Job Insecurity Can Make You Wealthy (At a Cost)

Something dawned on me today.

Job insecurity has caused me to save a lot of my money. I just hadn’t connected the dots before now.

When it comes to fight, flight, or freeze, I used to choose flight or freeze 99 times out of 100. I’m trying to get better at learning when to fight. But these have been my preferred defense mechanisms for as long back as I can remember. It’s been true for social situations, relationships, and my career.

Which also means saving money became a psychological necessity for me on a deeper level than wanting to buy a house or retire someday.

For the longest time, my initial reaction to a job challenge was to run from it. I quit my first job at 14 after just two months because a manager asked me to clean something and I didn’t think I should have to because I had already done my tasks for the night. But apparently I did the wrong ones which is why he told me to do another one. So I walked out.

A different manager (one that I got along with much better) called me later that night and said he would schedule me for shifts only with him and I could come back to work, and he would be clarifying the cleaning policy. I worked there for another 7 years after that night and eventually became a manager.

It’s getting past that initial bumpy road that is hard for me.

Then there was that time I quit my job because I didn’t think I was as smart as all the engineers that worked there. Or that job I quit because I felt like I was working in a call center even though it wasn’t one. Or that job I quit after just 2 weeks because I was younger than everyone I was managing and it gnawed at me every minute of my morning commute.

There is probably some deep rooted reason that I’m like this. We were never food insecure growing up, and we always had heat and electricity so that’s not where it comes from. And my mom taught us how to be good with the money we had.

Maybe it’s because I think I’m ugly (relative to Brad Pitt). Or hated growing up poor (relative to the rich kids in school). Or was always the skinny kid in gym class (relative to the biggest football player).

I’ve only come to understand the importance of those “relatives” now as I get older.

No matter where I’ve worked or what I’ve done, I’m always convinced I’m one mistake away from being fired. Even though I’ve never been fired.

In fact, I have a type-A personality and can’t stand the feeling of not being valuable to a team. Doesn’t matter. Being wired this way means the volume on “radio doom and gloom” is always turned up to the max when it starts playing in my head.

At work it’s called imposter syndrome but it’s just another word for insecurity.

Sometimes this imposter syndrome manifests itself not in quitting, but in my finances. I begin reigning in my spending. I start saving more and more because I know I’ll need the money if I have to quit or get fired. I use the slippery slope argument against myself:

You idiot, you messed up some detail in a project. You aren’t even happy working here to begin with, are you? You’re going to quit if they don’t fire you first. You’re going to be unable to pay your bills. You’ll have a gap in your resume and no one will ever hire you again. You’ll lose your home, your car, and your health insurance. Why didn’t you choose a different major? You need to save as much money as possible starting right now. Stop going out to eat. Cancel Netflix. No new shoes this year!

The bright side is this insecurity and self-doubt has led me to save a lot more than most of my peers.

I don’t have a million dollars in the bank, not even close, but based on the data, I have a higher net worth than many people my age and income level.

It appears that insecurity helped me to start a website about money, too.

I always snap back to reality after a couple months. I agree to a vacation or buy new socks without holes in them. But that psychological pattern isn’t something easy to leave behind so it always colors my bad moods and the way I view spending.

Ben Carlson put it best, “if you’re still worried, you aren’t wealthy“. I’m trying to worry less.

It’s just tough when winter is always coming and it feels like there will never be enough acorns in the nest.

Over time, I’m realizing that these insecurities, when acted on appropriately, spur me to workout harder at the gym, or double down on complex problems at work, or become a more educated investor, or write something people won’t roll their eyes or laugh at.

But in those more frantic moments that still happen from time to time, I log in and triple my 401(k) contributions while loading up on Ramen at the grocery store.

I know there are worse ways to handle life’s problems like drinking or stress eating, but everyone has their own version of this issue. Mine just happens to be anxiety followed by frugality.

My latest Instagram posts:

More reading:

How to Save Money while Saving Energy

I think about saving money like a bird thinks about flying. Which I assume is never and also all the time. So, these days, when it comes to saving money, I like to think about the amount of energy or materials that are saved in addition to the money itself.

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