Reader Case Study: Mr. Pickle


Today’s post is a reader case study, this time from a reader in the U.S. midwest.  This individual writes to me because he’s found himself in a bit of a pickle….a financial pickle.  He recently lost his job at a large company, and has little in the way of savings.  For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him … Mr. Pickle.

And so begins our tale…

 

A Financial Pickle

In the past, Mr. Pickle has worked in the public school system.  He was a teacher of both Spanish and Music.  At his most recent position, Mr. Pickle was a web developer at a large Fortune 500 company.

…until he was laid off a few weeks ago.

I am 38, unmarried, and have no children.  I live on my own, and I’m involved as a volunteer in my local community center (play piano there for the seniors).  My siblings (brother and sister + spouses) all live nearby.  Things are not terrible for me, but I am concerned about my next steps.

To be transparent, I am very worried that I will probably never be able to earn enough to ‘catch up’ on my savings and retirement.  I really didn’t even think about retirement until the recession hit in 2008.

Basically, I would say that “it’s never too late” to start saving and getting yourself on a solid financial footing.  Hard work, and frugality can get you a long ways in a short amount of time.

But how difficult a financial situation are we looking at here?

Mr. Pickle provides the following financial details:

  • Savings: $6000.
  • 401K:  $3000.
  • Income: zero
  • One car: paid off
  • Renting a two bedroom apartment: $550 / month.
  • Student Loan debt:  $25,000 remaining (bachelor’s degree)
  • Other investments:  zero
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish / Music / Teaching
  • Master’s Degree in Digital Communication

Yikes!  Despite being at the hearty age of 38, Mr. Pickle has few real assets to speak of.  

He has no income, and $25k in student debt to pay off.  He’s got a serious financial emergency.

His job-loss is also adding to his stress, because of the location where he resides.  Mr. Pickle writes:

The layoffs came through a few weeks ago, and I live in a medium sized town.  Lots of people from my former employer are being laid-off locally.  Many laid-off friends are now co-competing for the same jobs at other local companies since opportunities in my field (web development) are limited here.

Oh boy, that DOES sound like a complication!  He’s described a location with LIMITED demand for web developers and EXCESS supply.  Local companies will know about this situation, and give prospective job seekers low-ball offers.

This doesn’t bode well for someone looking to get caught up on retirement savings.

 

The Good News

While it might sound rather depressing, there is good news to this situation.  There is plenty of time left to execute an escape plan!  I was once in a very similar situation myself, and I had far more debt.  It ended up changing my life and my outlook on all things financial.

So there is definitely a way out.  If Mr. Pickle uses this opportunity to change his life, the results could be astounding.

What should Mr. Pickle change?  Well, I’ve got a few suggestions….

 

Suggestion #1: Cut costs

One of my biggest concerns is Mr. Pickle’s small financial buffer.  With only $6k in savings, that will last only about 6 months at a normal rate of spending.

Now, I know what looking for jobs in smaller towns is like.  It can take a lot of time.  Opportunities are limited, as are salaries.  It could take longer than 6 months to find a new job.

If we ignore his age for a moment, Mr. Pickle looks like an individual just at the start of his Road to Financial Independence.  Saving money is the most important thing he can do at this point.  He needs to start living like a poor college student again, while he job hunts.

Costs should be cut to-the-bone right away.  

This might be a challenge for Mr. Pickle — He’s worked at salaried positions over the years, but hasn’t been able to save much.  His spending patterns have been in place for years.  Habits can be difficult to change, but they NEED to change.

Get serious about cutting costs Mr. Pickle.  Do whatever it takes.  

Eat rice and beans instead of eating-out.  Cancel the data-plan on the cell phone.  Cancel the cable.  Cancel the fun.  Fun and luxury need to take a time-out for awhile.

Instead of living like a king in a two bedroom apartment, Mr. Pickle could take on a roommate.  Or, alternately, find a smaller apartment or possibly move-in with family to cut costs.  

Yes, it might take some “pride-swallowing” to do these things, but getting onto a solid financial footing needs to be the priority, not pride.

 

Suggestion #2: Move

If Mr. Pickle wants to get caught up on retirement savings, improving earning power is paramount.  Moving is probably the best way to do that.

Being a web developer in a small midwestern town isn’t an easy situation.  Expenses are low in the midwest, but so is the pay.  

Most firms who need web developers are located in larger cities on the East or West coasts.  That’s where most of the work is going to be, and the highest salaries.

Pickle Jar
Feeling a little cramped in your little pickle jar? Try moving to a bigger jar!

If Mr. Pickle moves East (or West) to find work, his expenses will definitely grow — but so will his salary.  This gives him the potential to quickly improve his financial situation.  If he can save 50% (or more) of a higher salary, his financial situation can be vastly different in just one short decade.

A web developer with previous experience (at a Fortune 500 company) should be able to command at least $75k/year, if not significantly more (depending upon his skill-set) on the East or West coasts.

A drastic change (like moving) might be just what Mr. Pickle needs to make a big financial turnaround.

 

Suggestion #3:  Build Multiple Streams Of Income

I can’t stress enough the potential value of multiple streams of income.  Many of the usual income streams, like stocks dividends, interest, and real estate won’t be an option for Mr. Pickle.  With only $6,000 in the bank, he has no capital.  He’s going to have to build a little sweat equity instead.

This means side hustles.  Use those off-hours to earn additional income!  With a little luck, this could have a huge impact on Mr. Pickle’s finances, and help bridge the financial gap (aka get caught back up).

If it were me, I would put the volunteering efforts on-hold for a few years, and develop side hustles instead.

Fortunately for Mr. Pickle, his varied background provides a lot of opportunities for side-hustles: He could tutor spanish, or teach english to spanish speakers.  He could give piano lessons, or even substitute teach at public schools.

As a web developer, there’s plenty of opportunities to do freelance web development online.  While the pay won’t be very fantastic, he can at least keep his skills sharp while job hunting.

Once Mr. Pickle starts to build up some real capital, he can then look into other passive income streams, like stocks or real estate, to supplement his sweat equity.

Never stop building more streams of income Mr. Pickle.  Sooner or later, all streams dry up; always have others to replace that income.

 

Suggestion #4:  Investigate Student Debt Deferment

It’s been a long time since I’ve had any student debt, but from my earlier days I remember an option to defer student debt payments.

The option is for folks like Mr. Pickle — those with significant student debt, and no current income.  Student loan deferral could be an option to avoid personal bankruptcy and default.

pickle eating
Don’t get eaten by old debts. If things get really tight, try deferring principal payments for a while, but be careful! Interest still accrues!

While this option is worth checking out, it does have its dangers.  Depending upon the loan, deferred loans still accrue interest, but don’t require principal payments.  If possible, I would avoid deferment as long as I could.

However, if the situation gets to the point where not paying on the student loans means paying rent or eating, I would probably defer payment at that point.

 

Conclusion

While I definitely feel for Mr. Pickle’s situation, it is one of his own devising.  

Mr. Pickle never had a high salary by ‘big city’ standards, but he should have had more than enough cash flow to live frugally and save plenty.  It appears that hasn’t happened.  So, I think a little “tough-love” is in order.

He’s in a pretty serious situation.  Unless Mr. Pickle changes his relationship with money, I can only see this pattern of living continuing.

It won’t be easy.  Change is always uncomfortable.  It won’t be a lot of fun in the short term, but the future can most definitely hold brighter days.

Any reader suggestions that might help Mr. Pickle?

 

[Image Credit: Flickr1, Flickr2, Flickr3]

17 thoughts on “Reader Case Study: Mr. Pickle

  • September 13, 2016 at 5:37 PM
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    Yes! I love that it’s NEVER too late to start working towards financial independence. Creating extra income and controlling your own destiny is also a great tip. Life is all about having the guts to get up after life knocks you down for the 5 millionth time. I’m sure Mr. Pickle will bounce back to do very well!

    Reply
  • September 13, 2016 at 11:31 PM
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    I like your suggestions, Mr. Tako, about cutting back to the bare minimum and picking up extra side hustles to get back in the saddle.

    It is interesting that he has no real assets to speak of, so this is a symptom of a larger problem. I’d suggest he pick up Robert Kiyosaki’s Cash Flow Quadrant to understand where his money has been going, and to decide if he wants to actually grow his asset base this time around.

    This is a crucial time for him, but I’m pulling for Mr. Pickle!

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 4:15 AM
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    When my wife and I were considering the very real possibility of both of us getting laid off, we sat down and came up with our “bare budget” plan. We attacked our normal monthly bills with a machete (no scalpel here) and found a LOT of ways to live on even less.

    The bigger problem for us is super similar to Mr. Pickle, in that if laid off, we’d be competing with the other laid off folks that is close to 250,000 worldwide. Not all of them are in Houston, but I know from getting job alerts, and through laid off job seeking friends, that there are very, very few positions out there. My company got over 1,000 applications for 1 position in less than 2 days…

    Our plan was to put the house on the market and relocate to 1. a job for any income that would keep us out of using savings, 2. be open to moving somewhere we may not necessarily have wanted to live (vairous states that are probably really nice, but not on our radar to up and move to) 3. be open to whatever we needed to do to stay above water and not touch our savings.

    What we’ve heard from veterans of our very cyclical industry is that the people that thrive are the ones that see this lay off as an opportunity and think outside the box, outside the industry, and don’t confine themselves to finding the same job they just got let go from.

    Unlike Mr. Pickle we can’t really freelance as geologists, but if i were Mr. Pickle, I would definitely try and go that route until something permanent pops up. And if he hasn’t already, develop your LinkedIn profile and network the heck out of that site or similar.

    Mainly, stay open to whatever comes along, even if it’s not necessarily web development at first. The other downside of my industry is people are skeptical to hire us outside of the industry, because they expect us to jump ship and go get another oil job once the industry picks up again. He probably doesn’t face that same challenge, but could use the same approach.

    Good luck Mr. Pickle!

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 7:41 AM
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    I totally agree with your suggestions to cut costs to the bone and work on side hustles to bring in any income at this time.

    The other obvious area is to hustle on getting a full time job, even it means considering relocation.

    -Mike

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 8:32 AM
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    One other option occurred to me as I read this. Web development is a fairly portable skill. Or you could work for a company from the east coast while being in the Midwest. I would expand my search beyond local companies and also consider one of the online freelancing companies as a temporary solution that might result in a full time gig.

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 9:06 AM
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    That does sound like a tough situation, but the good news is he has a highly marketable skill set. Moving for a better paying job sounds like a great idea if there is nothing available locally.

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 2:08 PM
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    Even laid off he should be able to get unemployment while he is looking for a job. Also, while he is looking, he can schlep is web services on O-desk or one of the other tech service for hire websites. I just thought of another one Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is another options. They projects are not geo local specifics so you can do the work anywhere in the world.

    Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 2:31 PM
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    Definitely move. Here in Philadelphia we can’t find enough developers to fill positions, there’s so many companies hiring in the city and nearby. You can rent a 1 bdr apartment for $1000 and make $100k+. I came from the midwest. I sold my house and moved to take a job here, 3 years later make twice what I used to, and pay less in rent (with roomate) than what my mortgage was

    Reply
    • September 14, 2016 at 6:01 PM
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      I was going to add that they probably can’t find enough teachers to fill positions either but clearly his other career option would pay more! There are teacher shortages all over the country – so keep that in mind too 🙂

      Reply
  • September 14, 2016 at 3:24 PM
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    Crap, 38 and still a negative wealth, despite having been employed all his life… I feel the “origins” story or Mr. Pickle also needs to be told here.

    He’s in a bad situation but can turn it around I’m sure. Nevertheless I’d love to understand how he ended up this way. The loss of his job is just one event, but what happened over the past 15 years?

    Reply
    • September 14, 2016 at 4:17 PM
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      Here is his stated work history with rough salary amounts: public school teacher (5 years @ 50k/yr), some construction sales (approx 4 years @ 40k/yr), and web development (approx 6 years @ 35k).

      Personally I think he was underpaid at his web dev job, but he still should have been able to save more than $6k.

      Reply
  • September 15, 2016 at 12:56 PM
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    I second relocation. My brother had a really hard time finding a tech job in Texas, but he found one pretty quickly in Silicon Valley. Move to where the job is even if the cost of living is higher.
    Now that Mr. Pickle has a goal, he can start saving and investing in earnest. At least he’s not 48 when he realize he needs to change. Good luck!

    Reply
  • September 16, 2016 at 8:37 AM
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    How about becoming a long haul truck driver for 5-10 years? You’re single, unmarried and a perfect age to do it. There are tons of job opportunities, you get to see the country, and make about $45-50k a year to start. You’ll need a place to shack up when you’re off the road for a few days a month, so get creative there and forego the $750-$1000 a month typical rent plus utilities. Sell the car, get a motorcycle (or moped) for when you’re home. I’ll bet with this strategy you could rack up $25k a year in savings and have a cool quarter of a mil by the time you’re 48. At least that’s what I would consider!

    Reply
  • September 18, 2016 at 11:38 AM
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    If he isn’t tethered to the area he should definitely expand his job search radius. His job now is to find a new job. He should spend eight hours a day sending out resumes, going on jobs interviews and networking.

    In addition, like you said he needs to cut his expenses to the bone while he’s trying to find new work. Really tough situation for him though.

    Reply
  • October 1, 2016 at 2:34 PM
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    Lots of folks with his skills work remotely and make big city pay without the big city costs. There’s no reason for 1 person with this much debt to have a 2 bedroom to themselves.

    Reply
  • August 11, 2017 at 1:42 PM
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    Hi Mr Tako,
    I love your website and the information, and have just come across this. Did you ever hear what Mr Pickle did?

    Reply
    • August 11, 2017 at 1:54 PM
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      Thanks Nigel. I haven’t heard back from him since the article was written.

      Reply

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