The Minimum Wage Experiment (Part 2)

Not actual photo of The Escape Artist

Before Christmas I met up with an old friend.

He was on his way to Heathrow for a business trip abroad and had made time to stop by. We went for a 12m off road run in beautiful countryside before retiring to a local pub to re-hydrate with some strong beer.

I told him about my earlier experiment as a barman – he’d had a similar idea. He has 2 young children so is currently going through that phase of life dominated by finding Peppa Pig, changing nappies and generally dealing with shit.

I was interested when he said that, if it weren’t for the kids, he’d get a nice little job working one evening a week in his local pub (on top of his day job). Not for the money but as a good way to get to know more people in his local community. That reinforced an idea I’d already had and jolted me into action.

The next day I took my daughter into town to an interview I’d helped her arrange with a temping employment agency (the one I got my last bar job with) so she could get some waitressing experience.

My daughter recently turned 16 and so, in the eyes of the law, is now able to undertake paid work (alongside her schoolwork). And, like all teenagers, she could do with a healthy dose of good old fashioned hard work, starting at the bottom of The Great Ladder of Capitalism.

The idea that teenagers (13+) should be prevented by law from working part time is ridiculously outdated: it’s an over-reaction to Dickensian London when children were inappropriately enlisted as chimney sweeps, bear baiters and prostitutes. American readers should rest assured this has not been the case in Britain since at least the 1970s.

Its obviously a good thing those types of child labour were outlawed but since then the pendulum has swung too far the other way. Now I reckon most teenagers could do with a bit more part-time graft and a bit less full time Playstation. 😉

In his early life The Escape Artist was blessed with a number of jobs on the lower rungs of The Ladder. Oat picking on a farm, tomato packing, van driving, babysitting, bar tending, working on the fruit & veg section in Tesco, selling shoe polish, making pies…these are just some of the valuable highlights of my early career.

These jobs provided me with an excellent grounding for learning about hard work, the realities of life and generally putting up with idiocy. All essential skills when later holding down a job in The City.

If my daughter doesn’t get to work some of these jobs early in life she will be at a massive disadvantage in life. You don’t get that sort of real world experience from a media studies course at Scunthorpe Polytechnic or a classics degree at Oxbridge.

Bless her, my daughter was a bit nervous and I was proud how she gathered her courage and went into the interview (successfully as it turns out). Inspired by her example, I decided to walk into a couple of the local pubs and inform the managers that The Escape Artist was available for hire.

The manager at the first place blew me out with some story about not needing anyone right now. Which, to be fair, was probably true. But that didn’t stop me suspecting them of sexism / ageism / racism for turning me down. Its funny, but it always sucks to be turned down for a job.

OK, so its not the toughest case of overcoming adversity ever…but The Escape Artist picked himself up from this devastating rejection and walked into the second pub.

This second pub recently had a fancy makeover and been transformed from “spit and sawdust” on the floors to something a bit posher. People had been flocking to give the new regime a try. So they were busy and in need of staff.

I walked in, chatted to the Manager for about 3 minutes before walking out with an (unwritten) offer of employment. I’d only been home for half an hour when the pub called, asking me to work a shift the next day.  When you are looking for work and get an opportunity to do something new, the correct reaction is not:

“Sorry, tomorrow I’m watching daytime TV and eating Pringles in my XXL velour jogging bottoms”.

No, the correct reaction is: Yes!  So the next day I was behind the bar for my first shift.

I worked a few shifts over the Christmas break and it was a fun and interesting experience. The other staff were friendly and generally good people. The advantage of working at a pub rather than at one-off events is that there is a little community that revolves around it. There are regular customers and regular staff that give a sense of continuity but also enough variety and newcomers to be interesting.

I actually quite like the work. You have to juggle lots of balls in an environment which is often chaotic. It may sound ridiculous but working a bar reminds me a bit of my old job in corporate finance.  The work is cyclical and when busy requires hard work, efficiency, good project management and some client handling skills.

In some ways its better than an office job: at least you can switch off your mind from the job at the end of your shift.

The pub also highlighted the potential pitfalls of not working after retirement. There are some regulars, older guys with enough money not to need to continue working. They now fill their time with daytime drinking…which I imagine is OK for the first week but after that its just another routine…and not great for liver or brain function nor for upper body definition.

It struck me that the bar illustrates the divide between consumers and producers. Both customers (consumers) and staff (producers) are in the same place, experiencing similar sights and sounds. I recommend trying both sides to see how the experiences compare.

how much is enough

The consumers are attempting to spend their way to a good time. But, whilst this can work up to a point, consumer suckers keep spending…long after the point of diminishing returns. If you spend all your time and money drinking in pubs, you’ll obviously get fat, poor and sick.

There comes a point where additional spending (certainly on booze, but on other things as well) actually reduces your happiness.  I think a good proportion of the population are already past that point.

In contrast, the bar staff are producers who are getting paid to be there. True, the pay isn’t great…but they are learning whilst earning. Its great for people watching. And working a bar reminds me a bit of finishing school for those of us with room to improve our social skills.

At the very least, it’s impossible to spend money whilst working behind the bar.  So its a good option for people who want an adjustment period after reaching FI where you have your time structured for you.  And it makes the numbers so much easier.  Remember that earning £5,000 a year from a fun, part time job provides the same income as £500,000 in the bank earning 1%.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something I’d want to do full time. I’m all for hard work. But I love the variety that comes from working on a mix of things which in my case includes some teaching at The School of Life, research for my portfolio, giving coaching and various fitness challenges (examples here and here).  By avoiding a full time job, you also leave room in your life for interesting opportunities that can crop up at short notice.

There were some comedy moments during my time at the pub over Christmas. My favorite was when I ignored a large and aggressive looking guy at the bar demanding that I serve him. I held up my finger to indicate he stop whining like a little toddler and carried on serving the customer before him. He got angry and informed me (and everyone else in earshot) that he was the owner of the pub.

This had the potential to be a bit awkward and, if I’d needed the job, anxiety inducing. But when you’re financially independent, its not a problem. Once again I gave silent thanks for The Gift of Fuck You Money. As it turned out, he calmed down pretty quickly and didn’t fire me. But its nice to know that if he had, it would have just made good comedy material for the blog.

Another time, one of my neighbours from the street came into the pub and did a double take when he saw me the “wrong” side of the bar. As did another of the customers who recognised me from the commuter train I used to get. He introduced himself and was curious about my transformation from commuter-in-grey-suit to barman. How could this be? He asked whether I’d bought the pub? I replied that no, I was just doing this for fun. If you are in your 40s and working behind a bar, people tend to assume you are the owner, landlord or the manager.

If you explain to people that you’re just the barman, you can see them struggling to fit you into a box that makes sense to them. Its a curious mixture of bemusement with a hint of sympathy on the basis your down on your luck and forced to work a minimum wage job.

This is ironic as I’ve just calculated the change in my investment portfolio over the past year. When thinking about 2016 investment performance, the phrase “making out like a bandit” springs to mind.

My direct share portfolio returned 23.8% over the year…. 7 percentage points better than the FTSE All Share (+16.8%) that I use for comparison. This took my IRR (annualised return) from stockpicking over the past 20 years to a shade under 14% per year.

So, not bad…but my “boring” trackers did even better in 2016, boosted by a stellar performance from emerging markets in particular (+37%) and other international equity markets in general.

Sure, this is the performance in £ sterling, boosted by the fall in the £ following the EU referendum. I may have benefited, but please don’t shoot the messenger here…The Escape Artist is not to blame for the referendum result.

Anyway, my net worth (as an actual number of £s) went up more in 2016 than in any previous year. In other words, it rose more whilst “retired” than when working myself into the ground in a ball-breaking full time job. Which just feels wrong….but in a deliciously fun and naughty way.

Image credits: &


  1. Everyone would benefit from doing a minimum wage job for a while, ideally dealing with the great general public .. especially some of the customers I came across at Oddbins back in the day

    Yes, people do like to box you in based on your age – it’s one of the reasons I went freelance – people put you in a different box.

    Great blog

  2. My pre-career gigs as a busboy, waiter, and cook are some of my fondest memories. Spot on regarding the social camaraderie and consumer/producer mindset– these are huge benefits people miss. Simple work is simply terrific.

  3. Straight after I graduated I worked in a working man’s pub in a small Scottish ex-mining village. Now THAT was an education! I also worked in pubs while I was at Uni to subsidise my (full) grant in Thatcher’s Britain. I tried fifteen pubs in a row in Glasgow before I was finally given a chance behind the bar. Prior to that I’d been a shelf-stacker in Presto and, before that, a paper boy. Nobody will ever convince me anything other than that these early work experiences probably were as valuable to my future career as my degree was!

  4. TheLuckyOne · · Reply

    Agree with the above, I’ve been doing a bit of welding and fitting for my mates fabrication business. Its more enjoyable doing it because you don’t have to do. Although on a cold January day I’m glad he hasn’t rung me yet this year. Working outside in summer with skilled but “regular” folk is educational, humourous and good exercise. In my previous sales job although I was well paid I used take shit from customers, colleagues and management because I thought I needed the money. Turns out I did… but now I don’t. Happy Days.

  5. TEA – great post – thanks.

    Do I take it your direct share portfolio is UK-listed companies? If so your alpha is awesome. Do you track your Sharpe ratio? I’m curious.

    1. Thanks FvL…my direct share portfolio is a mix of US, UK and European shares. Its so easy to buy international shares and so many of the best companies are listed in America or Europe that it doesn’t make sense to restrict myself to UK shares. Re returns vs volatility (which is what the Sharpe ratio measures) you can see the way I think about that here.

  6. A couple of the guys from the FI London group does stints in the local radio station as a DJ, exciting stuff!

  7. Great post TEA, as usual. I’m in my late 40s and approaching FI. For 15-20 years me and the other half have worked hard, saved hard, paid off our debts, learned how to invest and soon we will have accumulated enough to produce a relatively modest monthly income (2-3k), which is enough for us. I’m incredibly proud of this, and excited about life after FI, yet one of the things that I really fret about is what to tell my friends/family/work colleagues. None of them are doing/have done it, or would remotely understand how to go about it. I expect that when I tell them I no longer need to work they’ll think I’m being lazy, or that someone has obviously handed me a huge lump of money. And if I tell them what size pot I’ve accumulated, they’ll just assume I’m loaded and should be buying a bigger house/car etc etc. This bothers me, even though I know I shouldn’t care.

    In many ways I find this psychological aspect trickier than accumulating the pot. Any tips?

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