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4 Important Money Lessons I Learned From a Grueling Job

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Understanding money

As I was traveling to Australia in 2016, I experienced one of the most painful ways to make money working a job. I worked as a tree planter for three months getting paid 8 cents per tree planted.

I worked six days a week under capricious Australian winds, rain, battling with mud and drooling in sweat. Three months later and 10 kilos lighter, I learned powerful life lessons about money.

1. You start putting the cost of items into perspective

When you get paid 8 cents per tree planted, you start having a different perspective on money. On my first day off, I thought I’d buy a coffee for breakfast. So how much did that coffee cost?  It was $4.50. I remembered thinking, this is 56 trees. How much energy did it take me to plant these 56 trees? I could still feel the pain through my blistered tree planter’s hands.

When you realize the value of your hard-earned dollars you start thinking that maybe your money should be put to better use. Did I like tree planting? I hated every minute of it.

My naive optimism of the beginning soon vanished to be replaced by constant mental complaining. After the first two weeks, I was already mentally exhausted because of the numbing aspect of this repetitive job.

I thought I should start listening to audiobooks to keep my mind in a better place. So I started with Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Robert was accompanying me at every tree I planted and for every cent I earned. He kept repeating the same things over and over again: “It doesn’t take money to make money”; “having a job means being just over broke”.

And there I was, planting trees trying to make more money one tree at a time.

“No matter where you are, your dreams are valid.” – Lupita Nyong’o

2. Working harder is not the solution

There was a British guy, Harry who was hands down the best tree planter of the crew. He planted significantly more trees than everyone every single day. But even though he planted more than everyone, he didn’t get much more money.

Why? Well, because Harry earned more, he also got taxed more. Ironic right? Especially since the effort to plant the extra 500 to 1000 trees was in my humble opinion, monstrous.

But Harry was a competitor and I don’t think he did it for the money. I think he enjoyed the insanity of the challenge. But thinking about it, you could easily get very cynical about how unfair this whole system is – and rightfully so. People work harder and the system gets harder on them. I guess Robert Kiyosaki was right after all. Working harder is not the solution.

3. Have a system working for you

Because I wanted to make more money without planting more trees, I started thinking of something else. There was actually a guy on the team who had an interesting position. He didn’t plant trees, but rather he collected the trays that each planter left at the end of every row. At the end of the day, he got 15% of the total of trees planted by the whole crew.

This guy made as much money as the top planters with a significantly lesser effort. Of course, he would still be taxed the way we were but what was interesting was the fact that he didn’t need to put in the mind-numbing-soul-destroying-blister-creating effort that the rest of the crew was putting in.

How much was my boss making? His income probably didn’t fall under earned income like ours. Which meant he got less taxes. This guy made money whether he showed up or not. He had a system working for him. Work will only get you so far but systems will get you anywhere. This is what we call leverage.

“The most important word in the world of money is cash flow. The second most important word is leverage.” – Robert Kiyosaki

4. It doesn’t take money to make money

What could I possibly do in a town in the middle of nowhere that had more cows than people? Well, I took a look at items that were selling in the area and I quickly realized that I could buy discounted items. Because it was a remote area of retired people, there wasn’t much demand.  I found amazing deals.

The problem was, I didn’t have enough cash so I called my friend Fernando who lent me $2000 for three months for 10% interest. When I got back to Sydney at the end of my tree planting adventure, I sold the items I had bought for a total of $3000. I gave $2200 back to my friend Fernando, and I kept the $800 difference.

I made that $800 in a matter of hours whereas it would take me at least 50 hours and 11000 trees to make that money working. Start thinking of things you can do outside of your job, outside of the sickening-and-addicting hourly rate. Be creative. It doesn’t take money to make money. Well, let’s say it doesn’t have to be your own.

Warren Buffett once said: “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone else planted a tree a long time ago.” Understand that your hard earned money is the seed of what could create your freedom. Keep some of it. Learn to create and acquire assets that will be working and growing for you. So start planting your trees!

What money lessons have you learned from a not so popular job you’ve had before? Leave your thoughts below!
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6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. PIERRE Sarazin

    Feb 15, 2017 at 1:03 am

    That’s a interesting read ! Thanks Mourad for those powerful insights.

    I have a question from the story. Why did the person that kep the trays get 15% of planted trees? How was the system designed for that?

    • Mourad Tellab

      Feb 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm

      Hi Pierre, thank you for your message. The person who picked up the trays at the end of each row was also the person who supplied the trays for the entire crew. That way we didn’t have to go back to the truck every time and could plant more as a group… No one was on an hourly rate therefore everyone’s salary was linked to their performance. So it was also an incentive for him to have the team do well. If the crew did well, he would earn good money. If the crew didn’t, he wouldn’t.

  2. Allison Martin

    Feb 2, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    Fantastic read. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Mourad

      Feb 3, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you for your message Allison, happy you liked it!

  3. Stefanie

    Feb 2, 2017 at 7:45 am

    Great reminders! I think there’s a lot of truth in the 4 points.
    I learned that when hiring people, you really need to focus not only on their technical skills but also on their mindset and make sure it’s compatible with your philosophy. I love Blair Singer’s concept of the Code of Honor. If you don’t have one, people will play by their own rules and probably bring mediocrity and excuses into your company.

    • Mourad

      Feb 3, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Thank you for your comment Stefanie 🙂 I very much agree with you, I’d take a solid mindset and values over a solid business plan any day.

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