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Weekend reading: Two early jobs that taught me independence

Weekend reading

Good reads from around the Web.

I enjoyed Financial Samurai’s post this week about the three worst jobs that made him the leisurely mogul he is today:

Whenever I got yelled at by a client or boss or had to travel thousands of miles for a one hour long meeting, I’d remember back to my high school days and smile.

I had this immense fear that if I did not do well in school, I would end up flipping burgers in the morning, stuffing envelopes in the afternoon, and moving boxes at night for a living.

Thanks to fear, I studied my heart out so I could at least have a chance at a better life.

My own reaction to early wage slavery was slightly different. Two jobs in particular helped make me the mildly maverick man I am.

Key was some part-time temp work I did in a huge office in Central London as a student, processing one privatisation offer or another.

I was going through a left-wing phase at the time, and I don’t remember which issue it was. More importantly, the entire operation was so dispiriting it’s a wonder it didn’t make me a commie.

Every day we’d be assigned near randomly to huge rooms to do different tasks such as sorting envelopes, opening envelopes, or stapling cheques and applications together. Yes, each of these was a different room, and a different role. Mind blowing stuff.1

Being mildly obsessive, I took some pride in processing as many envelopes as I could per hour, which my co-workers found hilariously diligent. And they were right, because at the end of the day a swathe of us would be told – arbitrarily, by alphabetical order or similar – that we would not be required the next day, and my time came soon enough.

All my efforts had been completely overlooked by my capitalist masters, and I was cast out like a three-legged donkey.

I vowed that I’d eventually be in charge of my fate. (Also: Better to be a capitalist master than a wage slave).

At least as crucial for me was my several years of delivering newspapers before school. I loved this job, which involved waking at 6am, seeing the bag of papers dwindle to one and then nothing, and “reading” page 3 and the Garfield comic strip before the paper’s legal owners.

My newspaper round felt like a cross between legalized trespassing and paid weight training, as the size of the Sunday supplements grew over the years. Best of all, the wodge of tips I received at Christmas was directly related to my efforts.

I was delighted to read in The Snowball that Warren Buffett also delivered newspapers in his school years.

Perhaps there’s still hope that the billions – or maybe some modest millions – might yet follow for me, too.

Any formative work experiences? Unburden yourself in the comments below!

From the blogs

Making good use of the things that we find…

Passive investing

Active investing

Other articles

Product of the week: Skipton Building Society has launched a table-topping five-year fixed rate bond. The paltry 3% is enough to make it the best of the bunch.

Mainstream media money

Note: Some links are to Google search results – these enable you to click through to read the piece without you being a paid subscriber of the site.

Passive investing

  • Swedroe: Don’t get too excited about the bull market – CBS News
  • ETFs won’t solve our behavioural problems – NY Times
  • How we lose in the mutual fund casino – AssetBuilder

Active investing

  • Momentum investing with ETFs – Morningstar
  • Nigeria is the preferred Africa play [Search result]FT
  • The risks and rewards of retail bonds – Telegraph
  • Rob Arnott: Why I’ve had it with hedge funds – Fortune
  • Gold’s fair value is $800 an ounce – MarketWatch

Other stuff worth reading

  • London house prices are correlated with the gold price? – MoneyWeek
  • Home ownership falls for the first time in a century – Telegraph
  • Osborne warned by MPs over Help to Buy risks – BBC
  • Some home buyers forced to pay stamp duty twice [Search result]FT
  • Yet more property: An overseas fantasy home finder – Guardian
  • Cheddar mountain helps secure the pensions of milkmen – BBC

Book of the week: We’re forever recommending Tim Hale’s Smarter Investing, and must have delivered him hundreds of new fans. I was told by would-be readers that the book was out of stock a couple of weeks ago. Maybe, but Amazon now has plenty of copies if you want to indulge.

Like these links? Subscribe to get them every week!

  1. And another reason why I’m no fan of sweatshops. Bring on the robots! []

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • 1 John @ UK Value Investor April 20, 2013, 11:59 am

    Formative work experiences? How about:

    Sainsbury’s deli, cab driver, driving instructor, bailiff, bus driver, double glazing salesman, security guard…

    That lot was pretty formative. Eventually (age 27) I realised I’d been good at maths in school, so I became a computer programmer for the next 14 years.

  • 2 David Stuart April 20, 2013, 12:25 pm

    1.school–newspaper delivery
    2.school–fish mongers—cleaning buckets/fish heads–not good
    3.R.A.F—-wish I joined the navy–better travel
    4.motorbike courier–until serious crash–not my fault
    5.blackcab taxi—hours can be unsocial-but only a fare away from a fish supper.

  • 3 BeatTheSeasons April 20, 2013, 12:26 pm

    Definitely working in an abattoir. The agency had misled me, saying it was just a job in a factory moving boxes around (which was strictly true I suppose). So in the middle of my summer holidays I turned up in shorts and T-shirt, only to spend 12 hours in sub-zero conditions. To my shame I only lasted in that job for one day. Many of my colleagues had been there decades….

  • 4 Mrs Ermine April 20, 2013, 12:36 pm

    I love your description of the contrast, Monevator!
    I first sold makeup in Boots. I refused to wear makeup which didn’t go down too well. I remember being so bored that I vowed to be an academic rather than work in an regular job. I failed as I worked for the rich man for far too many awful years… but now, many years later I do control my destiny as I am self employed…

    I really liked washing up in a restaurant as I could eat chips and not think – or rather think about whatever I liked. And watching the chef have a meltdown from time to time was entertaining, so long as you were’t in the way.

    Working in Sainsburys was also an experience. I had to carry the big sacks of potatoes because the blokes were too idle, and while studying for my Maths degree a manager explained how to work out the number of blocks of sugar in an orderly pile during a stock take – appantly you multiply the number along the front, by the number along the side by the number piled up on top of each other.

  • 5 Robert Harrison April 20, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Let’s see. 🙂

    The jobs that I had before the one that was steady enough to allow me to aim for financial independence.

    Student jobs:

    (1) Labouring in the back store of a grocery shop, whilst fending off determined killer wasps. You can whack them in flight with a shovel – and they’ll still get back up and come at you!

    (2) Labouring in a Coca-Cola bottling plant. The smell from the black, tarry mixture of oil and Coca-Cola coating the floor put me off drinking the stuff for another 25 years. 😮

    Post graduation jobs:

    (1) One that involved combining economics and computer programming around an economic forecasting model. (The programming side didn’t work out too well).

    (2) A one year contract helping create information packed electronic maps for Merseyside County Council’s planners. This was a precursor of GIS mapping I suspect. This involved –
    (a) writing down form after form of map co-ordinates from ordinary maps to create an electronic street map –
    (b) and then coding up what the Council knew about the land uses on those streets –
    (c) and then going out and tramping the streets to find out in detail what was actually on those streets to amend the database. Walking down streets writing on a clip-board soon arouses suspicion – especially from shopkeepers it seems.

    (3) Typing the information on forms from the 1981 Population Census into the OPCS computer system for 8 months. Write out your census forms more clearly people! 🙂

    (4) A very unstructured kind of research post at Liverpool Polytechnic that involved trying to geographically “map” all types of public expenditure with the long term aim of having a computer database that the public could interrogate. This job started off full-time and then ran out of money – and then I was asked back for a while to work part-time.

    Hmmm, work isn’t really very interesting really. Is it? 🙂


  • 6 Steve April 20, 2013, 2:37 pm

    I got in with the wrong crowd during my first year at uni, slept during the day, drank too much, did no work and failed ALL the exams. The Prof must have seen something in me because although I got chucked out, he offered to let me take them again in a year.
    I was part-time chef in a Beefeater inn, worked on a farm and had various factory jobs, the last of which was making black puddings, sausages etc and I hated every second. But the therapy worked, a giant kick up the backside and a glimpse of the pathways before me.
    The exams were passed and the pathway chosen.
    PS Never, ever eat a black pudding!! 😉

  • 7 Monk April 20, 2013, 2:38 pm

    Mine was a highly illegal stint working in a door closer factory at the tender age of 13.

    Obviously this was back in the days when 15 was the legal choice of most of my peers residing in a rundown but sociable housing estate in the Haggerston ‘village’ quarter of the London Borough of Hackney.

    Given that most factories chose either to have a specific summer shutdown or endure large swathes of staff absences from staff winging their way to Kent for an apple picking holiday of a lifetime, it struck my boyishly clever brain that few questions would be asked of someone claiming to be 15 (even though they might look 12) in those factories remaining open.

    Thus it came to pass and I was inducted in to the ‘Are you being Served’ equivalent of the factory floor.

    I can’t remember any of the names now, it was too long ago but I distinctly remember the tedium.

    My lasting memory though will always be the length of service the dozen or so employees working there had amassed in the mind numbing manufacture of floor mounted door closer. It certainly made the biggest impression in my formative years, along with the raincoat wearing pervert who opted to sit next to me in an almost empty bus, but that’s another story!

    I marvelled at their tenacity in continuing such drudgery year in year out, when I could barely see past lasting to the end of August. In the end I didn’t, choosing instead to hand my notice in to a shocked and awed foreman before the fourth week was up.

    Ideally such experience should have driven me to aspire to greater academic success. Sadly it didn’t and I joined the queue of classmates eagerly waiting for the doling out of National Insurance numbers so we could make our way in life, away from school as quick as possible.

    Recounting the tale to my own grown up sons as they grappled with their own school demons, I was reminded of the adage that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders as they too opted to join the same queue.

    Maybe the grandchildren will listen…

  • 8 Robert Harrison April 20, 2013, 8:29 pm


    Not even the ones where even the white bits are black? 🙂


  • 9 Steve April 20, 2013, 10:02 pm

    — “Not even the ones where even the white bits are black?” —

    Only once, the day Mam bought me a new shovel ! Spear and Jackson no. 2 with the small brass rivets I think.

    Oh the fun we had in the rain!


  • 10 gadgetmind April 20, 2013, 10:12 pm

    I also started work at 13 on evenings and weekends doing dish washing, waiting tables, veg prep. kitchen lad, bar lacky, etc. while at school and later during summer hols when at uni. I ended up running kitchen during meals for 70+ people, running front desk for a day, and much more,

    I think this stood me in good stead for starting my own business in my final year at uni. I’ve still never had a job interview and intend to retire without ever having done so!

  • 11 Neverland April 20, 2013, 11:27 pm

    Working on a travelling fair in the USA for several months

    After two months I was one of the longer serving employees

    I was amazed that I was never asked for my social security number and also that some of my fellow employees simply put part of the money they got from customers into their own pockets

    Lessons learnt:
    – tax is optional for small businesses
    – mosts jobs are very boring
    – tattoos look very bad once you reach middle age
    – I am too honest to become very rich

  • 12 gadgetmind April 21, 2013, 8:06 am

    The problem with dishonesty is that you’re forever rolling the dice. Sooner or later, you’ll get found out, either by your peers or the legal system.

    Those who have something to lose (which is most often acquired thorough honest toil) will be less inclined to risk it all, so (despite high profile examples to the contrary) we find dishonesty and law breaking concentrated at the low wealth end of society.

    As they say, crime doesn’t pay.

  • 13 Grumpy Old Paul April 21, 2013, 9:03 am


    An interesting perspective which I’ve not seen expressed before. I wonder if there is a greater propensity to criminal activity amongst those who have inherited wealth than amongst those who have earned their wealth through work.

    So far as the low wealth end of society is concerned, there are many factors in play and it would take a great deal of statistical analysis to tease out which are the most important. Whilst this analysis is possible, I deem proper independent analysis unlikely because, if government-sponsored, pressure is likely to encourage the skewing of results to suit the prevailing ideology. Academic research will have a tendency to find results which support the political standpoint of the researchers or their department!

    I could argue, without a great deal of conviction, that poor people have a greater propensity to crime because the benefit/risk ratio is much greater than for the more affluent.

  • 14 Neverland April 21, 2013, 12:03 pm

    @gadgetmind, old guy

    Have a look at the Sunday times rich list

    Crime obviously does pay

  • 15 The Investor April 21, 2013, 12:35 pm

    @All — Love the work histories. It’d be great to get some of the less motivated 16-18 year olds out there to read this and understand we all start somewhere.

    @gadgetmind — Hmm, as long as we’re not saying ‘poorer people are inherently more dishonest’ but rather that it’s a rational choice (or even a narrower set of perceived opportunities) then I might partly agree. I’ve seen zero evidence in my life so far that morality is distributed by income.

    Also, white collar transgression is so much more acceptable. Bankers peddling dodgy wares and charging exorbitant fees were until the last few years seen as basically young bucks on the make. If they were builders or double glazing salesmen they’d be dodgy cowboys.

    Ditto aggressive tax avoidance versus welfare claims, speeding and parking fines versus asbos, pretending to be a Roman catholic to get your kids into a good school… etc.

    At least a poor thief has a greater need than a greedy rich one, even if I err towards the less tolerant end of the spectrum, at least for anything violent or violating (eg breaking and entering).

  • 16 gadgetmind April 21, 2013, 1:21 pm

    No way would I ever say that “poorer people are inherently more dishonest” as that’s our old friend the ad hominem fallacy. I’m sure that all sectors of society work hard to imbue a sense of fair play in their offspring, which includes not stealing something that belongs to someone else and obeying the law, including tax law.

    This process is clearly less than perfect at all levels, but trying to claim that you can only become very rich if you’re dishonest is beyond wrong.

  • 17 Neverland April 21, 2013, 3:49 pm


    Usual straw man argument from you

    I don’t see anyone here claiming you can only become very rich by being dishonest

  • 18 Grumpy Old Paul April 21, 2013, 3:52 pm


    I second your point about getting these stories in front of people who could benefit from them. As well as ‘less motivated 16-18 year olds’ , especially in the current climate, many people currently unemployed or in awful minimum wage jobs could perhaps be heartened to know that things can get better and that, although there is a huge element of luck, you can do things to make life better for yourself. There were also some interesting posts last week among the ‘Thatcher Rants’ about how people survived difficult times in the 1980s. I’d better add that these posts came from people on both sides of the argument before I get lambasted.

    Re morality, dishonesty and wealth. The uber-wealthy can of course afford the best legal minds to defend themselves and also, in the UK, exploit the libel laws. Some well-known TV personalities come to mind.
    The less transparent nature of the misdemeanours of the wealthy also makes them less likely to be convicted. Nonetheless, I would not go so far as to say that it is impossible to become very rich without being dishonest.

    But nor would I make the uber-rich role models or give them peerages as of right or for ‘political services’. Especially those quoted as saying that they would sell tactical nuclear weapons if it would enable them to turn a quick profit.

    I’d also be interested in reading what were the most fulfilling and worthwhile jobs which people have ever had, regardless of renumeration. That is where my own working life was lacking and I blame largely myself.

  • 19 gadgetmind April 21, 2013, 5:25 pm

    @Nevermind –

    First you say “I am too honest to become very rich”, then we get “I don’t see anyone here claiming you can only become very rich by being dishonest” The implication of your first comment seems clear but perhaps I’m just being stupid and you can explain some deeper meaning?

    I’m not sure I know anyone who’s “very rich”, but I do know several multi-millionaires. They all made their money from honest toil (surgeons, entrepreneurs, etc.) without so much of a whiff of dishonesty or exploiting the down-trodden masses. I’m pretty sure that this hard work route is how 99% of those with well above average wealth have achieved it.

    @Grumpy Old Paul

    > I’d also be interested in reading what were the most fulfilling and worthwhile jobs which people have ever had, regardless of renumeration.

    I really like what I’m doing now, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing for the last couple of decades. I’m an engineer at heart, but am now managing teams that design and deliver some scarily complex technology that’s at the heart of many modern consumer electronics products.

    The best part is when I get problems dumped on me as a result of acquisitions (projects off the rails, dysfunctional and demoralised teams, etc.) and have to work out how to reorganise people, realign products, integrate systems, and give everyone a spring in their step and fire in their bellies.

    As for remuneration, I have *never* asked for a pay rise and haven’t changed jobs for 20+ years, but I won’t pretend that I’m not well paid for what I do. I’ve always concentrated on doing the best job I can while treating everyone around me with consideration and respect.

  • 20 Neverland April 21, 2013, 7:12 pm

    @ Gadgetmind

    Saying that I personally couldn’t become very rich except through dishonesty =/= nobody can become very rich unless they are dishonest

    This is your straw man

    A multi-millionaire (in sterling or $) isn’t actually very rich, just well off

    For a good description of typical multi-millionaires try “The Millionaire Next-door” by Thomas Stanley published in the 80s

    The millionaires profiled in that book and his other work are just the people you are talking about

    When you actually look at how these people made their money its actually spending a lot less than their income and compound interest/inflation linked gains from investing their savings for decades

    In many respects this whole site and others are just a rehash of his output 20/30 years ago

    Probably there were authors making the same point before him, but my memory does not go back that far

  • 21 gadgetmind April 21, 2013, 8:40 pm

    > I personally couldn’t become very rich except through dishonesty

    Defeatism of the first order and the worst kind. Working hard and smart beats law breaking and ripping off your fellow man 99 times out of a hundred. Forget running with the gang, forget the lottery, and just use the grey matter in your skull. We’ve all got roughly the same amount and have a very free hand regards how to apply it.

    > For a good description of typical multi-millionaires try “The Millionaire Next-door” by Thomas Stanley published in the 80s

    My copy was bought second hand for 99p a few years ago.

    And I’m also getting paid to wander along to a rather nice local hotel next week to attend an interview session for what sounds like the same kind of research.

    Interestingly, thy discussed various food choices but never actually said they would provide what we’d selected. Maybe I need to take my own corned beef butties!

  • 22 David Stuart April 21, 2013, 8:51 pm

    Russian oligarchs

    Must be a few stories

    most of the rich it’s thru hard work–vision

  • 23 gadgetmind April 21, 2013, 9:01 pm

    > Saying that I personally couldn’t become very rich except through dishonesty =/= nobody can become very rich unless they are dishonest

    A favourite Spoonerism of mine is “too pretty to be a teacher”. Of course, this still allows the escape that some become teachers despite their looks but the implication is clear, don’t you think.

  • 24 Neverland April 21, 2013, 9:34 pm


    This is a very interesting link from the Guardian on the subject of relative wealth:


    Much to my dismay I found that I am myself part of the despicable cabal making up the 0.1% richest people on the planet…

  • 25 gadgetmind April 22, 2013, 7:59 am

    I recently read a comment that said that by being a white, heterosexual male, you were playing the game of life with all the settings at “easy”. What they forgot was that being born in a developed country was what made the largest difference of all.

    I always keep this in mind when I hear young urban white men being described as “disadvantaged”!

  • 26 David Stuart April 22, 2013, 12:40 pm

    I think financial education is a life changer,if I knew at 18 what I know now,I’d be hugely better off.you live an learn

  • 27 The Analyst April 23, 2013, 2:02 am

    1. Delivered pizzas
    2. Cleaned pools — this was actually rather dirty work, especially opening pools for the season (some of which hadn’t been opened in years). You can imagine the sort of things we found.
    3. Washed dishes at a pub
    4. Mowed lawns
    5. Stacked books in the university library

    There are more, but I’ll stop there. I’m quite proud of those early jobs. They all taught me the value of money and made me the cheapskate I am today — “That shirt costs five hours of work? No thanks.”

  • 28 The Investor April 23, 2013, 8:57 am

    @The Analyst — I often think in terms of hours of work, too (or at least approximately daily output, as I’m a freelance). You can’t buy time!

  • 29 Mike April 24, 2013, 2:51 pm

    Two university holiday jobs come to mind:

    1. Bin man. Quite well paid at the time, healthy outdoor work and you got home by three o’clock (or one if the crew pushed it). Add in the council house with a very low rent, the official bonus (for completing the round) and the unofficial tips (‘bit of carpet?’ ‘£5 mate!’), scrap metal etc. and I realised that my colleagues had it pretty well sussed.

    2. Support call centre for Sky TV. This was as they were launching so mayhem but unlimited hours, but an opportunity to pay off my student overdrafts with 72 hour weeks @ £4.50/hour in the early ’90s with no tax! I did start dreaming about work and going a bit bonkers but it chewed through the overdrafts in no time…

    The first taught me a lot about work/life balance and that wealth is more than just salary. The second taught me not to look a gift horse in the mouth and you can put up with almost anything in the short term.

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