May 2009 - Posts
If you want to avoid paying peak summer prices at popular destinations, May is a great time to travel. And although I thought I was going to follow up by saying, "and yet this year I didn't," that's obviously not true.
Couple the well timed vacation with an early start to my busy season - yes, while the personal tax people are ready to take a break, I'm getting busy - and I new posts fell on hold.
So thank you to the student who wrote to ask me a few good questions, including the following:
If you leave your CA firm to work in industry, when is the best time to jump ship? I've heard people say "as soon as you have your hours and can use your CA," to "as high as stick around
until you're a manager."
I like questions like this because they're easy to answer and are also popular fodder for discussion.
You'll find your dream job, somewhere. Maybe it'll even have an In-N-Out Burger location and will be outside the LAX flightpath to boot.
The answer, of course, is not straightforward - is it ever with something important like your career?
I say leave when you're not enjoying your current job anymore. There's
generally always a pay boost when you leave, so it's to be expected that you'll
get a "boost" the moment you leave, but depending on where you go, raises
probably won't be as significant in a typical industry job (on the upside, they
usually get sweet bonuses).
The other things to keep in mind are what stage of life you're in. If you're just starting a family or buying a new home, perhaps a drastic career change isn't something you should be considering. On the other hand, if you're not attached to your current home or lifestyle and are ready for any sort of changes, you can of course jump at whatever interesting opportunity you find.
If you ignore the young CA's personal situation, then you can summarize the range of "career switch" like this:
- Some people hate auditing and only joined because they wanted their CA - they're the people who
say leave immediately, and generally do.
- Others enjoy the work a bit and stick around since nothing else looks interesting - "financial analyst" is a boring job title to some.
- Others love it
and work towards partner. Recruiters' e-mails immediately get dumped in their spam bins.
As you can imagine there's no single answer to this question, which is good - since if everyone had the exact same career path life would be kind of boring.
And if anything is for certain, it's the fact that CAs aren't boring.
Think I'm boring? Call me on it and leave a comment explaining why. I dare you.
I haven't found myself in this position, thank goodness, but there's an article that provides a surprisingly candid look into the world of credit card debt.
If you're paying tons of interest and penalties on your original purchases for things you weren't able to afford in the first place, are you in trouble?
Yes, but you can lessen the trouble.
How? I'll summarize in case you're too lazy to click that link:
Haggle. Like. Crazy.
Your purchase was a bad idea. Find a way to cope rather than making things worse.
The more likely you are to go bankrupt, the more likely the collections agency will be worried about never getting money back from you.
Before you start asking for them to cut you some slack and decrease the amount of money you owe them, read the Times article to learn about how they've set themselves up: to guilt you into paying back more money than they even expect you give them!
Though the article doesn't explicitly say how this works, it's probably safe to assume you should first add up the numbers and figure out two things before deciding on how much you're going to ask them to cut from your balance owing:
- How much did you spend on your credit card in the first place?
- How much of the money you now owe is interest and penalties on top of your original purchases?
The total balance will of course be "1" plus "2", less any money you've already paid back. Trying pay less than "1" may lead to you being a bit greedy, but amount "2" is, arguably, simply pure profit for whoever issued you a license to spend, so as long as they recover your original amount things are being relatively "fair". I'm ignoring the minimum amounts you have already paid off - if you're in a position where you're getting calls from collections agencies, the odds are you probably weren't paying off a lot to begin with. But if you were, include that in your math - or determine how much of that represents a "fair" interest rate. Remember that while banks will often give you a mortgage from between 3 and 5% these days, credit card companies are charging 19 to 29%.
If you paid something resembling an effective 5% interest rate, then you were still being relatively "fair" to them for lending you the cash in the first place.
These comments, of course, are just general observations - hence I call this "questionable" advice. Remember that your individual situation will vary, and the effect on defaulting on part of your payments may have severe effects on your credit score, if you haven't already driven that into the ground.
So try and find a reputable non-profit credit counseling agency which has actual experience doing this sort of thing. Perhaps Nancy can help you find one. My amateur commentary is not meant to be financial advice, but rather, just a way of opening your eyes to the options you have at your disposal, and to make people aware of the fact that there are people using some relatively powerful psychological chicanery to milk you first every last penny you have.
I have had wonderful success intervening for people close to me who had credit card problems - these companies can in fact be good to you sometimes - but you have be very dogged and persistent to get them on your side, otherwise, prepare to be gouged. Hard.
Somewhere over the Rockies
Someone out there must be wishing me luck. And it’s working.
Flying to California for a short vacation, I tried to do online check-in only to find that the website declared this sort of thing forbidden. Perhaps due to the fact I was using frequent flier points - or, more likely - it could've been because of my connection on an American partner airline - I would have to check in at the airport.
Okay, fair enough.
Arriving at the airport the check-in computer reported a rather full plane - the only empty seats were singles, and my row was full with three people.
Well someone must’ve decided they’re scared of H1N1 - or perhaps they just moved to another spot on the plane.Whatever the reason, I found myself enjoying one and a half seats. I can easily fit in one, but it’s nice to stretch your legs laterally.
Of course, me being me, I somehow crashed the in-flight entertainment system. I guess the system does a soft reboot while it’s on the ground. Before the reboot occurred I set up a playlist with the new Oasis and Sam Roberts albums as well as some other songs that in total numbered forty and gave the system enough work to do that it decided to choke and die.
Later in the flight, during the beverage service - no free food on Air Canada when you’re merely flying down to the US of course - the staff managed to reboot the system.
The flight crew reset while writing this, in fact, prompting me to track the system’s progress. It only took, oh, four or five minutes for this little system to reboot. Could be worse. First, it was all black. Then for a little while I was watching a cursor blink, but then that turned off. It returned to delicious darkness. Eventually followed by a Windows-ish cursor... and we’re back. What unnecessary tech-pseudo-drama.
Of course, I’m wrote this on a laptop loaded with music, as well as some documents I’d like to finish writing up, but why limit myself to my own audio options when there’s a set of foreign riches awaiting my discover?
Fortunately missing out on the little electronic goodies wasn’t in the cards though, even for a few minutes, thanks to the spare seat in the middle of my row. With that, I managed to keep myself hyper-saturated with media for the duration of my flight - hurray, without having to pathetically hit the call button to whine, “nya, my screen’s broken.” No, I got to report it the classy way. While getting a beverage.
Even had I not needed to opportunistically seize the second screen for my listening purposes, having the empty spot means I can flail about my elbow with reckless abandon and the power adapter for my laptop has a seat of its own to rest in, rather than ingloriously dangle above the sketchy airplane floor.
Thank you, whoever’s been wishing me lots of luck. You’re good at what you do.
And to think, this look persisted on the next leg of my journey. But I'll save that story for the next article.
Ah, the American dollar.
Speaking ill of it, will, in some circles, earn you a sterner response than outright blasphemy against Jesus. Or maybe it's because the banks arguably own the government.
Americans are sensitive about their currency, which should be yet another obvious revelation to anyone paying attention to the ennui gripping the US as the federal deficit climbs to ever-greater levels.
The observation arose not while studying a macroeconomic
treatise, but while sorting out a pile of coins: I'm taking a short
trip to the US today and after my last adventure in March, I'm taking a
lesson to heart: you don't mess with their money.
In Canada we
treat coins from Canada or the US at par. The 10-20% difference in
currencies is so minor, in Canada only the greatest scold would care where your penny, dime or nickel came from. The line is often drawn at
quarters, as vending machines usually reject the foreign coin, but up
to ten cents, it's generally fair game.
Not so in the US - I
ended up getting a three penny discount on a purchase because the
cents I was trying to use were Canadian. The cashier preferred to
just declare my money no good and let me enjoy the three penny discount
on my random purchase.
I had seen this a year
ago, where an airport bookstore clerk said his manager would give him a
hard time with Canadian coins ended up in his tray. In that case it
worked out in his favour - he was looking through some coins in his
till, saw the Canadian change which I wasn't responsible for, and was
ready to set it aside. I took the Canadian penny in exchange for one of the American
pieces of copper I still had, and everyone was happy..
I wonder, though, if this devotion to the 'purity' of the cashier's till doesn't have more widespread effects?
America's other national temple: the Treasury Department.
Oh sweet faith
Modern money, any beginner student of economics quickly realizes, is inherently worthless.
You can study economics for a few years, or get my lazy three minute briefing on the topic: classic money was both a medium of exchange and a store of value.
Serving as a medium of exchange means that you can used money to represent a unit of value to exchange items you wanted.
Being a store of value means that money actually is worth something: for example, a gold coin has actual value, since you could melt the gold and the gold itself is valuable. A paper dollar bill is essentially worthless, unless you can exchange it for an equivalent piece of gold.
Initially, governments limited the amount of paper dollar bills to match some proportion of their gold reserves. You can read Wiki's article on the gold standard for a pretty decent summary of the rise and fall of the gold standard. It'll argue that the French were to blame for the fall of the gold standard. Ron Paul and others have argued for a return to the gold standard, but no mention of France is made when you read about that here.
Would switching back to the gold standard fix everything? Well, read about why we left the gold standard in the first place to see that it's not a magic bullet.
Financial systems are bizarre creatures, so feel free to spend more time studying the additional details, but the point is the money now used around the world is considered Fiat currency, meaning you're enjoying an arbitrarily conceived and defined source for money.
We all agree that a dollar is worth a dollar. Which is great, other than the fact that this is a circular definition.
So saying an American dollar is 15% more valuable than a Canadian dollar, or whatever oanda.com says today, is all well and good, but we're going back to a definition that is essentially a one-legged chair.
If people get worried that money will lose its value, that has an impact on a given currency's value. Is the American dollar getting weaker because people believe the US is spending more than it can safely pay back.
I'd argue the answer is yes, as would many.
I'd also point out that I said that Bush's tax cuts from 8 years ago or so would lead to a loss in American wealth as inflation would eat away at the value of rich American's assets if taxes didn't.
And here we are
Heck, China's stockpiling gold, and has been for a few years now. Not sure if that'll even help much, but nice to see someone scheming to save themselves. Somehow.
Americans are worried about their currency, and every time I visit, shop keepers seem to become increasingly paranoid about my Canadian coins, particularly when I'm further away from the border. But that's not really the problem.
Fresh on the heels of my
trenchant analysis cute list of quitting times, it makes sense to add some thoughts regarding work-life balance:what kind of dedication to you expect of your colleagues, and most importantly, of yourself?
How much you want to work may have little - or perhaps has a great deal - to do with your social and political attitudes, so let's try and instantly diagnose your attitudes by considering what you think of people in certain lines of work. In particular, when you think of "government workers," are you more likely to consider them:
- 9 to 5 lifers coasting by until retirement
- Dedicated guardians of the public trust
- Leave me alone, it's just a job, ok?
Public servants working for generic Government departments and ministries of course can't be broad-brushed into any of those categories, as much as that may be. As with many fields of work, people working there face schedules ranging from those of ordinary shift workers who punch in and out with clock-like regularity, to intense regimes similar to those lived by Chartered Accountants. Heck, if you work for the Office of the Auditor General, you likely are a CA or a CA student.
Whatever the industry, dig deep enough and a common theme is that anyone interested in joining the ranks of management will find themselves "living" the job more than someone who is just there to serve as a minor cog in the machine.
What this means to CA students?
CA students should know that there's an automatic presumption from their colleagues, clients and other concerned parties that you may be "one of those ambitious types" who want the challenge and responsibilities associated with running the machine rather than just being a cog in it. CAs earn their hardcore reputation, after all, in part by simply growing up in their jobs considering going home at or before five
p.m. a "short, easy day."
If you want to be a CA without being all intense about the work, that can work too, but you need to be aware of how people perceive you by default - similar to how some people will have a certain stereotypical view of public servants - and react accordingly.
It's important to make sure people don't assume you're "on call" from morning to night if that's not what you're after in terms of "work-life" balance. At the same time, the "ambitious types" can on the other hand, use the convenient workaholic stereotype to more effectively sell themselves to people looking to hire a dedicated professional who won't call it quits until the job's done.
Working on Saturdays - or, gasp, Sundays?! - is another place where this idea of a normal "quitting time" rears its head.
The advent of telecommuting and flex time has no doubt drastically
changed how professionals view a normal day - and a normal week - it's possible to get more
work done from home rather than in the office in some situations,
and smart managers will recognize that. If I'm feeling particularly
enthusiastic, I'll sometimes get a head start on a long week by taking
care of some work from home on Saturday. Or if the week was rather long
and brutal, I may just kick back and leave the laptop off for two days
straight. It's a wonderful feeling assuming you have the luxury of leaving the remaining work for Monday.
During busy season in AuditLand you may, however, find there is an expectation that
you will trek down to a client site or your head office to finish work.
It doesn't matter to some if you could just as effectively do things
from home and address questions via instant messenger programs or
phone. They want you showing your face to assist with some tedious bit
of drudgery. The likelihood of this unfortunate scenario increases exponentially in direct correlation to the proportion of the audit being documented in that most unholy of files - the paper audit file.
Many CAs treat this as a price of admission to the profession.
Others artfully - or merely fortuitously - manage to dodge it by landing quickly in a place where working on the weekend - or past 6 or 7 - is treated as a silly counter-productive way of getting things done. Or they digitize every paper audit file they encounter for the good of themselves and the future generations, not to mention the trees and other resources that get saved as a result. My job satisfaction is easily doubled from the simple fact that I work with people who respect and encourage doing work in an all-electronic format.
Hopefully you've already filed your taxes and didn't just toss in a football-sized package of disorganized receipts in the mail.
Similar to tax cheaters, spammers continue their annoying work of clogging the internet - but their numbers fell to only 459 last month, a huge drop from the 684 in March, some happy and good news.
How I would picture fighting spam, in snow-form.
If you've been exposed to a wide variety of jobs it'll be readily apparent that a "long day" has different meanings to different people. In a recent conversation, I realized however that what's considered normal is not, however, all that obvious to someone who may have 'grown up' in a CA firm.
This simple insight allows you to marvel at the sheer variety of attitudes towards what a "normal" quitting time is for people - even at the same company, even doing similar jobs. First, consider different career tracks.
Emily Haines doesn't even start work until after 9 p.m. some nights
While rock stars are night owls virtually by default, the office crowd that comes out to cheer them on instead of going to sleep at a reasonable time lives a very different - and much more "traditional" lifestyle. Staff in the hardcore units of a company like the finance department will typically stick around late when major deadlines like month-end close arise, and volunteer - or find themselves "volunteered" - to assist with all types of special projects. This is simply not the case for typical line staff and other shift workers, who will consider leaving 5 minutes quitting time from the regular shift "staying
Just ask yourself - in your company, what's considered skipping out laughably early versus simply "leaving a little early"?
- Taking off at noon
- Sneaking out at 2 p.m.
- Beating the rush hour traffic by leaving at 4 p.m.
- Trying in vain to beat rush hour by leaving at 4:30 p.m.
- Leaving with the rest of the herd at 5 p.m.
- Sitting around hoping for traffic to recede until 6 p.m.
- Maybe I'll have dinner at home tonight and leave at 7 p.m.
- Oh good, we've finally tied up the lead sheets. Let's go home at 9 p.m.
- Nuts, we missed fourteen adjusting entries. Return back to the audit room. It's 11:30 p.m., let's give up.
- The audit committee meets in a day? Guess it's time to go to a downtown hotel room at 2 a.m. to crash for the night.
I witnessed friends or clients experiencing pretty much all of these scenarios. The extreme ends are naturally rare, but working at various audit sites it's interesting to notice the times when the elevators get rammed with traffic, and equally interesting to find yourself on jobs where you end up the only person in the building, aside from the cleaning staff, who seem to take on increasingly levels of pity on the young auditors who are trying to finish just-one-more-file.
Being the kind of person who gets addicted to finishing just-one-more-task is probably a helpful quality for young auditors. And this is how I can argue that investing hours of time in Civilization tuned me into a tireless machine. Yes, that's it.
So, what's your quitting time? Share your comments. I hate the login-to-leave-comments thing too, but on this site it kicks you into the system nice and fast, so don't be shy.