2 is to get paid to work the bar. Where I was stood, I had a panoramic view out over the lawn, the racetrack and the beautiful rolling English countryside of the South Downs.  I could see the cars go by and even saw a couple of spins / crashes.

I don’t know about you, but to me option 2 seems much easier to achieve.

You may say that I’m comparing chalk with cheese.  And some would say that its much better to be a fancypants corporate guest guzzling champagne and canapes rather than a lowly barman on minimum wage.

But is that really true?

That worldview reflects a Prison Camp mentality.  The Prison Camp promotes a status hierarchy where the servers / producers are perceived to be at the bottom of the ladder and the consumers are perceived to be at the top. But, if you ask me, that’s bullshit.  Contrary to the propaganda of advertising, consumption is not the highest calling for a human being.  And serving other people is not humiliation, nor is it exploitation, it’s a natural and important part of life.

You may ask whether I have any credentials to be a barman. To which there are 2 answers. Firstly, I worked in a pub when I was a student. Secondly, I spent 20 years working in the City. If only that had prepared me for a job serving demanding rich people with a well developed sense of entitlement. Hold on, when you put it like that….

I used to work in corporate finance. I was not a highly paid rainmaker by City standards but I met quite a few of those types. Few people realise that being a top corporate finance adviser (sometimes referred to by silly journalists as “Masters of the Universe”) is in essence the same as being a high paid butler.  Think Jeeves with Powerpoint.

All of these so-called Masters of the Universe are mere servants, there to serve the desires, whims and foibles of their corporate clients. That means being available 24/7/365. If they don’t serve their clients, they don’t win business and they get fired. The Porsche Cayenne then has to go back to the bank and the Ski chalet gets repossessed.

I attended enough corporate entertaining back in the day to know that it’s mostly a gigantic pile of shite overrated.  Corporate entertainment is to your social life what eating Mars bars is to your nutrition.  The first one may taste sweet. But it’s not real and ultimately it doesn’t nourish your body or your soul. Yes, its all very well stuffing your face with posh food and drink, surrounded by people you don’t really know that well….but ultimately it doesn’t compare to a few inexpensive tinnies with your real mates.

Being a barman involves good old fashioned work. It’s a real job and yet easier than coalmining. You can think of it as performing an important role, helping people have a good time.  You get much (most?) of the benefits of the atmosphere and the happy festival vibe. With no hangover…financial or otherwise.

I treated the bar job just like I would treat any job…which is to do my very best for my clients. Knowing that you are doing the job through choice helps free you to do this and not resent the fact that you are stuck doing something just for the money. I love those stories about Steve Jobs insisting that the inside of the ipod / ipad etc be aesthetically pleasing (even though the customers couldn’t see and wouldn’t know the difference) because that’s how a craftsman thinks.

The Escape Artist is probably the best barman in the world.  OK maybe not, but I worked hard and gave it my best.  I smiled at the customers, complimented them on their outfits where appropriate (it was fancy / period dress) and delivered witty banter (or as close as I could manage) along with the drinks.

I never spat in any of the glasses.  And I always filled the pints and the champagne glasses right to the top.  If like me you have a value investor’s mindset, it’s annoying when a barman gives you a short measure.

At one point my supervisor told me that I was filling the champagne glasses too high for their profit margins and to put less in each glass.  As he said this, I looked respectful and nodded obediently.  I then completely ignored him and filled every champagne glass to the top.  I figured that when you are paying £18 it’s only fair that you get a full glass. The beauty of having Fuck You money is that, if necessary, you can always tell your boss…errr….well, you get the idea.

I’m not saying that my experience was comparable to someone who had no choice other than to work a minimum wage job.  I worked 12 hour shifts with one half hour break, which is a long time to be standing up.  Doing this gives you a little more empathy and a window into how hard other people work…and how shitty it would be to work on minimum wage if that was your only option.

But there is real wisdom in the old saying that a change is good as a rest.  If I was forced to do that job every day for years, I might go mad.  But to do it through choice for a weekend as a fun experiment is a beautiful thing.

It’s free entertainment plus some extra cash thrown in.  What’s not to like?

34 comments

  1. An interesting post, thank you. We thought we might do this sort of thing after we ‘retire’ next year. As you say for a few days it is fun and earns a few pounds. My plan was to hook up with some agencies but I have yet to research which ones specialise in this sort of work. Can you share who employed you? Thanks.

    1. Yes, email me and I’ll hook you up re agencies

  2. Hey TEA.

    I suppose that, like you pointed out yourself, it’s the fact that you were in a position to choose that made this enjoyable. To me FI = choices.

    However, your story is yet more proof that it’s not necessary to ban yourself entirely from all future productivity, no matter how enjoyable, after FI, rendering all 4% vs 3% vs 2% SWR arguments and crystal ball gazing moot. I never understand the ‘I’m just going to push it for another 6 months as I’m only at 2.7% SWR and I’d feel better at 2.6%’ nonsense.

    Obviously, I take that argument one step further and just say that if you can find a way of working that is efficient at producing income and suits your personality, the mad dash to become independently wealthy very young is not necessarily the best solution to the job problem in the first place.

    Anyway, we could do with a cleaner for a couple of mornings a week if that would further enhance your FI zen.

    1. Totally agree

      ps What rate do you pay your cleaners?

      1. We comply with the National Living Wage…

  3. sounds like a fun couple of days. quite surprised it was only minimum wage considering the clientele…. you would think they could have stretched to £8.50 an hour!!

    did you know someone to get the job? kind of surprised you were hired given the fact that your last “relevant work experience” was 2 decades ago!!

    1. Ye of little faith!…I signed up with a temp agency…and, as they used to say on Top Gear, How hard could it be?

      1. Interesting stuff – it had never occurred to me a temp agency would be helpful to someone FI, I assumed they’d just tell you to f*k off if you were a) over 30 or b) clearly didn’t ‘need’ the work so wouldn’t be offering them a regular stream of commission. (OK, a) is probably illegal, but I imagine they could be unhelpful.) Still a couple of years from FI myself but a worthwhile option to note, I had assumed it would be freelance work in the same line as my day job or nothing for post-FI income. I’ve always thought it would be cool to (briefly) temp in a call centre…

  4. rob o'shea · · Reply

    Great post…love the fact that now you are living your life in experiment / let’s see where my curiosity takes me mode

  5. dawnmartyne · · Reply

    Thats the beauty/ point of FI ……… freedom to choose…..and a slave to no one….

  6. Cigano 99 · · Reply

    Another Nice post TEA, especially like the points made in relation to the great SWR debate, and the positive effect a few side hustles, be they minimum wage or otherwise could have on income and therefore the ability to flex ones withdrawals particularly in the early years of FI when a few days graft might provide a welcome diversion from stamp collecting etc

    1. Yes! its all about the ability to flex spending (and your portfolio allocations in response to changing valuations) as well as the ability to maintain optionality in all aspects of life….things which most of those SWR studies ignore by assuming a constant withdrawal rate and fixed asset allocation %s.

      1. “and your portfolio allocations in response to changing valuations”

        are you taking about straight rebalancing here, or something more sophisticated? i.e. like RITs dynamic asset allocation based on CAPE?

        If the latter, have you got an article on how to do this somewhere in your back catalog?

      2. Yes, something more sophisticated…using valuations to flex asset allocation. As I explained in The Simplicity Portfolio…which someone called The Rhino read and commented on just over a year ago. 😉

      3. Apologies. My memory is not what it was. I even read that simplicity portfolio post much more recently so it is getting worrying. I am trying to reconcile the kroijer edge argument (which is compelling) with mucking about with asset allocations based on PE type metrics. I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet

  7. Love it EA, this FI Kiwi does much the same thing from time to time. I detect the same mild feelings of ‘smugness’ knowing that you have escaped, but those you’re ‘working’ for and ‘serving’ don’t know. Being there because you want to is a great feeling.

  8. Good read, TEA. I did moonlight as a waiter once when my ex’s restaurant was short on staff. Bang on about the “change is as good as a rest” part – I loved it. I’m sure most jobs are fun when they still have the novelty factor, but have to wonder how varied you could make a minimum wage post-FI career if you actually planned to supplement your income with that kind of work routinely. There’s a finite number of categories for that kind of (temp) work which you’d blow through quickly if you just did a couple of days of each, so you might find it getting repetitive sooner or later.

  9. We need to come up with a list of post FI temp jobs and people’s experience with it!
    Barman
    Call Centre
    Fast food
    Uber
    Coffee shop Barista – very appealing!

  10. Excellent attitude TEA. My particular bag is working as a steward at folk and blues music festivals through the Summer. These can be as long as a week or a long weekend. You don’t usually get paid but you do get a free ticket ( which can be worth up to £200 alone and also free campsite accommodation which is also worth £100 – £150 a week depending on locality – and its all tax free benefit in kind! Great if you have a camper van or descent size tent. You are expected to provide 3 to 4 hours a day of work effort usually with a day off – and nothing onerous required e.g. checking tickets/wristbands, helping run the campsite etc and the rest of the week is free to enjoy both the locality and the Festival. I have 2 friends, a couple, (retired like me) who tell me they did this at 17 festivals last year – including in France and Spain. Saves on domestic utilities bills too – which significantly offsets fuel travel costs etc. A win win situation apart from spells of iffy weather.

    1. Festivals in France and Spain…now there’s an idea…thank you

  11. TheLuckyOne · · Reply

    Great post TEA and again you have managed to mirror my activities but in a more glamourous way. I’ve been doing a bit of part time graft in a mates steel fabrication business. All my life I never made anything for a living other than profit. Its quite rewarding to come home a bit sweaty and grubby after seeing what you made from some bits of metal. Good honest toil. Just glad I don’t have to do it full time forever. I will be trying other temp jobs just for fun next summer I think.

    1. Yes!…as the retro cyclists would say: steel is real

  12. I love this post! Hubby and I have been thinking of what types of “side hustles” we can do when we hit FI next year. Working at festivals is something that we had overlooked and as huge music fans it is definitely something we will have our sights on.

    Spending years apart in jobs when we come home exhausted and barely capable of holding a conversation has made us realise that we want to spend as much fun time together when we leave our full time jobs. We both love France so have decided that the first summer of FI will be spent doing some courier work for a season. We have no intention of being bored.

    1. Thank you! the courier work sounds interesting…all the best

  13. Thanks for this. I’ve been looking for future sidelines, hadn’t thought of this.

    Enjoying the refreshing attitude to life and money too – fuzzy FI

  14. “Yes, its all very well stuffing your face with posh food and drink, surrounded by people you don’t really know that well….”
    Back in the day I did quite a bit of client entertaining. It was part of the job. Some of them were exceptional people, a select few became friends outside work and remained so even after I changed jobs. I would not have them as friends had wining and dining them not been part of my job description as there’s never an appropriate moment to properly talk at a meeting table between glass walls. On the whole most people were ok, though as you say, I didn’t know them that well and we didn’t have that much in common. However, there were some… where it was fucking painful. And the worst thing is, when you’re entertaining clients who have views and / or personalities that drive you to despair you’re not even allowed to get trollied to make it all slightly less of a drag.

    1. yes, you’re right…but in those days I got trollied anyway 😉

  15. It’s an interesting experiment for sure, and one that I would never think of taking up on my own. I guess once I get to the point that I’m just living off retirement and investment savings, I’ll need some fun activities to take up my time.

  16. I think taking a job like this would be really fascinating. I’ve only ever had 9-5 (soul-eating) office jobs, and having the freedom to explore other gigs without the fear of income is pretty cool! It’s kind of weird, but I’d love to work at a pet shop or bakery once I achieve FI. They don’t necessarily pay well, but I love animals and I love cooking, so why not?

    1. Not weird at all….as you say, why not?

  17. Definitely an interesting place to hold such an experiment. As someone who also is a fan of cars it sounds like a dream gig to me. Thank you for the ideas, I might see how I can leverage it for certain events. The closest thing by comparison is my wife once worked at a car auction as a temp moving the million dollar cars onto the auction block. I’d never buy one as I have different goals, but I still enjoy the experience. Different interests for different folks I guess.

  18. Part of my interest in the FI part of ‘FIRE’ is jobs that don’t pay what I make now. I’ve said for years I’d like to be a park ranger when I grow up, however from my research it pays quite a bit less than what I currently earn. With FI, I could do it either as a job or a volunteer without concern about pay, and a flexible schedule.

    Part of my envy of my parents FIRE is their views. My dad has a place near the beach and my mom by a lake. My current office’s grey walls don’t compare, or coworkers with offices get to see the parking lot . Any national park I’ve been to is breath taking!

    Wineries near me pay their festival volunteers in bottles of wine and usually attendance to part of the festival. I went to one 2 years ago and it was $20-30+ to get in. I saw emails this year to volunteer you’d work 4 hours (am or pm) and get the other shift off, plus depending on the winery 1-2 bottles of wine. I need to try to be free one of these festival weekends so I can try it out. 🙂

  19. zeejaythorne · · Reply

    That sounds like a nearly perfect way to enjoy the views. Earn a little while also having your forced mingling in much smaller doses. Brilliant!

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