Tag Archives: Mike Rowe

Be a Smart Shopper When It Comes to Higher Education


According to research done by the Associated Press, the average Gen Xer with a bachelor’s degree is paying $400 a month on student loan debt.  Does this seem wrong to you?  The federal government says this is more than the average household spends on groceries a month.  You need a bachelor’s degree, right?  So what do you do?

Everyone and their brother has a bachelor’s degree

We’ve been told that a bachelor’s degree is a must-have in today’s society.  But, let’s look at the numbers.  In 1970, the average income for a recent college graduate in their 20s was about $42,000 in 2013 dollars.  In 2013, that same average income was only $40,000.  Yet the bill to acquire said degree has sky-rocketed.  Is this really money well-spent?

The master’s is the new black

So, maybe a bachelor’s just isn’t cutting it anymore.  Maybe the new shiny object is a master’s degree.  Since 1970, the income of recent recipients of graduate degrees has increased by $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars.  That’s good news, right?  Well, you have to factor in how much a master’s degree costs – $40,000 – versus $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree.  It just doesn’t seem like you’re getting a whole lot of bang for your buck.  Are there any other options?

I’d like a plate full of hands-on experience, please

If you’re planning to become a scientist, doctor, or researcher, yeah you’re probably gonna need a degree, and then some.  But, if you’re looking at getting into something like sales, software development, or business, you’re really gonna need to get some good old fashion hands-on experience.  The same goes if you’re looking at getting into a trade like carpentry, engine repair, or electrical.

So, how do you find experience?

1) Apply for entry-level jobs or internships.  Even if it’s not exactly what you want to do, get a job somewhere.  Once you’re in, put in some extra hours with people that are doing what you want to do.  Observe what their doing, ask questions, and offer your help with some of the more menial tasks.

2) Work on projects at home.  If you want to be a software developer, get on your computer and start coding something.  If you want to be in sales, start going door-to-door and sell something.  If you want to be an electrician, start re-wiring something.

3) Sign up for a vocational trade school.  Unlike 4-year universities that offer classes from a more academic or theoretical point of view, trade schools provide practical training geared specifically for the job you want.  Plus, they typically far cheaper to attend than a 4-year school.  And, according to Mike Row, blue collar jobs can pay pretty well.

4) Start your own business.  Even if it’s just helping out your neighbors with some odd jobs, you can learn a lot about how to run a business by trying it out yourself.

Full disclosure

I have a bachelor’s degree and I’ve taken several post-graduate classes.  But, I did it on the cheap.  I went to Community College for my first two years and paid for it entirely out of pocket. Then, I finished up my bachelor’s with two years at an inexpensive public state school.  I didn’t start taking post-graduate classes until I worked full-time for a few years and, even then, it was free because my company had a tuition reimbursement program.  I did take out a loan for my undergrad degree, but I paid it off in 5 years.

Would I take out a loan to get my bachelor’s again knowing what I know now?  No.  Would I even get a bachelor’s degree?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve found that, at least in my line of work, employers value experience far more than any degree.

A Message to Graduates: Sometimes it’s Good to Ignore a Few Wrong Way Signs

Wrong Way Sign

On the road of life, you’ll see many signs telling you how fast to go, when to stop, when to take a detour, and when you’re going the wrong way.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to ignore those signs posted by society and go your own way.

1. Society will tell you to buy a brand new car before you have the money

It might sound tempting when you hear things like “No money down”, or “only $150 a month”, or “only $5 a day.”  Don’t do it!  Save up cash and buy a cheap, used A to B car with no payments.  Until you have the cash, walk, ride a bike, take the bus, or use Uber.  When you finally buy a car, set aside around $150 per month to cover maintenance and repairs.

2. Society will tell you to spend as much money as you can on a house

Don’t rush into buying a house.  It’s okay to rent until you know where you want to put down roots.  When you’re ready to buy, don’t take out a loan that’s more than 15 years long and don’t commit to a payment that’s more than 25% of your monthly income.  No matter what the bank says, too much house payment makes life harder than it has to be.

3. Society will tell you to use a credit card to get what you want now

A good credit rating is important for things like insurance rates, low interest rates on home loans and even getting a job.  But, use credit wisely.  Get a credit card or two, not because they have the best airline miles or cashback, but because you need them to maintain a credit score.  Always pay your bill off completely every month.  I can think of much better ways to spend 20% of your credit card bill than paying interest and late fees to the card company.

5. Society will tell you to go to the most prestigious (usually the most expensive) college you can

How about just going to a community college?  Unless you know you want to be something that requires the fancy education like a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist, you generally don’t need a pricey four-year degree.  What you really need is experience.  If you do decide to get that degree, shop around for deals and look for scholarships.  Choosing a high-priced private medical school over a cheaper state school isn’t going to make you a better doctor.  Also, be careful how much money you borrow to do it.  Student loans are with you for life – they won’t go away, even if you declare bankruptcy.

6. Society will tell you to find a nice, secure, well-paying job from which no one gets fired

Don’t be afraid to try out many different kinds of jobs until you find the one you like.  If the one you like doesn’t pay well, find a way to make it pay well.  Work harder, start your own business based on that job, or take on a second job to support the job you love.  If you’re not sure what you want to do after high-school or college and aren’t afraid of some hard work, try a trade school.  As Mike Rowe points out, there are quite a few good paying blue-collar jobs out there.  Some of which can lead to six-figure incomes.

Often times society will tell you to join the crowd and take the easy route, or to go down the slide.  Don’t be afraid to go up the slide, even if the people across from you are yelling, “You’re going the wrong way!” (Thank you Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

Sadly, More College Debt and Generation Y Go Hand-in-Hand

According to this paper by Jason Houle at Dartmouth College, young adults in Generation Y are twice as likely to have a negative net worth than Baby Boomers when they were the same age.  Houle’s study, based on data from the Labor Department, compares Early Boomers who were 24-28 years old in the mid 1970s, Late Boomers who were that age in the late 1980s, and Generation Y who are in that age group today.  Around 16% of both sets of Boomers said they had more liabilities than assets.  That number jumps to 35% for the Gen Y group.

Is this a good thing for Gen Y? Not really.  Starting out in the workforce after college with a negative net worth puts you in a hole.  You have to spend extra time and money just to dig out of that hole before you can start saving for retirement or a house.

The study also found that young people are incurring debt in different areas than their older counter parts.  Gen Y is carrying more school debt, but less home and auto debt than their Baby Boomer cohorts.  This is also a bad thing for Gen Y.  For one, school debt never goes away.  Unlike other types of debt, you can’t declare bankruptcy and wipe it away.  Less auto debt is probably a good thing.  Less home debt might be a good thing, but I think it’s because Gen Y’ers are putting off home buying until they can dig themselves a little further out of the school loan hole.

Much of the blame for increased school debt tends to go towards the skyrocketing price of college.  But, I think most high school seniors (and their parents) aren’t being smart shoppers when it comes to finding a college education.  Too often, they target the most expensive school for which they are qualified and overlook the cheaper alternatives.  Going to a community college for the first two years can cut your college bill nearly in half.  State schools are generally much cheaper than private schools with little difference in the level of education.  No college at all is another viable option for some.  As Mike Rowe points out, trade schools are much cheaper than traditional colleges and are a great option for someone that wants to learn a skill and make good money.

Want More Money? Work Hard

Have you ever seen that show on the Discovery Channel called “Dirty Jobs?”  The host, Mike Rowe, would tag along for a day as an assistant doing jobs that most people would find dirty, disgusting, or difficult.  One of the first episodes I remember watching featured a septic tank cleaner and a fisherman that fished for catfish with his bar hands (noodling is what I think it’s called).

Rowe recently mentioned that most of the people he featured on Dirty Jobs were millionaires.  That’s right!  These were people doing jobs that most people would never do and making tons of money doing it.  How is this possible?  They worked their butts off.  If you do the same, can you start making more money?  I say yes.

Now, this doesn’t mean you need to go out and find the dirtiest job in existence to start raking in the dough.  But, you can start look at what qualities make these “dirty job” professionals successful and apply them to your own job…

Out work everyone.  Get to work early, stay late, and volunteer for any “dirty” task that no one else wants to do.

Say yes.  Don’t say no to an assignment just because it sounds hard.  Accept it as a challenge and do you best to exceed all expectations.  If you don’t know how to do something, find someone who does know and ask if you can shadow them until you learn for yourself.

Enjoy your job.  It seems like most of the folks that Mike Rowe came across found some way to love what they do.  If a guy can love cleaning septic tanks, you can certainly love your own job just as much, if not more.

Be grateful for the job you have.  So what if you’re not working for one of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For.  Take matters into your own hands and do what you can to make your company a great place to work.  Start laying the groundwork for a great culture.  Recognize your coworkers who work hard and enjoy what they do.  Become a mentor and a role model that others can learn from and look up to.

Do something else.  If all else fails, and you feel like this isn’t the job for you or your hard work seems to go unnoticed, find something else.  Or better yet, start your own business.  But, don’t jump ship until you’ve actually landed that other job.