The Doldrums of Courier Life


Confession time. If anybody reading has decided that courier life is for them, that flying around the world and collecting a check to do so sounds awesome… well it is, don’t for a moment think that I am about to disabuse you of that notion.

But this is not the kind of job for anybody that is shit at managing money.

Once a year, at different times per year, I get stuck in Shanghai for roughly a month without a trip. As I type this now, I am at 3+ weeks without a flight, and boy am I going a little batty. When the jet-set life becomes part of your routine for years, this “summer break” reminds you of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the age of exploration and, without the shore in sight, losing the wind.

That’s where the financial planning comes in. Every month, I put a little bit away just in case something like this happens, and every year shows me that this is a wise decision.

However, and I admit this freely, due to the expenses of registering 1-2 Lab, that little cushion was used up and the doldrums hit right in the middle of the process when it would hurt the most.

The stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome had a habit of practicing poverty for a period of time each year, so that they don’t lose touch and become too accustomed to the finer material things in life. I like to think of the doldrums like that. This is a chance to cook every meal at home, avoid drinking and going out, work hard on other projects, and more importantly spend quality time with those close to me.

Even if the doldrums don’t come, it’s a practice worth imitating as the stoics suggest. To take part in this exercise is super easy and helps you discover a lot about yourself. It’s better you don’t do like I did, and wait for it to hit before practicing it.

There’s a lesson here for us, a lesson applicable to anybody in every kind of life situation, and it boils down to this process:

1. Calculate your burn rate

Your average burn rate is what you spend on average, monthly, weekly, and even daily. I usually use a daily burn rate as my frame of reference. This is regular life under regular circumstances and regular income.

This is very easy:

Money you have on the last day of the month – (money you have on the first day of the month + income for month). Then divide this number by the number of days in that month.

That’ll give you how much you spent. Or, you could be really smart and track your expenses with Mint. Do this now before you change anything else.

Alternatively, wait until the day you get a salary. Note how much you have after you get it. Then, the day before you get your next salary, note that two. How much did you spend? Divide it by days elapsed and you’ve got your daily burn rate.

2. Discover your minimum burn rate with a month practicing poverty

This is a little harder. You have to pick a day to begin, and then for an entire month, live as cheaply as possible while still paying all your bills. Housing, phone, internet, these sort of bills you can’t do so much about, but you can cut out buying new toys, extra clothes, unnecessary things basically. Then do the same calculation as above.

Your minimum burn rate is the barest minimum you need to take care of all ongoing expenses in your life with a lifestyle reduction plan. Remember steak dinners are the Met? Not anymore you don’t, you’re eating rice and beans for a week with chicken as a splurge. Your average burn rate includes a Friday and Saturday out drinking? You’re going to need that $400 to go to your rent or mortgage or most importantly internet bill now. Sorry.

You may think this is crazy, but it’s actually incredibly easy, and it’ll pass in no time. At the end, you’ll appreciate what you have more than ever, and realize that you don’t fear poverty. In fact, with frequent applications of this trial, you will find yourself having a far more stable existence, leading your to greater happiness than ever.

3. Save your damn money

Now that you know your average and minimum burn rates, start to take the difference and apply it to your savings and investment accounts. Leverage it for your future.

Practice poverty like the stoics for a month every once in a while, not just so that you have a better grasp of what is important, but so that in the case that you get stuck in the doldrums like I am in right now, you won’t panic, you won’t have your internet turned off (worst nightmare), and you won’t lose your home.

Try it.

Side note: since I wrote this short post, I realized that Tim Ferriss has published a podcast with a similar bent, which you can find here: . Not sure how I missed it, considering how often I listen to his podcast. But hey, bonus material!


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Stuart Leitch