Now, you may look around and see two groups here: White collar, blue collar. But I don’t see it that way. And you know why not? Because I am collar-blind.
Michael Scott, The Office
Ever been miserable at a job? I mean truly miserable? So miserable that you’d rather make a living cleaning specks of shit off toilets instead?
I reached that point and then some.
The blurring of lines between work and your personal life. The barrage of calls and texts from higher-ups on holiday weekends. The pressure to come in early, skip lunch, and stay late. Returning from vacation to 1,300 emails.
All hallmarks of today’s white-collar office job. Hard work is rewarded with more work. Your job duties can double during a single meeting. Everything is a five-alarm fire.
I’d had enough. I decided to check my ego at the door and head into blue-collar land. Work was no longer going to be my life. It was going to be a part of it.
I’d fantasized about it for years. Now was the time to actualize. I needed to put my money where my mouth is. In fact, I needed to put $53,000 where my mouth is. That’s how much our household income was poised to drop if I took a job in blue-collar land.
How could my wife and I make this happen logistically?
I was unwilling to compromise on one point: I didn’t want our yearly savings to decrease a single penny. We have a retirement plan, and I’m hell-bent on sticking to it.
Here’s what we did to make this colossal change feasible.
First off, we’re millennials. That means we’ve each been laid off, me more than once. So, we’ve grown pretty good at taking a machete to spending and expenses. We also entered the workforce with liberal arts degrees (oops!) during the Great Recession. Need I say more?
Second, you might recall from a previous post that we had long since frozen our standard of living. To be precise, we’d frozen it at $48,000 a year (with adjustments for cost-of-living increases). That means we could slash our spending without feeling too much pain.
We’d also paid off any and all forms of debt. So, we had only assets and no liabilities.
Now, when I went out searching for a job, I landed one I could walk to. Why? Because I ended up saving roughly $3,000 in a year by not driving. (This is based upon the government’s standard mileage rate of 57.5 cents per mile.)
I also realized cost savings by eliminating my dry cleaning bill (no more suits), getting haircuts less frequently, shaving less, and getting rid of any fitness-related expenditures (no need for this when you’re getting in six miles of cardio per day at your job plus weight lifting and hundreds of squats).
I also now had the most precious commodity of all: time. Time to renegotiate my cable and phone bills. Time to slash my energy use. Time to cancel old magazine subscriptions. Time to consolidate all my old 401K accounts and get all our money “working” for us. Time to find coupons and cut our grocery bill by $150 a month. Time to day trade. Time to start side hustles, like taking surveys online for money. Time to use money-saving apps like Ibotta and Fetch. Time to take advantage of discounts for switching bills to autopay and paperless.
I also selectively worked overtime and got paid time-and-a-half (a new concept to a salaried office worker like me).
I also fell into a lower tax bracket because of my income level drop and enjoyed further tax benefits by maxing out my 401K and my IRA. (My wife maxed out her IRA, too, and even upped her contributions to her work retirement plan.)
And here is the biggest money saver.
When you’re miserable at work, you spend money to justify why you’re putting yourself through misery. With my lot improving, I didn’t feel the need to spend and spend. We could go weeks without shelling out a discretionary dime.
So, did all of the above close the $53,000 gap? No. But it significantly narrowed it.
In fact, we saved more during my first year in blue-collar land than we ever had before. Final year in white-collar land: $38,000. First year in blue-collar land: $45,000.
Not to shabby, right? Fantasy to reality!
And now I’m night-and-day happier and able to be present for my wife and daughter.
Suck on that, system.
Frugal Tip: If you have warm leftovers after a meal, don’t put them in the fridge right away. Let them cool down first. Why make your fridge suck up energy to cool itself down after you put piping hot casserole in it?
2 thoughts on “From White Collar to Blue Collar: An Unexpected Journey”
I’ve definitely felt this. The idea of going to work, doing the job and going home vs. A mystery day of anything goes has been frustrating. My job also deals with solving other people’s problems, which never end. Probably why in my free time I’m always coming up with creative projects to get that sense of accomplishment. I’m looking forward to following you on this journey.
Alex, it’s great to hear from you! There’s certainly minuses to working in the blue-collar world, but I feel they are eclipsed by the benefits. Namely my sanity. I, too, have to get my creative juices flowing with projects outside of work. I suppose this blog is one manifestation of that.
Thanks so much for reading. It means a lot to me.