An Interior Designer Who Spent 8 Years Earning His Bachelor's
Flo, originally from Romania, has lived in the United States since he was eight and is proud to say he speaks English without much of an accent. After several years of experimenting with different classes to figure out his interests, he earned his Bachelor in Interior Design at 26. He now works as a store design planner in Ohio for a nationwide retailer. Flo shares some stories about his background, his run-in with office politics, and his plan to become financially independent by 45.
Interview with Flo:
Why did it take you so long to finish your bachelor's degree?
I graduated high school on time at 18, but then I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I started at a community college, taking basic classes and random electives, to see if anything interested me. I finally decided on a major and completed my courses to earn an associate's degree. I then transferred to a university to complete my bachelor's in the same field. Transferring always sucks, but it's even worse when you move into a small program like interior design, instead of something like business administration. Classes aren't offered year-round, so you have to wait until specific semesters to take them. For that reason, I spent 3 additional years on my bachelor's. I also worked all throughout college, so I couldn't load up on credits.
What was it like living in Romania and moving to the United States? Has your background impacted your values or lifestyle?
We weren't wealthy by any means. We lived in a small condo in Bucharest, used public transportation, and ate at home like most Europeans. We moved to the US by way of the visa lottery. My parents didn't speak the language, and I barely knew any English since I was just eight at the time. When we got here, my parents worked as servers and cooks. My mom decided she wanted to do better than that, so she went to college and became a nurse. She continues going to college to advance her career, but I question her return on investment at this point. College gave her opportunities she never would've had, and it did the same for me. With all that said, I question college for future generations with costs increasing and the dilution of degree weight.
How did you end up at your current job?
I was trying to leave my old employer for quite some time. A toxic work environment and a lack of growth opportunity (due to corporate politics) turned me off.
Oh wow! Tell us more about corporate politics and how they inhibited your growth.
The best way to put this: you kiss their ass, or you can kiss your own ass goodbye. My department and specifically, the Director and VP, were all from the toxic era of the company's culture. It was their way or the highway. If you spoke up or challenged them on anything, you got on their wrong side. They definitely hired a different breed of people back in the day. My manager (and everyone who was not from that era) was great to work with. The current CEO is excellent and progressive. I'm hoping they reevaluate their leadership overall and see who aligns with the current image. As a side note, the department had several layoffs this year, and the people who got let go were all people who challenged the Director. All I'm saying is, that place will remain toxic AF as long as lousy leadership remains in place.
Did you ever negotiate with your previous or current employer?
I asked for a raise at my previous employer and was turned down because of politics. At my current employer, I asked for how much I believe I was worth. I negotiated both my pay as well as PTO. Starting PTO was a joke, but current PTO is still lower than my previous employer. I had not negotiated much before this time. Funny story: I tried negotiating with my internet provider. I was in such an "I want less" mindset that I accidentally ended up canceling our internet. Thankfully my significant other signed up for it with the promo they offered me LOL.
Why do you think you were turned down at your previous employer?
My manager pushed for both a raise and promotion but was overruled by the Director. When the promotion season came around, my manager endorsed me for it and was very vocal about it to the group. When promotions happened, the person that I trained received the promotion over me. My manager was in shock and couldn't explain it. I'm glad it didn't happen because it opened my eyes to the toxicity of that place.
What are your money goals today?
My goal is to be financially independent by age 45. I was paying down my student loans (about $15k. I worked throughout school), and I was like, what happens if I contribute a little more than the minimum? I saw the reduced amount and became obsessed with seeing how fast the amount due was dropping. I started calculating the exact month and day that I would have it paid off by. Once I paid it off, I was high on this mentality. What else can I do now? I learned about FI in 2017 and now try my best to increase my net worth as much as possible. I'm hoping to hit the $100k milestone by the end of the year. So far this year:
- Maxed out both 2019 & 2020 Roth IRAs
- Funded a 7-month emergency fund
- On track to max out my 401k and my HSA
- Recently paid off my car
How have you learned so much about personal finances?
The Choose FI podcast really helped drive my learning further. The way they present information is very calming and relatable, filled with many examples from real stories. Otherwise, I've been listening to several free e-books and audiobooks from the Libby app. Almost all my reading material is about finance nowadays. It's become a sort of obsession.