Why Skilled Trades Can Help You Become Financially Independent

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Looking for the best credit card to start earning travel rewards points? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is our pick. With a 50,000 point signup bonus (after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months), the $95 annual fee waived the first year, and ultra-flexible points (transfers to 13 airlines & hotels!), this is our top choice!

Skilled Trades And Financial Independence

Likely not words you hear from someone in their 30s, but that’s what were here to talk about. My name is Cory Kleinfeldt. I am 31, married with three kids, and I believe that you can reach early financial independence without being in IT, in engineering, or going to college. Say what?

Why do I want to talk about the skilled trades and money?

I don’t think our society gives the trades the tip of the cap that it deserves. It is looked down upon as a “lesser” job sector in our economy. Why do we think that? Is it because we use our hands instead of a mouse? Or because we wear jeans instead of slacks? Or because our college attendance has convinced us that we are above this type of skilled trade or blue collar work? We will explore all of these questions.

I am here to share my story in hopes that I can inspire others to choose the trades as a career path… and a path to FI. Back in 2009, I actually left my skilled trade job to button up my white collar and slip on my Kohl’s dress shoes to try my hand in the sales world. Let’s just say I have been back at my trades job for five years now and appreciate it much more than ever.

What I do

I am a paintless dent repair technician…no, not the suction cups and dry ice you see on YouTube. There are actually tens of thousands of us PDR (paintless dent repair) technicians all around the world, fixing shopping cart dents, door dents, and hail (hail, like the flying ice balls dropping from the sky) damage to perfection. Our industry lacks highly skilled technicians as do many other industries.

Many of you have likely never heard of the career path I have chosen, but it comes with a flexible work schedule, above average compensation, and geoarbitrage options. Aren’t those things that many of us are looking for? The best part is that there are dozens of other skilled trade jobs that get passed over by the young millennial generation and others while we cry woe is me, complain of there being no jobs and move back home with mommy and daddy to nurse our $35,000 student loan debt. There are high paying jobs out there. You just need to look in the right places!

Benefits of working in the trades

  1. Schooling is shorter AND cheaper: no $40k in student loan debt. In some case you can actually earn when you learn A.K.A. an apprenticeship.
  2. Satisfaction of your work: Seeing the fruits of your labor brings a primal satisfaction that can't be achieved by making a spreadsheet.
  3. There is plenty of money in the trades: If you hone your skills and learn some business tactics, then there is no hard limit on your income. You are not held back by a yearly 2% raise.
  4. There are plenty of jobs: Most tradespeople are in their 50's and retiring soon. There is definitely a skills gap in this country and those gaps need to be filled.
  5. Your job can't be sent overseas: When something needs to be built, serviced, or fixed it has to be done on site. It can't be shipped across the world for cheaper labor.
  6. The skilled trades are in every city in the world: With the internet world of engineers and IT professionals, they tend to congregate in certain cities. Think S.F. Austin, New York, and London. The trades are needed in every city in the world so take your pick!

Drawback of working in the trades

  1. Working in the elements: A lot of people consider this a drawback. Working in the rain, snow, or 100+ degrees.
  2. Stigma: People like to answer the question “What do you do?” with answers like Manager, Analyst, or Officer.
  3. Demanding on your body: It's true that the trades are demanding on your body, but that's why we pursue FI so we don't have to swing a hammer for 45 years.
  4. The trades can be dangerous: Yes, there are tripping hazards, big machinery, and sharp tools in the skilled trades. These can be much more dangerous than paper cuts.

This is a quick list of the pros and cons about skilled trade and blue collar work.

Look… I know the trades aren’t perfect and its not for everyone

But you know what? Neither is getting a college education to become an engineer. This amazing world we live in takes all kinds of people to make it run, and I want to give a voice to those underappreciated tradesmen/women hustlers out there that help build our buildings, fix the airplanes for our travel-hacked trips, and keep our Uber cars running smoothly.

I will share with you my personal story and my path to FI, how I was performing well in my skilled trade career but felt the societal pressure to go to college to “make something of myself” and then found myself back in the trades. The trades are a perfectly legitimate, something-to-be- proud-of, well-earning job! Sure, most people don’t know what I do, and I don’t have a cool title like Assistant to the Regional Manager, but FI isn’t about taking a normal path. It’s about finding the levers that work for you and pulling them to regain your freedom.

Related Link: Mike Rowe – skilled trades

Do you have a story about working in the trades? If so, I would love to hear it!

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29 thoughts on “Why Skilled Trades Can Help You Become Financially Independent

  1. Great stuff, Cory! I think this is a message that really needs to be heard more, especially by kids in high school that are considering what to do with themselves. As long as I can remember I was pushed down a path of going to college and getting a white collar job and the thought that a skilled trade career could be lucrative never once crossed my mind until well after I was set down my IT Project Management career.

    I think especially with the skyrocketing tuition rates for many colleges, pursuing a skilled trade can definitely be a way to give yourself a leg-up right from the get go, rather than starting deep in the hole with student loan debt (as you described).

    Looking forward to reading more!

  2. Fantastic first post. I have one of those cushy white collar jobs you mention. That does not mean I can’t appreciate the value of a trade job. I can easily see how turning an ugly dent into a nice clean finish is a very satisfying. Many tradesmen get to work for themselves too which gives them the many advantages of being business owners. I also fully agree with your point that compensation is very much based on supply and demand. If you have an in-demand skill that nobody else you can certainly charge a pretty penny for it.

  3. You nailed it! You mentioned a lot of stuff I’d like to talk about! I want more people to know that the skilled trades are a legit option compared with college. Thank you for the kind words!

  4. The lack of skilled trades issue is also occurring in Australia. There’s very good money to be made for the people that can get into these positions. Some of them don’t really have high barriers of entry either.

    • Interesting to hear that it is similar in Australia as well! I’d love to learn more about this in other countries as well. I bet there are some trades jobs down under that we don’t even think of here in the states!

  5. Thank you for your post Cory! My partner is a skilled tradesman on a similar path so I’m excited to see someone sharing this. I wish that people were more respectful of the trades profession. We are often discussing the best way to gracefully maneuver in social situations where friends working in finance, engineering, tech, medical care, etc. following the traditional (non-fi) path unconsciously make comments that show they think they are smarter/more knowledgeable in general or that they know more than he does about the work he does because they have college degrees.

    • Oh Cam I totally get it! Those comments can be frustrating for sure. Not much we can do except keep heading down the path we know we want! My wife and I have a lot of friends that look at us and wonder how we do what we do. People look and comment like don’t you just fix dents or something? And your wife can stay home, and you can travel, etc? it’s all just optimizing. Can’t help but laugh. What trade is your partner in?

  6. Hi Cory, I love hearing other tradespeople tell their stories! I’m an electrician, and the possibilities for me to make good money are endless! I’m glad you’re talking about this, more people need t see trades as a viable career option. Certainly the FI community needs to hear more about it!
    You’ll be seeing an article or two from me at some point following a similar vein as yours, and I think the more we talk about the benefits of skilled trades the better! Keep up the great work!

    • That’s awesome! Your blogging as well? It’s so true. There are so many options and ways to create income with specific skills. Maybe at some point we can collaborate if you plan on writing those article. I love spreading the word about the trades!

  7. Thank you Cory! Lovely content truly enjoyable. As we speak, in fact I have back ache and have lost range of motion in my neck due to staring at the computer and my phone screens. There are other issues with desk / cubicle jobs too. So they too come with different hazards like carpal tunnel syndrome.

    I would like to go down the skilled trades route. I have always envied my friends who went to trade School instead of regular high school.

    Question: can we please put together a list of the trades? I’d like to take up a job I can do as a female since I can’t lift heavy things (please this is not meant to create offence for any feminists-just trying to tailor to my health situation) Thanks!

    • That’s so true there are potential physical injuries at the desk for sure. I believe that humans are not meant to be sitting for 8 hours a day typing away. Not good for the body!

      I am slowly gathering a list of every trade I can find and it will be a blog post some day! I also plan on doing a podcast interviewing people in each trade about what it takes, pros and cons, income etc. hope this helps down the road!

  8. Cory, thanks for volunteering to write about this! I am actually leaving my corporate engineer job (mostly paperwork and staring at screens) to pursue full time plumbing and real estate investing. Trade work provides a satisfaction I can’t seem to find at a desk job. Not to mention I pay my trade guys double what I make per hour because they are good at what they do. I think trade work is highly underrated. Please keep the posts coming!

    • That is great to hear! Please keep me posted on how your transaction goes! Best of luck to you. I get the satisfaction part of it. It gets overlooked when making a career choice for sure. I’ll keep them coming. Thank you for the nice comment!!

  9. Fabulous post Cory! I can’t wait to hear your podcast and interviews. Where does one learn how to be a PDR or find apprenticeships? I encourage my students to pay attention to the trades jobs, but I need to be careful not to “discourage” them from going to college – Not my word choice. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Currently it is difficult to find apprenticeship for PDR. You just need to do the legwork and show a technician you are willing to do what it takes to learn the trade and succeed and then have him take you under his wing. There are several top notch trainers across the U.S., but the 2-4 weeks of training won’t make you an expert. Each student needs to look at college or the trades as equal opportunities for a career path for sure! Kind of to my point that you can’t “discourage” a student from college when there are clearly students more suited for a trade than a classroom education. Thank you for the comment. The podcast will be a project down the road, but I will keep the blog posts coming!

  10. I’d like to share the story of a close friend of mine in high school. Similar to all of us at my HS, he was guided toward the college path in a general way without any real specific help – ie, what major, what profession, what salary are in your future? He went to college for a year and just sort of washed out, despite being a really smart, hard-working guy. College just wasn’t for him. To pay the bills while he “figured things out” he ended up working for a pool company. Being the smart, hard-working guy he is it didn’t take long for him to become the owner’s right hand man. He found he had a real passion for learning everything there is to know about building, fixing, and maintaining pools. When the owner of the business got into a dispute with all of his employees (long story) and eventually stopped paying them, my friend decided to strike out on his own. He formed a competing pool company and most of his former co-workers were more than happy to follow him. Fast-forward to present day and his company is dominating the pool industry in his local area, which has now gotten quite large and continues to expand. He went from low-wage laborer, to higher-wage skilled laborer, to indispensable employee, and finally to successful entrepreneur simply through hard work and common sense. I’m sure he could retire now anytime he wanted (he’s in his late 30s) but probably won’t because he loves his work and loves running a company that provides a livelihood for dozens of employees. All without a college degree or any education beyond on the job experience and basic life and social skills.

    • Jon this is the exact type of story that inspires me to write about this. I am grateful that your friend found this path after realizing the college route wasn’t going to work.

      There are a lot of people like this and they need to be exposed to the other viable career options. We have done a good job exposing our children to college, but not to the options for trade work. I’d love to speak with him if he was available. Is he a part of this community as well?

      Thank you so much for sharing!!

  11. Preach! I love to hear these stories.
    I myself was just not ready for college when I graduated HS (also they apparently weren’t ready for me ). I tried my hand at a couple different things including real estate and did okay, but eventually started a carpet cleaning company. We have been in business now for about 10 years (I’m 34 now). For the last 4 or 5 years we have done very well and i’ve been able to save ~50% of my income. Thanks to a couple key employees I only work 1-2 days a week and spend most of my time with my Wife and 3 kids.
    I just discovered the FI movement 2 years ago through MMM and it has completely changed my thinking. Now I track my net worth and am much more purposeful in my saving and investing. My goal is to be Financially independent without taking into consideration income from or the value of my business… which will just be icing on the cake as long as choose to run it.
    I think being an Owner helps, but it’s not completely necessary. The side work that is available to most tradesman is substantial.
    Keep spreading the word!

    • This is so great!! I love to hear this. Yes, it’s not necessary to own the business, but there are additional benefits if you are willing to do that! When your FI early people think you must have sold a start-up. Nope, just cleaned lots of carpets! love it!!

  12. Great intro Cory! I have a son that is in High School that struggles with school and really has no intention of going to college. I’m thinking a career in a skilled trade might be perfect for him. I will be following along!

    • That’s great! I hope to have info that helps him make a decision! School isn’t for everyone, but learning has to be. That’s for sure!

  13. Cory

    I have had the Choose FI podcasts on my phone for several weeks now & finally listened to a few during a long drive to an industrial site for work. It was interesting enough, I wanted to check out the website & found your post.

    Your story is similar to mine, except skilled trades where pushed a lot more in my younger years. Growing up in a small farming & mining town, most family’s income came from blue-collar work. I choose to go to a tech college for a two year diploma before starting my machinist apprenticeship, even with 20 months of school my loans added up to under 10k.

    Work was ridiculously easy to find, and has been for the last 15 years. Being a machinist lead me into a few middle manager positions, this seemed like such a normal career path (office life) I even went to night school for business. After about 3 years of this work, the “glory” started to wear off. Jumping back onto the tools, and a second trade was so easy & has been extremely lucrative.

    I have meet so many folks over the years with good degrees & making so much less than friends in the trades. My children will be able to make their own choices, but trades will be heavily discussed with them when the time comes.

    Super glad when other blue-collar workers are into FI & look forward to reading more of what you have to share.

    • Such a great story! Thank you for sharing. I love to hear that! I want to educate more people on the greatness that are the trades!

      I hope to expose my children to many different options and I hope
      To have them sample a lot of different trades jobs as well!

      Thanks! ?

  14. Great article! So I work in an office and have a colleague whose son became a welder out of high school. He makes 6 figures and gets to travel all over the country. I taught them a few things about investing and he is crushing it! I can see how that job may not be sustainable over the long term, but heck with that income and a high savings rate, he can hit FI in a short amount of time.

    • Yes! Thank you for the comment Ms. FI-ology! This is so true. I think if you play your cards right out of high school this can be accomplished in 10 years and then you have the best of your life to play with. That awesome. Welding is such a cool job!

  15. Excellent post! I’m involved with a new organization that is taking aim at Poverty through the introduction of Skilled Trades to low income individuals. One of the things that you point out that must be addressed it the cultural conditioning around Skilled Trades being somehow less than! Just read “The Miliionaire Next Door” to see how ridiculous it is to think and act that way, we have to educate everyone to respect the Skilled Trades People and have gratitude for their contributions.

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