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Was It Worth It?
by Bill Obenauer
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The following is a copy of an actual letter that I sent to the owner of the company at which I was previously employed. I sent this letter because I felt that she had grown out of touch with what was going on at her company and how the almighty dollar was being valued over the families that the company supported. Specific names have been changed.

Dear Karen,

Today I received my tax return paperwork from my accountant. I have been anticipating this information, as I am still out of work and will need to use this money to help make ends meet. I am very grateful for the fact that I am receiving this tax return, but upon looking at the amount that I am to receive, quite a few thoughts went through my head. In the end, I realized that there is a story here that I need to tell you.

In the spring of 2005, I received a phone call from a friend who had recently begun working at Rawner Lumber & Millwork. He told me that he would be taking over the customer service department soon and needed a go-to guy. He explained, in detail, all of the great things that Rawner Lumber & Millwork had to offer, and asked me if I would be interested in joining his team.

In my first interview with a vice president, I was asked what I would do if Generic Lumber, my employer at the time, came at me with a better offer when I resigned. I gave my word that I would not use Rawner Lumber as a bargaining chip.

Two months later, I resigned from my position at Generic Lumber. I received many phone calls with offers from the company and questions of what they could do to keep me. I kept my word to Rawner Lumber and did not negotiate with Generic Lumber. Instead, I relocated my family several hundred miles.

Through my relocation process, I ended up owning two homes for over a year as I had difficulties selling my house in upstate New York. This left me with higher mortgage payments than budgeted, and I ended up draining all of my savings and racking up my credit cards just to survive. In the meantime, as I worked my way up the ladder at Rawner Lumber, I learned that the opportunities for advancement that I had been promised in my hiring process, were only opportunities for advanced responsibilities. They were not the opportunities for financial advancement that I had been told that they were. Because of this, even after I sold my house in New York, I could not balance my budget at home. I discussed these issues with upper management, and although the company did offer some assistance, it was not enough to truly help and from the time of a promise to the time of an action, the amount of assistance that the company was willing to provide always went down.

I understood that it was not Rawner Lumberís fault that I was naÔve enough to have faith in the goodness of mankind, and I resolved to continue to do a stellar job for Rawner Lumber while finding a way to make my finances at home work. I re-budgeted my familyís expenses cutting out what I deemed unnecessary expenses such as cable (my children have not watched a cartoon on TV at home in two years), Happy Meals, weekly pizza meals, crafts for the kids, trips to the movies, and family vacations. We have cut several other expenses to the bare bone minimum, and although I can live frugally, it kills me to have done this to my children. Every time a birthday or holiday comes up, I feel horrible about all of the ways that I cannot make it special for my kids. For almost two years, I have fed a family of six on a grocery budget of $125 per week. A few weeks ago, my six-year old daughter grabbed a box of Barbie cereal and asked if she could get it. Then, before I could answer, she put it back on the shelf and said, ďIím sorry. I know we canít afford it.Ē

Last year, my wife and I worked out our plan to get out of debt so that we could start to do things for our kids again. She became an independent sales rep for Silpada Designs and as she sold jewelry, we paid down our credit cards. Our plan was in place. We would pay off one credit card by January 2008. We would live tight for a few more months, and once our tax return came, we should be able to pay off the rest of the cards. For the next year, we would continue to live frugally, occasionally being able to treat the kids after my wife had a good show, but generally speaking, we would stay on our strict budget. After our 2009 tax return, we could have some safety money in the bank, and try to work towards providing our kids with a childhood where they wouldnít be treated differently at school because of what they didnít have.

Our plan was on track until January 21, 2008. One day after our anniversary, and four days before our sonís birthday, my wife and I found out that our financial situation could actually get worse. On that day, I was laid off by Rawner Lumber & Millwork. In a time span of three years, I had gone from being a successful store manager with Generic Lumber who was providing well for his family, to an out of work father who was feeding, housing, and medicating his children through government assistance programs.

This all hit home today, when I opened my tax return and realized that if I hadnít lost my job, I would have been out of debt in a few weeks. Instead, my family will scrape to survive until I can sell my house, move my children from their home, and start over.

I tell you this story, not as a sob-story, but as an opportunity to provide understanding. I have faith in God. I do my best every day to follow the example that Jesus Christ set for us and I have forgiven you for leading a company that would do this to a family, but I felt it important to share this story with you so that you could really see how decisions affect people.

Karen, here is what I ask of you. Now that youíve read this story, keep it. The next time your company considers recruiting a talent away from his current employer, read this story. The next time your company considers a releasing an employee, read this story. The next time your company finds a way to cut a cost that may hurt someone else, read this story. Then, after youíve read the story and before you make your decision, ask yourself if someone offered you $70,000 to do to another family what youíve already done to mine, would you do it again? Once youíve answered that question, decide how you would like to proceed in your business transactions.

Karen, I truly hope that this letter touches your heart and I pray that it will help you make the right decisions about how you can best (not most profitably, but BEST) lead your company in the future. May God bless you.

Bill Obenauer

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