So I kind of want to deviate from talking directly about testing or automation for this post.
As testers, we’re often expected and called on, to speak the hard truth about the software we’re testing.
But as humans working with other humans, many times we’re driven by emotion. For the people we’re talking to, possibly anger. But for us, possibly fear.
One big thing that causes testers to hesitate to give the “bad news” that software’s not up to par is the fear of saying the wrong thing and losing a job. And that fear largely comes from having enough financial debt that we fall into the mindset of: Holy moly I need this job, and so there are some risks we don’t take in favor of self-preservation.
Now I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I know that in the US, debt is a BIG problem. And I’ve seen firsthand how it can make anyone hesitate to do what’s right, and instead do what’s safe.
This might sound like a wild conjecture, but if debt causes fear of losing a job, and we don’t speak up when it’s needed because of that fear, then how harmful is debt to software quality?
Why am I writing about this? Because my main goal always has been to help fellow testers become more effective, intelligent and powerful in their work. I want you all to be able to succeed. That’s my personal Prime Directive.
If you have lots of debt, let me invite you to imagine what it’d be like to be debt-free. No more mortgage. No outstanding credit card bills. No student loans, car payments, or any other debt obligation.
Doesn’t that sound incredible?
Now consider this: there’s a way to get there. There’s a way to get to a point where there’s so much financial freedom–and freedom of fear–that will empower you to do great things in QA, and really, everywhere else in life.
I know because I’m there right now. I’ll share our story at the end, but I want to share first how it happened so you can get here too.
So: Do you want to get your debt under control? If so, then keep reading:
Step 1: Where’s the Money Going?
So many people live paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. Many of those same people feel subject to their money just going away.
In reality though, we’re choosing to spend the money. It isn’t just disappearing. So for us to get a handle on debt we need to first figure out where we’re spending it.
So take a good hard look at your finances. Where are the expenditures? Is it housing? Fuel? Groceries? Entertainment? Divide your expenses into broad categories like that and see if there are some places where some cuts could be made.
Step 2: Carve Out Some Extra Fundages
The next step is to take the categories from the previous step, and tweak it into a budget. Determine what’s an acceptable amount for an acceptable category, and stick to that budget.
What we’re doing with this step is giving ourselves some wiggle room–some extra money–that we can free up to start doing stuff with.
The first thing we’ll do is save some of it for our “just-in-case” situations.
Step 3: Set Aside Some Savings
The money that you didn’t spend now that you’re sticking to a budget should now be set aside as savings. This is kind of like an emergency fund. Its main job is to be a cushion for some one-off expenses.
This fund should be three months worth of your living expense–so the essentials: food, utilities, mortgage/rent, fuel, etc. Everything you need to get by for three months is what you need in this fund.
The reason for this three month cushion is if something terrible happens, we of course need some money set aside. But we also want it for some of the one-off things that most people would use a credit card for–the rare, expensive things like vehicle repair. If you have to take money out of this fund, be sure to replenish it, because as much as possible we want to keep from adding more credit card debt, because that’s the first thing we’re going to pay down.
Step 4: Attack the Cards
As far as debt goes, credit cards have the highest interest rate. It’s how credit card companies make money, and it’s a multi-billion dollar business.
Because of that high interest rate, we want to attack these cards first, because over time, even a few thousand dollars on a high-interest credit card can cost us as much as a moderate amount with a lower interest rate.
The money that’s now freed up from being put into the 3-month savings can now be directed at your credit cards. Start with the one with the highest interest rate–even if it’s a lower amount, knock it out.
Once that one is paid off, use the money that was being used for the first one, against the second one. It’s like a snowball effect–this will pay cards off even faster. Repeat the process until all the cards are paid off.
Step 5: Cars and Student Loans
I’m assuming that these debts will have a lower interest rate than a credit card. In the (hopefully non-existent) event that either of them are higher, pay that off first, using the strategy outlined above.
Of these two types, again you want to pick the higher of the two interest rates and start pecking away at it. However: you now have the combined amount of money that previously would have been used paying the minimum amount on all your credit cards. Aim all of that money at the next debt to get rid of it faster.
Step 6: House
Hey great news, if you made it here, and you rent instead of having a mortgage, congratulations you’re done!
If not though, this is the last leg of the marathon. Houses are a beast to pay off, and you can expect to be working on this for possibly years. But, every step you take (and, so far, have taken) will get you debt-free sooner than you know.
Heave as much money at your payments as you can, especially if the mortgage is still new. Within the first few years, you can pay off multiple months worth at once by applying it toward the principal, which knocks out the interest that would have been applied in those months.
Step 7: Celebrate!
Woo! You’re done and debt free! Celebrate your accomplishment! But not too hard, don’t go back into debt ok? 🙂
If someone were to quote me on something, I hope it’d be, “Everything’s a variable.” There’s a ton of flexibility in the steps above, and nothing’s written in stone.
Here are some ideas for cutting costs and getting extra money:
- Get a roommate
- Rent out a room
- Make some consumables instead of buying them
- Take a temporary part-time job
- Start couponing (seriously, my wife’s come out of Walgreen’s with $100+ in product and actually made a small profit)
- Start a small side business
- Buy essentials in bulk
- Downsize your house
- Find a higher-paying full-time job
- Have a yard sale
- Refinance your home to 10- or 15-year fixed rate mortgage
If you read through that and thought, “That sounds suspiciously like the Crown Money Map,” you’re right, it’s heavily based on that. I couldn’t find a good place to say so further up.
Or if you read this and thought, “Dude this is absolutely impossible, you don’t know my situation, I’ve tried stuff before and it just doesn’t work,” I want to encourage you and say, yes it’s possible. It might take smaller or more drastic steps to get going, but you can get there.
Let me tell you our story.
When my wife and I got married almost 10 years ago, we lived in an apartment and we both worked. She worked for a little over a year. During that time we got two cars paid off, combined cost of around $250/month. We applied the snowball trick above and did one and then the other.
She had stopped working because we decided we wanted to start a family and she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. So for the rest of the time until now, we’ve been a single-income family.
Through the years we’ve had a lot of changes in our family, including having 4 girls! We worked to get credit cards paid off fully each month (which I highly recommend once yours are paid off), paid off her student debt, and saved enough to where we started throwing as much as we could at the house. And as of two months ago, we’re officially done with the mortgage.
This was a long post, but to bring it back around to QA: I have felt so much freer than ever to speak truth to people when it comes to talking about what we need, where the weak points are in the software, and really, explaining what the realistic expectations are. We’re also a lot more free to do things between gigs instead of rushing to find something else right away.
This doesn’t mean I get to turn into a huge jerkface now, I’m just saying that what little fear I had left about performing the hard part of any QA job disappeared with the last mortgage payment.
Fearfulness can make you powerless. But the reverse is also true.
I wish I could bottle this up and give it out, but I can’t. I hope though that if this post resonates for you, that you pick the straight path and walk it. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I know you can do it if you stick with it.