Friday, December 11, 2015

My Self Enforced Gag Order

Streaky, non-existent and absent. These are just a few of the words that can be used to describe this blog over the last few years. And now I am finally ready (and not under a watchful eye) to pick this little blog back up with regular postings.

But what happened?

This piece of the story goes back a few years and needs some background. I work in finance, specifically in operations for large, and when I say large I really mean behemoth, global financial institutions. After several years of service at a US based firm, I left for a certain Swiss one that may or may not have three keys ;) Now based on the type of work that I do and certain industry intel that I am privy too, it is perfectly understandable that in this line of work certain restrictions and monitoring of employees needs to be in effect to prevent insider trading. To be in line with regulations and internal standards, my then new employer required me to report any non-retirement investment accounts to their firm, allow them access to monitor my account for activity and sign off on quarterly affirmations that state I was not engaging in insider trading.

But with so employees across the US, let alone the world, my employer at my time of hire, required me to also move my non-retirement investment account to one of a select list of approved firms. Thankfully my account in question was already at a firm on their approved list, so when the job offer came through I happily signed away.

Fast forward a year into my employment and the rules changed. Now I was required to report all investment accounts within my household, including those of my wife, to my employer and transition these accounts to a single approved firm: theirs.

Surely, I thought, there would be a discount offered to employees. There was no discount. The decree would mean that I would move our brokerage account, my traditional IRA (rollover of 401k from previous employer), my ROTH IRA, my wife’s ROTH IRA, my son’s ESA and a few ESAs that we have setup for nephews and nieces, from a provider that charged 0 fees to one that would begin charging monthly fees for the pleasure of doing forced business with them.

Needless to say I was not happy about the situation. I appealed to HR stating my investment portfolio consisted of open-ended mutual funds, I do not own and have never owned single stocks, and I have only bought, never sold any funds. Surely they would grant me an exception based on my plain Jane investments. They did not, and between you and I, they could not have cared any less about my personal scenario.

So I began interviewing at other firms and quickly learned that this policy my employer implemented, of forcing employees to (financially) buy from the company store was not the norm. I received several offers from other potential employers, along with sign off from their compliance departments, that I could work for their firms without needing to consolidate my portfolio (based solely on my holdings and transaction activity) to their firm.

I was ready to jump ship at the drop of a hat but my wife really helped me see the light. At that time we were trying for what would become our first born. And my better half reminded me that, depending on the timeline, if I left, even to a large company that was legally obligated to provide FMLA, there was a chance that my tenure would not qualify me for taking leave.

So I was faced with a question: what’s more important, spending time with my baby or paying fees on my investment accounts? Needless to say I sought out the third alternative because I absolutely hate the thought of paying unnecessary fees, especially on my investments. In the end of this delightful dilemma I did not move any accounts to my employer and my wife and I (may or may not have done some account title) maneuvering (while not incurring any tax implications or penalties) and stayed in compliance with their revised policy. But I had one loose end, this blog.

What if my employer came across this blog while I was employed for them and read about investment accounts that I may or may not have trading authority/access to, that are not on file and held at their firm? So instead of rocking the boat I stopped complaining about the policy change to my managers and HR, I may have or may not have changed some wording on our account titles, I stopped writing new entries on this blog, I kept my head down and I shut up.

But thankfully this has only been for a short period of time as now I can bring my head back up and continue my musings on this blog, oh, and maybe or maybe not rename some account titles :)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

My Epic New Chapter

After what has felt like an eternity I feel like I can finally breathe! And believe me I mean that in every sense of the word. My son is six months old, my wife’s maternity leave has came and went and my leave offered through my employer (16 unpaid weeks) has now expired. And after pouring through the details, crunching the numbers, praying, having discussions and envisioning scenarios, we have decided that I will leave the work force to stay at home with our baby.

This was a decision that I certainly did not even remotely consider when we were in the labor and delivery room the night he was born nor when my paternity leave started. I thought the little guy would wear me out, break me down and have me looking forward to the day I could leave him with a nanny or drop him off at day care and retire back to my cubicle of solitude for some peace and quiet. But a funny thing happened. The feelings of despair that I expected to hit during the marathon that is taking care of a baby, the feelings of when can I get back to my work life, the feelings of when can we get back to the automated savings machine that was our double income household, NEVER…ONCE…HIT….ME

I absolutely love taking care of my son 24 hours a day. This is the kind of work day that I am glad doesn’t end. Yes it’s tiring, yes my back hurts a lot more than even when I used to get to the gym four days a week, yes I take naps with him because I can get just as tired as a six month old, but I love it and I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. And that includes getting back to the five day 50+ hour a week work week and double income household.

Getting here was not easy though and it took a ton of blood, sweat, tears, overtime and side jobs to get to this point for both myself and my wife several years ago. Together we had paid off $80,000 in student loans, have our emergency fund intact and saved and built a portfolio of nearly half a million dollars as we are sitting in our (very) early 30’s. So the question we ultimately came back to after our son was born was why? Why did we go through all of that sacrifice, follow Dave Ramsey’s advice to a perfect T and live and save like no one else? Did we do it to enjoy an early retirement well before we’re eligible for social (in)security? Did we do it to pass on a legacy of debt free living to our children and our children’s children? Is it too soon to be reaping what we’ve sowed? Is this the right time to take our foot off the gas pedal or are we doing long term harm to our financial well being by going to a single income even for a short period of time?

For a lot of these questions, truthfully we don’t have the perfect answers yet. But what we do know is that we love having our son home and one of us here with him, and after expenses (plus a fancy new tax bracket and withholding changes), on a single income, we would still have some disposable income left over! Sure, it’s not the multi-thousand that we used to have, but it would work. It would work in that we could meet our financial obligations, my wife would still max out her 401k for the match, give our tithe, max out savings for our little one’s ESA and still have disposable income left over to give, save and spend.

I think for me, the clincher was thinking about myself at 80, and looking back on this new chapter of my life called parenthood, and wondering what that 80 year old me would have looked back on and thought. Would that old guy have wanted a few more years in his early 30’s to accumulate wealth or time with his newborn son? And when I put it into that context, after looking at the hard numbers of whether we could make the new numbers work on our monthly budget, the choice was pretty easy, of course I want to stay home with my son.

Though cliché, I think the advice that I heard time and time again while my wife was pregnant rings true, that having a baby changes everything. At this point in my life wealth accumulation has taken a back seat for time. It’s a trade off that three months ago I did not think I would make until I was at least 60 years old. And yes I’m happy to have the freedom to continue writing this blog and sharing my experiences, and I will certainly get into more detail on that statement very soon!