Paid to Play

Andrew Forsythe

IT SEEMS LIKE EVERY month or so, one of our kids—and, for the married ones, that includes spouse and little ones—is on vacation. A week or two in Cabo or Cozumel, a road trip out west, or a jaunt to some other interesting destination is commonplace. How is this possible? One of the reasons, I believe, is because they don’t work for themselves.

Instead, they work for big institutions, such as corporations, universities, school districts and large nonprofits.

I left my position as a prosecutor with the district attorney’s office in 1983, when I got a job offer from a two-man law firm. I happily remained there until I retired in 2017. I took a lot of pride in our firm and enjoyed the independence that came with being our own bosses. But the burdens of running a small business were significant.

While my partners and I helped each other in numerous ways, we had an “eat what you kill” system. My income came only from the clients I signed up and personally represented. There was no sharing among the partners. This meant that if I wasn’t working, I wasn’t earning. As I often explained to my dear wife, if we took a vacation, it was a double whammy. Not only did we have the cost of the vacation itself, but also for those days when I was away from the office and not hustling, there was less income—and no new clients. With four kids to get through college, we didn’t take many vacations.

Moreover, since my partners and I each did our own work, there was no one to keep up with it while we were gone. Upon return, there were always several hectic days of catchup.

But our kids and their spouses enjoy a different life. They have paid vacation time every year, so there’s no loss of income. In their large organizations, there’s a whole structure which can, at least to some extent, pick up the work slack while they’re away.

Another advantage is that, with their jobs, the administrative stuff is handled by their employers. As the compulsive organizer in our small firm, most of that fell on my shoulders. Added to the legal work were tasks like hiring a new secretary or runner, buying supplies and dealing with our vendors.

As for retirement plans, we had none until one day, many years ago, I stumbled on SIMPLE plans. But as for any “free money” employer matches, the only employer making the modest matches to our plan was us.

And then there was health insurance. We weren’t big enough to qualify for any group health plans, so for us it was the endless hassle and expense of dealing with the individual health insurance market. I could tell some nightmare stories.

In The Millionaire Next Door, one of the first finance books I ever read and one that influenced me greatly, the point was made that many millionaires are entrepreneurs. I don’t doubt it. But these days, I think a little more about all the sacrifices those driven individuals must have made to get to that point.

I take a lot of pride in what I accomplished in my career, including the fact that our kids all made it through college and graduated debt-free. But I’m also gratified that they seem to have found a different path, and quite likely a better one.

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