An Awkward Conversation

An Awkward Conversation

Last Monday we had a small gathering at the office to mark the end of the summer holiday, which traditionally is a very quite period because almost everyone enjoys a long family vacation abroad.  Everyone but me, that is. Apparently someone has to man the fort.

After drifting from one group of co-workers to another I overheard a conversation about retirement, which naturally peaked my interest. Most of my colleagues are well past 50, many even pushing 60, so it’s not uncommon to hear it come up in a conversation. This time, however, mostly younger co-workers were discussing the topic.

When I joined their group they all started laughing: “Ha, you’ll have to work even longer than most of us! No way on earth you’ll be able to retire before 70, No More Waffles’ real name!” To which I jokingly responded: “You guys better take care of me then or I won’t last until 70.”

Awkward laughter.

It’s true, I’m much younger than everyone else in the office and chances are the official retirement age increases over the years. Obviously, no one at work knows anything about my journey to financial independence and attempt at early retirement. With an ever-ageing population, I’m not relying on the current pension and benefits that are promised to me. Clearly, they do.

Interestingly, one of the group’s seniors started talking about an article in the newspaper by some German professor who takes unpaid leave for an entire year after having worked for a year. He then travels the world and enjoys some side projects before returning to work. My colleague added that such an arrangement would be ideal to work until 70-years-old.

Before I was able to respond one fellow worker jumped in: “How is that even remotely possible?” Almost everyone else nodded in agreement, to which the senior co-worker responded: “Well, if you only spend half your income this month, you can take next month off.  That way you can basically take an entire month off for every month you work.”

That’s when it got even more awkward.

Everyone shrugged saving 50% of their salary off as being an impossible task. The focus of the conversation turned back to me with a simple: “Now you know what to do, buddy! Good luck!” – mandatory pat on the back included. Why do so many people enjoy laughing at other folk’s retirement date?

Even though I wanted to throw their misguided laughter back in their face and tell them that I managed to save 76% of my paycheck last month so bad, I didn’t. I took the high road, as cliché as that may sound. I discovered laughing sheepishly is a great strategy in these kind of situations.

Afterwards I made for a hasty retreat. Even though I was the one to man the fort this summer, I’ll probably be the first of that group of co-workers to leave the fort behind entirely.

I guess that’s the really awkward part.

22 Comments

  1. I also shy away from talking about finances at work; I work with two people who are terrible with money, complain all of the time that they’re skint, yet quite happy to spend at least £5 on lunch everyday. They just don’t get it! I just leave them to it now; it’s easier.

    1. This was one of the rare opportunities that I actually was tempted to give my opinion, but I’m glad I didn’t. Talking about finances at work is definitely not a good idea.

      Must we frustrating to work with people like that! Hopefully they’re fun co-workers apart from their financial woes?

  2. Hello No More Waffles’ real name,

    I think people just laugh it (early retirement, in this case) off as a form of therapy. They feel stuck in a situation, so they laugh about it – even mocking others who try to escape. Laughing is easy – making a change is hard.

    Smart move not talking about your FIRE plan. Would likely make them resent you. I awkwardly laugh a few times a day as well. 🙂 Good thing no one has Googled my name – yet.

    1. Will,

      You’re probably right, but still. Making fun of others might feel therapeutic, but it’s a vile way to make you feel better about your own situation.

      Talking about FIRE at work is a really bad idea, I think. No one will understand, especially because I’m by far the youngest.

      Never had anyone comment on your blog because they found out someway or another? That’s why I don’t want to put too much personal information out there!

      Cheers,
      NMW

    1. You’re right, Henry. I completely understand where they’re coming from, but I can’t deal with mocking other people because you have difficulty thinking out of the box.

      They do have a family and (a lot) more expenses, but they also earn more and pay way less in taxes than I do. Combine that with the fact that their spouses also work full-time, FIRE should be possible for them if they put their back into it.

  3. I hear this kind of conversation at work too but I just keep quiet and nod my head. Your situation may change once you meet that special someone and start a family. 🙂

    1. I’m going to adopt your strategy, Tawcan! Will save me a lot of frustration in the future!

      No one is insane enough to start a family with me, so no worries on that front! 😉

  4. I also hear this kind of conversation, but I always go in stealth mode. The only thing they know is that I’m busy with stocks in my spare time. But for the rest of the money talk I’m in stealth mode.

    Have a good weekend.

  5. Well you’ll have the last laugh, NMW real name! hee hee Good for you for shutting it! I don’t think I could do it because I’m such a blabber mouth, but like Will says, it would only make them resent you. BTW, do you have a target FI date in mind? Apologies if you’ve blogged this and I don’t recall.

    1. Ha, I probably will! Although I don’t really want to laugh at them, because that would make me quite the hypocrite.

      Haha, I can imagine you being a blabber mouth. It shows in your writing style! In Dutch we have an expression “to have your heart on your tongue”, which basically means that you can’t but express your emotions. I believe that would be you. 🙂

      I’m aiming for my 40th birthday, which is 15 years from now. At the moment I’m still in doubt whether I’ll make it, but we’ll see how it works out!

      And you don’t have to apologize. I started keeping a fact sheet of my favourite blogs to keep track of everything. (Sounds a lot creepier than it actually is, haha.) I’m notoriously bad at remembering stuff like that!

  6. I’m in a similar situation. Many of my coworkers complain about their expenses and how they spend so much and can’t save as much. Many of them are at an age where they should already be retired, but unfortunately they cannot. (Unless they really really enjoy working. When I’m retired, I’d rather work part-time and spend the rest of my time travelling).

    I’m one of the few young people there. I don’t bother joining in the conversations because I disagree with almost everything they say. Only a couple of them know how much money is important to me and that I’m into personal finance.

    Side note: I have been to Belgium on a day trip about 9 years ago. We only went to Ooostende. I would like to go back one day and explore more of the country.

    1. Quite frustrating, right? It’s best to just ignore talk about personal finance, but sometimes it’s hard to resist.

      Being old enough to retire, but not being able to must suck so hard! They surely must drag themselves to work everyday?

      Too bad you only did Oostende! There’s so much more to see! If you ever visit again, let me know for a meet-up so I can hook you up with some awesome tips.

      Thanks for visiting,
      NMW

      PS: love your blog’s name!

  7. I’ve yet to ever hear my coworkers talking about anything other than their cats or something boring their kids are doing. Oh or how they went on vacation with their family to Disneyland.

    Haha at least you had coworkers who were even remotely interested in talking about money. But I would have done what you did and kept it in rather than laying a verbal smackdown – you want to be careful with people you need to work with and interact with every single day. You can laugh the day you leave with FI in hand!

    1. Haha, do you work with a bunch of crazy old cat ladies? 😉 Thank God most of my co-workers actually have fun stuff to talk about.

      I know, don’t want to burn any bridges at work over something this futile. It’s just sad that a lot of people can’t think outside of the box and just accept the fact that they HAVE to work until 65, even though they obviously don’t want to.

  8. I think that it’s a good thing that you didn’t play into the conversation too much. It’s the workplace and it’s unprofessional to discuss personal finances, religion, politics, etc in the workplace. THat’s my take, anyway. IT’s sad that some just can’t see the savings potential!

    1. I’m really glad I didn’t! Most of my colleagues keep it quite professional, but at Informal occasions like on Monday it’s hard or sometimes even weird to not talk about personal stuff. They’re a great moment to connect to other people. Too bad the others didn’t get the memo that to connect they would have to be friendly to others.

      Sad indeed that some people can’t think outside the standard box!

      Thanks for visiting,
      NMW

  9. I just make it sound like I’m joking even though I’m not, like “Psssh! I’ll retire before all you chumps so don’t even worry about me.”

    Then they all just think I’m joking yet I still get to talk some smack to coworkers.

    1. Haha, that’s awesome! Too bad I can’t keep a straight face in a situation like that. 🙂

      Wait until you see their faces once you retire, it’ll be priceless!

  10. By your choice to be anonymous, you already indicate your understanding of how awkward it can be to 1. discuss personal finances at work 2. discuss personal finances and ambitious financial goals with anyone who knows who you are.

    I could never have had this type of conversation at my corporate job. Everyone would think I was crazy to:
    1. Turn my back on a very good pay check.
    2. Forego a big house, new car, lavish yearly vacations, a summer home, jewellery, high fashion, fill in the blank…
    3. Walk away from an assured pension by retiring early.

    So, I quietly prepared myself and, when ready, submitted my letter of resignation [insert boss and co-worker shock and awe here]. That’s the way it has to be for you to stay effective in your job. No “crazy person” ever gets merit increments or promotions…

    1. You’re absolutely right! Not being able to discuss personal finance with anyone was the main reason I started this blog.

      Number 3 is the big problem for a lot of people in my line of work. Because we all work for the state we receive a generous pension when we retire – and by generous I mean crazily high. I don’t think anyone wants to give that up by retiring early.

      Great tip about not being the crazy person of the department! I just try to blend in and act like I’m one of them, although it’s hard sometimes when my co-workers are talking about the latest television show and I’m absolutely oblivious to what it’s about.

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