Original File Date: May 11, 1990; Updated July 27, 2011
Icono Clast’s Economic History
Your teacher asked me to speak to you because you come from the same background as I. I guess that means you're working class because I come from a working class family and have made my living as a proud blue collar worker with a strong and honest union.
………In 1982, I lost my full time job. I got another job, working about half of the time, and lost that when the company went bankrupt in December of 1988. I worked about half of the years 1982-84, about four months in 1985, 1986-88, about two weeks 1989, fewer than two months in 1990-91, about three months in 1992, and eight or nine months in 1993.

………I was “retired” but not collecting Social Security or a pension. So, how did I live?
………I'll answer that. But first I want to tell you a few things about how I came to be in the position that I am. And I'm also going to tell you what I think is the most important of all bills that you must pay.
………When I was 13, I decided I wanted to buy a car. You know that you can't have a car when you're that young and I knew it, too. I also knew that cars cost money and I got an after-school job, at minimum wage, opened a savings account and, three years later, paid cash for a seven year old Chevrolet. Today, a seven year old Chevrolet costs about $8,000. The insurance cost as much as the car, but I had enough money for that, too.
………I made money other ways, too. Suede jackets were very popular when I was in high school. I found a manufacturer who sold them to me for $12 (don't laugh, it was a lot of money then), and I sold them for $18, four dollars below the normal retail price.
………I also bought phonograph records that had been used in juke boxes for 5¢ and sold them for 10¢.
………Because I'd developed the habit of saving money while dreaming of a car, I continued to put money in the bank after that goal had been achieved.
………When I was 17, I needed a new suit. I went to a major department store and found the suit I wanted. Although I had enough money in my pocket to pay for it, I opened a charge account and took my suit home for $10. I paid off the balance at $5 a month and, guess what?, I had established a good credit reference. When the first bank cards came out I got one using the department store as a credit reference.
………I was still working after school and still saving money even though I had all of the expenses of owning a car and even though I had, for a year or two, not asked my parents to buy me any clothes or provide me an allowance. I was meeting all of my own expenses and even lent my mother the down payment for her new car.    
………You know what my expenses were: lunches at school, snacks before and after school, going to movies, dances, clubs, concerts and all of the things that you do that cost money.
………Before graduating from high school, I had my own apartment and a girlfriend living with me.  After graduation, I worked full time.
………And I was still saving money. I didn't know what for, but my bank account just kept on growing. One day I decided that I wanted to go around the world. No, not that. Travel around the world.
………The last two week vacation I took was to New Orleans. I hitch-hiked from here East to Saint Louis, South to New Orleans, and back through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
………The following January, on Friday the 14th, I quit my job. The next day, I picked up a drive-away car, three passengers to share expenses, and headed for New York.
………After about two weeks in New York, I boarded a ship for France. I hitch-hiked from France to Gibraltar where I bought a motorcycle and drove up to Copenhagen and down to Athens. I sold the bike in Athens, 8½ months after debarking in Le Havre, for the fare for a ship back to New York.
………I was broke when I got off the ship but found a minimum wage job and saved enough money to hitch-hike across the country. I spent Christmas in Dallas, saw the Rose Parade on New Year's day and arrived at my girlfriend's apartment that night. I was gone for fifty weeks and was, when I got back, broke once again.
………For the next two years, I found few jobs but could keep none. It was a difficult time, but I survived somehow.
………So, how do I live now?
………One day, I overheard a conversation that an employer was thinking of hiring a messenger. I jumped in, called the guy, and got the job.
………While still a messenger, I felt that I was paying too much in taxes and looked around for a way to reduce the bill. Real estate seemed to be the answer so I bought a house and rented it.
………There I was, a bicycle messenger living in a two-room apartment smaller than this class room and owning an investment property.
………A couple of years later, a house that I'd always admired was for sale. I bought it. Not having enough money for the down payment, I floated a second mortgage on the first house and bought the second.
………The messenger job became an apprenticeship in a trade for which I had a talent and from which I derived much pleasure. I was incredibly lucky to find work I not only did well, but loved doing.
………In my trade, it's customary when an apprentice becomes a journeyman, for the employer to say: “OK, now that you're a journeyman, go out and learn the trade.” The deal on that house closed two weeks before I was unemployed.
………I wasn't worried, though. There was a small three-room house behind the eight-room house as part of the deal. I moved in to the little house and rented the big house. I lived there for nine years and, in 1980, bought another where I lived for eleven years. That house is now rented and I live in the big house in front of the little one where I used to live.
………Because of rent control, the rent on the first house came to be so low that I asked the tenant to voluntarily raise her rent to a more reasonable amount. She refused to, so I sold the house and bought a building with three flats.
………And that's where I am right now. I own the property with the big house and little house, the house I used to live in, and the three flat building.
………After paying all of the expenses for my properties, I have enough to live on. Now that I'm retired, I'm receiving Social Security and a pension from my union.

Now I'm going to tell you what I think is the most important of all bills that must be paid:
………It's a bill that should take precedence over all other bills. And it's an amount that, once decided, should regularly be increased but never reduced. It's a payment that must never be missed no matter what.
………It is from you to you. When you've determined what your income is, and what your expenses are, there should be an amount left over. It doesn't matter whether that amount is $5, $50, $500 a week or what. Once you've learned what that amount is, put it at the top of your list of bills to be paid and pay it before any other. If it's too high on occasion, reduce your expenses somewhere else, but don't reduce that most important of all bills.
What you'll find is that, as if by magic (Albert Einstein said something like “The only true miracle is compound interest”) you'll be able to buy whatever you want. You might not want to spend it all on a car, as I did; travelling as I did; investing, as I did. But you'll have it to get whatever is important to you.
………You must never use that money to meet your regular expenses. It must be used for the big things in life, the things of your dreams, your hopes, your desires. It's big money, special money, the money that will relieve whatever drudgery you find in your life. It's the money that will give to your life the quality you want.
………And that, simply, is the secret of my success.
………Can you do it? Well, you certainly can pay that most important of all bills, the one from you to yourself. But you will face problems that I didn't. Times are different now.
………For example, when I bought my first house, it cost about what the average working person earned in three years. Today, that same house costs about seven years' wages, more than twice as much.
………But, interestingly, investment property still costs about the same now as it did then: about ten times the property's gross income. That's still a possibility for you if you decide you want give the service of housing to others.
………You'll have to do your own research to find the best way for you to go. But, no matter what you decide, no matter what you do, the secret is still to pay the bill to yourself before any other. It's a discipline that you can start right now and continue for the rest of your life. It is one that you will never regret.

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