In the previous post ‘Earning and Learning’ I took a dive into what financial lessons I learned from my first job working at a betting shop.
Turned out it was quite a lot. So much so that by the time I got to the end of writing about it, my original intention of writing about my other early career jobs went out the window!
Often I think we don’t realise at the time what a particular experience is teaching us. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight we can look back and go ‘oh, that’s why that was useful’.
Now obviously it’s impossible to experience everything this world has to offer. There’s just not enough time to try it all out.
And so one of my favourite ways of learning is through reading about others’ experiences. Seeing those different perspectives in action. What they took away from it all.
Whilst I may have taken all these jobs for the cold hard cash – they each ended up teaching me some invaluable financial lessons.
Learning and earning – does it get any better? Let’s see….
My first job after graduating with my Maths degree from university wasn’t the most glamorous. Not by a long shot.
It wasn’t even something I was particularly interested in or excited by. Rather it ticked the boxes of (a) willing to hire me and (b) have a ten minute walk to work.
And that’s how I ended up working in the local building society as a cashier assistant. Told you it wasn’t glamorous!
The uniform was hideous and I was the youngest there by some margin, bar one other lady. It wasn’t exactly the most stimulating environment.
And just to dispel any stereotypes about FIRE and instant high wage earners, the pay was awful. About £8k – a year!!
But that’s the joy of first real jobs – it’s all new and money is money. At least pretty much everything is different to learn about.
And the upside of this one was the instant deep dive into all the different types of basic financial accounts.
Current accounts, savings, high interest, TESSA’s ( yes, it was that long ago it was before ISA’s!) personal loans, mortgages. A crash course in every basic financial product under the sun.
All useful stuff – but you know what – that’s not the real lesson I learned from this job. Nope.
Instead – I learned about how what the company wanted wasn’t always best for the customer. Motivation matters.
The branch manager had monthly sales targets to meet. A certain number of new accounts to be opened. Referrals to the weekly financial advisor. Financial measures for loans and mortgages.
All of this meant each individual cashier had their own targets to meet. We were trained in cross-selling, encouraged to offer additional services.
It was hard enough to want to do this anyway but when you’re working in a small branch and most people are regulars – it became a nightmare. You can’t help but develop relationships and trust. So the idea of ‘selling’ went entirely against my nature.
And so I can proudly say I never sold a single thing. If a customer had an obvious genuine need, I would happily speak up and point them in the right direction. But offer them something unnecessary just to hit a target, nope, not for me.
Unsurprisingly it didn’t go unnoticed. At the end of my contract year – I was let go. Shocker.
I was surprisingly upset at the time – nobody likes rejection after all. But as ever in hindsight it was such a good outcome.
I moved onto my next career adventure that much wiser and smarter. To this day I’ll still think about the motivation behind any kind of sales pitch – if I haven’t already run a mile away…!
But what was the next step for our intrepid younger me – I hear a few people ask? As ever in my life – it was a bit of a bizarre jump – but a good one..
It's A Big, Big World..
My next move wasn’t exactly a calculated career move. Far from it.
Instead, in my last working week at the building society I got a phone call. Asking if I could start next week. Sometimes life is just like that?!?
It turned out that the position I’d actually interviewed for had been filled but they now wanted to hire a temporary worker as well. Was I interested?
The money was much better – but the commute wasn’t, what with being down in London. All in all I think I was looking at an extra £1k once I’d taken travel costs out. And yes, that was an extra grand per year – not month…!
So perhaps not the best financial move but this job actually interested me. So with the serendipitous timing and the whole bird in hand theory – I said yes.
The position was as a data geek for Which? magazine, working in their Finance sector. And it was chalk and cheese to the old job.
I was working with a young, vibrant collection of a wide range of people. Every Friday afternoon the testing team would send out the left over pizza or wine they’d been sampling. Occasionally a TV crew would turn up to interview the senior guys and gals about the latest research. It was laid back, relaxed – but fascinating and interesting. I loved it, despite the lack of sleep with the long train ride in and back.
But the whole point of this post is learning and earning – so what did it actually teach me beyond the kind of work environment I thrived in?
Well, it turned out to be quite a lot. Our department was in charge of assessing all kinds of financial products. One month we’d be doing a deep dive on mobile phone contracts, the next we’d be on credit cards. Alongside some standard ‘best savings account’ type regular stuff.
It taught me so much about comparing what at first glance seemed like identical products. Reading the small print was everything. How long would you be tied in for? Any hidden fees for leaving or other such oddities.
To mis-quote the words of Animal Farm;
“All Financial Products Are Equal But Some Are More Equal Than Others”
It was such fantastic training in how to critically assess a financial deal. Knowing how to read through the spiel, what questions to ask. How to compare and decide which was best and why.
Whilst comparison sites and the likes will do a lot of the hard work for you, knowing how best to use that information was a great lesson for me. If only that it taught me to question and thoroughly understand before committing actual pounds of hard-earned cash!
But alas, it was a temp job and so my search had to continue onwards and I found something else closer to home.
As it turned out Which? did actually offer me a permanent job – but unfortunately it wasn’t until a month after I’d started my next role and settled in. So I passed and stayed put.
But where was this next step and what did I learn?
Cash Flow Matters
My next move was into what I guess I would call the start of my career proper, all be it without me knowing it back then.
In a complete change of direction I went from personal financial products into the world of energy trading. Again pretty much based on (a) they offered me the job (b) it was much closer to home.
Yeah, all that smart career advice you read about and the high-paid, high flyer from the start – that was most definitely not me! Live and learn eh..
So I was lucky that I again landed somewhere that worked out well for me. I started off in data management until the manager got a bit wary of my tendency to go beyond what was expected. Making fancy graphs and market commentary – and so I was shuffled off to risk management.
This is where I really started to learn about how markets traded. Fundamental drivers vs technical indicators. Managing a portfolio of risks. The power of diversification. Sounding familiar to anyone?
Playing the game with other peoples money let me learn so much about what worked – and what didn’t. How to know when enough was enough and when to let things play out.
It’s still different with your own money but it was a fantastic learning environment and another young, diverse crowd of people. What more do you want in your twenties?
Now there’s a whole series of posts I could and may yet write about the art and science of financial risk management. After all you can’t make money without taking risk. You just want to be aware of what risks they are!
But that wasn’t the biggest lesson I learned from this particular working stint. Nope. That one was all about how important cash flow is.
Why? What happened? I hear you all ask. Well, funnily enough it’s something that’s been in the news again lately.
Our company was highly profitable – from a MtM (mark to market) or book value point of view. Asset heavy owning several power generation plants of various types. Vertically integrated with a healthy retail business and a smart trading arm around both.
What could go wrong? Well, nothing on paper. But you see there’s a time lag between retail and generation cash flows. An energy business has to pay out for the energy consumed each day. Whereas retail customers won’t pay until much later, even excluding bad debt.
So you may well have a healthy margin locked in – but if you don’t have enough cash to run your business until it pays up, you can get in trouble – fast.
Add on top of that a parent company who aren’t interested in standing as guarantor for financing until it works out – well, then you’re in a credit downgrade tailspin. Each downgrade requiring you to raise more cash – which you don’t have – so downgraded again.
It happened remarkably fast. S and I went off on holiday hearing rumours that the retail arm was in trouble. We came back two weeks later to find the whole business was being sold off for a pound and we would both be out of a job. Ouch.
That lesson about cash flow has unsurprisingly stuck with me. It helped me survive my trading platform collapse, turning what could have been a disaster into a mere major irritation.
It’s interesting looking back and seeing what I learnt even when I didn’t fully understand why it would be so useful for me later. I could now go on to my last company move – but that one spans fifteen years and is for another day maybe.
Instead I though I’d wrap up this post with something different…
Learning And Earning - Book Review
One of the nicest surprises about starting blogging has been when people reach out and get in touch. Either with questions or to ask for my input or thoughts.
It’s been an unexpected upside and I never fail to respond. Even if sometimes I take an extraordinarily long time to do so! This is one of those times…
Back in September last year Robin Powell of The Evidenced Based Investor reached out to ask me to take a look at a book he had co-written with Ben Carlson, blogger at A Wealth Of Common Sense.
Now these two guys know what they are talking about. Honestly, I was amazed they’d even heard of me, let alone ask me to help out by reviewing their book.
So what do I do? Well I go travelling, I host Christmas and so on and so on. And then I finally feel like writing again and remember I wanted to do this review.
And since I’m talking about how I learned about money, this seemed as good a place as any to finally get around to it. You can’t always get paid to learn eh!
The book is called “Invest Your Way To Financial Freedom” and it’s a refreshingly simple and honest walkthrough of the main steps to achieving financial freedom.
What I loved about it from the start is the no bullshit approach. It doesn’t ever pretend it will be an easy journey. But it does make it all seem possible with practical steps as to how. And why.
Interspersed with humour and personal insights and stories, it’s very relatable whilst inspiring in an honest way. No unicorns or puppies here – and I thoroughly approve since it’s not so different to my own blogging style.
I’d suggest this book is a great starting place for anyone who’s only just found out about FIRE or Financial Independence. Or perhaps a partner who’s not as interested or keen on the idea. It hits the right notes of trying to explain what financial freedom can offer you – if you decide that’s a worthy goal for you. And best of all – it’s actually UK focused for a change.
For those who are already on the path I’d say it’s more of a refresher as there’s simply not enough time in one book to go into anything in much more detail. You won’t get specific ‘do this, buy that’ advice.
What you will get is an approach that encourages taking the personal responsibility for your financial future – and ultimately living a financially free lifestyle. Something I can heartily recommend!
Phew – my first ever book review! That was fun – thanks for the opportunity guys, I did say I was a slow blogger at times!
Learning About Money
And so I think I’ll wrap this one up with a few thoughts on why I believe learning about money is important, however you do it.
Money is a fundamental life skill. Not understanding personal finance basics can leave you at a huge disadvantage. It’s like expecting to stay fit and healthy through blind luck, rather than getting to grips with diet and exercise.
Money isn’t always complicated. Yes, some people are always going to get more excited about graphs and company balance sheets. But these days there are so many simpler ways of investing that make it so much more accessible. It doesn’t have to feel like struggling to learn a foreign language.
Money puts you in the driver’s seat. By taking charge of your personal finances, you are actively choosing what makes sense for you. You can set out your dreams – and then work towards achieving them. You have a why for your hard work when it all can seem aimless.
Honestly, it may have been accidental to start with but learning about money has been one of the best things I did. And still do as the world continues to change.
Now if someone can just explain NFT’s to me again…..
4 thoughts on “Learning And Earning”
Great post, Michelle – so interesting to read about your career path and what you learned from each one. My jobs don’t seem so interesting but perhaps I may rustle up a post at some point in the future, when I too am looking back on my career, from the rosy view of a retiree!
Hey Weenie – ha, funny, I’m still not used to be called a retiree!
Glad you enjoyed it – though I bet you’d be surprised how many people would similarly find it interesting to read about your career path as/when you do get round to writing that post..
It was interesting to hear about your first real, i.e. full time, job. I believe it’s useful for others to see that FIRE is attainable from modest beginnings.
My first full time job (after my part-time paper-round and supermarket shelf-stacker gigs) was an accounts clerk. I think it would have been in 1987, and my salary was a whopping £3,300 a year🤣 Three years later I took another job simply because they had a free bus that picked employees up from my town and delivered them to the workplace. From simple beginnings…
Ha – it’s good to know I’m in awesome company on this one! Love the free bus temptation – that would have had me sold too 🤣
But totally agree, it’s good to see examples of people managing to achieve FIRE from very ordinary beginnings….cheers for sharing your own inspirational example.