make $ and retire early, or take federal job with more security?
August 11, 2014 4:32 PM   Subscribe

Imagine you have the choice of taking (1) a very lucrative but highly demanding and stressful job in your current city, and (2) a federal job that requires a move and that pays only 25% of the lucrative job. Job 1 comes with an initial 2-year contract. While there's a possibility of getting sacked after two years, I imagine they'd renew the contract for at least two years, and if I'm performing well, I could keep going after that. If I got sacked, I could probably find another similar but probably less lucrative job, but it would take time and be quite stressful. Federal job is presumably more stable. Which would you take? Possibly relevant details: early 40's, married, no kids (and no plans of having any), very substantial savings to date, home-owner (with mortgage), currently living in big city. Interested in hearing your life experiences vis-a-vis working life and retirement. Are there benefits to trying to maximize income early and getting out of the game, vs a more slow and steady approach that provides more security? I'm clueless about retirement and recognize that a financial planner could help, but for now I'm more interested in hearing other's experiences.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
25%? So working the 2-year contract at job 1 would earn you 8 years worth of job 2 income?

That’s a big difference. I guess it depends on what you mean by highly demanding and stressful.
posted by kidbritish at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd be inclined towards either (1) or none of the above.

Number two doesn't sound like a good choice at all to me. You'd have to move, which you don't sound excited about, and 25% of the pay of Job One sounds pretty crappy. I mean, it could still be a lot of money in absolute terms, but unless Job One is some kind of once-a-century fluke, you should be able to keep looking and find something that pays at least 50-75% of Job One's salary. If they think you're worth that much, someone else will probably think you're worth close to that much.

I recently spent two years at a job that kind of sucked. I made a lot of money but I'm still feeling the psychological after-effects of dealing with shitty people every day for two years and being constantly judged, nitpicked and berated for insane reasons.

You need to make an honest appraisal of what kind of stress it is, and how well you feel like you can deal with it. If it's just "long hours/tight deadlines," that might be easier to deal with than "psychologically abuse" type stress.

On the other hand, it doesn't matter how great the salary is if you hate it so much you burn out and have to quit for your own health or sanity. Maybe do some more research or try to talk to people who already work there and see what their work/life balance is like?
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:41 PM on August 11, 2014

I work in the civil service, but not your civil service. In the past the low wages were offset by excellent benefits and security, as well as perhaps a "slower" pace that resulted in a better work/life balance. I no longer feel that is the case and that work in the public sector can be just as high-strung as what I experienced in the private sector, there is no job security and benefits have been clawed back, and the low pay will not increase (and indeed may roll backwards!) because the public/politician perception is that it is an "easy" job despite having higher educational and experience expectations. YMMV, but don't assume anything about the federal job.
posted by saucysault at 4:47 PM on August 11, 2014 [12 favorites]

I agree that the difference between incomes there is pretty huge. Are you comparing full time salary vs. full time salary, or is contract gig #1 paying you more because you're going to be an independent contractor paying a larger share of taxes (and things like health insurance) out of your "take home" income?
posted by deludingmyself at 4:51 PM on August 11, 2014

figure out what your cost of living will be in both places, that affects the salary difference
posted by TheAdamist at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2014

My boyfriend works for the federal government, and the retirement benefits are really not great for most employees -- either 1% or 1.1% per year of service. I work for a local government agency and am going to get a better pension than that! If I were you, I'd take the local job, live on the federal job's wages, save the rest, and retire early!
posted by jabes at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of the two, the high paying job is where it's at, hands down. Maybe there's a better third option, but I would not move into federal civil service with any illusions about job security, opportunities for advancement, or, perhaps most importantly, an expectation of returning to the private sector at your prior levels of pay. As in, if you're making $100K now, and the high paying job will net $200K, and the federal job $50K, don't take the federal job with the expectation that if you don't like it, you can get another $100K job. Unless you're in particular revolving door jobs (prosecutor to criminal defense, IRS to accounting or law firm, FCC to lobbying), you're getting a one-way ticket to lower earnings.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:53 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make money, attempt to retire early, and if you fail, then settle for the boring government job that pays only 25%.
posted by pravit at 4:59 PM on August 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

If I got sacked, I could probably find another similar but probably less lucrative job, but it would take time and be quite stressful.

This one is totally fixable. Embrace the fact that job will probably not last. Save at least 2/3 of the extra income from the job, starting with a good rainy day fund so when the layoff comes you start with a vacation and then embrace the job search without stressing about the fact that it may take a while.
posted by metahawk at 5:21 PM on August 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you actually want either of these jobs? Like, will you enjoy the work, or find it fulfilling, or make the world a better place? Are you excited about the projects you'll be doing?

Money is important. Really important, when we're talking about making sure you have enough to safeguard your future and meet your needs. But you're also talking about what you're going to be spending 1/3-1/2 of your waking time on for the next couple of years. And it sounds like you have the luxury of being able to make some choices about that. So think not just about what your paychecks are going to be like, but also about what your life at work is going to be like.
posted by decathecting at 5:25 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

25%? Take the more lucrative job, or find something in between. Federal jobs have a lot of potential pitfalls; you could very well find yourself unable to thrive in that environment, and you'd be kind of stuck. If you're the kind of person who can land that lucrative job, then you might be the kind of person who would find the federal workplace a bit of a shock.
posted by yarly at 5:42 PM on August 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd remove any notion of job stability from the public sector job. You have no certainty about the future politics and shutdown shenanigans.
posted by srboisvert at 6:15 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take the private sector job. Not a close call. Given that you think it might be, there have to be other issues that you've not passed along. That said, I would make the extra money and give much of it to folks who need it.
posted by learnsome at 6:52 PM on August 11, 2014

Yeaahhhh... Numerous times on this very site I have recommended Federal employment to job seekers. I still wouldn't recommend against it, really, but in your situation it seems like a no-brainer to go with the private sector job.

As stated above, Federal employment is not how it used to be. It is possible to move up but for many that means moving to different locations in order to get better paying jobs. Depending on your line of work, there may or may not be an easily accessible path of upward mobility. In my case, I have worked for the Federal government for 30 years and, adjusted for inflation, make about the same as when I started. Trying to get a high pay grade has proven to be a near impossibility, even though I am doing the work of the higher graded job already.

Take the higher paying job, as long as you think it won't be so stressful as to make life miserable, but live as if you don't make that much. That way, if you do burn out, you will have a cushion of cash while you change jobs.
posted by The Deej at 8:14 PM on August 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Low paying government jobs tend to be filled with underachieving people sticking it out with minimal effort to try to get a pension or power hungry but inept people. If you're not willing to be surrounded by those coworkers, don't take that job.
posted by Candleman at 9:53 PM on August 11, 2014

If you take the high paying job and hate it, how hard will it be to get another fairly low paying federal job afterwards? Not very?
posted by biffa at 11:48 PM on August 11, 2014

I think it depends on the actual amounts here. If the difference is between 25k and 100k, take the money. If the difference is between 100k and 400k, take the time. (Or the money I guess. That's a lot of money).
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:01 AM on August 12, 2014

The advice is mostly well-covered here, but one point that is worth emphasizing is that your future wages are somewhat dependent on your past ones. If you make $200K and get sacked, the universe of jobs that you look to for your next position will typically be between $150K and $250K, and your past employment will give you the credibility to chase those jobs. If you make $50K and tried to move on to a $150K gig, it's a much harder sell to convince the prospective employer that you are ready for such a big jump. That whole concept may be foolishly naive, but (at least in my field) it's how things work.

On a wholly separate note, I have recently moved jobs from a decent-paying one to a very well-paying one. Having extra money every month to invest for the future is awfully nice.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:16 AM on August 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Life is short, go for the cash. Assumptions: a) you like where you live, b) the federal job isn't hyper-hyper specialized (i.e., it might be open again later, because the feds hire lots of people).
posted by paultopia at 6:33 PM on August 12, 2014

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