Author Topic: Living in ERE/MMM heaven, but there are lots of distractions and stressors...  (Read 6067 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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  • Location: western USA
Hi there,

I'm a 30 year old female living in a fairly large city in the western United States.

I decided almost 2 years ago to take a brief 6-10 year retirement (based on how super-ERE-savings-oriented I had been when working previous jobs) and move to a new, cheaper city so I could get away from narcissistic parents who thought it was appropriate to treat a 28 year old, intelligent, hard working woman as if she was still a child. Anytime I move to a new city, I stay in a hostel for 2 weeks while I look for a cheap room to rent. After initially being really apprehensive about this hostel (online) seeming to be a party, frat boy atmosphere...I actually fell in love with it. The people in it were impossibly friendly and I happened to stay there when there was a major event in town for nerdy, smart people who wake up early and all the other sorts of things I was into at the time.

I found a place to rent immediately, but the day I moved in I immediately missed the hostel and regretted leaving. I emailed about a job immediately. SIDE NOTE: At that point, I had one goal in life: Become more social. Stop looking at the ground to avoid eye contact. Be comfortable starting conversations. (I had given up on socializing years before and was quite the odd duck) The hostel seemed like the perfect place to work on these issues. It was a social/party atmosphere and I'd have a new round of approximately 120 new "roommates" to meet every day.

I was eventually hired and moved from the bottom rung to the #2 manager in a year's time (though, honestly, it's not that hard...all you have to do is take your job moderately seriously and you'll be better than 99% of the volunteers who work there), as well as exceeded that year's goals: I learned basic socializing, then experienced even more when being trained on a customer-facing position, and I even asked a guy I really liked out, who turned into my very first boyfriend (who is literally the most social person you'll ever meet, and happens to have started the hostel in the first place).

Here's all the ERE/MMM benefits of this type of live/work situation:
  • No rent and utilities, in exchange for approximately 20 hours of work a week
  • In my state, if you make no income (even if you have savings) you get GOOD, free healthcare (I used to pay $125-$200 a month for catastrophic coverage, and NEVER went to the doctor). In the last two years, I have been sick maybe 4 times so I finally started going to the doctor, plus got a minor procedure done that I am very grateful for.
  • Free night-time (and occasionally daytime) activities - as long as there are enough hostel guests going
  • Free alcohol to fuel those night-time activities 3-4 times a week, as well as steeply discounted drinks at clubs (only pay $1-$2 for tips per drink)
  • Opportunity to get free food from guests who have checked out if you're willing to weed through people's food in the fridge and wait a few days for people to claim the unlabelled stuff
  • Free access to the owner/my boyfriend's car as long as you're a good driver and he trusts you
  • Free Netflix and Hulu Plus
  • Discounted travelling - frugal trips to Mexico and state parks for staff of the hostel
  • If I need time AWAY from the hostel for a 1-7 days, I can go to one of my boyfriend's houses where he rents rooms to locals, but is willing to give free short-term stays to managers

So, free rent, utilities, health care, entertainment, AND alcohol! Hello, ERE heaven!

However, at the 1.25 year mark I had an emotional breakdown and nearly left the hostel. It's a really really really hard place to be a manager, if you take management seriously. Like, people almost outright refuse to do their jobs and are incredibly lazy. In some ways it is the definition of a work nightmare/toxic workplace. I had to manage people who are essentially interns who don't know professional norms and who drink/smoke/do drugs/party too much, many who are unemployable in any other situation... I was still an unpaid volunteer (because I didn't want to do this full time! God no!) and had broken up with my boyfriend and had stopped working out or eating healthy for almost a full year...too many distractions to be healthy. It also doesn't help that I live downtown where a lot of shitty homeless people and scummy local guys are. Before I moved to this city, I used to take 1 hour or longer walks to de-stress and was never bothered, but if I walk even two minutes in this city I'm guaranteed to be hassled by 1-2 creepers on the way to where I'm I mostly dislike this city. I basically mentally imploded with stress...

...Maybe 5 days later, I realized that the problem was not the environment, it was ME who had never learned to successfully manage my emotions or learned to be comfortable sitting with a negative emotion for more than 1-2 days. I used to abandon my previous life any time I felt extreme emotional pain and just MOVE, get rid of whatever friends I had, etc.

I reformulated. I thought, "Well, if I work full time and get paid, I'll have a couple new options: (1) At least I'm getting paid for the stress of being a manager (2) Since I already have savings, any money I use can be used on excessive things that can help quell the emotions (expensive exercise classes, nights away from the hostel in nice hotels, healthy food ordered through Grubhub, etc).

And, it worked! I exercise heavily 2-3 times a week. I go through periods of eating healthier. Getting paid to manage really was a relief!

However, 6 months later, the stress of managing has recently made my chest feel heavy and resulted in me getting depressed and watching TV for 12-16 hours straight again. I want to use this case study to re-evaluate my life and make a plan for the next year. How can I take advantage of the good things about where I live? How can I overcome the bad aspects about where I live?

Here are some things to consider:
  • I adore the boyfriend and we're getting along perfectly since my original breakdown. Although, we probably aggravate each other by ranting about the staff to each other.
  • Hate the city (there are SOME positives though), but the boyfriend is anchored here. He owns the business and has all the invested money here. He tried to leave for months a few years ago, but found the managers he hired let the hostel's reviews drop 10%
  • What I enjoyed about the hostel I no longer enjoy. I tend not to hang out with staff or guests because I've been burned by too many negative situations (Ex1:
     Resentment of staff work ethic, so how can I hang out with them? Ex2: Boring guest or annoying guy trying to hit on me makes socializing not so fun.) There are days where I barely even leave my room so I won't be hassled with work questions or have to see one more thing that the staff have skipped or been too lazy to do
  • My hair IS on fire spending-wise, some of which I don't want to fix yet (exercise), some of which I do want to fix (ordering take out, never cooking)
  • My vague goal for now is to be more relaxed/happy...but I need a more clear goal for sure
  • I get paid under the table. Everyone who gets paid here makes very little, usually minimum wage. I prefer being paid under the table so I can get the free healthcare. I really really really like the free healthcare and appreciate it 100%, and never overuse it. Also, I was unpaid for a solid year and most people who work here are unpaid, so I don't think the IRS will track me down anytime soon.

Anyway, I'm writing this to see if anyone else has been in a similar situation and has recommendations on how to improve. I will include income and expenses in a future post, but my main concerns are NOT financial right now, I simply love and respect the people in this forum and tend to always want to know your opinions ;)
« Last Edit: November 09, 2017, 11:35:57 PM by WhoopWhoop »


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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I probably don't have the best advice for you as I haven't experienced the same but my sense is you are experiencing a lot of drama that you don't need. The older you get, the harder it will be on you physically and emotionally. Could you put some distance between yourself and the hostel? It looks to me like it is time to move on (at least job-wise). Even if you took a part time job at a more conventional hotel, it might provide enough structure and calm. Also, not paying the IRS is playing with fire. It could come back to bite you with substantial penalties.


  • Pencil Stache
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What an interesting post! Many thanks for writing it up.

I haven't been in a similar situation but I HAVE been in the position of working with/recruiting for volunteers and part time workers. To my great luck and joy, we've never had a problem attracting really great people who take it seriously and stay for a long time. We're very explicit about our high standards and expectations, and I think this helps us attract the right people. And then since they love it, they stay.

I'm sure it's one of the hazards of the sector that you get people who are flaky, unmotivated and difficult to work with interested in the gig. But since it's the main thing making your life miserable, is there stuff you can do to mitigate that? Do you have any power to choose who you hire and other aspects of the environment?

These things are totally self reinforcing, if the place is full of flakes you won't attract/will drive away people who are more reliable (including eventually yourself). Likewise if the workplace isn't up to standards in other ways like pay.

Ideas for improving the Big Problem:
  • Can you hold existing people to higher standards of work than currently, and let them go if they don't pull their weight?
  • Can you screen people better, and turn people away until you find someone who's a better match?
  • Can you hire someone else to manage people and be bad cop?
  • Compare yourself to other local businesses and give serious consideration to whether the pay and perks are competitive for good employees.
  • Consider that in order to run a tight ship, the place might need to become less under the table and more formalised/professionalised. That may or may not be something you and your boyfriend are willing to do, as there certainly are tradeoffs, but it sounds to me like the current situation isn't going to work for you for much longer.

Ideas for making yourself feel better short term:
  • Set boundaries around what you are or aren't responsible for. Things that aren't your problem aren't your problem. You're not a joint owner, your life should not be tied to this venture. And you are probably still a better manager on a half assed day than anyone else around.
  • Start sending out feelers and making alternative employment plans for if/when this gig draws to a close. It's always important to have options.
  • Build as much of a life outside the hostel as possible. It's your workplace, your home, your social circle, and your romantic life all in one. Sometimes when you get the right people together in the right time and circumstances everyone can thrive in a goldfish bowl like that - but far more often it's just not possible to make all those things work together.
  • Keep a journal tracking when you're able to feel more relaxed and happy vs when you feel stressed. Experiment on yourself with different tactics to find what works. Solitary time in nature? Learning something new? Time with solid friends? Good habits around exercise, food, and sleep are pretty safe bets.

Good luck, write back!


  • Stubble
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Does your free healthcare cover counseling?    It seems you've got some underlying issues dealing with stress even though you appear to be self-aware.   

Think of counseling as a gym for your emotions - helps you get more in shape and then maintain your gains.   


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Does your free healthcare cover counseling?    It seems you've got some underlying issues dealing with stress even though you appear to be self-aware.   

Think of counseling as a gym for your emotions - helps you get more in shape and then maintain your gains.

+1 to what this person said.  The thing about changing places, jobs, friends, etc is that we take ourselves with us wherever we go.  It's possible that counseling might help you achieve your goals even more than trying to change your actual circumstances.


  • Walrus Stache
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Wow, great story so far! I think I'll come along for the ride, which is sure to be interesting.


  • Pencil Stache
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  • Location: London, UK I the only one who thinks this is a bit shady for long term? The boyfriend is clearly avoiding paying taxes etc, yet seems to have quite a few business interests in town. And the free healthcare you love so much is due to being paid under the table, would you not be eligible if you got paid officially?

Overall it sounds as if you are not associating with the sort of people you want to be, with a good work ethic and happy respectful attitude to life - sounds like it might be time to decide if you want to stay, or consider what else you'd like to do with your life?


  • Magnum Stache
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Being paid under the table is not earning you  social security credits which you will need one day when you are old. 


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Jeez. Every single response has given me things to think about. I'll spend some time journaling through these suggestions today! But it appears the underlying theme is figuring out how to create boundaries that will work for me...even if that boundary means working somewhere else. I started looking up potential side gigs immediately after writing the first post in fact.

Yes, it is a dramatic workplace, and, no, I don't see that ever changing with different hiring practices (because we seem to have tried "everything"... although now I'm wondering if there IS something we've been missing/forgetting... there's just always a lack of decent candidates...).

It's funny... I asked my MD about counseling because I knew I'd have lingering problems from the narcissistic parents. When he refused to refer me to a counselor I just let it go and didn't think about it again. Yet, nowadays I spend $100+ monthly for an exercise program to make me feel healthy.... I could probably afford a counsellor. So that will be one of the many things I'll spend time looking into today! I already am aware I am an anxious person and could definitely use help regulating it.

I'll update later. Thank you everyone for your help. I actually waited so long to read the responses because I was so embarrassed about how aggressive, dramatic, and (let's be honest) CRAZY the first post sounded. Lol


  • Pencil Stache
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I suspect the lack of decent candidates is due to the "paid under the table" thing.   That will turn off a lot of people.  Another possibility is if it's unpaid for a certain amount of time first - a lot of people can't afford that.

Is there a local tourism/hospitality/hotel management course in your area?  The hostel might be able to become an official intern partner and thus get candidates who are serious about learning how to make places like this run successfully.


  • Handlebar Stache
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I could swear I remember you posting your story on here a couple of years ago, right when you started at the hostel? If not, someone with a real similar story. 

If it was you, it seriously had an impact helping me think outside the box and now I spend most of my FIRE reading time over on ERE, thanks!

You're a super interesting person!  Keep a journal or something.

re the problem... Sometimes its tough to have too much of yourself wrapped up in a single venture.  In your case the hostel.  Having living space, work, friends, BF, all mixed up can cause issues.  I think you're taking the right steps by separating yourself from some of it a little... At least you make it sound like it's helped. 

If you keep living, working and dating BF owner, I think others are right; you'll need to set some big time boundaries.  Maybe it's time to find other work? If you can live with the BF at the hostel for free, you don't need to earn much... maybe not even enough to forego the health care?  Plus other benefits, like feeling some more freedom/self-sufficiency. 

Also, Cassie is correct about SS and under-the-table income.  It may not seem like a big deal at 30, but as someone on an ERE budget, just making it to the first bend-point can literally fund the last 30 years of your life, so something to think about.



  • Pencil Stache
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cheaper city so I could get away from narcissistic parents who thought it was appropriate to treat a 28 year old, intelligent, hard working woman as if she was still a child.

Well, looks like you are still one on a few points! ;)
My parents and grandparents are the same, because our generation is so different than theirs -- just because I'm not married, don't have kids, don't own a house or a car now, and I was in school until 30, they think I'm not grown up. Now I make ~5 times their top annual salary (adjusted for inflation) and they are confused, but leave me alone now :D

  • What I enjoyed about the hostel I no longer enjoy. I tend not to hang out with staff or guests because I've been burned by too many negative situations (Ex1:
     Resentment of staff work ethic, so how can I hang out with them? Ex2: Boring guest or annoying guy trying to hit on me makes socializing not so fun.) There are days where I barely even leave my room so I won't be hassled with work questions or have to see one more thing that the staff have skipped or been too lazy to do

Could it be that you're simply through with that phase of your life and need some change or another challenge? You said you wanted to get more social and it seems you checked that goal as much as possible. It's usually a bad sign if you're in a routine/rut and you mostly know in advance what you're going to get in each scenario, there's no more adventure...

I'm somewhat in a similar situation you were in before taking your mini-retirement. Would you say your plan worked, overall? and you got more social or developed an under-developed part of your personality?

About the $100/month for gym membership, I'm sure there are cheaper options, unless you're doing Crossfit or some very specific gym workout...

Usually, when you feel there is a "problem", mostly psychological, but you can't identify it precisely, I noticed it's usually a sign something is wrong physically or in your routine that simply makes you feel bad (kind of like when you're hungry and you don't realize, you're not yourself, then you eat and everything is better). But it can be harder to find than hunger, it can be sleep, types of food, alone time, intellectual stimulation, creativity, friendships, exercise, meditation, time in nature, things like that. Basically one of those needs isn't met (chronically lacking) and you feel like something is wrong as a result.
« Last Edit: December 06, 2017, 11:35:08 PM by gerardc »


  • Bristles
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Is there a way you could do a volunteer gig or a part time job somewhere else? To at least get you out of that setting, challenge you socially again, and increase your confidence? And I agree with the idea of counseling. If it were me, i might swap the exercise budget with a counseling budget for 3 months and see how it goes. You can exercise for free with a jog or bike ride if you cant afford the gym.


  • Stubble
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Maybe (something for you to personally consider) it is time to “grow-up” I.e. move on to the next phase of your life.

Are you wanting to settle-down? Get a full-time job, husband, 2.3 kids (or at least one).

Also, just because today’s financial needs ore being met, make sure you can meet tomorrow’s.

Are you saving so you can be FI-RE someday?

Good luck in what ever you decide- but make sure it is something you DECIDE!


  • Handlebar Stache
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I agree that you are really hurting yourself by not building up a record for social security.  (Likely you are also committing fraud by using benefits designated for those who aren't employed.) Your employer/ boyfriend is acting illegally in paying employees under the table.  Is this really how you want to live?


  • Handlebar Stache
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Very interesting story!

Intuitive take:
Your emotions are quite intense, and seem to include what sounds like a powerless component.  My guess is that some further successful life changes will strengthen your confidence, substantive position, and social skills.  Already you have made improvements by your actions, but there is more to come.  My second guess is that while there are many benefits in your current situation, and finding a new situation that adds up to a better deal may be tricky, you need to go as soon as you can.  If you stay, you will gradually atrophy and weaken.  Leaving may be tough and temporarily worse, but is probably the only path that will lead to a sustainably stronger you.  Take the challenge and move on.

PS.  The one problem with "freedom" that comes from extremely low costs is that moving to a more expensive option is difficult.  For your own long term power, it would probably be wise to continue building your earning power and your investment stash, not just your low cost living resume.  Once you have the total package, things that used to be problems will become options that you can take or leave at will - and your own increased strength will make every option a good one.

Final remark:  +1 to the non-wisdom of getting paid under the table for the "free" healthcare.  In the US, your first few hundred thousand dollars of lifetime earnings on the Social Security books bring you a very high return in your later years.  You might be losing more pension benefit than you're gaining in free health care. 


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Sorry to be harsh; it took me 24 hours to realize, though. You're not FI in any way.  Everyone's assuming there's a back-story where you have some sort of a 'stache that you could live on for a least a couple of months. But you don't, do you? You have free rent, food, and booze and an under the table wage that depends 100% on whether ex-boyfriend lets you stay. Think of it in other terms: You live in your parents' basement and get an allowance for keeping the litter box cleaned out. If they go on vacation, you get to go along. YAY! You're asking us if you should live like this forever.

Please find a job. Start on the saving part of Mustachianism. If you love the Hostel and/or the boyfriend, stay there (WITH THE OTHER JOB) but make a clear arrangement for duties you can exchange for rent so you can stay there until the IRS seizes it.

If you don't love the Hostel, throw a dart at a map and start walking.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Everyone's assuming there's a back-story where you have some sort of a 'stache that you could live on for a least a couple of months.

Actually, no, I didn't assume that.  There are many forms of capital, not just US Debt based, fiat financial capital (ie money).  Open your mind to yields and flows; then you can learn to not think like a mindless consumer.