Becoming a rookie operator was one of the coolest experiences ever! I had a brand new career, a bunch of earning potential, and more overtime than I could shake a stick at. Not to mention I was only 21, so I could practically work as much overtime as my body could handle. Little did I know, at the beginning of my career, I made a lot of mistakes that would take me years to fix.
Here Are 4 Financial Mistakes To Avoid As A Bus Operator at The Start of Your Career
Falling In Love With Overtime
I loved overtime! At one point in my transit career, my overtime rate was nearly $50 an hour. Hard to resist right? Perhaps, however, if my career has taught me anything, overtime is not a sustainable way to generate additional income. You’ll be a dog chasing its tail forever.
Though the extra money was great, it was only for the short term and in return created more problems than it solved. Things like owing taxes every year come to mind. Overtime can unintentionally cause you to live above your means due to the idea of what you can earn vs what you actually earn. Furthermore, transit jobs, in general, are already hard on your body. Outside of pilots and truck drivers, no other industry has the sort of schedule that we do. Working a lot of overtime will cause you to burn out much quicker. This will result in a lack of patience, constant fatigue, and an overall disgruntled attitude because you’ll feel like you are always at work.
Work overtime with a purpose. Avoid the habit of working overtime to handle bills such as rent and car notes. I’ve learned this is an unsustainable formula because these debts come monthly. This will cause you to have to work overtime more than you may like on a reoccurring basis, why? Because the bills are reoccurring. When you do work overtime, work with a dedicated goal that is not recurring, for example, holiday shopping or new investments. Learn to manage your time and bills off of your base salary, leveraging overtime for things you want, not things you need.
Focusing only on hourly wage increases during CBA negotiations
While more money is great and I would never tell anyone to walk away from money on the table, only focusing on the hourly wage of a Union negotiation is a mistake that can cause problems down the road. Benefits and perks, come in many different forms and shapes, and there is no shortage of money on this planet. Learn not to be a slave of a dollar increase, rather opting to leverage the transit platform to its full potential, getting the things that money typically can’t buy, such as time and company culture. A dollar raise in simplistic terms only equates to an extra $34 a week considering taxes, it may not be worth it if you ultimately lose something more valuable.
Putting your retirement on Autopilot
In short, pensions only benefit those who plan on staying in one place for 30 years, not to mention it could take a decade in some cases to even qualify. Do not fall victim to the pension proposition. Anyone who has ever invested money at any capacity will tell you it’s a terrible idea that pretty much leaves your retirement in the hands of a completely different party. You would be surprised how many operators want to explore different options or career paths, but can’t for fear of losing the retirement they’ve invested in. Control your retirement through various 401K options and personal investments, so you can create your own retirement plan. You will be promoted by various partners, banks, and credit unions all offering you different money management options to manage your retirement. Avoid them. Control your retirement and invest your own money. When you control your money you can control your future. When you can control your future you can control your present.
Buying things you don’t need
There is an old saying that goes “just because we can buy it, doesn’t mean we should”. Unfortunately, a lot of newer operators buy items and create debts that they don’t need. This causes you to have to be a “slave to your schedule” as I call it. The goal of transit is to work smart not hard. Avoid purchasing liabilities that will force you to continue to work at levels or hours you do not desire.
As a recruiter now, you would be surprised at the number of operators who want to leave their job. Dozens, if not hundreds. However, they can’t, because they cannot afford to. This is where bad operators are born. The worst worker in the world is an unhappy one. Do your best to avoid being the operator who has to work here because they have no other options. You will become miserable. Avoid car loans and a home purchase (not a real estate investment) until you are 100% sure this is what you want to do for the next phase of your life. It will be much harder to get out of these sorts of things than it was to get in.
There are so many perks to being an operator if you play the long game and manage your money smart. Controlling your money means you can control your time, and controlling your time means you can control your freedom. I am of the personal belief that one has about 10-12 years as a bus operator before things start to decline. When you control your financial future driving a bus is one of the best jobs one can have and you can do that by making smart choices. Put your money in things that work for you. Not things that you have to work for. Money is a great hammer, but do not allow it to turn you into the nail.