Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Threat: Permenantly Reduced Income

I am one of those people who always has a plan when it comes to my career. My career plan calls for a gradual, but constant, move to the top. It also calls for a my work income to continue to gradually and steadily increase over time. But while I would like to think that things will continue to go accordingly to plan, there is always the chance that my career will take a turn for the worse. If that ever happens, there is a possibility that I may have to accept a long term hit to my income.

Late last week I spoke to my company's former VP of Sales who was let go last May. He is still unemployed. No doubt the job market is tough for everyone, but I think it's even tougher for executives who are searching for a job. I think that once you make it into the executive ranks, it becomes dramatically harder to find a job if you involuntarily lose your job. For one thing, there aren't that many executive positions available in the first place. For another, it seems to me that there is a certain stigma that attaches to an executive who loses his job.

My former colleague seems discouraged and it doesn't look like he has too many immediate job leads.

Dealing with long term loss or reduction in income when it occurs is unpleasant, but it's pretty straight forward: reduce your spending, take the best job you can and try to rebuild. The question is, how do you plan for the possibility of a long term decline in income? For my wife and I a major part of our financial resiliency plan is to rely on two incomes. Having two incomes helps both in the case of job loss, and in the case of underemployment. First, losing a single job cannot eliminate our family income. Second, even if one of us has to accept a lower paying job for the long term, the percentage decline in our household income would be lower than if we relied on a single source of income.

Another part of our plans is frugality. We live below our means.

In recent years I came across a large number of people who lived through prosperous times in their careers, only to revert back to the mean a few years later. Some of these made smart financial decisions and did not inflate their lifestyles. Those continue to live a comfortable, prosperous life, even after the good times ended. On the other hand, those who relied on permanent sunny skies for their financial stability have been less fortunate. It appears that moderation is an important part of the plan even when talking about long term career and income planning. Never count on the good times to keep on rolling.

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Rob Bennett said...

Never count on the good times to keep on rolling.

This is good news that has always been true. What people miss is that it is MORE true today than it has ever been before.

The reason is that we live in a consumer wonderland where having a good income provides access to a life with more options for fulfillment that existed at any earlier time in history. But the key to the door to happiness -- the income from a job -- is more uncertain than ever before. When most of us were farmers, we had bad years but we could always hope for the best in the next year and stand a reasonable chance of seeing that hope come through for us. As you point out in the blog entry, those with big incomes often have jobs that can not be replaced.

The more life fulfillment we enjoy, the more vulnerable we are to a big step-down. The only way to deal with this problem is to save and thereby move some of the life fulfillment stuff (money) from a secure time-period to vulnerable time-period.


frugal zeitgeist said...

Yup, you just hit on one of my big fears with regards to potential layoff. I'm avidly job-hunting just in case, and there's not much out there for someone like me.

Shadox said...

Rob - I hardly think the farmers of olden times had it better than we do. Generally speaking, starvation is not a risk I am terribly concerned about these days.

Frugal - I have actually experienced this before. In 2000 - 2001 I was VP of Operations for a start-up (as I previously wrote). After I left the company - which I thought, correctly as it turns out, was being run into the ground - it took me years to get my career back on the right path. This is scary stuff. You know what the best remedy against this is? Networking. The more folks you are in touch with, the more opportunities you come across. That's how I eventually got back on track.

Good luck to you, my friend! I have a pretty extensive LinkedIn network. I'll be glad to help you reach out to folks if you spot someone on my network that you want to talk to.

Rob Bennett said...

I hardly think the farmers of olden times had it better than we do.

I don't think they had it better in an overall sense, Shadox. I do think that they had a smaller number of things to spend money on and so they were less likely to develop expensive lifestyles that could be imperiled by a drop in income. My view is that, the more you spend, the rainier are the rainy days when they come and the more important it is that you save effectively.

Thank for the back and forth.


frugal zeitgeist said...

Thank you and very much appreciated, Shadox. Very kind of you!