By Lacey Filipich, BEng(Hons), MAICD
There aren’t many industries in which you can make a pile of cash without formal qualifications, but mining is definitely one. The lure of a six-figure salary is often enough to overcome our hesitation at being away from our families for extended periods, sometimes for several weeks at a time.
Yet somehow, with all the extra income, some people who work fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) in the mining industry STILL have financial problems – just ask them! There’s not a crib room I’ve visited that didn’t contain someone complaining about their financial situation. So, if you’re a FIFO worker, how can you avoid the typical financial pitfalls we find in this workgroup? Here are four ideas you may find helpful…
1. Have a rainy-day plan
Mining has always been and will always be cyclic. There are the glorious peaks, where the coffers overflow and there simply aren’t enough people in Australia to fill the demand for skills workers. You can double or treble your salary in a few years in this environment – and some of us fall into the trap of thinking that’s normal.
Well, it’s not normal. Commodities are an excellent proof that what goes up, must go down. When the bottom approaches, companies will shed employees and contractors like it’s going out of fashion. Layoffs are part of the deal – if you work in mining, expect to see redundancies at many points in your career. So, what would you do if you are one of the seemingly unlucky ones that gets the chop in a downturn?
Take a leaf out of Douglas Adams’ book and DON’T PANIC! Sounds like rhetoric, but I have heard countless stories of people being laid off from their full-time mining job, only to be re-employed as a contractor in the same role less than two months later, for a lot more money.
Make your (awesome) plan
I recommend having a rainy day plan – this is a set of actions you would take if you lost your job. It might include things you would do to downsize your spending, e.g.:
- Sell some toys (boat, jet ski, motorbike etc),
- Find a place with lower rent to live in,
- Fire the cleaner and do your own cleaning for a while.
But it shouldn’t just be about spending less. The best rainy day plans I’ve heard are AWESOME. In fact, they’re so good that the people who made them have a hard time not quitting work just so they can start enacting those plans! Here’s a few people have mentioned to me:
- Doing a twelve-month house swap with a family in Spain so your kids can learn the language and travel through Europe.
- Backpacking around South America for several months, seeing the highlights (e.g. Machu Picchu and Patagonia).
- Completing an MBA at a world-standard university, and doing it the full-time way to take advantage of the amazing case study discussions they offer (which you miss out when you do it remotely).
- Living near a beach with great surf for six months, with nothing to do but master the long board.
- Be the stay-at-home mum for a while – including some long lunches while the kids are at school!
Make this plan so good that if the opportunity to do it ever arrives, you will leap at the chance.
Set aside the cash you need
Work out how much cash you need to make your plan happen. You will be surprised at how little such plans actually cost – especially if you relocate all your living expenses to a cheaper place to live for an extended period (e.g. negotiate a long-term rental or house swap instead of living in hotels). I have had several mini-retirements in my life, and interestingly they have been the least cost-per-week periods of my life.
Now that you’ve worked out the cost, double it – just in case you decide to stick with that plan for longer, or something unforeseen pops up.
And now for the hardest part of that whole plan: set aside that amount in cash so you can access it when you need to. The cash doesn’t have to be in a transaction account – it could be in a term deposit, or your mortgage offset account, or even in your mortgage redraw facility. So long as you can have that cash within 2 days of deciding you want it.
If you have an awesome rainy-day plan and the cash to make it happen, you will be the crazy guy grinning in the meeting when they announce the job cuts. What a way to turn a potentially highly stressful event into something amazing!
With that cash set aside, you will also feel under less pressure to take the first job you’re offered – you can take your time to pick the right job for you, or choose not to work for a period. Even if you do end up with another job inside 3 months and you don’t get to live in Spain for a year, you’ve ensured you had enough cash to make it through that period of unemployment. And as we know, what goes down will also come up again – eventually anyway – so you’ll get another role eventually.
While you are working, you’re probably away from home between 40% and 75% of the time. On site, you work hard and don’t get much time for play outside the 12+ hour days. Understandably, you don’t want to come home to a list of chores on your Rest & Relaxation – that’s why it’s called R&R, not C&S (Chores & Slavery).
This is where having the extra disposable cash that comes with most FIFO roles is a big advantage: you can afford to outsource menial and mundane tasks for a fraction of your hourly rate, thus reducing stress substantially. The return on investment is immeasurable, but I can tell you it makes me feel fantastic!
Here are a list of things I have outsourced in the past:
$63 each fortnight gets me 2 hours, which does the floors and the bathrooms plus some dusting. More than enough for my standards of cleanliness!
Washing and ironing
There are places that will collect your washing for you, or you can arrange to drop it off.
A fortnightly organic fruit-and-veg box delivery is $33 in my neighbourhood, and supplies 3 people for 7 days. The big grocery stores will also do a delivery to your home, or you can drive up to collect your shopping from one of their pick-up centres. Or you could get prepared meals delivered when you want them, a la Lite n Easy.
Booking travel and appointments
I hired a virtual assistant for $20 an hour. She lives in Perth, speaks perfect English and I just email or call her with any job I don’t want to do myself. It was a wonderful help when I was living overseas in a different time zone. I also had my snail mail redirected to her house, so once a week I receive an email with all the mail attached as scan. That part costs about $5 a week.
Help with the kids
A nanny costs $20 an hour, or $200 a day. Give yourself a break one day a week and have the nanny get the kids to and from school, and in between do all the chores you’ve been putting off.
I had my virtual assistant call up an airline once to lodge my complaint for me, and I told him not to get off the phone till he got something. He was on hold for 1 hour, spent 30 minutes reading out my complaint and arguing with customer service, and produced a $150 voucher for me. Turned a horrid event into something entertaining – worth the $69 a month I paid for the service!
For those with at-home partners, don’t just do this for your tasks – do it for your partner as well. How much happier would the at-home partner be if they didn’t have to clean while you were away? Or do the grocery shopping? Or pick up the kids from school every day? Anything you can do to ease the burden on the person keeping life going while you’re away is money well spent – it may even save a marriage!
Owning something comes with risk. Whatever you own, you have to store and maintain. You have to pay all the bills associated with it. You have to clean it. All these things chew time and money. So, consider what you can rent instead of own:
In general, it’s cheaper to rent your lifestyle than to own it. You might not be able to paint the walls pink or install a deck, but you don’t have to pay building insurance, rates, land tax or any maintenance costs if you rent your home. You also are not burdened with a mortgage if you lose your job. One friend didn’t even rent a home – he lived in hotels on his R&R so he could change location whenever he wanted and he didn’t have to pay rent for a home he wasn’t using when he travelled. Worked for him for over a year (note: he was single).
Boats and jet skis
The old adage ‘if it floats, flies or fornicates, it’s cheaper to rent it’ is really true. Why not rent an amazing boat for $5K a pop twice a year and really, really enjoy it instead of having to buy, maintain, fuel, store and clean your dinghy for the same price? Especially if you only take the dinghy out twice a year anyway because you can’t be bothered with the maintenance and cleaning…
Even a car might be more sensible to rent if you’re FIFO. Pick up and drop off at the airport so you don’t have to catch a cab or pay for parking. You can catch a taxi if you prefer, or even better book a chartered vehicle for a fraction more than the cost of the taxi. You don’t pay registration, you don’t have to get it serviced. Freedom from responsibility, and you don’t own a liability (which is where a car should show up on your balance sheet, no matter what the banks tell you!)
4. Practice delayed gratification
This is a tough one. You’ve been in the bush for days or weeks, earning this dosh – why not splurge when you return? After all, you’ve quite literally earned it. Well, partly because it becomes a habit and partly because you’re missing out on one of the best bits of buying things: anticipation.
If you get in the habit of buying everything you want as soon as you want it, the habit you’re developing is one of instant gratification. Sure, you can afford it now. But what if that downturn happens tomorrow? Breaking that habit is more than you want to be thinking about if you’re dealing with a job loss.
Also think about the example you’re making for your family: do you want your kids to learn that they can have whatever they want, whenever they want it? No one with half a brain believes they can say one thing to their kids then act in the opposite way, but have the kids believe the words instead of the actions. It’s hard, but you have to live the way you want them to live if you want to maintain any level of respect with them. ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ is for morons.
You are also missing out on a big part of the satisfaction you can get when you buy something you really want – anticipation. Savour that time before the purchase is made. It’s like enjoying the chase when you’re flirting – before the lips meet, anything is possible and your imagination can create something more amazing than is humanly possible. It’s this thrill, this anticipation, that makes waiting so rewarding.
When you finally get that item you’ve been waiting for, you are much more likely to appreciate it. You also avoid the pitfall of spur-of-the-moment buys, which sometimes never get used because it turns out you didn’t want it anyway.
Some splurging is fine, but don’t make it a habit.
Reading is one thing, but it will be far more rewarding for you if you put some of these suggestions into action now. So here’s your homework:
Make a rainy day plan:
- Write down your awesome rainy day plan.
- Cost it out.
- Start setting the cash to make it happen aside, wherever makes sense for you (savings account, term deposit, offset account)
- Do your best not to quit so you can enact that plan tomorrow… or quit if you want to! I did (that’s another story).
- Make a list of all the mundane and menial tasks you and your partner do.
- Agree 2-5 items you are willing to outsource.
- Ask friends for recommendations, or Google reviews to find potential people to outsource to. Or even post a job on Elance.com if you’re after virtual assistant-type help.
- Hire those services – even on a trial basis to begin with. Be very clear about your expectations and scope.
- Once you’re comfortable, outsource the next few items on your list.
- Agree with your partner: do you really want to own your own home? Or is renting enough?
- Work out which toys you own now that you could rent instead. Try selling them for a reasonable price and start renting instead.
Practice delayed gratification:
- Think about something you want that you might normally have bought immediately.
- Set a date in the future – at least one month from now – when you will purchase that item.
- Dream about how much you’re going to appreciate that item. Imagine how you’ll use it, how you’ll look after it. Savour the wait.
- When you reach the date you set, decide if you still want it. If so, buy it and enjoy!
Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Perhaps you’ve got an awesome rainy day plan, or an unusual activity you’ve outsourced. We’d love to hear about it! Please post a comment below 🙂
For those in debt and not quite at the stage of bankruptcy, we also have a free course called ‘Get out of debt fast’. You’ll find it on our homepage.