When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I thought I was hot shit and anyone who didn’t have a bachelor’s degree was a loser and not going to go far in life. Then I moved out of the United States and was quickly bitch-slapped back to reality that education doesn’t equate to success, high incomes, or financial independence. Through my travels I have met many financially independent early retirees who were now expats traveling the world care free and living life to the max. This post is number two in a series I have titled F.I.R.E. Stories. The first story is titled A Modern Day Robin Hood. I hope these stories will inspire readers to seek out their own unique unpaved paths to success.
One day an Australian surfer showed up on the tiny South Pacific island I was living on. The island’s population was less than 8,000 and we only received a handful of tourists each month. The only surfers on the island were me and my roommate, so the locals told him to go to our house if he wanted a boat ride to go surfing.
The visitor’s name was Mick and he stopped by our house one morning as we were getting ready for work. We took him out on our boat that afternoon and quickly became friends with Mick, as he was a really nice guy and easy to talk to. It turned out he was going to be on the island for a month, and my roommate and I offered to let him stay with us at our house to help him cut back on hotel and food costs.
While we went to work Mick would lounge around the house, clean, ride his bicycle around town and read books until we were available to go surf in the afternoon. I’ve never seen anyone read as fast as Mick. I was polishing off about 3 books a week at this point in my life, but Mick would consume an entire book in one day! Holy smokes!
As the weeks went on we learned a great deal about Mick, he barely finished high school and was a semi-pro surfer until he broke his back playing rugby which ended his career. He went on to own a custom window blind business for a few years then and then at his current age of 34 he was working as a bungee trampoline operator.
I at the time was 24 years old with my sweet college degree and I felt entitled to think I was better than others who didn’t have a degree or a bad ass high paying job. When Mick first told me that he was a bungee trampoline operator my first thought was “geez dude you’re 34 years old and work on a bungee trampoline? When are you going to settle down and get a real job?” I obviously didn’t say this out loud but it was what I thought. The bungee trampoline gig did sound fun, I just didn’t see it as a job I would want to be doing in my mid 30’s.
As time went along, Mick showed us pictures from his surf travels. It seemed he spent half the year or more traveling around the world surfing. But how can this be? This dude works as a bungee trampoline operator, probably making minimum wage or at most $15 an hour. This didn’t seem to add up. What gives? Mick finally told us that he had bought the trampoline set up a few years ago and ran his business 2 months out of the year. He would generate about $40,000 Australian Dollars and then go travel the rest of the year. As many of you have heard me mention before, it only requires about $10,000 per person year to travel full time outside of western countries. Mick was also a frugal traveler and said he spent between $10,000 and $20,000 a year traveling across Australia, Africa, South East Asia and the South Pacific to surf. If he needed extra money he would pick up temp jobs at construction sites in Australia, but he rarely needed to do this.
This was my first introduction to someone who was financially independent and it blew my mind! Mick worked 2 months out of the year, collected enough money to live the rest of the year doing what he was passionate about, surfing and traveling, and he was saving 50% of his income! Mick, you are a bad ass!
Ohhhhh but we’re not done yet! It turns out Mick was a big fat liar!
A year later, I went on a 2-month surf trip throughout Australia and hooked up with Mick for the last 3 weeks of my trip. I was in town during his bungee trampoline season, so I offered to help out on the trampolines and that is where I learned the truth.
Mick’s trampoline business was set up at an annual outdoor street carnival by the beach next to a pier in a small town that came alive for 2 months out of the year when tourist came to town for whale watching season. Imagine a mini version of the Santa Monica Pier. The town was located a few hours from where Mick lived, so to keep costs low he rented tent space at a private campground a mile from the beach for the 2 month period. It also turned out that Mick’s car was a piece of junk rapist van with a rusted out hole below the gas pedal. Don’t drop your phone while driving because you’ll never see it again!
The bungee trampolines consisted of 4 trampolines, rock climbing harnesses and bungee cords from the hardware store connected to poles extended 20 feet into the air. The whole set up probably cost less than $30,000 for the initial purchase.
There was rarely any down time during the work day. But Mick made sure we found time to play. The staff consisted of Mick, myself and a German backpacker he picked up at the campground, so throughout the day we would rotate out for breaks to go for a surf for an hour and then come back and trade off.
Our work day started at 9 AM until 9 to 11 PM depending upon how busy it was that day. Most of the time we stayed until 11 PM. At least 3 of the 4 trampolines were filled at all times of the day. For breakfast we would eat pancakes or eggs, at lunch we would eat tuna sandwiches and for dinner we would drink 4 or 5 beers each cook a hearty meal of burgers or steak on the grill with some vegetables.
Mick charged patrons $10 to jump for 5 minutes on the trampoline and most of them were tired after 3 minutes of jumping. $10 x 4 trampolines / 5 minutes equated to $8 per minute or $5,760 over a 12 hour work day. Mick worked his trampolines 12 to 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 60 days straight.
|Price||$10||for 5 minutes|
|Minimum workday (hours)||12||hours|
|Minimum workday (minutes)||720||minutes|
|Max earning potential per day||$ 5,760||per day|
|Maximum Revenue potential||$ 345,600|
$345,600 of earning potential in 60 days!
The reality of the situation was that we weren’t running full capacity all out every minute of the day, there were delays as we worked to help folks in and out of their harnesses, but while I was there I handled all of the money and was responsible for counting it at the end of the day so I knew the actual revenue each day. We averaged between $3,500 and $4,000 per day in straight cash.
There was no set payment rate for myself or the other worker, Mick would pay us whatever he felt like each day which ranged between $300 and $400 a day cash in hand. No need for social security, taxes, etc. Mick’s only other expenses were $200 a day to rent his location at the carnival by the pier where all the tourists came during this season and $20 a day to the campground.
|Average daily pay||$350||per employee|
|Rent for location & campground||$220||per day|
|daily Operating cost||900|
|Total Cost||$ 55,200|
Mick’s total operating costs over the 60 day period was $55,200 and while I was there we were on target to make between $210,000 to $240,000 in revenue. After paying two temp employees and other costs, Mick was making close to $186,000 in a 60 day period with the earning potential to generate over $290,000 during that period if he better optimized the turn around time between customers.
One night I calculated this in my head and turn to Mick and said, “dude, you told me you made like $40,000 in two months with this gig, you’re making closer to $200,000! What gives?” Mick’s reply, “Oh, I didn’t think you guys would believe me so I made up a number I thought you would believe.”
And like that Mick put me in my place and humbled me for life. I learned to never discredit someone for where they work, their education, clothes, vocabulary, race, car they drive, or any other reason. There is more stealth wealth out there than we realize and financial independence is not limited to a set path. Anyone who seeks out to become financially independent can find their own path to success if they are willing to work hard and take a path less traveled.
The other lesson I learned from Mick, is to not be greedy, recognize when you’ve made enough money, share generously with those who help you earn your money, minimize your work efforts, go enjoy your life and pursue your passions! Once Mick wrapped up the season he would spend the rest of the year traveling across Australia, South Africa, South East Asia and the South Pacific surfing. He really did try to hold himself to a $10,000 to $20,000 a year travel budget and the rest of his money he hoarded.
He didn’t invest, and he didn’t do a good job of tracking his money, the rapist van was often left unlocked with 3-inch stacks of $20 bills just tucked up above the sun visor. Once Mick emailed me and said “I just found $50k stuck behind the couch at home. LOL” Seriously I’m not messing with you guys, this really happened.
I still keep in touch with Mick over email. He now has 3 locations running 4 trampolines each and has hired a few folks to run the other sites.
There was a clown that worked the sidewalk in front of our trampolines every day. He would ride a unicycle, crack a whip and make free balloon animals for the kids. Kid’s would laugh and smile, and parents would tip him whatever they felt like. He never had a tip jar on the side walk or hinted for a tip, parents would just give him money of their own accord because he made their children smile. The clown was easily pulling down between $1,500 to $2,000 a day providing a free service and never once begging for money.
Over the weeks I came to learn the clown’s name was Steve. He lived on his sailboat in the harbor and had retired early several years prior from his job as an accountant. He was sailing and living on his boat for a couple years, and one day he was playing around with some kids in the harbor making them laugh by acting goofy on his unicycle. Why? Because he was bored and had lots of free time on his hands. One day some parents started giving him unsolicited tips and he realized he had stumbled across a new way to make money! So he started dressing like a homeless clown and doing it for fun just to entertain the kids and make a little side money, which turned out to be one of his highest paying jobs ever. That’s right folks don’t ever judge the guy on the corner making balloon animals and blowing bubbles in your kids face to make them smile, he could easily be a millionaire in disguise!