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Eight years. That is how long it took to get accepted as a permanent ranger with the federal government.

Even that comes with a restriction: I’m guaranteed 6 months of employment. I may obtain more but that would depend on the federal budget which is in a constant state of death by a thousand cuts.

The odds of winning in Squid Games is better.

I could blame the 8 years on the federal system and its complex hiring process, but I won’t. I have a 5-point veteran advantage and a robust resume of relevant experience. The hardest part of getting a ranger position was living in an area with rangering opportunities. Parks and their rangers are in the boonies, which is great for outdoor adventures but less great for significant other’s job prospects.

Mr. BuLL and I landed in a spot where a ranger opportunity coincided with job prospects for him which looks a lot like smallish town Montana.

Who in their right mind chooses a long meandering path of federal employment that makes the Grand Canyon look cute? I did it all for the bennies (work benefits).

While most people focus on how much a job pays, it is important to look at the total compensation.

Government Worker FI

Bennie #1: Insurance

At one point, insurance was as far from my mind as eyebrow dancing. As I grew older, my body started doing strange things and it wasn’t dancing eyebrows.

WebMD was not my friend.

My annual visits became opportunities for extra questions that resulted in extra poking and prodding. This led to mostly negative tests but plenty of expense.

The annual visits were free but sneaky copays, over-counter creams, and other medical-related costs were not. To combat these charges, I use an employer-sponsored Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to capture tax-free savings. Along with obvious medical expenses, FSA reimburses unexpected costs like mileage, massages, and so much more!

There has been some shifting with Mr. BuLL’s job, so I maybe signing up for gov funded health insurance. I have started to look through the gaggle of plan options. It is overwhelming. But, their prices are not!

It is no surprise that Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) is one of the biggest benefits of working for the federal government. For most plans, the government pays 75% of the premium and the employee pays the other 25%.

Government Worker FI

Bennie #2: Leave

With so much work, it was easy to become a jerk.

I spend 40 hours a week working for someone else’s profit. I’m passionate about work but I also love traveling, reading, and becoming temporarily homeless with backcountry camping.

A career is like a marathon. If I run my career like a wildfire, I risk burning through my energy and charring my attitude. Whereas, if I take a slower, relaxed pace, I will cross the finish line (early retirement) like a glowing goddess instead of the walking dead.

Besides, returning unused paid vacation is a donation I’m unwilling to make.  

Bennie #3: Retirement

The gold medal of federal work benefits is retirement.

It was worth the 8 years.

There are two tiers: FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) which is gov speak for pension, and TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) aka 401(k).

It’s taking normal work benefits and giving them sugar and stickers. Lots of stickers.

For each tier, I pay to play. For FERS, I contribute less than 1% of my pay. It’s an automatic contribution for me and every other employee. For TSP, I needed to fund 5% of my biweekly pay to get the 5% match. This benefit wasn’t automatic, it required effort in the form of paperwork but it’s 20 minutes well spent!

Currently, I contribute 18% and with the 5% gov guarantee, I’m at 23% of my pre/post tax-income is going to retirement. It’s my FIRE sacrifice. Though, sacrifice is a strong term for what I do with glee and gusto.

I didn’t start at 18%. I started at 15%. Then with each pay raise, I added 1-2%. A gradual retirement raise prevents bitterness from building up. I have a life list to pay for too!

Bennie #4: Fitness

There are long-term work benefits (retirement), short-term bennies (leave), and daily work benefits like fitness. As a federal employee, I get 3 hours per week of paid fitness time. I had to get my boss’ approval, and there are rules, and paperwork too. Paperwork feeds the government machine, or so it seems.

Of all the work benefits, this one is like the tomatoes in the breakroom. Everyone sees them but rarely scoops them up.

Not this gal! I am taking those tomatoes as quickly as I max out fitness time!

Developing a fondness for fitness took longer than I’d like to admit, but it’s a cheap way to afford everything else.

  • If I want to capture early retirement, I need to be fit enough to enjoy it.
  • If I want to survive life-list shenanigans, I need to be healthy.
  • Health care is expensive. If I want to avoid pricey medical bills, I need fitness to pull down expenses.

In all other aspects of life, I try to avoid waste from food to fuel. Wasting 3 hours per week of allotted fitness time seems like an ugly waste of a free resource.

Plus, every time I use this benefit, I’m telling my employer that this is an excellent program, and the proof is in the use.

Bennie A Plenty

I took the scenic route to become a permanent Park Ranger.

Not by choice but by circumstance.

Along the way, I had some laughs, loves, and lattes and I learned plenty about the bennies. Of all those lessons and blessings, I try to maximize work benefits. Time will march on either way, and I’d rather maximize a benefit than regret not using it.  

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2 thoughts on “Work Benefits: Making 4 Good Choices

  1. Thank you, Noel! I loved working with you too and look forward to seeing you soon.

  2. Noel Osterman says:

    I’m so glad you’ve achieved your dream! I’m proud to call you a friend and former colleague. Way to rock your federal worker benefits!

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