The Power of FU Money

I’m writing this post from beautiful St. Simons Island, relaxing in the sun and enjoying a much-needed vacation away from work. A vacation which, interestingly enough, wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t leverage the power of FU money.

What is FU money? Well, I’ll let Jim Collins, the author of “The Simple Path To Wealth” tell you using his own, rather colorful language (video link – NSFW):

The concept is that when you have enough money saved up, you can leverage that nest egg in a way that brings you more negotiating power, more confidence to do what’s right, and the courage to stand up to the frequent BS policies that many employers force on their employees.

Perhaps you’re tired of going to daily standup meetings that you know are a waste of everyone’s time? Stop going! Upset your company revoked flexible work hours mere months after introducing them? Continue working that flexible schedule. Bummed that your boss just told you to cancel your family's Memorial Day vacation plans to work through the weekend?

You can see where I’m going with this. I don’t take nicely to demands. And neither should you! Now, I’m not saying to be flippant and storm out of work in a blaze of glory (although I have had such daydreams). You can still be respectful to your boss and colleagues, while simultaneously respecting yourself more. What most people don’t realize is that everything is negotiable, particularly when you have the confidence to walk away from your employer should the need arise. I put all this to the test last week at work, and here I am, enjoying my vacation. And yes, I’m still employed. 🙂

Idle Threats

A little over a week ago, my boss interrupted my morning status meeting to inform the software team that we’d all be working Memorial Day weekend to catch up on our schedule. As the team lead, I decided to push back a bit, trying to stand up for my already over-worked team. “What about those of us with travel plans?” I asked. “Plans need to be canceled” my boss said forcefully. “Everyone needs to commit to bringing our program back on schedule.”

At this point, I had a choice. I could publicly obey, and perhaps take the issue offline with my boss, hoping for some special treatment. Or, I could simply say ‘no’. It’s a perfectly valid, underrated option. “Sorry, I won’t be able to work that weekend” I said, knowing perfectly well that I had to be ready to accept the consequences of my disobedience. “I’ve had travel plans since January, and I’m not canceling them. I can provide support over email, however.”

My boss was not happy with my response. “This is not a request” he said sharply. He stared directly into my eyes. Now, this is the very point where most people slither into compliance, afraid of what would happen if they lost their job. And trust me, employers know this well. But the “will I be able to pay my bills if I lose my job” worry never even crossed my mind. I was ready and willing to fight for my hard-earned holiday and weekend time.

“Everything is a request” I answered back promptly. “I’m sorry, but I won’t be coming to work that weekend.” Clearly irritated by his inability to shake me into submission, my boss played the only card he had left. “You are all exempt employees, and you’ll be working the hours we tell you to work!” he exclaimed, running out of patience. It was unfortunate that things escalated so quickly, and I wasn’t thrilled about saying what I said next in front of the team, but it needed to be said.

“Let me be clear.” I spoke calmly but firmly, being sure to maintain eye contact as I spoke. “I’m happy to put in some extra overtime, but I will not be coming into work next weekend, or the Monday holiday. If you’d like me to come back after my vacation, I’ll be ready to work. If not, that’s fine as well. The choice is yours.” His expression changed. He had no more leverage. There was nothing he could threaten me with- I already told him I was OK with finding another job, and I made it clear it wasn't a bluff. What more could he say? He left the meeting, shaken.

An Unexpected Turn

My encounter may have been a bit harsh, and probably should have happened in private, instead of in front of the entire engineering team. But it was my genuine reaction to a wildly inappropriate attempt at management. You don’t get what you want by making demands.

Imagine, instead, if he came in and said: “Is anyone willing to put in some over time this week to help us meet this deadline? We could really use all the help we can get. I don’t want anyone to have to work the holiday, and if we really buckle down this week I think we can pull it together.” But he didn’t ask. He demanded. This is the sign of a novice in management.

A few days later, one of the VPs from corporate paid a visit to our facility. “Are you Joel?” He said, entering my office. “That's me” I responded, surprised to finally meet the face behind the name that most of us already knew. “I hear you’re not working on Memorial Day” he said in a playful tone. “You’ve heard correctly” I replied. “I’m taking my family on vacation to St. Simons Island that weekend.”

What ensued was a constructive, hour-long discussion about the program I’m a part of, the schedule trouble it’s gotten into, and what could actually be done to fix it. He immediately understood that the problems we were having weren’t going to be solved by a weekend of unpaid overtime. There were deeper underlying issues. We were understaffed. We had unrealistic milestones. He could see my passion for the program, and my frustration when I told him that management had ignored our warnings for months.

We brainstormed for a while longer, and came up with an actual, achievable plan to move forward. As he was getting ready to leave, he reassured me that I did the right thing. “Nobody’s going to fire you for taking your holiday. When you get back, you’ll have an additional engineer to help with the workload. And if you notice things getting out of hand again, please, call me directly. Have fun in St. Simons.”

You Don't Need to Be FI to Say FU

What a roller coaster! I had a feeling things would work out alright, because we were short-staffed, and losing me would have only put the already small team into even further jeopardy. But I was fully prepared to walk away from this job if that’s what it took to make things right. That’s the magic behind FU money: you can take more risk and enjoy more potential reward, while simultaneously hedging yourself against the worst case scenario.

Enjoy the view, or sit in a cubicle all weekend? I made my decision.
Enjoy the view, or sit in a cubicle all weekend? I made my decision.

Even though everything turned out well for me, I still feel for my coworkers. Most of them are working this weekend, even though they needed the break as much as I did. Some of them will likely burn out, moving on to other companies or even other careers. Some will stay right where they are, putting up with whatever BS management dishes out for another three or four decades.

But hopefully, some will discover the FI movement, and start saving the majority of their dollars. And in a few years, when the boss wants them to do something unreasonable, they’ll push back too, knowing with full confidence that they can weather any financial storm that may ensue for doing so.

You don’t need to be fully financially independent to enjoy the power of FU money. In his first podcast interview with the Mad Fientist, Mr. Collins described saving his first five thousand dollars at a summer job, and putting in his two weeks notice when they denied him time off for a month-long vacation overseas. Stunned that he’d actually walk away, they decided to keep him on payroll and re-assured him that his job would be waiting for him when he returned. More often than not, those who are willing to take the risk enjoy the reward, and that was certainly true in this case.

The Piece of Mind of No Debt

All you need to start enjoying this super power for yourself is a few months worth of savings. The lower your debt, the lower your monthly bills, and the quicker you can save this money up. Once you start demolishing your interest payments, you create a snowball effect that is quite powerful. You don’t need to pay everything off to start enjoying the benefits of FU money, but let me tell you first hand- it sure feels good to be debt free!

This month, the wife and I completed the final piece of this puzzle for ourselves by paying off our last piece of debt. In our last post, we discussed the sale of our rental property from hell, but we didn’t say what we did with the proceeds. After some deliberation, we decided to use this money to pay off the mortgage on our current house, and I’m happy to say that we are now completely debt free.

Gone, but never forgotten. RIP mortgage.
Gone, but never forgotten. RIP mortgage.

I know there’s a heated debate in the FI community about the pros and cons of paying off mortgage debt. I’m well aware of the ‘power of leverage’ and the standard adage of making more by investing the money instead. But in our particular case, the math was in our favor. Paying off our mortgage was the right decision for us, not just financially, but also psychologically. You may find that like me, you’re much more likely take risk when you know you have a paid off place to sleep every night.

I’d like to show you the math behind the decision-making, but it’s significantly more complex than just comparing interest rates. There are many variables: the amount you have free to invest each month, the amount of your mortgage payment, the timeframe of your payoff, the list goes on. And since I’m on vacation, I’ll save these juicy details for a future post. One that shows why I’ve never believed in the phrase “good debt.”

Summary

Having enough money saved up to put yourself first is priceless. Being able to stand up for what's right and push back against corporate BS is just one of the many perks of having FU money. Forget financial independence for a moment- FU money is something I would recommend for everyone, regardless of your goals or retirement plans. It's the first (and most essential) step on the ladder to FI.

With a large pile of money already saved up, paying off our mortgage was just icing on the FU cake. The wife and I can now rest easy knowing that no person, or bank for that matter, has any financial leverage over us. I can raise the deductible on my homeowners insurance as high as I’d like, for example. Or get rid of that insurance entirely if I see fit! And I'm no longer paying interest on something I can afford not to pay interest on. Every single one of my dollars is free to work for me now.

And soon, the same will be true about my hours. When I pull the FI trigger, I'll no longer be giving any corporation the majority of my free time. I'll get back those precious 50 hours a week, and they can once again work for me, for the first time since summer vacation after high school. After some updated number crunching, it turns out that the wife and I are closer to FI than we originally thought! I’m excited to share our latest projections, and our countdown to FI… on the next Financial 180!

Published by

Joel

Blogging about our dramatic financial turnaround as we approach Financial Independence!

41 thoughts on “The Power of FU Money”

  1. WAHOO Joel!! Atta boy! That took some serious cajones! Even better now that you have a direct line to upper management. Be sure to use it, even if it’s just in two weeks to say, thanks for the extra engineer here’s how we’re doing now. Keeping him updated will keep you on his radar that can maybe be leveraged into a bigger bonus or a raise (if you’re going to be there long enough to care about such things).

    1. Thanks Gwen! Funny thing is, I’m a non-confrontational guy. If you told me five years ago I would be taking this bold stance at work today, I would have never believed it. Interestingly, I didn’t actually need that much courage. Having that FU money actually made the whole ordeal less stressful and scary. I knew no matter what happened, things would turn out fine, and I’d be standing up for what was right.

  2. Hell yeah! Way to go for standing up for yourself and your team! I love hearing these FU-money stories. 🙂 The key is to remain calm and repeat your terms. I love that this resulted in management actually trying to fix problems instead of trying to bully people into working extra as a Band-Aid. Ugh.

    This is why it’s so important to pay off debt and escape the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, y’all!

    1. Time and time again, I’ve tried to tell coworkers and friends about this financial superpower, and I almost always get the same response from everyone: “Makes sense, but I have (some special circumstance that prevents me from saving any money).” I’ve given up on using words to convince people. Instead, I’ll lead by example, like I did here.

      Some of my coworkers were impressed at how things turned out for me and wanted to know more, so I pointed them towards the FI community. Others are probably resentful that they are working the weekend while I’m on vacation. They don’t realize that the power to change things is within their reach…

    1. Thanks!!! Hasn’t really sunk in yet. Will probably become real next month when we send our “mortgage payment” to Vanguard instead of the mortgage company. 🙂

  3. Hey Joel,

    This was an inspiring blog post! I’d love how you use FU money to do what’s right and stand up for what you believe in. To be honest, I was in your shoes, I don’t think I would have done the same.

    But sometimes, all you need is a little wall to lean on to take risks needed to dramatically improve your life.

    -Akash

    1. So many people only focus on the finish line, they forget the many milestones along the way. Sufficient FU money is that first milestone, but there are others too that get neglected… this sounds like it could turn into a pretty good future post.

  4. Ha my employer knows that i will be more than happy to push back on stupid things they try to do. Didn’t even have an emergency fund to get the confidence to call out bs like that.

    That’s awesome you are so close! We would like to have our house paid off before FI

  5. Nice, well done mate! You have a right to have a break and use your holiday time. Glad it worked out well for you. Shows the power of having some financial security. Whether you are completely FI or not yet.

  6. My wife has utilized this concept several times. She works super part time (generally 2 shifts per week) at an auto parts store. She’s worked in auto parts for over 10 years. There have been many “mandatory” meetings, and recently a “mandatory” training class a 90 minute drive from her store. She doesn’t attend these and makes it clear that she only works this job to get away from the kids for a few hours and if they can’t accept that, she can walk across the street (to the other auto parts store).

    1. It’s that moment when management realizes they don’t have leverage over you… the balance of power changes significantly. So many people need that next paycheck that they’ll put up with anything, which is why these idle threats are so effective. When you are truly willing to walk away, the only way management can keep you around is if they treat you with respect, and actually provide an enjoyable work experience.

  7. Great post and wow, way to stand your ground! “Everything is a request” has to be the most elegant and on point response you could have possibly come up with. One unintended consequence of FU money is that the attitude change it creates in you can make you unmanageable in some company cultures.

    The corporate job I retired from a year ago had switched from a family caring type of culture to a stick/carrot type of management with a lot more stick than carrot. That happened with an ownership change. I put up with the new style for a couple of years but then the last couple of years I worked there I had come to realize that I had way more in investments and retirement savings than I could ever spend and I stopped being afraid they would terminate me if I didn’t act terrified when they went on a rant.

    I privately met with my boss and also with my CEO and told them that I was financially independent and they needed to start thinking about who would replace me since I was not tolerating another six or seven years of this until I reached normal retirement age. I was raking in record amounts of compensation at that time but if you don’t need it then you just don’t need it. They really didn’t react well, it unbalanced them. It would be like Tom Brady forgetting how to throw a football.

    Their “go to” strategy was suddenly useless on me. Needless to say I retired pretty soon after that and haven’t missed them a bit. It was an amicable parting, they bought the company and they could run it as they saw fit, they weren’t breaking any laws. All that to say, depending on the culture you can’t count on the top guys backing down all the time. Sometimes you’ll just have to go with plan B and walk away. And now I pursue some high paying but low stress side gigs along with a good bit of volunteering. Life is way better than it was before and it was good then. Thanks for the excellent work you are doing!

    1. Very true – you can’t treat it as a bluff – you have to actually be willing to walk away. The FU money gives you confidence that you’ll be OK, even if it takes a few months to find the next opportunity. In my eyes, it’s a win-win: if you end up staying in these situations, they are going to end up treating you better and respecting your vacation, schedule, etc. If you leave, there’s a good chance your next opportunity will be even better. Better management, better pay, or some combination of the two.

  8. Fascinating story, the person managing your program shouldn’t be managing your program. Or any program. It’s a shame that he’s probably been pulling that move for years because he seemed to know no other approach than to be a bully. As they say, we all get promoted to our level of incompetence. 🙂

    When I was a software engineer in the defense industry, we saw this type of thing a LOT.

    Here’s the thing – and this is more for everyone else, they would never have fired you. Firing you and getting someone else in to take your role would have set the schedule back even further. All because they made the unreasonable request, in the days before a long weekend, when it could’ve been communicated earlier. Way earlier.

    Once we learn all the different leverage points we have, especially those opened by FI, we can take greater control of our lives. Great story!

  9. That is a pretty awesome story and hopefully you inspired some of your coworkers/subordinates as well as the rest of us. It almost reminds me of the movie Office Space where you nonchalantly “disobeyed” your ineffective direct manager and then upper management came and rewarded your actions (with an extra engineer). Hope you are enjoying your vacation and congrats on being debt free!

  10. Congratulations on all of the hard work. I look forward to your in-depth post about deciding to pay off the mortgage. You’re right – the mortgage is an enduring question of the FI community and I’d enjoy reading about your decision process.

    Personally, I have ~11 years left at a fixed 3% rate. I could pay it off next week but I think about the opportunity cost of that money over those 11 years and it gives me pause.

    1. It’s tricky. MMM has a great quote on this:

      “It’s a complicated question, because to fully answer it you’d need to consider risk, your personality type, how close you are to retirement, asset valuation and cashflow, and even make a stab at predicting the future.”

      It also depends on what you want to minimize… Total dollars spent? Time to FI? Risk? I’ll walk each of these points on my next deep dive post on debt!

  11. Great story, Joel…

    …and a perfect use of F-you money.

    Thanks for the links and for posting my video. Between us, I hope many others find their way to this “super power” 🙂

    1. Thanks! I agree- If everyone saved up a little FU money of their own, workplace dynamics would change for the better. Managers wouldn’t be so quick to take advantage of employees. It would likely have a positive effect on everyone.

  12. Well done and well deserved! Indeed FU money rules. It should be taught as modern working class basics in high school.
    It helped me get a promotion recently while only doing the nicer part of my job these days.

  13. My dad had a heart attack at the end of the year, and is on the path of recovery so work no longer has any sway. If I’m scheduled to spend time with family that won’t change.
    My dad is a runner, biker and healthy eater. We really don’t know how long we’ve got so I’m not selling my precious time any more than I need to.
    I have a large extended family and we used to have a summer party. At my first job they wanted me to work that weekend, even management was pressuring me. I got very frustrated and said ‘no means no’. That was in 2004, and my uncle passed away from cancer 6 years later. Those family parties are some of the best memories we have, because we knew he wasn’t going to be around forever, so we cherished the ‘way back when’ stories, silly puns, gentle ribbing, and all the wonderful aspects of his personality.
    I’ve also gone through enough layoffs in this industry to know (a) I am replaceable and (b) they’ll toss you aside once you hit burn out. No thanks. My current job has managers who are good at keeping an eye on work life balance, and they were great with giving me flexibility regarding dad at the beginning of the year.
    Great job on standing your ground and hooray for being able to talk to the higher level so he has a clear picture.

  14. I think the message of being able to have the power of FU before FI is a powerful one. Moreover, the fact that you paid off your house gives you even greater sense of FU because you can always pick up stuff to cover the household bills. You might not save as much, but all the basics can be taken care of pretty easily. Well-done sir.

    1. YES, exactly this! Before fully reaching FI, you cross a point where all the bare necessities are funded. Food, shelter, clothing, etc. None of the niceties, but the essentials. We call it ‘lean FI’, and it’s a milestone we just recently crossed. Keep a look out for a full post soon on these mini milestones!

  15. Great job on standing up to your boss in a firm and professional manner! It definitely helps to have FU money!
    Congratulations on paying off the mortgage! It may be mathematically suboptimal according to some, but being debt free sure is a great feeling!
    I remember the happy dance I did once I had paid off the mortgage and could start redirecting that money into Vanguard!!
    That and FU money sure helps you sleep a lot better at night.
    WTG on speeding up the projections too!!! Yay!

  16. Your story made me laugh, it reminded me of myself. I have been doing this for years and years now. When you show them that you don’t need them, they lose all leverage.

    Manager: “If you don’t improve, we will have to let you go”
    Me: “That’s ok, if one door closes another opens.”

    Manger: “We will have to place you under a 30 day review”
    Me: “Yeah, what can you do. Life goes on.”

    It’s funny to watch their reactions.

  17. great post! should be mandatory reading for everyone. Congrats on sticking to your guns and for reaching yet another milestone (or two) on your path to FI! looking forward to hearing more about how it goes.

  18. What a great post!. Ever since the Mad Fientist had JL Collings on his podcast I fell in love with this concept. I think we need to be aware of the interactions between FU money and FI just to make sure we can use it to our advantage.
    Having said that I admire the way you handled yourself in this particular situation. It shows a level of emotional intelligence that can be difficult to remember when in presence of heated conversations.
    I’ve been in similar circumstances; however, I’ve handled them offline given the personalities [mostly introverts] I was dealing with.
    I think the concept of FU money is fascinating but believe emotional intelligence is another tool we can use as leverage. If we have self-awareness and know where people are coming from I think we could definitely use that to your advantage. The latter could also be true even if you don’t have FU money.
    My point is that regardless of FU money we should not settle for things that are just plain wrong/unfair. If you bring reasonable arguments and challenge points of view in a respectful way [which you did] then things should hopefully work out. I know this is easier said than done but in my case, things have worked out.

    1. Thanks! I agree – everyone should stand up for what’s right in these scenarios, FU money or not. The FU money simply gives the confidence to do so, and the financial stability to survive if things don’t work out well. We all have this super power inside, some (like myself) just need the courage to use it 🙂

  19. Hi Joel,

    I myself also see the benefits of my FU money in my context. I used to have a job with nice working environment and colleagues. However, things do changes within the span of a year. The existing fatastic working condition is not longer the same. The company re-organisation occured and there is a change in the working environment. Retrenchment can happen at any time as unrealistic KPIs are set.

    I do not have the fear due to the FU money. The money gives me the comfort and I do not fear retrenchment should it occurs.

    Ben

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