One of the best things about starting this blog a little over a year ago is when people make the effort to get in touch and ask a question. Either through the comments or via my email, it’s always fascinating to see what people have made of my scribbles and what they’d like to know more about.
A popular topic is around the money side of early retirement. How did I know what to do? How did I learn about money and investing?
After all, it’s not something we’re often taught at school. Despite how much more useful it would have been than most of the stuff on the ‘must learn, repeat and promptly forget’ cycle I went through…
And whilst some people are born into families with strong investment and money knowledge, most are more like mine I suspect. Good at budgeting and spending. Not so much on investing. Sharing knowledge through example rather than discussion and learning.
So where exactly did I learn about money? Especially given it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that the internet became the vast but varied sea of knowledge it now is?
Well, if I think about it – a large part came from the variety of jobs I held. Earning and learning, for better or worse.
So let’s get out the fabled time machine and take a look back shall we…
Earning And Learning - A Risky Business
Often we don’t really understand what we learned from something until much later on. The Steve Job’s theory of life and dots joining up.
It’s a theory I’m fond of as there is much of my life that fits this pattern. I was never one of those people who knew exactly what they wanted, where they were going.
Instead, a series of opportunities presented themselves and the only overwhelming theme among them is I have a habit of saying ‘yes’ and giving it a go.
Which is all a long-winded way of explaining why this upcoming series of jobs looks like a bit of a car-crash of a career path. But each one of these random ‘fill the time and pay the bills’ type jobs taught me something about money I didn’t know before.
Hence the title – earning and learning. But what exactly did I learn??
When The Fun Stops...
I’m going to bypass my very first job working at the local garage forecourt. That one was very definitely all about earning money for beer and meeting boys with cars. Fun, but perhaps not so useful…
Instead, it was one of my first summer jobs whilst home from Uni that first opened my eyes to how differently people saw money. My young fresh-faced self was pretty amazed to land the job in the local betting shop given the lack of effort I’d put into applying.
In hindsight perhaps I should have been less surprised at the lack of competition… Nevertheless, I duly turned up bright-eyed and bushy tailed and entered the murky world behind those smoky windows..
It was an eye-opening experience straight away. A very different sort of world, one where the thrill of excitement lurked with an edge of desperation.
I soon got to know the regular faces. Every single one of them had their own special, secret ‘system’. A sure-fire method for placing their well-thought through bets.
All I learnt was that these systems must involve wanting to lose an awful lot of money. Again and again.
It was often heart-breaking stuff. I’d have to watch the same young lads wander in, brown envelope in hand with their hard-earned wages for the week. Only to leave with a slightly dazed look in their eyes a couple of hours later. That same brown envelope crumpled and empty on the floor.
Despite this, I don’t actually have a problem with people enjoying gambling at all. But it really did teach me about ‘play money’.
Lesson Learnt; Only gamble with what you can afford to lose. Today’s equivalent of having a small crypto stake in your otherwise well-balanced portfolio?!?
Playing The Odds
It often fascinates me how different people learn. For me, it tends to stick much better if I experience or do it versus read about it.
So although part of my journey to early retirement involved a maths degree, the equations et al I learned there didn’t teach me much about how probability feels.
Whereas spending five days a week in a bookmakers will quickly bring home the reality.
Backing a 100-1 winner is sexy stuff, alluring and tempting. Putting together a whole string of them can change your night entirely.
But – unsurprisingly – it rarely pays out. It may sound exciting but after the first few races of watching your horse trundle in last again, it gets old.
Favourites are just that for a reason – they’re far more likely to win. Or at least make it vaguely interesting. But, as ever there’s a but. They don’t pay out much. Sometimes hardly anything.
Money’s the same way. You want a sure thing? Go with that FSC protected cash savings account and collect your pennies. Try and ignore the fact you’ve actually locked in a loss in the real world after inflation takes its bite out of your hard-earned cash.
Go for something a bit riskier and you have to accept that probability of it not playing out as you’d like. Instead of spending those pennies you mocked earlier you’re now looking at a glowing red portfolio worth number.
Experiencing this day in, day out taught me a lot about risk tolerance and unrealistic expectations of beating the odds. An optimistic mind set is not always your best friend!
Lesson Learnt; Reward never comes without risk. Intellectually understanding you can lose it all is a very different thing to actually doing it. Always know your own risk tolerance.
Following The Money
By now you’d have thought I’ve milked this first job dry of learnings, right? But no – there’s yet more…
Some days could be dull, really dull. It would be quiet and the hours would drag by.
But occasionally we’d have a day where it just all went crazy. For whatever reason the shop would be bustling. And punters would be sharing their tips and news freely. Gotta sell your system 😉
It was on one such day I first saw my first phenomenon of ‘follow the money’ in action.
Usually by the time people were in the shop placing bets, the odds on each horse were pretty stable (ha….ha….). Whilst I had several customers who firmly believed that waiting until the last possible second before racing up and demanding I accept their money right now would get them better odds, it rarely did.
But every now and then you’d get a horse whose odds would suddenly start to shrink rapidly. Getting slashed from the 50 or 20-1 they started at down to near favourite level.
Clearly – some new information was afoot (ahoof?). And the punters would pretty much go wild for it. Not knowing the cause or the reason. Not even caring. Just following the money.
Wild-eyed and thrusting slips and money at me, desperate to get in on the action.
Did the horse always go on to win? Of course not. It usually did do better than it’s original odds had suggested for sure. But that was small comfort to those who had just bet their proverbial shirt on it to win.
Lesson Learned; Don’t follow the money blindly. If you don’t know why a share is rapidly falling or rising, it’s probably not a good idea to jump on the bandwagon.
There’s a good reason Monevator bangs on about cheap global index funds…they’re the favourites of the investing world. They even beat inflation, usually..
Trust Or Bust?
One of my favourite parts of this surprisingly interesting summer job was the renowned ‘hot tips’ board.
This hallowed item was in fact a well-used white board, mounted to one side of the cashiers desk I usually lurked behind.
After a couple of weeks and having shown an unusual interest in the job ( as in I actually asked to read the betting manual – a first for the manager I think.. ) – I was given the responsibility of this cherished item.
In reality, it involved picking four horses from four different races for that day. Writing them up and drawing a few pictures when particularly creative – but mostly lots of exclamation marks and pound signs. Hey, I was a maths student, not art 😉
My ‘system’ involved studiously looking at the form page before picking out four potentials, usually based on a combination of name, colour and odds.
Unsurprisingly my magic system faired no better and no worse than the others. I’d usually call one winner and perhaps a place. Not enough to offset the losses from the others though.
But one glorious day I called three winners and a place – all without picking a favourite. It’s pretty much hitting the betting jackpot.
The punters instantly hailed me a genius. Assumed I had some insider knowledge through working in the shop. Followed my suggestions over the next few weeks, revelling in the wins, brushing aside the losses.
This experience has stuck with me ever since. I knew I had no special knowledge – it was just blind luck that day. Far outweighed by the many other days of dismal failure. The survivorship bias was stronger than the actual reality on the ground.
Lesson Learned; Be wary who you trust and why. One good outcome does not make a decent track record or a repeatable system.
Always Earning And Learning
Wow…not bad for one summer job, right? Perhaps it was because it was such a different world to what I was used to it but I learnt way more than I ever expected to get out of it.
I suspect that in today’s pressured world of getting the ‘right’ summer job to impress on the CV, this kind of position would fall far down on most people’s wish lists. But even with the value of hindsight I’m still glad this is where I ended up that year.
Learning what mistakes to avoid making can be as valuable as anything else. And I learned plenty there about that. Which is a good job since it didn’t exactly pay fantastically!
So I hope sharing these lessons helped answer some of those questions received that I mentioned earlier. Originally I was going to on to my next early career jobs where I learned a lot more about actual money – but I think they will have to wait to another post!
In the meantime, it’d be great to hear what unexpected lessons about money you learnt from your first job??
15 thoughts on “Earning And Learning”
Thanks for the good read 😀 I’ll join the ranks of the paper-rounders, though as a sucker for punishment / person who liked earning money, I’d do mine and then at weekends also take out the round of whomever didn’t turn up.. Not sure whether I ever questioned why some people managed to not turn up! That was my first experience of saving significant pennies. I suppose the up side of working in the shop whilst at school is I have three wholly unexpected bonus years of National Insurance contributions… that might help further down the line!
Hey Catherine, thanks for taking the time to comment – always good to hear from another happy ‘paper-rounder’!
It’s funny you mention the Nat Ins contributions – I ended up getting one years worth somehow at least but three is good going. Defn helpful later, I was checking mine out the other day and it’s a little disturbing when you don’t have too many left you need to earn/buy!
Your three “unexpected bonus years” of NI ctrbns may be because you were in full time education, see for example: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/209123/national-insurance-single-tier-note.pdf
Love this and thanks for sharing.
Lol @ the ‘hot tips’ – I can honestly say that during my ‘gambling days’ when I did frequent betting shops, I was sadly drawn to those hot tips; little did I know!
As my family had their own business, my summer jobs as a teenager was just me helping out during the week as opposed to just weekends.
The lesson learned back then was that if you wanted more money, you had to work to earn it.
Second lesson learned was that family businesses never pay the best wages yet demand so much more!
Ha – live & learn eh! I really did enjoy that part of the job for sure.
I can imagine only too well the dilemma of working for the family business…..no, it’s not negotiable…no, you can’t work somewhere else….be grateful…🤣 Still – a great lesson to learn eh!
An enjoyable read about your experience in the betting shop! I grew up in a rural village, my first summer job from school was picking peas for a local farmer. You got 50p for picking each big bag of peas – can’t remember exactly maybe 15Kg a bag and the farmer did weight them before handing over the coin. It seemed to take forever to fill each one! The regular lady pea pickers in the village were expert at it outstripping me and my school friends, they were going down the field stripping the plants of peas like locusts. I think I earned about £40 the whole summer, it was actually more cash than I had ever seen at that time. What I learned from this was I needed to leverage that stuff between my ears – study, pass my exams and go to college. The summer job outside in the sun with school friends was fun but manual labour wasn’t for me!
Hey Bill, cheers for sharing that story – made me smile – and what a great lesson to learn! I’ve seen similar pickers when travelling & the skill is amazing – but then they have to be be to make any vaguely decent money I guess. But yeah, those jobs are fun in summer but not year round and defn not for life…
It’s funny isn’t it how your first real money feels fantastic, I can still remember planning out how I was going to use my £5/week – no saving back then 🤣
Cheers for sharing, it’s always great hearing how others found this kind of thing.
Almost 30 years ago, I tried to teach my father-in-law a financial lesson about betting. I explained to him, when your bookmaker sends you a big hamper for a Christmas gift, it’s a sure sign that only one of you is winning, and it clearly wasn’t my father-in-law.
Lesson learned by him: none, he still goes to the bookies most days.
Lesson learned by me: his daughter is just like her father…neither of them listen to me!🤣
Ha, love it. Yeah – getting a card is one thing but a hamper….that’s a ‘good’ customer 🤣
And hey, at least you’ve got consistency at being ignored…..now who does your daughter take after then…?!?
I’m not going to answer about my daughter, admitting nobody listens to me will make me depressed!😂
Delivering newspapers was probably my starting point; the morning paper round paid more than the evening one did in those days! And Sunday morning paid the best – but boy were those Sunday papers big & heavy!!
Then, as a student, I learned a lot from working behind the bar in a pub next to a betting shop. This was quite a few years ago and the pub had a TV, the betting shop did not – very interesting times indeed!
My next batch of money lessons came from my first job post graduation – but that is a whole set of other stories.
Hey Al Cam, great to hear from you again.
Ha – I know what you mean by the paper round! Those jobs were as rare as the proverbial hen’s tooth in my village but I did manage to land the weekly free paper gig. 2p per paper and 1p per leaflet – if it was a good week I’d make a £5 🤣. Seems crazy now but it was the first time I’d ever earned my own money and it was an addictive feeling!
The bar job sounds like you must have had some very interesting clientele indeed…..and I look forwards to hearing about the post grad job next time!
Cheers, Michelle / F&W
Giving my age away a bit more: my next job (after delivering papers) was collecting football pools and spot the ball entries door-to-door. I had a huge round – only really coverable using my bike – but it paid far better than the papers ever did. Guess that job has been consigned to history now?
An abiding memory of my time at the pub was the bookie/pub regulars often drowned their sorrows when they lost and usually celebrated with “drinks on them” when they won! Either way, the landlord won – and he was a real one-off too!!
I remember both of those! That Spot-The-Ball thing was impossible….but yeah, I know my nieces and nephews would be looking baffled about now…
A landlords dream I reckon being next to a bookies! But hey, characters are way more interesting people at least. Always a story to tell..!