Most traditional office jobs measured by a clock are out-dated (pun intended)
It sounds great. A 40 hour-a-week job where you spend eight hours of your day in an office. The reality is you probably only work 25-30 hours a week. Most of the rest of the time is waiting for someone to get you something or in meetings that could have easily been an email or 5-minute call.
The truth is your bosses have their own tasks to attend to and can't spend all of their time assigning you work. They're busy just like you. They have goals and objectives that make up those goals just like anyone else. Your job makes up a small part of those goals. You should do it as efficiently and to the best of your ability. However, keeping someone at an office for a set amount of time is pointless.
Everyone should do their tasks and be allowed to live their lives. We should be focused on maximum output and employee happiness over total hours worked.
The only people who should have consistent shift work are people who are frontline with customers.
Fix: Jobs should be task based
The better way to operate is to have a task list for any given day, week, month or quarter with expectations for completion dates. Allow flexibility on where someone works and when they work. Coming from the start-up world I would sometimes have to work 14 hour days to accomplish the goals I needed to and at other times I could work 3-4 hours and be perfectly fine. I could leave in the middle of the day to go eat and work out, then come back. Often I worked until 5-6 PM, but I felt good from moving around mid-day.
What was nice about that is it left me room to handle errands, fitness and other tasks in my everyday life that are important to me. Do you know hard it is to get your car serviced or get a haircut when you work 9-5 every single weekday? Everyone crams into those few available Saturday or evening spots.
How much more relaxed would you be if you finish all of your tasks by Thursday afternoon allowing you to grocery shop, hit the gym and get your car serviced before hitting the road Friday afternoon for a 2 1/2 day weekend?
Constant email bombardment
We all hate it. Ping...ping...ping...ping. When I first took over my job I was still getting forwarded all of my predecessor's emails. Between my mail and hers I was getting about 150-250 emails per day. In reality about 90% of this was junk I could ignore. It was an amazing relief to disconnect her old account to mine. But with every notification to avalanche against me built.
What makes the matter worse is the expectation that you have your work email attached to a device that you take home with you. For a while I got away with this, because I refused to step into the smartphone world. Ultimately I ran out of options at the phone store and got an iPhone. Every time my phone vibrated it brought a little bit of stress with it, like "Oh, there is one more thing."
I started reading some time management books and email was seen as a constant distraction. Essentially if you claim to be multi-tasking you're probably not good at any tasking. Focus in one doing one task really well and then move onto the next. Mute your email until your next time you assigned to check it.
Fix: Only check your email 2-3 times a day. Never check it once you leave for the day.
This was a game changing behavior move. Once I relieved that I didn't need to check my email inbox every time one came in it allowed me to focus on projects. If you invest all of your time to solving the shallow problems that you get in an email inbox then you won't have time for the deeper more time consuming problems. I check my email 30 minutes after getting to the office, before I leave for lunch and then one hour before I leave for the day. I really only answer what I need to.
When I'm at a conference I will only check my email once a day. In my mind, my job is to be absorbing as many ideas and techniques as possible at the conference, not attending to needs at the home office. It is a waste of time if I am not meeting with peers and spending every free moment on my phone or in my room. What is the point of going?
The constant 24-7 connection is a lot of the reason, combined with virtually unlimited entertainment at your fingertips, are some of the main reasons there is less civid engagement from young people. Also an environment where both partners have to work to maintain a household of expenses beyond what they need.
Minimal meetings or committees
There is no phrase that gives me more chills than "Let's form a committee". What this really means is we don't waste any of our time, so let's create more meetings for someone else. I'm a bigger fan of handing out tasks to the people that best can handle them and reporting back to the group ASAP.
Most meetings could be a simple email with an assignment. Back away from that person and let them come up with their own ideas. The problem with meetings is that often the highest paid person in the room gets deferred to. This isn't fair to that person nor the others in the room. An open and honest dialogue has to be had to accomplish anything. A good productive meeting is like 15-20 minutes tops.
I once had a week where I had 17 meetings that ate up 24 hours of my 40 hour work week. I got dreadfully behind on what I was supposed to be doing. The lesson you have to learn is....
Fix: Sometimes you have to say "no"
Whether this is towards sales reps that want to take an hour out of your time to come in, 15 minutes of your time by phone or an organization that wants to eat away at your time everyone wants a piece. Only you know your limitations and can properly budget your time for what is important. If you don't think it is important then don't set time aside for it just to appease someone else.
After hours business networking
I've been to countless numbers of after-hour business functions over the years. They really only accomplish three things:
These events tend to be costly and at hours only really convenient for people that wrap up their day at 5 PM or a little after. In previous jobs I've been done at 4:30-4:45. My gym only offers evening classes at 5:30 and 6:30, but the majority of after hour events start at 5:30 or 6 . What does someone in my position expect to do for an hour?
Fix: Time to volunteer in the community
I've developed waaaaayyy more good business contacts with simply being visible in my community through my own personal life than anything else. That is my gym, going to the library, cooking classes, recreation sports, volunteering at businesses and a host of other opportunities. These are things I love doing in my spare time anyways. If you're social and active you'll do just fine in a way more fun environment.
My local community does a "Day of Caring" which allows you to tackle community problems as a team. I LOVE these kind of events. The best friends and contacts I've ever made have come from working together for a common goal in a fun way.
The goals you should take away from this:
Dude, did you get robbed?
This is a phrase I hear occasionally the first time someone comes over to my place. Why? I simply don't own a bunch of items just to fill a space. I've grown an appreciation for a wide open and clean room. It is relaxing to me to not be surrounded by stuff and clutter. However, I don't get weird about it like sitting down to thank every item for the value it brought to my life. I come in more like a contract killer and quickly put the item in a donation bag. If an item isn't bringing value to your life regularly it isn't worth keeping. Find a way to sell it, gift it or donate it if possible.
When you're thinking more about the usage rate and the milage you'll get out of an item the less stuff you'll likely end up buying. Short-term use items should be avoided if at all possible.
DVD, CD's, Blu-Ray, etc.
My rule for movies is if I haven't watched them in the last calendar year they go out the door on January 1st. Like most people I have a handful of favorite films. At one point I owned upward of 150 movies on my shelves, but living this rule for the previous five years I have narrowed down my movie collection to around 40 films. Playing into this has been the growth of platforms such as YouTube, Vudu and Netflix competing for my time.
This is admittedly a bigger challenge for me than the movies. I say this because over the years I've probably had a bit more of donation regret. I don't allow myself to keep any more books than I think I could read in a normal year. For me that is around 40 books total. If I were trapped on a tropical island what books would I want with me? Haha, outside of survival books. Currently, I won't buy a book brand new unless I've already read it and loved it. If I buy books it is almost always second-hand books. Rarely do I pay more than $5-$6 for a book. If I am going to experiment with something I haven't read I rely on the local library system to do so.
We're creatures of habit. We tend to eat the same things every week and find ourselves filling up our carts and baskets with the same items every single week. So why do we have pantries and basements full of pre-packaged food. It is one thing to have grown and canned your own food to use throughout the winter, but why do you need 96 granola bars and 3 economy sized bottles of Ranch dressing? I think that getting a good deal has outweighed the practicality of what you actually consume. In the United States we throw away nearly 40% of the food that we buy. This is a number we all need to work on. Buy local and maximize your food.
The way I think about this is "How much time do I have between each wash/dry of my clothes?". Seeing that I still live in a coin-operated world my timeline is washing about every two weeks. With this in mind I keep about two weeks worth of clothes in my closet and drawers. This is the way people should be thinking to maximize the use of their clothes and minimize the cost associated with something you won't wear. Anything that goes beyond what you wear in a two week window can be donated. The process will get harder the closer you get to the budgeted number, but believe me you'll be amazed at the space you have and how little you miss the items.
I also have four scenarios I dress for: work, home, gym and dressing up. This is where you could react a lot of different ways to what I have:
"The United States has 3.1% of the world's children, but 40% of its toys"
This is a stat that blew my mind. As a full disclaimer, I don't have any kids. However I have many friends and family that have kids and totally believe the stat above. Many family members and close friends want to spoil little kids, which turns into huge mountains of presents at birthdays and holidays.
A good rule of thumb I've learned here is to teach kids about budgeting early. Not from a financial standpoint, but if a kid only has so much space to store their toys. Whatever they don't place in a toy box or chest gets donated to children who could play with it more. Let them decide what is and isn't important to them. Let them know that their toy isn't being thrown out, but is finding a home where they can be better appreciated.
Something I've heard that is a pretty cool idea is the gym membership concept brought to toys. A play space is created and loading with all the newest and coolest toys. Families pay a membership fee and have access to all of the toys in either the space or checking them out like you would a library book.
We face it all of the time. I work in marketing, so it isn't unusual for me to get items that grease the wheel from sales reps. When I go to a baseball stadium occasionally they have a giveaway item they're handing out to fans. It is really easy to accept everything handed your way. What if you don't really need it or know someone to immediately give it to? Why not just walk out wide and not pick up the items. Why not say "no thanks" to a gift bag? This stuff piles up in homes and offices everywhere. I avoid giveaway items like the plague.
This is a bit more of a challenge, because some kitchen tools you have are simply for one particular dish. Think of a pan you'd put a turkey in during Thanksgiving. For 363 days a year it collects dust in a basement, cupboard or attic.
My situation kind of works itself out naturally. Over time items just collect dust or see minimal use and are pretty obvious that I don't use them. Whatever rarely sees the light of day gets loaded into a donate bag. It keeps my kitchen uncluttered as much as a small kitchen can be.
This is much of the same approach I take towards tools. In my experience I don't use a great number of tools on my car, at home or camping. Most of what I use can be placed in a single toolbox. If I need larger items we have local access to a collection of tools that you might need for a one-off job or you can rent them from home improvement stores.
As many of you know my entire career has been spent in tourism and sports. I've gone into how you can help these industries today. If you're someone that is still collecting regular checks and care to have these things once restrictions are removed you should take ownership today. I wrote an entire article about this. This will be especially hard on smaller communities such as a West Lafayette, Iowa City, Pullman or State College. Even the schools that do plan to play will take a big hit. Think: Auburn, Tuscaloosa, Clemson.
With a potential cancellation of a college football season how do I see this playing out? I'm going to put on my Master's in Sport Management hat to take a crack.
1. Furloughs of staffs with the exception of absolutely essential employees.
I would expect to see this happening for any game day staff, but if there are no media contracts to fulfill this is when the layoff/furloughs could get bad. Outside of merchandise sales, how do you make money? You could go the route of some art museums and auction off some luxury pieces of merchandise that have no real place in the current or future narrative of your school. Basically hold an auction or a yard sale.
2. Cutting sports that are neither profit generators, haven't seen recent large infusions of investment nor are used to balance the gender scholarship scale.
Football is the 10,000 pound elephant in the room of every D-1 athletic department. Dozens of them produce well into the eight or nine digit revenue streams. However, the truth is there should only be a fraction of the number of teams there are nationwide if we're just looking at profit margins. These major football programs also occupy 85 scholarships and need to be matched proportionately from women's sports. Some schools get clever with this by financing teams like women's rowing that is relatively cheap to operate and have major rosters. In most cases the female equivalent sports have a handful of addition scholarships as opposed to the male counterparts.
What I could see happening is an athletic department placing schools into three buckets: Profit Generators, Gender Scholarship Balancers or Recent Large Investments. What I mean by this is your profit generators are likely football and men's basketball. Your gender scholarship balancers are basically what I described in the above paragraph and there are other programs that for the sake of timing have seen large financial investments int their facilities or teams. If you're a sport that doesn't clearly go in any of those three buckets I'd start to worry. Universities at the highest level only need to have I believe 17 varsity sports to keep their status. You've already seen this start to happen around the country, probably most highlights by Stanford cutting 11 sports.
3. Eating into financial reserves that might have been earmarked for facility improvements or budget increases.
Make no bones about it, major college football is an arms race. Who has the biggest recruiting budget? Who has the most swagged out locker rooms? It's all about the bells and whistles to attract recruits. Without great players it is obviously difficult to win. What could credibly happen is improvement projects that aren't coming directly from a donor could get postponed or even cancelled.
As this carries over into communities.....I'll take off my sports hat and put back on my tourism hat.
1. Minimal overnight stays
This is a no-duh item. If there is no event to go to, then you simply won't stay. College sports is an event driven business and without crowds there is no reason to come. The only overnight options I could possibly see doing well through all of this is remote home shares and possibly resort style locations with the capacity to social distance.
2. Slow restaurants
This is a no duh. Many restaurants operate on razor thin margins during the best of times. A prolonged dead period is taking the razor to the juggler of some restaurants throughout the country. When restaurants or even whole complexes (i.e. St. Louis' Ballpark Village) depend on pre-game and post-game crowds to make hay when the sun in shining it is hard, if not impossible to turn in a positive year. In university towns slow summers are often cured by busy falls. I would expect fall to be busier with students returning, but all of restrictions of not being able to move around freely to talk to other groups will be a huge hindrance.
3. Retail stores taking a beating
If I ran a local popular retail store I would really double down on a social media push out to the alumni of whatever school I was at for merchandise. Really pull on that tearjerker emotion of missing out on a season. If you aren't active through eCommerce, you should get on the ball quickly.
Once again HELP THESE BUSINESSES TODAY! If you're still getting paid, don't stay home for every meal or cancel your travel plans. This is especially true if you are driving to your destination. Buy gift cards from these businesses, shop local, buy from them online and share your experiences with friends.
I've been rejected from over 1,000 jobs throughout my career. The truth is I probably never heard back from about 85% of them. Do you really want to work for a company that leaves people hanging because they're too lazy to send an automated email back? You can't take it personally, you've just got to brush it off.
The truth is that I've never once stopped applying to jobs at any point in my career. In my opinion, without the incentive of pensions that pay out if you stay a number of years there is zero reason to be loyal to an organization. You should always have an idea of your open market value. In any given year, I am probably taking 6+ interviews to see if I am a fit and I can improve my career standing.
I failed my way to success - Thomas Edison
Getting Rejected Over 1,000 Times Forces You To Overcome the Fear of Failure
First off I graduated in 2008 from undergrad and 2009 from graduate school. Impressive to have a master's degree by 23 by any standard, but horrid timing in the market. Not only were companies tightening their belts, but now you were competing with the people who were cut by companies earlier in the year. I bet I pumped out 300-400 applications, took 10-15 preliminary interviews and 3-4 final interviews before I landed my internship in Cocoa, FL working at a sport complex. The first couple of months is rough, but the sooner you realize that you are getting better at the process of applying the more you'll get out of it. If you can get over the fear of failure you'll go far in your career.
Apply to the Jobs That Interest You, Not the Ones That Pay the Highest
I've made this mistake multiple times over my life. In a few instances I didn't do a good job of reading the job description and comprehending what the position really entails. When I get to the interview the job sound dreadfully boring and not motivating in the least. Even though the pay is great, I would dread going to the job every day. Walk away from these opportunities as fast as you can. The ideal situation is a position that makes you happy and pays the bills. It's harder to find than you may think.
Create a Market For Yourself
When you apply to that many jobs you start to create a market for yourself. What is interesting is that you won't have anyone call you for weeks, but then out of the blue three or four businesses will contact you in a week to set up phone interviews. Use these opportunities to learn the ins and out of the company you'll be talking to and have answers for your experience as it relates to the job listing. Give them two to three things you bring to the table that they might not have in-house already or improves their operations.
It Helps To Be Local
This has probably worked more against me than for me, as I've always lived in small cities. Companies prefer someone that doesn't take travel logistics for them to interview and can come right in and work. When you're someone coming from far away you have to be really good in the interview and head over heels better than any of the other candidates. It is very possible to do this by coming in really prepared for the interview, but.....
Go Into the Interview With the Attitude That You Want the Job, But You Don't Need the Job
You don't want to go into the interview desperate for the position. Come in prepared to answer questions, offer solutions to problems you perceive and let them know everything you bring to the table. You shouldn't leave the interview kicking yourself that you should have told them about this skill or that certification. Go beyond the resume you sent in. That earned you the first date, so sell yourself to get a second date. Much like the dating scene you don't want to seem desperate, because that will put the other party off. Act like you want to be there and have things move forward, but act as if it isn't your only opportunity.
Knowing Someone Gets You an Interview, But Not the Job
I've been on both sides of this. Getting an interview because I knew someone/someones on the team hiring and also getting an interview for someone. This only gets you as far as the door and the chance to interview.
I've gotten several interviews over the years because I know someone on the hiring team, but I still need to perform well in the initial interview to move forward. You should absolutely take these seriously, because your friend/peer is putting their credibility on the line.
Companies Want the Internal Candidate To Get the Job
I've been on the short end of this stick several times over the years. You either take the call or find out later that there was a preferred internal candidate, but they needed to do their due diligence and interview external candidates. This blows, but put yourself in their shoes. If someone you've worked with for probably years wants a new position and you know they are reliable, why go with an unknown?
Work On the Commonalities in the Job Descriptions
Over time you're going to see common themes or skills in the positions you are applying for. It could be specific software programs, general concepts like CRM management, soft skills like public speaking or a host of others. Write down what you're commonly seeing in the posts and go to work trying to improve upon those skills. From there build examples for potential employers that leave them impressed and with zero doubt of your capabilities to handle said position.
Never Get Down On Yourself
When it comes down to job applications you will always fail more than you succeed. The thing to take from it is getting comfortable with the lessons you learn from applying, interviewing and developing contacts. Just keep building your work portfolio and making your case stronger. Work on projects, gain skills, grow those skills, build contacts and keep plugging away. You never know what will come your way.
I found myself making a comfortable lunch today that was quick and easy. Once I was done and sitting down at my coffee table I had to laugh. Why, you ask? I bet anyone I'm related to can tell you without reading any further.
You see growing up in a family of six in rural Pennsylvania traveling that involved hotels wasn't the most cost effective way to see the world. My family had a pop-up camper that allowed us all to stay together at campgrounds for a reasonable price. Many of our meals comprised of a peanut butter sandwich (or just a slice of bread with peanut butter on it) with a piece of fruit and more than likely a Little Debbie. In our family, the Oatmeal Cream Pie held a special place. But heaven forbid you open it up before the other items were gone.
When we traveled Mom was very persistent that we have to finish our sandwich and fruit before you can have the Oatmeal Cream Pie. Depending on how dry the bread was or overly ripe the fruit may have been might have been a difficult task for most 7-18 year olds. For a plate you tore off a paper towel, found a picnic table at a rest area and ate your meal before we got back on the road to continue the journey. Buying food for six people at a Wendy's or McDonald's not only wasn't nutrient rich, but also was expensive. In her mind she might have viewed this simply as feeding her kids without wasting time and money. To me looking back on it, it was a lesson in those things and delayed gratification.
How does this relate to the world I see when I step outside my door?
So many people just want to fill themselves with the dessert without putting in the work of getting the vitamins and nutrients of the rest of the meal. Their entire lives are living for the short-term. They want to be physically fit using some diet pill instead of simply burning more calories than they consume every day. People expect a high paying job without the hard work of building a strong body of work. This is why people invest in get rich quick schemes or waste their money buying lottery tickets rather than contributing money to investments and investing in assets.
What are you willing to sacrifice today to get to the rewards of tomorrow?
Can you give up going through the drive-through every morning? Something I am sure your waistline and wallet would both thank you for.
Can you give up buying a new truck every 3-4 years and ride it out with one for 10-12 years so you can invest money through index funds or open a Roth IRA? Your 65 year old self will thank your 35 year old self.
Can you give up an hour of Netflix or Hulu every night to build skills that get you where you want to go? The next time you have a job interview you'll be well-rounded by some new skill that allows you to add value to their business.
Can you give up happy hours and drag your butt to the gym every evening? You'll sleep better, feel better and have more energy.
Can you pass up the sweet snacks throughout the day in favor of fruits and vegetables? You won't just get a bunch of hollow calories.
Can you not open Facebook or Instagram to get your news, but rather sit down with a book on history? You'll become a more well-rounded individual in conversations.
There are entirely too many people out of shape, living in debt and without skills that are too weak of will to say "no".
How has this lesson impacted my current life?
I'd say there are many ways that this has benefitted me. Anyone that spends time with me can be annoyed by my love of lists and routine.
Many of these tasks call for a lot of short-term sacrifice and saying "no" to friends and family. Sometimes saying "no" is easier than other times. However, staying disciplined to my goals above has allowed me to stay healthy, fit, well insulated from financial hardship, mentally happy and well educated in a variety of disciplines and view points.
If you're into delayed gratification enjoy one of behavioral economics favorite experiments. The marshmallow experiment for kids. I would be willing to bet that there are some adults that couldn't pass this test.
Needless to say 2020 has not been kind to the folks that work in hospitality, live events and tourism. I've spent my entire career in this niche. Tourism is really fed by hoards of people coming to town for major events and conferences. They don't come because they enjoy the local Holiday Inn Express or Super 8, they're there because something is going on that creates the necessity for an overnight stay. Restaurants depend on both locals and visitors coming to their restaurants with consistency. Live events, namely concerts, festivals and sports depend on their turnstiles for their revenue. If they're interesting enough, they might create some TV or online viewership revenue. However, these industries are battered and bruised right now, even as you see other industries essentially go untouched or even thrive in the current conditions. We have no idea when the hard news will let up. Those that haven't largely been impacted financially have a responsibility to help thy neighbor.
Shop and Eat Local
Whenever you pull through the drive-through of McDonalds, hit the buy button on Amazon or pick up a few groceries at Wal-Mart you aren't helping your local economy. Sure, they might pay some people enough to barely get by and pay their local taxes, but the bulk of their revenue is going elsewhere. You should look to eat at non-chain stores that are locally owned, employ local people and keep their money in their community.
Figures that I've heard from a variety of studies is 55%-80% of revenue stays local when you shop local, while 8%-15% stays local when you shop at a major chain store. The publicly traded major chains can shoulder the swings and the smartest communities limit their entry to the market to begin with. If you're a big proponent of "Made in the USA" do it one better. Drive by Target and Wal-Mart and put your money where your mouth is and buy local.
Buy Gift Certificates
Restaurants and locally owned stores need revenue now to cover rent, utilities and whatever staff they have left. They are frustrated by wild swings in occupancy limits and regulations sometimes with little or no runway to implement them. Just because a store's capabilities are limited doesn't mean the bills stop coming in the mail. If you love that restaurant or store because you can walk in and shake the owner's hand support it today. Don't wait until "things get better." Personally, I might go to a chain restaurant once every other week, but 80%+ of my restaurant spend stays in the local community. I love going to farmer's markets and small stores to see what kind of neat items they have. You aren't seven people removed from the maker of the good, but often chatting with them in person. You also get a feel for your destination in a way that a major chain's sterile environment won't ever give you.
Buy Merchandise from Local Sports Teams
Minor league sports and small universities are struggling mightily right now. Teams are getting cut, spectators are being left on the outside and some minor league baseball teams are never coming back. You might not be able to attend their games and they might not have a TV deal, but buy some mechandise from their websites. Not Amazon or Dick's Sporting Goods, but their own in-house websites. Also, if you can lock in future season ticket packages or voucher books do so. Buy gift cards that can be used in the park at a future date. If you care to see those teams remain a part of your community in the future, support them today.
Take a Driving Trip
When I say take a trip it is quite possible to go for a 3-4 hour drive somewhere and not encounter large crowds. Book a room or a campsite at a new location you've wanted to visit or an old favorite. If you're worried about leaving the state, then don't. There is plenty to explore in your own back yard.
Go to stores and restaurants that you can't go to at home (read: Olive Garden and Cracker Barrel) to get a unique experience. Give those businesses positive reviews online. The hotel industry is absolutely cratered right now and you can have your own private room and bathroom on any trip you're on. You probably won't get any better prices and ability to opt-out of a trip than you do right now. But.......
Wear Your Mask
This is simple. Wear your mask and avoid crowds as much as you can. Anyone can do it. What's the risk-reward to borrow from Machiavelli's "The Prince"? The potential reward is saving hundreds of thousands of lives and the sanity of the healthcare community with the risk of wearing a piece of fabric and avoiding hanging out in crowds. It's not hard. The risk of the inconvenience is well worth the potential reward.
"I Will Teach You To Be Rich" is my favorite personal finance book. Why? It doesn't treat you like you're a clueless adult like some books do and it isn't so technical that only a handful of its readers really grasp the lessons. It bridges a nice gap in the middle that anyone that is looking to get a handle on their personal finance should buy into.
I've actually read both editions of this book. The first I checked out of the Penn State on campus library, but I bought the newest edition for my own library. I will comfortably say that after reading the text the first time I made a couple of decisions that made me anywhere from $800-$1,000 in my first year. Pretty good return-on-investment, right?
I've always been pretty responsible when it comes to my finances. However, there is always room to get better. In this book, you don't have to give up your expensive activities (for me it is my gym), but you also need to find ways to achieve your financial goals before you go crazy spending or even worse borrowing through loans or credit card payments. This means investing up to your company match in your 401(K) or in my case a SEP-IRA. If you've already done that find a way to fully fund your Roth-IRA (up to $6,000 per year for those under age 50). Both are pretty sweet deals to grow your money and not make 65 year old you want to hop in a time machine and beat up 30 year old you with a cane.
The book goes into big purchases such as cars, home, marriages and more. Setting up a savings plan to pay for those goals should be part of your strategy if you see fit. Unlike many personal finance gurus the author doesn't shove home ownership down your throat. This is ideal for me, because I work in tourism and sports where there are only a handful of such organizations per region. For me, I would rather invest those funds rather than having the urgency of home ownership.
There are so many lessons to take from this book that I am only scratching the surface.
What Did I Learn?
1. The first thing I did after reading this book the first time is quit using my debit card for all of my purchases. I found a credit card with a strong cash back program and have used that for anything that I could. Most importantly, just because I have a credit card doesn't mean my spending habits change. All that changed was the route that I pay for. I also pay off my credit card in full each month meaning I get all the perks of cash back without the inconvenience of paying interest.
2. I opened up a high-interest online savings account. Most people work with a typical brick-and-mortar bank you can walk into. It's great to say "hi" to those folks and you absolutely should have a checking account through an organization like this in my opinion simply for the support of your community. However, I wouldn't stash my money in their savings accounts, CD's, money market accounts or anything else. When you do you're paying their overhead and getting a lousy interest rate in exchange for doing so. I found an online savings account that gives me anywhere from 20x-30x the traditional bank interest rate. It was eye-opening in my first month when my interest total was greater than a full year in my traditional bank.
3. I had just a SEP-IRA through work, which functions similar to a 401(K) meaning that my money doesn't get taxed until I take it out after I turn 59 1/2 if I so choose. However, I have enough extra money laying around that I opened a Roth IRA through Vanguard recently. The difference in this account vs. the other two I mentioned is that the money was already taxed when it was paid to me and will NOT be taxed when I pull it out in my ripe old age. I can contribute as much as $6,000/year into this account.
4. This is still one I am kicking around, but I love to travel. It might make sense for me to open a travel focused credit card to pay for my travel I already do and also my going out to eat. Obviously, you pay the dollar amount in full each month and keep the rewards that come with owning the card. At the end of a year or two, what kind of rewards will I be looking at. Will it be enough to cover most of a weekend getaway? That sure would be nice.
Benefit #1: Tons of really smart people
Outside of coming to school here, it is the people of the community that keeps me here. Although not the most diverse place I've lived, it isn't unusual to hear 4-5 languages while crossing town. I love that! State College is probably the most informed place I've lived when it comes to current events and history. The conversations you'll have here are at a much higher level than most places in the country.
Challenge #1: Lots of smart friends moving away
Smart people tend to have a lot of employment options. The problem is that the majority of them that pay a competitive wage are not here. It is tough to listen to your friends in larger metro areas be able to job hop and quickly build up their salary level.
Frankly, I wish the local business community would do a better job of trying to retain students by making a compelling argument on why they should stay. Not every student is looking to escape to NYC, Philly, Pittsburgh or DC when they graduate. Pooling funds and effort to make a strong push for new graduates would be ideal. Also a growing a foothold in 2-3 niches (i.e. medical, tech, robotics) where you have 3-4 companies competing for talent would be ideal.
Benefit #2: Great walkable neighborhoods
One thing I really love about State College is that I can walk most anywhere if I have the time. It is a well-regarded bicycle friendly town as well. There has been some chipping away at this walkable and bicycle friendly city though in much of the construction on the outskirts of town with big box stores that are more car dependent to get to. All and all, if you live near downtown you can go weeks without driving and the CATA bus system is pretty good.
Challenge #2: Expensive housing market
New housing construction is mainly for luxury student housing and monstrosity family homes. It is really difficult to save a down-payment and pay the mortgage if you're a single person making less than $50,000/year. According to Zillow at this very moment there are only 25 properties under $150,000 within shouting distance of State College and many of them are run down. This leaves you with the options of renting an older apartment, having roommates or buying a home 30 minutes plus away from State College where most of the jobs are located. The problem with much of the new rental projects going up is they all have hidden costs associated with them such as amenity fees forcing you to pay an extra $100 a month for a clubhouse and pool you'll rarely use.
Benefit #3: Tight-knit business community
A benefit of a community that teeters between city and town is that most people that have been here a while know each other in the business community. They know where each other stand and there isn't a lot of wasted time feeling each other out to reach higher goals. It is a most-friendly and helpful collection of people that work with a smile and eye to the greater good.
Challenge #3: Lack of competitiveness between local companies for talent
I touched on this above, but this is the greatest hurdle I deal with as a 30-something that has spent his whole career in sports and tourism. There are really only about three places I can work locally within my industry and at one point or another I've worked for all three. None of the three came out of this COVID-19 looking great. This experience is common for many young people looking to drive up their earning potential. If you get another job offer to take back to your employer to match it usually necessitates a move. The other option is you have to switch and learn a whole new industry.
Benefit #4: Above-average restaurant and nightlife scene
This is something I don't think State College and the surrounding community get enough credit for. There are some really talented chefs and great places to eat in our back yard. Just walking downtown you'll find well over a dozen nationalities of food catering to a diverse university tied community. Those of us that do enjoy going to large cities to eat can usually find something comparable here in State College. The nightlife is largely built for the university, but it is enjoyed by the community as a whole. In a lot of smaller destinations everything closes at 8 PM or 10 PM. Luckily for us, you can find a great bite to eat really up until about midnight.
Challenge #4: Many jobs are hourly service based
This is the downside of having a strong service community outside of the university. It is tough to pay rent or a mortgage on $10-$12/hour jobs unless you're driving in from quite a distance. In the best of times many restaurants and small businesses have had trouble finding people to fill vacancies. "Well, what about the students?" you ask. Many students believe that in today's day in age where you can't work summers to pay off your tuition any longer, it is better to just fall into debt and invest your time in building your resume for a career position than spend time working 20-30 hours a week in a pay my rent position.
Benefit #5: Four seasons
If you're someone that loves a diverse set of seasons, this is your place. Spring usually pops out in late April and is really beautiful throughout the region. Summer typically tops out in the 80's and is wonderful to go to local pools, state parks to cool off with friends or go pick strawberries. Fall shows off a rich collection of colors and we go 107,000 strong in Beaver Stadium for Penn State Football. Oh and....
Challenge #5: One of those seasons is winter
Winters here are long....I mean like five months long. For someone that hates cold weather, every year's winter is brutally long. We lucked out a bit this 2019-2020 winter with minimal snow fall and mild temperatures, but that isn't the norm.
Benefit #6: Proximity to the great outdoors and a very active community
State College is hands down the most athletic and active place I've ever lived. There are always people out jogging, working out, hiking the trails, skiing, playing rec sports and going for a walk. What is nice is you can go from your desk in the middle of downtown to a hiking trail in the middle of nature in less than 15 minutes. It is a major reason why people move to this region.
Challenge #6: Lack of proximity to diverse shopping
The remoteness is also a challenge. We have your basic big box stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy. There is also a large collection of small business that you should spend time in. What is challenging, and it is a damned-if-you-do or damned-if-you-don't situation, is that there are no close outlet malls to this region. A true shopping trip involves going to Grove City, PA or Lancaster, PA to the outlets. If you're really looking for high-end or urban design it necessitates a 3-4 hour drive to DC, Pittsburgh or Philly. Also the fashion capital of North America, New York City, is less than five hours away.
If you missed Part 1: Click Here
Having graduated with my BA in Journalism from Penn State in May of 2008, there was a dark cloud over kids leaving school. That cloud was the impending housing bubble, that we knew was going to burst but not know when. With this in mind I quickly applied to graduate schools in the hope that I could better myself and the financial ruins would be recovered once I was finished in 2009 or 2010. Hopefully, I could kick the can down the road and I’d be more marketable when I got out.
I felt worried when professors set our class down to tell us about the upcoming economic turmoil that was just shortly coming down the road. There were a lot of nervous eyes in that room and rightfully so. After almost four years of time invested in your education, it was quite possible you’d have to move home to live with your parents and work a minimal wage job you could have had in high school. Try paying back a student loan with minimum wage or an unpaid internship.
Journalism, particularly traditional journalism, has taken a beating over the last 15-20 years. As newspapers get thinner and thinner, the newsrooms that make up a community’s watchdog get more sparse. Now, many people turn to social media for their news and can’t distinguish real news from horribly slanted news from questionable, at best, sources. These questionable online platforms really erode the quality of journalism in the name of timeliness. So many great local stories now go unnoticed, because there aren't enough local journalists to cover them all.
I tested above-average on the GRE score and was a 3.3 student at Penn State. Probably what you would describe as a solid student, but nothing extraordinary. I always felt like I was playing a bit of catch-up to other students throughout all four years. However, I did well enough to scrape together a decent resume for schools. The worst part about the whole thing is that Penn State didn't even offer the GRE's on campus. I didn't have a car, so my parents came down from near Erie to take me to Indiana, PA and the IUP campus to take my test. Talk about inconvenient.
What I always joke about is that I might be the only journalism graduate who tested significantly higher in math than I did on the verbal section of both the SAT's and GRE's. However, I always loved the great story tellers and is why I went into journalism. Personally, I just enjoyed telling stories using numbers. In my time working in tourism, it has been fun to use the numbers to determine what subjects your audience wants you to write on, creating the content and then pushing it out through all of your channels. Once again you return to the numbers to maximize your reach and audience.
If I remember correctly I got in everywhere I applied for a master’s degree in Sport Management: Middle Tennessee State, Southern Miss, Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. I even got recruited to apply by departments at other schools like Tiffin (OH), University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a handful of others. All I knew was I wanted to go somewhere that was warmer than Central Pennsylvania where winters seemingly last for six months. If I had a little more confidence in myself going in I found out I had a good enough resume to attend places like Florida, Texas, Alabama, etc. Looking back on it I should have been more aggressive.
With an impending economic problem on the horizon I was nervous of the prospect of going into student debt. This weighed on me pretty heavily throughout the timeline leading up to leaving for school. I kept in constant contact with all of the departments where I had been accepted that I was very, I mean VERY, open to working as a graduate assistant. This meant my tuition would be paid for me and I’d get a stipend to cover things like books, housing and food.
I spent the summer after my Penn State graduation in May of 2008 living in State College. No offense to my hometown of 400, but State College has much more to do and also stop lights. I had tested the job market a bit, but ultimately a lot of companies had hiring freezes or were laying employees off. What chance did I have as a new graduate with limited experience? Hey, there's always unpaid internships where we pay you in experience. You just have to move to a new city and pay for it. Thanks, but no thanks.
Throughout that summer I worked two jobs: the first being a tour guide at Beaver Stadium at the Penn State All-Sports Museum making $8.50/hour and the second working as an intern at a company called Pro Player Video. I discovered the internship with PPV in Penn State’s Career Services job listings. It was run by a former Penn State Basketball player Tyler Smith. This was a thrill for me, because it was professional sports and Tyler was a starter on one of my all-time favorite teams in all of Penn State sports (2000-2001 PSU Basketball). Over the years I got to meet several of the players from that team.
Although the income from the PPV position was limited, it gave me a good view at the business of sports. I even got a chance to go up to Fordham University to a professional basketball exposure camp offered by EuroBasket. I slept on a couch in Harlem the night before and woke up to spend 10 hours recording basketball games in the dead of summer in a gym that wasn't air conditioned. I drank seven 20 oz bottles of water and never went to the bathroom until that evening. My clothes were soaked through and I didn't even play a second of basketball. I loved every minute of it.
My daily schedule that summer was working at the Penn State All-Sports Museum from 10 AM-4 PM. Most of the time I walked the two miles in each direction to and from work. I can’t tell you how many times I was late because I was stopped by a family for directions or to ask questions about the school. Once I got home from work at about 5 PM I would eat dinner and settle in to edit game film for potential or current professional basketball players from 6-9 or 10 PM.
This was pretty much my life as graduate school crept closer and closer. There was still no word on whether I would get a graduate assistant position, but as my Mom says “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. I would let the programs know what I was working on and that I was still interested in coming. A few kind of dropped off the map and I was down to Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee State and Old Dominion that were all checking into what was available for me.
Finally, halfway through the summer and only a handful of weeks before I would have to move out of my State College apartment I got a call from Southern Miss. On the line was one of my future professors and ultimately a mentor in Dr. Dennis Phillips. He was offering me a graduate assistant position working with a new professor focused in athletic training. I would also be teaching a couple of classes to earn my keep. That was fine by me, because I finally had a home for the next year and could quit worrying about the future. Shoot, I probably would have mopped the floors, polished the doorknobs and walked their dogs. They probably came up on the short end of the deal.
I really have to thank some mentors and people that helped me out with some letter of recommendation to graduate schools. Chris Ritchie in Penn State's Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State was really patient with me. I was far from a natural writer and was playing catch up in a lot of ways academically. Chris is a really fun guy to learn from and everyone loves his Hawaiian shirt days. Dave Baker from Penn State Athletics served as a professor in Sports Information while I was in the newly formed John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. Dave has a wealth of experiences working in sports and it was a joy to talk with him about behind-the-scenes topics. I also have to thank my boss from the Penn State All-Sports Museum Ken Hickman. It was a lot of fun working there and creating special experiences for fans of Penn State. Something that was just every day to me turned into family or wedding photos that went on family mantles, even if what I did to make those moments might be against company policy.
Even after I had a couple more prestigious schools reach out to me about helping fill out their program class, most notably Stanford, I stuck with Southern Miss. I was headed for the sunny pine belt.
The lessons I took from this period of my life are:
1. Don't assume that there will be a job waiting for you when you graduate. Economic times ebb and flow. Yes, I was dealt a crappy hand in timing, but I went out and created my own breaks.
2. Maximize the opportunities that you have in your current location. That was something I didn't do a good enough job of at Penn State. Yes, it was enough to get me to my next step, but I should have done a better job padding my resume and making connections for down the road.
3. Be open to new locations and opportunities. I had never even been to the state of Mississippi when I applied to the school. That leap of faith paid off.
4. Be willing to put yourself out there with people of all ages and backgrounds. You never know when they'll need someone and you're fresh in their minds.
There is a Silver Lining in Every Setback Part 1: Venango County, Going to Penn State and Understanding Privilege
I grew up in a great family. As the youngest of four in rural Northwestern Pennsylvania you always had to find ways to entertain yourself. With us it was traveling the country (like myself with my favorite President Abe Lincoln) in our pop-up camper, playing a lot of board games and spending time outdoors. My time sleeping in the outdoors can be measured in the years, not in weeks or days.
Our house was about 1,100 square feet for the six of us. With the average household now having just short of 1,000 square feet/person I don’t know how we didn’t kill each other. I always thought only having one bathroom was nuts and I still do. It was a good thing we were pretty secluded in the woods with a big yard to run around.
As a kid you don’t understand economic development. All I knew was we as a community in Venango County were very dependent on the likes of Quaker State, Wolf’s Head and Pennzoil for careers. At one time the region was one of the nation’s most prosperous areas of the country. Slowly throughout my youth those companies moved south to more fertile territory, mostly in Texas where the taxes are low. When they left they promised they would help replace their economic impact. What a corporate lie that was. The question became: If you get a college degree why would you come home to Venango County?
Most recently in Oil City, PA the median household income is about $36,000 compared to the national average of about $62,000. I started high school with 105 kids, graduated with 80 and about 40 of us went to college. Many of my friends I grew up with either left the community as a whole or were in and out of trouble shortly after high school. At first it was largely marijuana, meth or cocaine based, but increasingly over the last five years it has been heroin. I still get nervous each time I click on a police blotter article from home.
It isn’t all doom and gloom as a handful of friends moved back becoming difference makers that I admire. Hopefully they can turn the tide on what has been a difficult 20+ years. It has been exciting to go home and see a brewpub or new restaurant pop up where boarded up windows once were. I hope they can keep this trajectory for the next generation growing up in Venango County.
Most of my region has safe public schools in the grand scheme of things. Nowhere near the top any kind of state rankings, but we made due. I didn't even realize field hockey, debate, chess or lacrosse teams were HS activities until I was at Penn State. It is basically public school or bust for kids in the region. Coming from a family of public schools teachers, was there really an option?
Our teachers really cared about us students and helping us reach our goals. For many of us teachers were about the only people we knew with a college degree. Visiting with the majority of high school friends their parents mostly went to work after high school in some kind of blue-collar or clerical position. We didn’t see a diverse group of successful college or trade school graduates. Mostly people living paycheck-to-paycheck. Luckily, we had a teacher in high school that exposed us to plenty of college tours to gain perspective. Unfortunately, only about 20-25% of all students went on such tours to know what is possible.
I finished 14th out of 80 students in my high school class. It would have been higher, but I’ve always had the personality of mailing in any subject or assignment I didn’t care about. I wanted to invest the minimal amount of time, so that I could spend more time on things I cared about. Those topics I cared about were easy A’s. For me that was economics and content creation mostly. For a long-time my personal website had more traffic than our HS's website, which my friends and I always found comical. Since we technically had a guidance counselor, but he never really met with any of us I chose journalism as a major to combine those interests. There was no other place I wanted to attend than Penn State. All three of my older siblings have a degree from the school, so my choice was easy.
I credit Penn State more so with expanding upon my worldview than necessarily the traditional education I received. You got to meet, and sometimes live, with people from vastly different background from yours. You found a lot of common ground with people you never would have if you only judged a book by its’ cover. I’ve remained good friends with so many of these people and count them now as family.
What surprised me after my first year at Penn State was that I had way more in common with inner-city kids from minority groups than I did with wealthy white kids from the suburbs of those cities. Just far more relatable to my background of tight-knit families with 3+ kids having to stretch a budget. How comical is it in a world now so divided along political and cultural lines that a rural white kid easily bonded with kids from the Bronx or inner-city DC?
My parents believed that education was worth saving for throughout their careers. As long as I finished in eight semesters, went to a public school and stayed in the state of Pennsylvania, they could pay for it. I got everything I needed and a few things that I wanted. I owe many of my friendships and achievements to their saving and sacrifice to get me there.
However, I also found what geographical economic privilege was as well. My jaw dropped when other students said they would apply to 10, 15, 20+ internship opportunities in their backyard. I'd already fought the battle just to get to a place like Penn State, but now I learned there was another steep climb until my 2008 graduation.
You also found there were big advantages for kids from wealthy families:
About the Author
Andy Rupert is a Penn State (B.A. John Curley Center for Sports Journalism 08') and a Southern Miss (M.S. Sport Management 09'). He has spent his whole career working in sports and tourism digital marketing and metrics.