Learn Your Net Profit Per Hour, or You Make Less Than You Think You Do

If you_re like us and really only make $10_hour sometimes, that iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office.-2

I’m very fortunate to have built an unconventional wedding photography business. I also work a day job at a liquor store. Having run my own business for 11 years though, I’ve learned to see my regular work life as a business too. In both, there were tons of expenses that chipped away at my bottom line. The same is true for where and how you work, regardless of what job you have. Think you make your hourly wage per hour, and that’s all there is? Think again. Here’s why you make less than you think you do.

Through mostly luck, my wedding photography is a dream job. I now charge $2,995 for a typical 8-hour wedding. When I add on the extra time I put in for prep, delivery, client meetings, driving time, accounting and so on, I’m looking at about a 20-hour investment per client. I have a great second shooter, and I pay a very efficient editor to handle 90% of the post-production. Typically, the editor takes $400, my second shooter takes $400, and there’s $200 or so that goes into other expenses, like batteries, gas, or buying drinks for clients. I walk away from each wedding with about $2,000. I’ve been operating this way for years. It took a $15,000 photography diploma and $30,000 in gear to get to this point, but that’s another story. Right now, my photography business is – in my mind – very effective at turning time into cash. My net profit per hour is $100 on the books, and a little less after accounting for taxes. Read this: “Many times it’s a ‘slap in the face’ when you calculate this number for the first time. We calculated it in a Courage to be Profitable class last week, and the highest net profit per hour was $3.60. The lowest was less than $1.” What gives?

Well, those were conventional businesses with considerable overhead, taking up space 24 hours a day. I have none of that. Those business students figured out their businesses’ profitability for the first time. You should figure out your profitability too. Here are some numbers from my day job, for easy comparison. In theory, I make $14/hour at the liquor store. In reality, I don’t.

Taxes are obvious, so let’s factor that in. Every day I go to work, I burn gas. Plugging some numbers into this gas calculator meant every day I go to work and back, I lose $2. Okay, not a big deal. What about car maintenance? What about making sure I had the right clothes and shoes for work? I spent $55 on work-appropriate shoes earlier this month. What about all the times I eat out because of work? I get $8 dinners instead of frugally eating in twice a week. Getting even crazier, what about my unbilled hours? Let’s add my commuting time too. Suddenly, my true net profit per hour was closer to $10/hour, and I’m probably forgetting something. This guy ran his numbers from his “$20 an hour” job too, and found it was now “less than $10 an hour”. Read his story.

People sometimes calculate purchases by comparing it directly with their hourly wage. “Oh, I make $20/hour, so this $1,000 iPhone is worth 50 hours of my time.” Nope! If you’re like us and really only make $10/hour sometimes, that new iPhone costs you 100 hours, or two-and-a-half weeks in the office. That $9.26 beer you just bought? Yeah, that’s about an hour. Couldn’t resist seeing “Venom” in theatres with your date and springing for popcorn too? That’s three hours. A new, low-end 4K TV? That’s a 40-hour workweek. After figuring out your net profit per hour, being frugal is the only course of action that makes sense.

Never forget to include the cost of doing business.

A final note: I have $21,000 buzzing away in investments right now with a rough return of 7%, or $1,470/year. Isn’t that kinda like adding 147 hours of day job work to my bottom line? People work, what, 2,000 hours a year? Hunh.

Will you work harder, or let your money work for you?


For an extreme sport, you could copy those business students and calculate your net profit per hour based on 24 hours instead of just when you work. If you do this, please share. We’re very curious.


Let’s Talk About “Barista FIRE”

Coffee is love

“It’s a concept that can be coined Barista FIRE – not quite FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), but perhaps just a step below it. At Barista FIRE, your lifestyle is almost funded, and all you need to do is to make a few extra thousand dollars every year in order to survive. You can do that pretty much by doing anything, even just working as a barista a few days a week. For people like me, Barista FIRE might be just as good as regular FIRE.”

Barista FIRE draws a lot of flak, and I can understand why. For one, being a barista isn’t the easiest job in the world. With some comparing it to being a line cook, the term itself sounds privileged and disconnected, especially when people sustain their whole lifestyles “working as a barista a few days a week”. Nevertheless, the term has persisted, so let’s talk about it. Barista FIRE is much more reachable than most people realize. Some might even say I’m there already, working part-time at a liquor store and shooting $2,995 weddings on the side. For some background, here’s the breakdown on my current net worth (including the debt). Can someone be Barista FIRE and still have debt? You decide. As a concept, it’s a bit muddy to begin with, so feel free to embrace the malleability of the idea and move goalposts as you please. I certainly have.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you spend $2,000/month, a reasonable amount for pretty comfortable living. Minimum wage in BC is currently $12.65. Three 8-hour shifts a week brings you to $303.60, or $1,214.40/month. The current tax rate in BC for your first $39,676 is 5.06%, so you’re down $61.45/month for $1,152.95. Your investments need to generate $847.05/month to qualify for Barista FIRE, or $10,164.60/year. Assuming you make 7% reliably off US index funds, you’d only need $145,208.58 to achieve that! This is a reasonable assumption of what a Barista FIRE number should look like, and it’s much more attainable than a FIRE number. “A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25.” If you spend $24,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $600,000. At 4.1x less than this FIRE number, our Barista FIRE number has already earned you the freedom to do whatever job you want! I’ve mentioned before that working forever might not be so bad – I hate the idea of someday signing off on work altogether, and just sitting back to consume, consume, consume – so this was like striking gold to me. Barista FIRE was a new milestone, and it was comparatively easy to reach. Naturally, this is all napkin math, but the results are hopeful. With my 99-year leasehold rented to two roommates, I’m currently generating $1,300/month. My day job, a fun liquor store position that keeps me active, pays me $100+/day. If I brought my expenses down to $2,000/month, that might mean I only need to work seven days a month. It’s all a work in progress, but in my mind, I’m nearly at Barista FIRE. For me, I don’t think I can comfortably call myself FIRE-anything while I still have debt, but once that’s gone, all bets are off. With $22,000+ invested in index funds too, I know I’ll be working-for-health, not-money soon. A future post will talk about that too.

Retirement can be boring, so you’re probably gonna want to do something. You too can retire from the grind and work your dream job. Teach piano, run photography workshops, become a freelance proofreader, start an underground dining operation, or walk dogs. Work out your own Barista FIRE number like so: 1) Figure out your monthly expenses. 2) Work out how much you’d earn working your dream job; e.g. $800 from teaching two $100 art lessons every week for four weeks. 3) Subtract item #2 from item #1. 4) The result is how much your investments need to earn monthly for Barista FIRE. Multiply by 12 for an annual figure, if that’s easier. This is now a clear milestone of when you can retire from a job that sucks, and retire to whatever job you want.

Can you do it? Your dream job awaits.