I suppose my current job is considered white collar but Iím not some executive making $250,000 a year. Iíve worked my way up to this position but have held blue collar jobs most of my working years including a time as a union member. Until actually joining a union I was a big supporter of labor but I was completely unsatisfied with the union experience but thatís another story.
In the late 1990s my union was locked out by the company for 11 weeks. My girlfriend and I (she would later become my wife) lived together and she had a good job so we werenít too concerned with the lack of my income. But not knowing how long this would last or even if Iíd have a job after it was all over, we decided to plan for the worst.
You canít always live in fear that the worst will happen but you have to find the balance between being prepared and enjoying life. At the time of the lockout I decided to test my will, I decided that other than fixed costs such as my mortgage and utilities, I wouldnít spend any money on discretional items. That meant no eating out, no take-out, no movies or even video rentals. The lockout occurred just as winter was beginning and I had recently begun skiing but until we were allowed back to work, there would be no skiing for me. I didnít buy any music or take any trips, I didnít spend money on anything unless I absolutely had to.
This wasnít the easiest thing to do as I really enjoy going out to eat and although Iíve always been careful about my spending I was surprised by how much I actually spent. Over those 11 weeks, almost three months, I lost over $13,000 in income but when it was over and we returned to work, my bank accounts were lower by only $4,000. I know people who were in my same situation but at the end of the lockout one had to declare bankruptcy and others were precariously close to losing their homes. I also know people who counted on the union winning an arbitration award that would give us back pay. That never happened and those who planned for it were in much worse shape than those who assumed that we would not win the back pay.
I realized that I could live much farther below my means, that a sudden shock to my income such as a job loss, wouldnít be the end of the world. Can you say the same thing?
If youíre serious about becoming rich, serious about doing what it takes to get much farther ahead of your peers, then there is a lot you have to do. You can get rich no matter what your income but the less income you have the more youíll have to do. Keeping track of your income and expenses is crucial, spending less than you earn is an absolute requirement. Discipline is another useful trait and it can be learned.
I found that the three months I was locked out, and my subsequent choice to eliminate discressionary spending, gave me the discipline I needed to really concentrate on building wealth. I call this time my three month test and I suggest that you might want to try the same thing.
Thatís right Iím asking you to stop spending money on anything other than essential items for three months. You obviously have to pay for your mortgage or rent and your utilities but if youíre serious then you have to give up everything else for three months. That doesnít mean that you have to cancel your cable, cell phone or magazine subscriptions. You can keep any recurring bill like that but you canít upgrade the cable to digital, for example. You canít subscribe to any new websites, magazines or newspapers. If you regularly give to charity thatís your choice to continue or not (if not perhaps youíd like to keep a running total of what you would have spent and give a lump sum at the end).
This test is not meant to see if you can live like Scrooge but itís also not meant to be easy. Youíve seen in the news the low paid worker who dies leaving behind millions of dollars? Well how do you think they got all that? Well chances are they lived like misers but there can be a balance if you just try. After all what good did that money do them now that theyíre dead?
This test might crimp your social life but thatís the challenge. How can you still enjoy yourself for less money? Thatís the key to the test. Once you see that you can do it, youíll think twice before getting together with friends at a bar and instead invite them over to your place where the alcohol and food costs significantly less.
If you choose to take this test, and treat it seriously, you can find out a lot about your spending habits. Youíll see how much that coffee at Starbucks is really costing you. Youíll see that when you donít think about the ďlittleĒ purchases you make throughout the day, perhaps a new CD or DVD you wanted, they add up quite quickly. Youíll notice that stopping to get a donut on your way to work is a significant amount of money (and fat) over three months. Oh yeah did I mention the other benefit? You might lose weight (if thatís something you want) since youíll be either eating at home or not eating because even a quick stop at McDonalds is out the question for those three months.
Do you have what it takes to be rich? Are you up to the challenge? I did it because I felt the pressure of not having an income for an unknown period of time but it turned out to be a great test. Now itís your turn Ė you can do it.