Christmas confessions of a ‘cheap’ federal engineer

One of my favorite sections of my favorite newspaper, The Washington Post, is the “Free For All” section. It’s a full-page feature each Saturday with the best essays, comments and letters to the editor. It is so interesting because it is from real been-there-done-that people, not professional observers and pundits.

So, we rounded up five guest columnists to partially fill in while I am away for the Christmas holidays. Subject of their choice, ranging from Christmas presents to on-the-job problems and prepping for retirement. They picked the topics and they appear in order received. Enjoy. Hope you have fun and maybe learn something from your fellow feds.

Christmas is often called the giving season. Many people are now giving and getting a great deal.


But I have always had a problem with the question of what to ask for. Looking back as a child of parents that lived through the Depression, I was constantly reminded that money did not grow on trees. I remember my parent’ system of little white envelopes that housed the money we were to live on week to week. I also remember my mother scrimping on the grocery bill so she could have some change for herself. So, even at a young age, I was afraid to ask for anything from Mr. and Mrs. Claus, for fear of disrupting the family budget.

This fear of spending has spawned being an engineer and fiscal conservative in later life. I would rather spend quality time with family and friends than buy gifts, most of which are re-gifted or exchanged anyway.

My thrift (some call it cheapness) has enabled me to withstand the pain that Congress has inflicted, such as “no raise for four years,” “no bonuses,” and “furloughs.” It starts with an emergency fund of cash in savings. This is needed to pay for the unplanned or unexpected. Some experts say you should have three to six months of expenses saved in this fund. But if you are just getting started, aim for $1,000 to $2,000. This will at least pay for that transmission that blew up or get you through a two-week furlough.

Just like my parents with their little white envelopes, I am debt free except for a mortgage. At an early age, I listed my debt from smallest to largest and started paying off the first on the list as soon as I could. Credit card debt is the worst and it can easily get out of hand during the holidays.

The last thing I was fortunate to be able to do was to start saving for retirement through the TSP at an early age. Even though I stuck with the CSRS, I am happy with the results. You young whippersnappers have got a pretty good matching deal with FERS.

I hope you all try to ignore the strife within the Beltway for a while and have a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year!


Compiled by Jack Moore

The term “demote”, used as the opposite of promote, first gained prominence in the 1890s. However, many writers and editors were initially skeptical of the term’s legitimacy, and some wordsmiths even argued the proper term should be “retromote.”

(Source: Mental Floss)


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