Dollars & Sense

Kevin Rutherford

Knowing if you’re ready to buy

| April 30, 2013
Assessing net worth relative to your age says more than you think about your ability to purchase a truck and succeed as an owner-operator.
Assessing net worth relative to your age says more than you think about your ability to purchase a truck and succeed as an owner-operator.

I’m often asked: “How much cash do I need to get started as an owner-operator?” I always respond: “Somewhere between zero and $100,000 will do the trick just fine.”

I’m serious about the answer. The amount you spend on the first truck is not the most critical factor in your success.

The average wage for a truck driver is about $45,000 per year. The average gross revenue for a new owner-operator is $175,000.

That may sound exciting, but it will be your worst nightmare if you don’t know how to handle money. That gross revenue belongs to the finance companies, the insurance companies, the fuel supplier, the IRS, the repair shop, etc. You have short-term possession of the money, and that is where the risk in its management enters the picture.

One approach to assessing your financial discipline is to figure your net worth. To do so, calculate all of the money you owe, including any mortgage, and then calculate the value of everything you own – house, vehicles, possessions, cash, investments, etc.

Subtract your debts from your assets; the result is your net worth. Don’t be surprised if your net worth is a negative number. It’s common in this country today.

Mint.com

Easy organization | It’s a great idea to continue to track your net worth and set regular goals to improve it. Mint.com is a great free website to help you do that. You’ll be amazed at how clear this concept will become when you have the numbers in front of you. Also, there are thousands of good books to help you with your money issues. If you have trouble getting through a book, get an audio version and listen while you’re on the highway.

If your net worth is negative, look long and hard at why before you decide to start a business. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you have your own business and you can make more money, then your financial situation will improve. If you mismanage small amounts of money, you also will mismanage large amounts of money, and the consequences will be far worse. If you haven’t created any positive net worth in your life yet, owning a business is not going to fix that.

Once you determine your net worth, see how it compares to others in similar situations.

The mean net worth for people earning $40,000 to $60,000 per year, a bracket that includes successful company drivers and many owner-operators, is $80,200. Broken down by age groups, average net worth increases like this:

  • Under 35 years old: $10,700
  • 35-44 years old: $78,800
  • 45-54 years old: $166,200
  • 55-64 years old: $231,000

If you fall within 10 percent of those numbers, you will have a higher chance of succeeding as a new owner-operator. Why? It’s not because you’re going to liquidate assets and pour them into your new business. It’s because you’ve already demonstrated good financial management skills. If your net worth is significantly less than those numbers, determine why.

There’s nothing wrong with setting a 12- to 18-month goal for starting your business and also using that time to improve your financial knowledge and position. Building higher net worth is relatively simple – spending less than you earn – but deceptively hard. Master this one discipline, and it will serve you well.