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Friday, March 27, 2015

A History of Labour – Part V

Posted by Tim Stobbs on March 9, 2015

Customer Service DeskPushing Chemicals – Part 1 (Year 3 AD – After Degree)

To say I was over qualified for this job when I started in December 2002 is an understatement.  A trained money could almost do my job. The work itself was fairly straight forward, take orders over the phone or pick them up from the fax and input them into the computer order system.  We also resolved minor problems with existing orders or followed up on their status.  The pay was also very welcome addition to my bank account even if it wasn’t that high.

The job also had another big downside it was on the opposite side of the city from me and I literally had about an hour commute each way to the job.  Yet despite all of this I really liked this job. Pardon?!?

You see my little hit of deja vu right before the interview was spot on: I had great co-workers.  I mean almost the entire building was nice people.  Now think about how odd that is in any given workplace.  You typically the slackers, the whiners, the hardcore corporate ladder climbers and many other sub-species of crappy co-workers.  We had almost none of those.

This wasn’t to say all our customers were as nice, but when you have great co-workers and management backing you up it does make a HUGE difference to my mental health.  I actually recovered from job hell and laugh again at work.

It also wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine either.  I am a strongly introverted person so talking on the phone for the majority of the day was not what I would call easy for me.  Yet it did get me much more comfortable talking to just about anyone.

We also hit a particularly stressful time when one of our manufactures of one particular chemical had a production problem, so this one high volume chemical was hard to come by resulting in a shortage.  The management team did the best they could to ensure everyone had some of that chemical, but it was hard on everyone.  I recall in one particular case one client literally yelled at me over the phone for 10 minutes.  Despite my first reaction to yell back, I let them rant and rave and I tried to be agreeable to their situation but eventually they hung up on me.  They called back five minutes later and the person in question actually apologized to me and we could move on from there.

Another memorable situation was training the new staff.  You see Edmonton was one of the major hubs for this company so new staff in other smaller locations would first go through a bit of training in the Edmonton office to get them ready for their new job elsewhere.  We had one particularly cocky young fellow who had already done some training with the three other service desk guys and the they dumped him on me after he managed to stress them all out.

So I asked the kid “So you know what you are doing?”

“Oh ya.  This stuff is easy.” He replied.

“Good, enter this order but don’t release it into the system.  I’ll check it when I get back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get a coffee.”  I replied and then left him to thrash around in the system for ten minutes or so.  When I came back he hadn’t even got past the first input screen.  Now with some humility restored in the kid I could actually teach him.

I also learned that is company had a long history of promoting from within. Yes the Service Desk was a entry level job, but that did get your foot in the door.  So by next spring I was having conversations with the management about a Sales job opening in Northern BC (Fort St John – if you want to look it up on a map).  My concern with the job would be that I wasn’t sure I could do sales that well, I was more interested in taking on one of their Technical Support roles where you provided support to customers amine and glycol systems.  So we ended up doing a hybrid version.  I would be about 50% sales and reminder of my time I would provide technical support to clients in Norther BC and Northwestern Alberta.

The only problem was the location.  As my wife said “You want me to move WHERE?!?”

Eventually we had a look around the area on my company’s dime and she figured she could handle downsizing to a town of 20,000 people.  It also may have helped that I bought her a diamond necklace after she agreed to move.  I’m not above rewarding people who make tough choices.


Lessons Learned

  • Practice anything enough and you start to get better at it such as talking to people all the time for me.
  • You can’t train someone who doesn’t want to learn.
  • Co-workers can drastically improve or decay your workplace.


  • Replaced cash lost during unemployment.
  • Had a defined benefit pension with this job all contributions paid by the company.  At the time I had no idea how rare this was in a private company.  It was like being handed your first oyster in your life and finding a record sized pearl inside.

Feb 2015 – Net Worth

Posted by Tim Stobbs on March 3, 2015

The following is an update of Tim’s plan to retire early in 38 more months.  Please note we are mortgage free.

Our ultimate goal between investments and the home equity is a net worth of around $1 million.  The investment part of that target is $600,000 (or higher).


Account (Contribution), [+/- Gain or Loss less contributions]

RRSP $42,430 ($0), [+$1210]
LIRA $15,350 ($0), [+$490]
TFSA $56,510 ($2500), [-$830]
Pension $117,690 ($887), [+$2222]
Wife’s RRSP $75,260 ($500), [+$2000]
Wife’s TFSA $48,010 ($0), [+1350]
High Interest Savings Account $2320 (+$600),[+$10]

Investment Net Worth $361,280 ($4477), [+$6,452 or +1.8%]

(YTD Contribution: $12,783), [YTD Gain: $18,546 or +5.2%]

Home Equity

Estimate $400,000


Last Month $1664

We prepaid for our veggies order for the summer already which was around $320.

Trailing Last 12 Month Average $2566 (or $30,795 for the last 12 months)


PF Score: 24.7 {Target 32}

Net Worth ~$761,280


Well that’s the end of our TFSA contribution room for the year.  We finished maxing out both accounts (note there was a small error in Jan update that didn’t reflect a part contribution to my TFSA), so now we need to do some stock shopping.

Speaking of stocks the markets have done very well so far in 2015, which is interesting to note that the gains are exceeding our contributions…ah the joy of compounding! It’s nice to know that my money can grow faster than I can save it at times. ;)

We plan to get started on our taxes here right away and try to get our refund a bit earlier this year.  Normally I have had to wait until the bitter end to file because of the investment accounts, but I shouldn’t see any T3 slips this year as we moved everything into tax sheltered accounts a while back.  The only sad part is this likely won’t happen again as we will run out any contribution room in our RRSP and TFSA accounts this year and so will be back to taxable accounts at some point in 2015. *sigh*

Any questions?


(click to make bigger)

A History of Labour – Part IV

Posted by Tim Stobbs on February 27, 2015

UnemploymentWelcome to the Wasteland (Year 2 AD – After Degree)

Overall in my life I don’t actually regret much.  I’m fairly happy with where I am and what I’m doing but I have to look back at this particular period of my life as a bit of an exception.  After all, I was free from my soul eating employer wasn’t I?  No work to go to, lots of time to relax and kick back and guess what…I blew it.

What the F*&%$?!?!? You say.  Yes, I blew it.  I didn’t sleep in everyday, I didn’t read lots of books or catch up on watching movies…instead like a trained slave that was used to the beatings, when the master wasn’t there I flogged myself instead.  My two major mistakes were:

  • I worried the entire time I was unemployed about money.
  • I treated my job search as a job.

The first one was somewhat defensible.  I didn’t have a whole lot of savings at that point in my life and I owned a LOT of money between my wife and I.  After all we had just under $60,000 in debt from university and I signed a $18,000 car lease which was also draining us monthly.  So in fact, if I didn’t get a job when my Unemployment Insurance checks finally stopped coming in I would rapidly go from treading water to screwed in a matter of weeks.  Yes my wife had a job, but given our expenses and limited savings we didn’t have a big cushion (and I wanted to avoid tapping our limited RRSP savings).

Aside: Also when looking back at these months I realized something….this was the genesis moment of my dreams of early retirement even before I found out about the concept.  How? I realize now I never wanted to be in the situation of worry about money like that ever again.  So later on in life when I did come across the idea of early retirement, it was extremely appealing to me.

Yet I do think I worried about this way more than I needed to, which lead me to my second mistake.

I had previously read some well meaning advice on job hunting that you should treat your job search as a job, which being young I assumed meant work on it for like 6 to 8 hours a day.  So I got up each week day and pretend I had a job of finding a job.  So I gave myself a few coffee breaks and a lunch hour but overall spent most of my days looking at job ads and writing up job applications, cover letters and redoing my resume.

Yes, I can see you shaking your head at the stupidity of it because frankly looking back I agree.  I didn’t know that spending more time at something doesn’t always increase the productivity of the activity.  In fact, I could have likely done just as an effective job search in perhaps 2 to 3 hours a day, but I manged to drag out the misery out to six or eight hours a day.  See what I mean by flogging myself.

Then of course because of my worry about running out of money I would feel guilty when I did stop looking early any given day and it would just fall into a negative feedback loop.  I won’t do fun things because of fear of running out of money, feel worse, still not have a job, feel even more guilty and clamp down even harder on our spending.  Fairly sick eh?

Of course I as didn’t realize that engineer jobs looking for 2 to 3 years experience was particularly an endangered species, and I felt I was under qualified for the jobs that were looking for 5 to 7 years experience.  Also keep in mind that after my last job, I was being a hell of lot more picky about getting a new job.  I wanted to avoid oil and gas, which when you live in Alberta cuts out a LOT of jobs.   So this likely went on much longer than it had to.  In the end, what broke me out of this cycle was I decided to widen my job search to pick up just about any decent paying job (ie: higher pay than minimum wage) and I applied for a Customer Service Desk job at a chemical distribution company.

I still actually recall the exact moment I decided I wanted to work at that company.  It happened just before the interview before I knew what the job involved, what it paid or even what the hell was a chemical distribution company.  While I was waiting for the interview of the reception area I watched the staff come up the receptionist and chat with her.  They joked, told stories and smiled a lot more than my previous workplace.  It actually gave me a powerful sense of deja vu to how my immediate family treated each other.

So after two rounds of interviews I was thrilled to be offer a job and finally move out of my self imposed wasteland.


Lessons Learned

  • Working longer on something doesn’t make it better.
  • Worrying about things you can’t control is rather pointless.
  • Fear of running out of money can be a powerful fear.
  • Learn to have some fun once in a while regardless of your financial situation.  You don’t have to break the bank having a good time.


  • Progress was non-existent at this point in life.  If anything we went backwards for a few months.