Money, Morals, and Decisions on the Path to FIRE

My friend hit me up with an interesting dilemma the other day. It’s one of those money vs. moral problems, and I think many of us can relate…

“I accepted an offer from [new job] yesterday with a $20K sign-on bonus!… and it’s much more closely aligned with my passion than my current job.

Now, I just have to figure out the best thing to do as far as my transition.  I’m debating taking PTO for my last week at my current employer and my first week at [new job] because then I should be entitled to a bonus for the month of April. If I resign any earlier, it is my understanding that I miss out on that entire check.  So, although I don’t like the idea, I would just resign on the spot after my PTO and not give any notice.

It is employment at will so their policy states that it is preferential for employees to give two weeks notice, but it is not required.  Their policy also says that they can honor pre-scheduled PTO, but that it shouldn’t be used to extend employment.  So, basically, I have the right to do as I please, they have the right to do as they please, but it appears that there is only one sure way for me to exit and get that bonus.  

Otherwise, I can be a nice guy, but I might get punished for it.  Thoughts?”

Ok. First I’ll share my thoughts and how I’d personally handle this situation. Then down in the comments section you guys can tell me all the ways I’m an idiot, and how you’d handle it differently. 🤣

Money Dilemma or Moral Dilemma?

A couple things sprung to mind when I read my friend’s comment.

My first thought was that this isn’t really a money problem… It’s a question of personal principles. The moral code that I try to align myself with tells me that working for 2 employers simultaneously isn’t right. I wouldn’t be proud of that type of behavior, and no amount of money would make me feel good about it.

So for me, I’d give my 2 weeks’ notice with plenty of time to start the new job. Bonus or no bonus, I’d still have the $20k incentive from the new employer and be happy moving on with life.

That being said, I am in a different work situation (and financial situation) than others out there. Some of you reading this would think it’s a no-brainer to take advantage and try and get as much money from employers as possible, even if it means being sneaky. It’s just business after all, and we all gotta look out for ourselves. (This has never been my perspective, but I can see why people think this way.)

My next thought was about how high “money” ranks as a factor in my friend’s decision-making process. Is money the absolute most important thing during this job transition? Or are there other factors that are driving the decision?

This leads me to something I’ve been thinking about lately regarding the FIRE movement…

FIRE and Always Prioritizing Money

Most of us are pursuing financial independence so we don’t have to worry about money anymore. We want to live our lives freely, doing whatever activities we please, without having to worry about financial consequences.

But, when is the actual point that we can stop worrying about money? Is it when we reach FI? Will our mindset suddenly shift when we hit that magic number? Or can we transition our decision-making slowly, sooner?

Most people think about FIRE like this:

They put a heavy emphasis on money and make it their sole focus while building wealth. Then once financial independence is achieved, they envision all of their worries and stresses shedding away overnight. Suddenly, money will have little influence on their decision-making.

But this thinking is a little immature. Because it’s extremely difficult for humans to refashion who they are overnight. 

A much healthier transition actually looks like this…

As you continue to build wealth, money becomes less and less of a priority. When making big life decisions (career changes, kids, buying a home) you can afford to factor in other important things into the decision-making process… happiness, passion, love, curiosity, health, generosity, etc.

If your ultimate goal is never worrying about money again, start transitioning to that mindset NOW. It will be less of a shock when you actually hit FIRE and allows you to incrementally move closer to the type of lifestyle you want to live, sooner.

This is all just my opinion, of course. Everyone’s relationship with money is different. I just wanted to explain why I’m more interested in helping my friend build a good life vs. suck his employer out of the most money possible.

Other Ideas for My Friend’s Job Transition

Here are a few other options I’d consider in my friend’s situation.

  1. Since the new job is locked in for May, why not quit the old job now and take the entire month of April off? This is a rare opportunity to take a 4-week break, something that might not be possible for the next few years.
  2. Instead of giving 2 weeks’ notice, give 6! Do the opposite of what most quitting employees do → Help hire your replacement, transition your accounts and projects thoroughly, and leave on the best possible note. (Heck, they may even figure out a way for you to keep the April bonus.)
  3. Try renegotiating your current work position. There’s nothing to lose if you’re leaving anyway. Instead of just asking for more money, ask for benefits that might add more ongoing value to your life. Like every Friday off, more PTO, or flexibility that supports your more important life goals.

There’s a handful of other ways to tackle this. And I’m sure you readers have a bunch of ideas and opinions. Let’s hear them! 

Ever been in this situation before? What do you reckon? 

Cheers,

Joel

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32 Comments

  1. Angela Jean Pannkuk March 19, 2021 at 5:54 AM

    My moral dilemma has always been with taxes. Its easy to cheat when one is self employed and gets paid in cash. Right now, the government doesn’t know I’m making $2,000 a week.
    I’d much rather give to charity….

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 10:33 AM

      “How do you sleep at night?…. —> On top of a big pile of moneeeeeey!” hahaha. Yeah it must be really tempting to manipulate taxes and such. Glad you’re thinking about charity and giving! It’s a win/win. Happy Friday Angie!

      Reply
      1. Angie March 19, 2021 at 11:36 PM

        Ha! I don’t sleep at night (because of what I do for a living). I’m a newborn care specialist who specializes in getting babies to sleep through the night (10-12 hours). Right now, I’m working six 12 hour nights with twins.

        Reply
        1. Joel March 20, 2021 at 11:04 AM

          In case nobody has told you recently… THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING YOU DO. Need more people in this world like you.

          Reply
  2. The Millennial Money Woman March 19, 2021 at 5:58 AM

    Happy Friday Joel!

    I loved your charts – they bring the point across in great fashion :)
    Seriously though, I think you’re right when you say that to be successful when it comes to a mindset transition, it’s all about moderation. Humans typically can’t switch their thinking automatically like a switch… in fact, I wonder how it’s going to be like for me when I approach retirement (in a few decades), when I have to switch my mindset from saving to spending… I’m trying to mentally prepare myself for that point already!

    Cheers,

    Fiona

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 10:23 AM

      Glad you’re thinking ahead Fiona! I came across a REALLY interesting article this week from an early retiree – one of the original FIRE bloggers who talks about life after FI. Fair warning… this is a loooong post, but I just couldn’t stop reading… https://livingafi.com/2021/03/17/the-2021-early-retirement-update/

      The earlier we talk about this stuff, the better transition we’ll have later.

      Reply
  3. Tracy March 19, 2021 at 8:19 AM

    That is a tough decision your friend has to make. I know what I would do, in order to sleep at night. But that doesn’t mean it is the only right answer. It just means it is the only right answer for me. I hope your friend does some deep thinking before the final decision is made…as for me – if we could afford the month off in between jobs, that would be my choice! That chance to decompress would be so worth it in my eyes.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 10:38 AM

      I believe most of the time we know which way to go already, but write to friends and seek advice anyway just as a sounding board. By the time I called my friend to really chat about this situation, he had already made up his mind anyway. :)
      The vacation would be my choice too! But can definitely understand not everyone can afford this (and now might not be a great time to travel anyway!).

      Reply
  4. Sarah March 19, 2021 at 8:31 AM

    I have no issues working for multiple employers at once.

    I also have no issues with quitting on the spot and taking the bonus.

    They can fire you at any time without notice. For almost any reason.

    You can quit at any point without notice for any reason.

    The deck is designed to be stacked in their favor. You’re not breaking any rules. And you’re not taking advantage.

    I work in HR by the way.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 11:17 AM

      Holy moly! It’s cool to hear someone in HR give their perspective!

      Reply
  5. David March 19, 2021 at 9:43 AM

    Joel,

    Words of caution to your friend – have him make sure he isn’t violating a non-compete with either company. It’s possible he could get fired or sued if they find out he’s working for another firm that competes in the same space. I had a friend who “tried out a new employer” and was still working for another one. The new employer fired him for still working at the other employer and his old firm sued him (one was a bank the other a large consulting firm).

    The new employer may find out about this as part of a reference or background check. Sometimes the “extra” money actually ends up costing us more or is riskier than we realize in the moment. Sometimes the siren song of more money just isn’t worth it especially when it could mean being unemployed for a period of time.

    Also, always leave an employer on a good note. Regardless of how much good you did while you were there, your former colleagues will only remember how you screwed them in the end when you left. Tie up loose ends as best as possible, help find a replacement and leave with your head held high.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 11:13 AM

      Awesome advice David – almost every employer I’ve ever worked at had a non-compete in place (I was in sales). Sometimes it’s enforced, sometimes not, but the risk isn’t really worth it anyway.

      Totally agree with leaving a workplace on a good note. Regardless of whether you need to go back to the company or not, it’s the employees that could be a part of your future and career.

      Reply
  6. Adam @ Brewing FIRE March 19, 2021 at 3:07 PM

    This feels very relevant to me, as I just posted on the same topic today. For sure, my approach has been the “healthier transition” chart you showed. As I get closer to my FI goals, I care less and less about earning that “next dollar.” In fact, I just turned down the offer of a promotion, because it didn’t align with my priorities. Good stuff Joel!

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 3:31 PM

      Congrats Adam! Good to hear you’re evaluating promotions and stuff based on values vs just money. Have a wicked weekend my friend!

      Reply
  7. Bob March 19, 2021 at 3:12 PM

    Not sure if this is a different perspective or not, but usually when someone asks a question like this, it usually means they already know the “correct” answer, and the are looking for permission to do what they know or feel isn’t right. By doing this they relieve themselves of the responsibility of making choice, and when they get called out on it, they rationalize by saying oh my friend said it was ok. At this point I’d be asking questions like if you knew you needed to be employed until the end of April to get the bonus, why didn’t you ask for a later start date from your new employer. I understand everyone’s situation is different and the current job may not be the most desirable, but what if the new job doesn’t work out. I never try to burn bridges when leaving one position for a new one, and would like to have the option of possibly going back, if the situation ever arose.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 3:34 PM

      100% right Bob. I’ll admit I do the same thing. I usually know the right decision to make, but I still go and ask 20 friends their perspective in the hopes they make me feel better about choosing the other option. Most of the time I stick with my initial gut decision, and in this case my friend will I’m pretty sure. He’s not a bridge burner either :)

      Reply
  8. Accidentally Retired March 19, 2021 at 3:41 PM

    As a former Employer, I can say that man did I appreciate as much notice as possible. I have had some Employees give as much as 6 weeks notice (too much) and most usually give the standard two. Three is probably the most ideal. Enough time for the person to wrap up anything they are working on and properly hand it over.

    This is also why Employers should pay out for any unused PTO, to avoid situations like this.

    Frankly, If I was this person, I would have used the extra PTO to negotiate more PTO from the new gig. This way you can have your cake and eat it too.

    I don’t like the idea of burning bridges by leaving this way, but if it is about the money, it is about the money. But you just never know when you. may need someone at the former company, or perhaps the grass is not greener and you want to go back. I always like to leave doors open, not closed.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 19, 2021 at 3:48 PM

      I like the idea of negotiating more PTO at the new employer. But from what I hear his is extremely difficult to get. Most companies find it easier to just give you a sign-on bonus to cover any lost PTO (and I think that was probably part of the 20k bonus my mate mentioned at the beginning).
      Cheers for the perspective AR! Love hearing how the business side thinks!

      Reply
  9. steveark March 20, 2021 at 10:04 AM

    Always take the high moral ground. If even a tiny sliver of your integrity is for sale then it is all for sale. You don’t want to be that guy. There are some other reasons you never want an ex-employer to hold a grudge. Our big boss back early in my career left to go to another company. One of the hourly guys at our plant hated him and on the big boss’s way out the hourly guy dressed him down and told him how glad he’d be that he never would have to work for him again. Well a year later that company merged with ours and guess who came back as the big boss? The first thing he did was to look up my friend and tell him just who his new boss was! Also in my case I retired after a long enjoyable career, and I left on excellent terms with going away parties and dinners, it was nice. And over the last five years they’ve been a key client in my consulting hobby job which has made me six figures a year for hardly working 8 hours a week. That wouldn’t have happened if I had not agreed to give two months notice of my retirement, as they requested. The world is a hard place, you need all the friends you can possibly find. And a friendly former employer is a real advantage not to be risked for a pocket full of change.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 20, 2021 at 11:08 AM

      Love it Steve. Your stories and experiences are so fun to learn about. **ATTN all young readers out there –> follow Steve’s blog at steveark.com for wise advice**

      Reply
  10. Success Triangles March 20, 2021 at 5:51 PM

    You hit the nail on the head with this:

    “Because it’s extremely difficult for humans to refashion who they are overnight.”

    Hoarders don’t all of a sudden become minimalists and donate all their stuff to charity.

    Rich jerks don’t all of a sudden become nice guys.

    Nice guys don’t all of a sudden become rich jerks.

    When it comes to your views on money, once they are ingrained it is very difficult to change them. If you spend years saving every cent and denying yourself every indulgence to reach FIRE, it’s going to be difficult to let loose and live your dreams once you get there. You will find it difficult to give up the scarcity mindset that was so effective in completing the journey.

    I think it makes sense to look for balance – save as much as you can without sacrificing your quality of life now. There are no guarantees in life. The market could wipe you out as could a tragic accident. All we have is the current moment. Live in that moment. If you wake up tomorrow, it’s just icing on the cake ;-)

    Reply
  11. Sam March 21, 2021 at 12:58 PM

    I would have absolutely no problem in waiting till I receive the bonus and then leave. That’
    s because the bonus was for all the great work I already did the previous year.

    But I wouldn’t be comfortable working 2 jobs at the same time, considering it’s not ethical to work for competitors. I’d have arranged the joining date at new company such that my work officially ends with old company, get bonus, get a couple weeks of vacation time and then join new company with sign on bonus. Again, every body is different, this is just what works for me for my ethics, and giving me my nice winding off period..

    Reply
  12. Sam March 21, 2021 at 1:00 PM

    I think this would make a nice theme for your blog to invite questions from friends and readers and where you and readers can weigh in… Money, Morals and Decisions! :)

    Reply
    1. Joel March 21, 2021 at 5:21 PM

      Great idea Sam. I like posting and writing about real world stuff that people can relate to. You can be the first…. Got something you’d like feedback/opinions from the brain hive? Email me! :)

      Reply
  13. Gills March 22, 2021 at 4:00 AM

    Honestly I would have no issue working for both and giving no notice to get the bonus. At the end of the day he has worked for it and the reason he has to do it that way is that his employer will take it away if he does give notice! Think about it the other way the employer is going to take any opportunity not to pay the bonus so why should he do any different than what is in his best interest.

    It will be difficult for the employer with no notice but give it a few days and they will have solved the crisis and a few weeks and they will have forgotten about it!

    Reply
    1. Joel March 22, 2021 at 10:02 AM

      Might depend on the people left behind. Some employers move on quickly, but some coworkers could hold a grudge for years.
      Cheers Gills – have a great week!

      Reply
  14. Shay March 22, 2021 at 8:35 PM

    I would like to suggest the “Golden Rule”. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. How would you like it if YOU were the employer and your employee took advantage of you? I wouldn’t appreciate it and would remember it. I find the world is a smaller place than we often think and bad behavior or even just crappy behavior has a way of coming back to haunt in ways we can’t even imagine. On a separate note. I have made the decision to retire 2 years early 10 months from now. It’s so great to have enough time to transition my thinking and behavior because as we get older we are not as flexible or adaptable as our younger selves and now I have the time to adjust whatever needs adjusting. It was really scary at first making that decision since retiring early requires me to do some things differently than I had ever thought about doing, but I find that I am very content with my decision as my company was bought out and is imploding in front of my eyes. I am ready.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 24, 2021 at 3:22 PM

      LOVE the golden rule. Great point Shay, thank you!

      Reply
  15. Chadnudj March 23, 2021 at 9:32 AM

    Isn’t the easy answer here “tell the new employer you need an extra week or two to adequately transition from the old employer?” Absent some truly compelling reason, the new employer has no reason they couldn’t go one extra week or two before onboarding you/paying you; it allows you to leave the old employer without burning bridges; and the new employer may even be impressed that you’re considerate enough to transition fully and not leave your old employer in the lurch (under the theory that it shows you’ll treat them well if/when you leave the new employer).

    Reply
    1. Joel March 24, 2021 at 3:28 PM

      I agree that how you leave the old employer shows the new employer how you might leave them one day. They’ll often be impressed if you show consideration for the place you’re leaving.

      Reply
  16. William Smith March 24, 2021 at 10:18 AM

    I think it also depends on industry and how slimy the company has been. If the company you are leaving has been a terror than I say screw them, make sure you get your bonus. If the company has treated you well, than I would play nice in the sandbox.

    Reply
    1. Joel March 24, 2021 at 4:00 PM

      Hey Will Smith! I kind of disagree with this, respectfully. As much as I want to screw people who screw me, sinking to other people’s levels based on how they treat me never actually makes me feel great afterwards. It’s not like I would buy them a gift after they spit in my face, but I definitely wouldn’t spit back just ’cause they did.

      But I definitely agree that some industries are dirtier than others, and there are unspoken rules and expected practices that you can guide with.

      Have a great week! Joel

      Reply

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