Mike Colon

From the Desk of Mike Colon, Blue Collar Black Book Founder

How Long Can You Go......In the Trades?

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How long can you remain a working contractor?  This is a topic that has always been on my mind and it guides a LOT of my planning and career choices. The topic came crashing back into the front of my mind this morning when I was walking into a Lowes and I ran into a contractor we have used for years. He was walking in for his first day of work ... AT frigging Lowes!

But WHY would he leave behind a good contracting career?  That's a good question with a long answer.  So put on your seat belt Marty, we're cranking this thing up to 88 MPH - and believe me - where we're going we don't need roads!

FACT:  Very few Tradesmen make it to Retirement Age

So what does this mean for the rest of us?

Great question glad to see the brains engaged. How about this, will you be able to bank enough enough money by the time you are 50 to maintain your lifestyle until you are 67, 68, I don't, what is the age for social security now, they keep changing it. If only I could put off paying my mortgage like that until the lender went out of business/died off.... Wait I'm taking a tangent.... Okay back on course. Point is look around. Most guys don't make it that long.

Let's do the Bullet Points then jump into the explanation:

-Don't expect to still be in the trades at retirement time.

-Have a Backup Plan, Then make a Backup, Backup Plan.

-Continue your education.

-Don't miss out on Opportunity


-Invest In Yourself!

As a Police Officer, at contract time, the argument the union would make is, at 50 years old we are too beat up to do the job, safely. So you either have to ride a desk and push paper or move up into command staff to avoid having to retire at 50 or 55.

The same argument applies to working in the trades. Your most productive years are between 5 and 15 years of service. Before that you don't know your trade and can't produce enough and after 15 years in, your getting tired, your body is starting to break down, you aren't moving as fast, cost too much and you can't produce enough. Let's face it not everybody is cut out to run work and even fewer do a good job at it. Couple that with the fact that crew leader or foreman jobs are fewer and farther between. Opportunity can run out if you take your career for granted in the beginning. Work hard, be committed, take pride in your work and it will show. Those above you will notice and it is your best shot for being taken care of (getting promoted) when you get older.

If you are doing side-work, you had better be charging what your shop charges for your services, NOT WHAT YOUR SHOP PAYS YOU (huge difference in price). If you do this, you will set yourself up nicely to get your license and go out on your own. This may be your best shot at longevity. Build a stable of customers, train them well, stay responsible and take control of your destiny.

When disaster strikes, you need to have a plan. Don't be one dimensional. A great tradesmen doesn't always make a great boss or owner, the same way a great football player doesn't make a great coach. Continuing education is a great way to diversify your expertise. Whether it is college, trade or specialty school or something else, make a lifelong commitment to learning. Not only will you be able to roll with the punches better but you will be preparing yourself for modern trade life. See we can't be one trick ponies anymore, the world is just too damn complicated.

When opportunity strikes take it. Whether it's a promotion or jumping to a new company with more opportunity take your choices seriously. Loyalty is great but don't hang your future or your families with it. If opportunity knocks be an adult and talk it over with whomever you feel loyal to, maybe the deal will get even sweeter. If you ever get hit with a “Eureka” moment, where you get an innovative idea, don't let it slip away. I have had several and Blue Collar Black Book was one of them. A solution to a problem on the job may be the opportunity of a lifetime. You may not get another chance. Be Brave and take it.

A very common mistake is people in the trades, making seemingly great money, spending it all on things they don't need, getting shackled with debt that will eventually crush them. Do the opposite. SAVE SAVE SAVE. Think about this. You are making 65K per year over 46 years in the trade (not adjusting for raises, inflation or anything else). By the time you retire you will have earned almost 3 million, 1 million which you never saw because of taxes. 2 million over 46 years is about 43.5K per year “take home”. Now if your time in the trades got cut short, say you only got 30 years in before having to get out. After taxes you only made 1.2 million in your career but you have 16 years left until retirement. Oh no! That means that your average take home income, over those 46 years you should have worked, is about 26K per year. Suddenly that 65K a year is not looking so hot.

Quick Side Note: When somebody asks why you make 100K or more a year, now you can explain why it's not so unreasonable. Office people can work into their 70's, we are lucky to make it to our mid 50's.

Back to my contractor friend, turns out his body just can't take it anymore after a knee replacement and a hip replacement. I think he was in his late 50's early 60's. If you don't keep up on education and keep your eyes open for opportunity, you may end up like my friend, working at a hardware store, making really low wages, while all your skills and knowledge waste away. HOWEVER, I commend him for taking a job to make ends meet but I hope none of us has to fall that far back and rely on that.

Finally if you SAVE SAVE SAVE you will be poised to Invest in Yourself. Yes you need to diversify (Keep your hands out of my pocket Wall Street or I will snap that arm off) but by far the best investment with the best return will be the ones you have control over. Look we tradesmen make things, repair things, sometimes destroy things. Invest in tangibles like real estate, businesses, make a job for yourself and don't stop there let your mind run wild. If you keep your mind sharp and your education up, you will be able to do anything you put your mind to.

God willing, and it will help if you take this advice to heart, you will live into your golden years with relative financial peace of mind....... If healthcare doesn't eat you alive first......

WAIT WAIT WAIT that was too depressing to end on. I will leave you with two quotes from a very wise man...

An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. - Ben Franklin

At 20 years of age the will reigns, at 30 the wit, at 40 the judgment. - Ben Franklin

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