Rule Six: Never spend money you haven’t made.
I am glad July of 2010 is behind me. I cannot recall a month that was less lucrative in my serving career. My income dropped by well over 50% last month. Unbearable heat combined with a disproportionate number of patio shifts took a chunk out of my savings. I had planned for a slow month, but not one this slow.
I was fortunate enough to follow my own advice on saving and budgeting. I keep my living expenses low and save during good months. This allowed me to avoid the month being devastating financially. I stay out of debt and carry no credit cards. My car is paid for and my rent is minimal. My savings was depleted, but not drained.
Many co-workers were not so lucky. In the panic over subpar weeks, my phone has stayed buzzing with people looking to pick up shifts. Trying to keep up with credit cards, car payments, and the other necessities of life has caused people to need to take shifts that they would never consider picking up if not in dire straights. Vacations have been canceled and deposits forfeited. This entire struggle was based upon the anticipation of money that never materialized.
As a server, you cannot afford to anticipate income that you have not yet earned. The occupation we have chosen does not allow you the luxury of a predictable income. Any number of things can happen to dramatically change your income. Nearly all servers are only a complaint letter or two away from losing their jobs. Restaurants are going out of business at an alarming rate. Restaurants are expanding their interview processes and not hiring on first interviews anymore. Fires, floods, and equipment failures in the restaurant can cause otherwise good shifts to produce no income. Even if your income remains predictable, cars break down, furnaces need replaced, accidents happen which are beyond your control and are usually expensive.
The need for income caused by these situations is compounded by the fact that they always happen during slow periods. Murphy and his law pretty much guarantee this. Waiting tables when you need money adds tremendous pressure. It takes you focus off the guests and places it on the money. This never bodes well for income and is why rule one and two are the first two rules on this list. Once you make it through the immediate need for money, then you have to continue to work harder to catch up. It takes a toll on your morale when you are not working for things you want, but paying for things you already have and usually did not want to have to pay for.
One of the wisest pieces of advice I ever received was to always try to live on last month’s income. Have saving set aside and try to stay a month ahead. This allows you to create an accurate budget. It also prevents you from blowing money on good nights or panicking on bad ones. It is a tough habit to get into. Once you are able to achieve it though, you can relieve a great deal of stress from your shifts.
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