Someone asked me yesterday, “Why do you keep doing this when he keeps being out of work and you keep having to scrape and scramble? Can’t he go back to school and get a career that pays better, sooner?”

I thought hey, if one person is wondering maybe more than one person is wondering. If you aren’t wondering this might be a boring update. My apologies.

Also, as we struggle through another year of “sometimes working sometimes not but probably not come February” I would like to remind my dear readers and myself why this job is not the worst idea I have ever had. You are not the only one who needs reminders. I do. I probably need them more than anyone else, since it’s my job to save during the boom times and pinch pennies during the lean times.

Apprenticeships & Raises

When Mr. Brickie was first out of training and unleashed upon the world as a 40% apprentice he was making about $17/hr. At the beginning of the season this year he was bumped up to 50% and given a raise that reflects that percentage (about $4/hr.) Inflation and time will make the dollar numbers obsolete but not the percentages. It’s a smart system.

At the beginning of 2015 (if this job lasts that long and it should) the Mr. will have worked enough hours to be bumped up to the next level, a 60% apprentice and receive another raise of about the same amount as the last one. I’m sure you’re picking up on the pattern, so I’ll just stop walking through every ten percent increase. It keeps going like that until he reaches 100% and becomes a Journeyman.

But those are the apprenticeship bumps. The union’s way of “working up from the mail room” and paying you according to your skills. At 80% and 100% there is a skills test you have to pass to get the promotion/raise. Everyone does not get a ribbon and not every bricklayer becomes a journeyman.

As for run-of-the-mill job salary payment raises? Those are written into the multi-year contracts signed by the union and those raises go into effect during the summer sometime. So, on top of the apprentice bumps he also gets a raise every year. The raise happens at the same time for everyone and the apprentice promotions happen when you have worked enough hours, been to enough union meetings, and attended your mandatory training sessions.

So while things are super tough right now (that fundraiser money is only for moving so when I talk about finances being tight that’s because that money isn’t spendable)  but I’ll be fine with a partial paycheck in two years. I like to kind of just mention it now and then because I don’t actually plan on raising a family of five on $21/hr. long term. My calculations show that we will have some financial breathing room when he hits the 70% level.


Usually, sometime after the season really kicks into gear, there is overtime. This is far more likely to be the case if you are working with a company that works on schools. Schools have to get all their work done in summer and have it finished before school starts.

Mr. Brickie has worked with a local, well-respected company the past two summers and both times he ended up working overtime. Overtime is a beautiful thing financially, but it turns Mr. Brickie into a crabby bear that I want to lock behind a brick wall to muffle the complaints. Instead I smile and I say, “It’s okay dear, you’re just exhausted, what can I get you?” and hope no one is recording video of me being so Donna Reed it would make me sick if I saw it.

We use overtime money to pad the savings account or pay off bills that need paying. Saved overtime money is what got us the second car.


One of the big reasons we chose the profession he’s in is retirement. The retirement package of a union bricklayer in our county is insanely good. The few (painful, overwhelming) years Mr. Brickie was a (licensed!) financial advisor taught us that far too many people in this country are unprepared for being old and retired. We have found the solution to our family’s financial problems but it doesn’t happen overnight and we know we are getting a very late start compared to someone who did everything “right” and got that first job right out of college or started in a trade right out of high school, so the retirement package is huge for us. It allows us to know that in addition to regular retirement savings there is this other stuff he’s been paying into since the first day he started working on a job site.

When you start on the life you have always wanted as late as we have, you have to have to take that into consideration when you’re finding your dream job. Sure, things go wrong and retirement packages go bust, but so do stock markets and everything else. We have to plan with the information we have available and two pensions and an annuity (among other things) are an amazing perk. Sure, we pay into those things, but it’s nice to know we’re paying into something toward retirement.

Timing, Luck, and Hustle

Mr. Brickie started with the bricklayers during their worst year since they began. It was the tail end of the recession and there was no work. Then, he started working and we had the wettest spring ever since Jesus walked on water or something so there was really, really no work when work was supposed to start.

In theory, this is great because that means he started at the very, very beginning of what will turn out to be the next boom cycle (economically speaking) and that should last around ten years with a few years on each end of revving up and revving down. With the jobs not being there, neither are other bricklayers (at the meetings, at training, at follow up classes) and Mr. Brickie is standing out as someone that works hard, can be relied on, and someone smart. He is making a reputation by being a big fish of doing good stuff in a very small pond.

At least, I hope that’s how this is happening because I know he is working his tail feathers off, I know he’s smart, and I know when he tells me the things people tell him he is telling the truth. All that to say I know Mr. Brickie wants to do more with the union itself in the farther off future and this early exposure and his work ethic and attitude – that would have stood out anyway – have an even easier time standing out during a time of less competition.

Luck also comes into play in him getting the job in the first place. He applied and was tested for more than one union. The millwrights were also hiring and we were almost positive he would be a millwright for almost a year before the bricklayers called him in for training. He is still on the list at the union hall (as far as we know) to be called when the hiring freeze is over.

Double Awesome Luck™ would have it that Mr. Brickie loves his job and is good at it. Two things you cannot predict until you’re actually out there working. So he makes sure everyone he works with remembers his name and he has a list (backed up in the cloud) of phone numbers and names of the foremen, schedulers, and supervisors he’s worked with. The list gets longer every year and it’s the list he turns to when winter is over and it’s time to get back into the swing of things at work again.

There are other apprentices who are still working at the same company they were with when they got out of training. There are apprentices who haven’t had a month off here and two months off there since they got out of training. There is a lot of luck at play in what companies get what contracts and how long/often they work. We have gotten a much rockier start than we anticipated but we are rolling with it the only way we know how.

The last luck feather in our caps is the car we bought from craigslist. It’s still putting along just fine with a strong engine and amazing gas mileage. Having two cars has made everything so much easier and allows my girls to be in after school activities. Since we don’t spend money on vacations or voice lessons or gymnastics or anything else you can enroll in? At least they have something extra and special to look forward to. I’m excited about moving because we’ll be less than five minutes away from the YMCA and I have it on good authority the Y is amazing. I’ll be able to go there on my own as well as with my family and participate in programs, pretty much like a park district, I guess.

The Y has a program for low income folks, so I’ll be able to join up almost right when we get there because the membership will be affordable even for my family during our transition from insanely poor to middle class.