That phrase obviously means someone isn’t doing so well financially, but what stood out to me is how different the two scenarios were that people were describing to me using that same phrase. In the first scenario, someone was busting his tail to make ends meet, but he couldn’t seem to catch a break. In the second scenario, someone was making a lot of money, but he was choosing to spend all of his nickels before he ever thought about rubbing a couple of them together. Both instances of this phrase made me pause, and they led me to think about the advice I might give in these two very different scenarios.
Unless your last name is Rockefeller, you will probably go through (or have already gone through) at least one period in your life where it’s hard to rub two nickels together. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that could give me all that I needed, but even so, there have been times where things were tight. I remember in high school how quickly a weekend trip could eat away at my hard-earned minimum wage, maximum hour check from the local dry cleaners where I worked. I remember in college how serious things got when gas crossed three dollars a gallon for the first time, and suddenly going home was a little bit more of a financial commitment. I remember when my wife and I were just married, and our dining room had no light fixture, no table, and no chairs. I consider myself very blessed, and frankly, a little lucky, to have had as few lean times as I have, but I don’t take anything for granted and know that what I’ve been given can also be taken away. If you’ve been dealt a tough hand, even if you’ve been repeatedly dealt tough hands, I urge you to press on. Hard work will eventually pay off. You will eventually get that break. Your dining room will eventually have light, a table, and chairs. You will eventually get through the financial wilderness you have been walking through. In the words of my iconic role model Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
As for non-savers, a recent talk at the Terry College of Business Leadership Speaker Series by Dan Cathy, the President and COO of Chick-fil-A, comes to my mind. Mr. Cathy was explaining the differences between wages and profits and the importance of future business leaders and future employees recognizing those differences. These are my words, not his, but what he was getting at is the fact that a company is only profitable if it makes more than it spends to sell or produce what it offers. Essentially, a company is no better off than it was if it doesn’t make a profit. How true this also rings on an individual or family level! I know there are hard times and bad things happen to good people, but if the waters are relatively calm and you are fortunate enough to have a good job, I might make the argument that you and your family are no better off financially if you don’t make a profit. How do you make a profit as a person? By spending less than you make and saving the surplus, investing it, or paying down your already-incurred debt and obligations with it. I can hear it now: “That’s great Tom, but I don’t have a surplus or that much of a surplus.” To continue my company/individual comparison, I’d tell you that a company can only increase its profitability by increasing revenues or cutting expenses. I believe an individual’s situation is very similar, and an individual or family can only increase their profitability (which increases their surplus, which improves their financial situation) by increasing their revenue or cutting their expenses. Now feel free to ask your boss for an increase in revenue, but personally I’d advise cutting those living expenses however much you need to until you have two nickels to rub together.
If you’re going through a tough time, keep your head up and keep on trying. If you’re going through a good time and not taking advantage of it, I’d encourage you to think about those people who would love to be in your position. As the country duo Montgomery Gentry says in their hit song “Something To Be Proud Of:” “You don’t need to make a million – just be thankful to be working. If you’re doing what you’re able and putting food there on the table, and providing for the family that you love, that’s something to be proud of.” And if you keep working hard and make sure you are earning profits and not just wages, I bet you’ll have two nickels to rub together. And if you keep on a little longer, I bet those nickels will become dimes, dimes will become quarters, and quarters will become real dollars.