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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Salaried

A surprising discovery.

My bank account suddenly contained a non-trivial sum of money. Funds I had not deposited there myself.

For the first time in about 20 years, I had been paid.

A benevolent payroll fairy in a distant land had magically calculated salary. Allocated pension contributions. Deducted taxes. Their efforts producing the bank balance I now saw before me.

It was a strange feeling. Seeing this number appear, entirely divorced from my own efforts.

I thought back to past roles I have held.

My paper route was piece work. The boss didn’t care whether it took an hour or a day, the payment was the same. Work and remuneration were indelibly linked. Money changing hands only once the job was complete.

Retail and hospitality jobs involved selling myself by the hour. Employers purchasing my time, to use wisely or squander as they pleased. Remuneration tied to attendance. No hours worked meant no pay.

My business involved a combination of piece work and prostitution. Some engagements billed based on time and materials, like my student retail jobs of old. Other engagements charged based on outcomes, measured by achieving delivery milestones, similar to the paper route. In both cases, my invoice provided a tangible link between the work I had performed and the money the client owed.

Salaried employment is different. There exists no clear relationship between remuneration received and hours worked, outcomes delivered, or effort expended. A curiously incongruous arrangement.

Paid regardless of performance. Deliver miracles or go through the motions, the number is the same.

An unchanging amount paid irrespective of attendance. In person. Remotely. Overtime. Outside of hours. Out sick. Away on holiday.

Pull my weight? Exceed expectations? Carry the team?

Or become a passenger? A professional meeting attendee? A salary collector in the literal sense?

Fast track or pedestrian plodder? Innovative outlier or member of the sheeple? Workaholic or idler? The payroll fairy doesn’t care, her magic calculations produce an identical pay packet either way. The salary was the salary. Is this what equality looks like? A snapshot preserved for posterity of the confidence, luck, market conditions, and negotiating skill at the time of hiring.

The longevity afforded by each approach may vary, some proving more sustainable than others. There are no guarantees however, a job is no more secure than its notice period. Sometimes not even that long!

Whatever the path chosen, for salaried employees that disconnect between value and remuneration is all too real.

My inner saboteur chortled in subversive disbelief. How had this madness ever become the dominant form remuneration? As my elder son is fond of saying, “what a scam!”.

Pot of gold

I pondered my bank balance for a moment. Perplexed by the newfound pot of gold it contained.

For five years I had been semi-retired.

A purpose built investment portfolio generating cashflows capable of supporting the majority of my family’s lifestyle costs. Supplemented by seasonal winter working hibernations.

The duration of those brief forays into the working world were determined by guesstimating what additional income would be required to bridge the gap, then “doing it for the money”. Once my coffers were replenished, I would escape back to the comforting semi-retired lifestyle I had carefully crafted.

This approach led to defying conventional Personal Finance wisdom in several areas.

A non-existent savings rate. Instead of spending less than I earned and investing the difference, I earned just enough to cover my spending. Each additional dollar of investment income generated was used to purchase control of time that would otherwise have been consumed by earning a living.

No budget. Budgets are comforting lies we tell ourselves about how good we are going to be in the future. A useful tool for beginners, their utility quickly outgrown, much like stabilisers on a child’s bike or “L” plates on a novice driver’s car.

When it comes to budgets, the only certainty is their inaccuracy. How inaccurate is determined by our own honesty, luck, and ability to navigate those “life happens” events which randomly occur with monotonous regularity. I prefer evidence-based decision making to wishful thinking. Self-awareness informed by comparing actual outcomes against how we choose to perceive our financial acumen.

Little surplus cash. Extracting only what I needed from my portfolio to cover my lifestyle costs meant there was rarely much padding in my bank account. I had contributed no additional capital to my portfolio throughout my semi-retirement, my version of what the cool kids today might call “Coast-FI”.

A token contingency fund. When daily portfolio value fluctuations exceed your annual living costs, the opportunity costs associated with maintaining the traditional 6-12 months worth of expenses in cash exceeds the piece of mind such a cushion may bring. A credit card is my immediate emergency fund, while my well diversified portfolio is more than capable of absorbing the shocks and paying the bills.

Which, when combined, meant sitting on a pile of unallocated cash was a novel experience indeed.

Fairy tales

The payroll fairy told the tale of the pot of gold using a payslip. Chronicling what financial accountants might consider to be a gripping fairy tale. Brave heroes. Dastardly villains. A noble quest full of sacrifice, problem solving, and overcoming adversity. Concluding (hopefully) with a happily ever after ending.

The story begins with a legend of vast riches. Whispered rumours and shouted boasts that spread throughout the land, wherever those who profit from recruitment congregate to gossip or headhunt.

A fabled treasure that can only be claimed by single victor.

Accessible only after being bartered and haggled over during an epic trial of interviews and salary negotiations. A battle that sees a scrappy lone underdog take on the vast might of a megacorp, that fearsome tireless beast who possesses the resources, strengths, and management shortcomings of a small army.

Taking on that foe is not for the faint of heart!

Our plunky hero risks their deepest darkest secrets being exposed during background checks.

Being damned with faint praise, as former colleagues cower behind faceless human resources departments to issue terse employment references which seek to avoid lawsuits for defamation, libel, slander, and unfair restraint of trade.

Having their diplomacy skills and sanity pushed the limit by inane textbook job interview questions: “if you could be any animal, which would you be and why?

Constant vigilance is a must, as their sneaky corporate opponent attempts to deploy sleight of hand by changing the rules, shifting the ground, and altering the game after it has begun.

Testing the hero’s values.

Pushing their boundaries.

Probing their limits.

What are they willing to sacrifice for the prize? How much compromise are they willing to put up with?

The truly gross part of that magic salary number is that it is a mirage. Shimmering tantalisingly on the horizon. Unobtainable. Forever out of reach. Even if our trusty hero beats the odds and carries the day, they will never receive the amount of treasure they battled so valiantly to win.

What starts out as a vast sum quickly gets eroded and white-anted away.

Disheartening deductions and vampiric tax collectors demanding their due.

Each serving to skim off or whittle away some of that lustrous reward.

Income tax at 20%. Then 40%. Finally, 45%.

National Insurance claiming another 12%. Then 2% more for good measure.

That generous looking benefits package delivers a painful sting in the tail, as taxable benefits in kind.

Delayed gratification further reduces the accessible pot of gold. Pension contributions, the pursuit of fabled “free” employer matches, and salary sacrifice each chipping away at the prize.

The end result is a pot of gold far smaller than the legendary treasure used to lure the unwitting hero onto their adventure.

Risking our triumphant hero becoming bitter and disillusioned, should expectations not be managed to cope with the inevitable let down that occurs when underwhelming reality brutally dispels rose-coloured dream.

Battered. Bruised. Sceptical. Slightly worse for wear. Wiser for the experience. The victorious protagonist lays claim to the salaried position and commences work. Trusting that sometime later, the benevolent payroll fairy will magically visit in the dead of night to leave a deposit in their bank account.

Bestowing a modest pot of gold that began life as an inspiring salaried fairy tale of untold riches.

Salaried

My fairy tale payslip made for slightly demoralising reading.

The gross number tantalisingly proffered at the top was far larger than the net number ultimately paid out at the bottom. A bit like sexy time at the conclusion of a successful date, when the removal of a well-tailored business suit, or the shedding of padded push-up bras and shapewear, leads to a significant reallocation of assets bearing little resemblance to initial hopes and dreams.

My previous life as a business owner had allowed the distribution of profits in a strategic manner to legally minimise taxes. The vampiric tax authorities received their due only once per year, in what felt like an eye-watering sum at the time. A necessary evil that was swiftly forgotten.

The tax elements being deducted from my recurring salary were new. Disheartening. Difficult to avoid. A feature of the permanent employment system, not a bug. By the time the payroll fairy has visited a few times, the aggregate amount of tax deducted will have exceeded those one-off annual payments of old, with very limited options available for their minimisation. “What a scam!

Pensions were another unfamiliar deduction.

My reticence was part personal foible, part historical anachronism.

A combination of decades worth of geographic flexibility. Indecision. Serial migration. And a deeply held wariness of the regulatory risks associated with locking away funds behind age restrictions, on the vague hope that a future government will honour the tax-advantaged promises made by their predecessors.

The same government who had been forever moving the visa goalposts, making my pathway towards residency and a passport far from certain and ever more difficult. Who then threw that hard won passport on a bonfire of self-serving hubris and populist folly, reducing its utility and value by 27/28ths.

Which brings me back to the pot of gold I found sitting in my bank account, that for the first time in many years contained more than I required to cover my family’s lifestyle costs.

New funds that could be saved or squandered. Invested or enjoyed. Donated or destroyed.

The default option would be to simply pour them into my perpetual money making machine, causing the wheel to turn that little bit faster.

However, first a re-examination of the many assumptions, expectations, and future plans that underpin my financial arrangements are in order. Testing what I thought then with what I know now.

Some will hold true, proving just as valid as they did originally.

Others will be found wanting. Solving problems I no longer have. Conflicting with my priorities or interests, both current or those in the foreseeable future.

A timely reminder that what once was may not always be.

A nice problem to have.


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17 Comments

  1. Fire And Wide 2 August 2021

    Hey Indeedably.

    Been a while – and looks like congrats (I think?!) are in order for your return to gainful (…) employment! Hope it’s all going well and not getting in the way of your life too much.

    Enjoy that fairy bonus – at least it shouldn’t disappear in a puff of smoke at midnight! Assuming you don’t invest it all on red….🤣

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 2 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks very much, Michelle.

      Life is an adventure, every day different the last. I’m stubbornly clinging to remote working by default, which makes the transition less jarring and more palatable.

      I must confess I did buy a lottery ticket with my first pay. It was in a draw for a £10,000 a month prize for 30 years… which to me sounds like an annuity, an investment in my book! Alas, I didn’t win the top prize, but did score a fiver which meant I had earned a 333% profit in a day.

      So now I’m considering joining the keynote speaker circuit, selling the secrets to my proven system of killer returns, allowing the audience to get rich quick while sat on their couch munching on Doritos and watching ScoobyDoo cartoon reruns.

  2. Q-FI 2 August 2021

    I loved this one. Just loved it. The payroll fairy – brilliant and hilarious. I’d also never thought of a “salary collector” in the tax collector realm, but another spot on analogy.

    “Salaried employment is different. There exists no clear relationship between remuneration received and hours worked, outcomes delivered, or effort expended. A curiously incongruous arrangement.”

    When you state it so bluntly, you wonder how a system like this ever came into being? Hahaha. But so true.

    Yet my favorite hidden gem was… “what the cool kids today might call “Coast-FI”” Oh those cool kids!

    Well done bud. Well done.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Q-FI, glad you enjoyed it.

      Coast-FI is a great example of something that seemed self-evident being branded and becoming a marketable “thing“. Inevitable I guess, in the same way the age old common sense wisdom of living within our means became “Financial Independence” with a cult like following who are heavily sold into.

  3. Impersonal Finances 2 August 2021

    Exceptional! Getting paid the same amount at a regular interval is easy to take for granted and I would imagine quite jarring to see that payment again (just as it would be for a long time worker to stop seeing it). The same line that stuck with Q-FI stuck with me–unless you’re commission-based, you’re getting paid the same, for better or worse. Whether you steal money or get ripped off in that exchange is largely up to you (I tend to get ripped off).

    Hopefully the remote work makes it more palatable, and you can fill those coffers once more!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Impersonal Finances.

      I can see how a regular pay cheque would become addictive, the next fix to enable the lifestyle habits that have developed and are now dependent upon it. Housing locations, car choices, self image, status projection, our entire personal financial house of cards. A trap of our own making, that becomes self perpetuating if we’re not consciously aware of it.

  4. Gnòtul 3 August 2021

    What a piece, Indeedably! Congrats: I believe this will go down in history.

    The passage comparing the salary pay-slip to the sexy date totally cracked me up. 🙂

    Thought-provoking that indeed this became the predominant remuneration system, the only one considered possible by large swaths of the population based on personal and societal circumstances. Sometimes setting a vicious cycle in motion, where it feels that the ratio of team carriers to salary collectors is skewed too much towards the latter. As my first boss used to say: “a company is like a train, you’ve got the engines, the carriages… and the cars with their brakes on”.

    Wish you success in your “hero’s journey”!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Gnòtul, high praise indeed!

      Salaried employment is certainly an interesting model to study. For employees who do not seek advancement (either by choice or circumstance) and for whom pursuing annual performance bonuses make little financial sense, there is little incentive beyond personal pride for them to do more than the minimum. That seems like a purpose built recipe for mediocrity to me.

  5. steveark 3 August 2021

    I had a regular paycheck auto deposited, like yours is now. But I still did not know what I’d make each year. It was not out of the question for my stock awards and bonus pay to exceed my base salary or not uncommon for neither of those to occur. My last year of employment I made over twice what I had made only three years earlier. So there was always some sense of mystery as to how much money I was being paid. I left at the right time though, right after my biggest pay year ever and right before the company froze wages and killed all bonuses and stock awards!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 August 2021 — Post author

      Wow! That is one very nicely timed exit, Steveark, well played sir.

      I guess that variability made you look upon a bonus in the literal sense, a fortuitous one-off non-recurring windfall that is neither guaranteed nor able to be relied upon.

  6. David Andrews 4 August 2021

    Ah the ecstasy over the gross pay figure followed by the agony of the deductions and diminished net pay figure. I remember the anguish when one of my former colleagues realised how little he got to keep after an especially heavy overtime month

    Last month my manager advised me I was getting a pay rise and a bonus and was puzzled by my lack of enthusiasm. I advised him that I needed to check my spreadsheet.

    The extra money would tip me ever closer to the pension LTA. If I stop my high level of pension contributions my new basic wage would out me in a higher tax bracket. That would render my rental property uneconomic and we’d lose child benefit.

    Trying to explain this issue to my peers just result in blank faces and general puzzlement.

    I find myself “forced” to take more unpaid leave in order to optimize my tax exposure – I guess it could be much worse though.

    Sadly it also appears that my plan to engineer my own layoff is also failing.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 4 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks David.

      It’s a crazy system, where employees end up financially worse off for a payrise. I remember reading about specialist doctors facing a similar dilemma, so doesn’t sound isolated.

      Good luck plotting your paid escape. Automation helps. Taking lots of unpaid holiday without the world ending or things falling over would send a similar message: surplus to requirements.

      • David Andrews 4 August 2021

        Thanks for the response. Your recent posts suggest you are having an “interesting” time lately.

        I’ve finally decided what to do with my rental property and I’m entering the final phase of taking back possession. It’s lots of fun with a tenant who apparently doesn’t understand the timings and notice periods they need to provide for a notice to quit.

        Yes, the public sector pay rises may provoke a further exodus either by those who feel underpaid and those who will be getting potentially large tax bills for ther notional pension values.

        Fun times.

  7. weenie 7 August 2021

    Congrats on your first pay cheque in a while! I’d argue that those in the private sector (most of them) don’t get “paid regardless of performance” – quarterly/half-yearly/annual reviews mean that if you don’t perform, you’re out on your ear, not to mention those jobs which are targets-based, eg sales. That said, for months where I’m not busy at work (so I can read blogs at leisure during work-time) and months were I’m really busy (and putting in overtime), I will of course just get paid the same regardless.

    “vampiric tax collectors” – haha, that’s how I used to see the tax deductions back when I was in debt! When I got out of debt, I realised that that it didn’t bother me to see the tax deducted – my contribution to the society and country I live in.

    However, let’s see how I will feel when I have to pay the stamp duty on my house purchase…

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 8 August 2021 — Post author

      Thanks weenie. Good luck with your house purchase, hopefully the bite of the vampire isn’t too bad!

      Performance is a relative thing. There are certainly some Darwinian sites, running variants of “six sigma” that ritually cull the slowest moving members of the herd in order to create fear and motivate the remainder.

      However, from what I’ve observed across dozens of client sites over the years is that most performance monitoring (and objectives, and budgeting, and professional development plans) are management theatre. There are always rockstars and deadbeats, fast trackers and hapless lifers. The latter doing just enough to not be fired for incompetence or apathy, careers topped out, unlikely to be successful if they were forced to reapply for their current roles. These are the folks who routinely get cleared out in redundancy rounds during corporate restructures, or purged when non-core functions get outsourced.

  8. Hari Seldon 9 August 2021

    Walking on the beach today with wife and dogs, wonderful.

    No annoying phone calls or emails, intruding thoughts, or work. priceless.

    My perpetual money machine chugs on, little chance of spending it all. When you can afford it, do you still want it ? lack of imagination ?

    14 years since I had a regular income, adjust the lifestyle if you must but go to work ? No way !

What say you?

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