6 Steps for Ending the Poverty Mentality in Archaeology

Financial independence is the key to ending the poverty mentality in archaeologyHow many times have you heard this?

“I’d love to go to Hawaii for a vacation but that’s the kind of thing only rich people do.”

“Archaeology is cool but I should have gone to law or med school instead of grad school for anthropology.”

“Rich people are scum. I mean, why are they always cheating the hard working folks like me/us/the poor?”

“Cultural resource management archaeology is feast or famine. You’ve gotta be ready for that layoff because it could come at any time.”

“I’d love to start a family, buy a house, and get married, but I’ve got to get tenure first. Then, I can settle down and have kids.”

I’ve been an archaeologist for over a decade now and I can’t help but hear the common lamentations over the poor financial conditions associated with being an archaeologist. I agree that it is hard to make it in this industry. Work is tenuous and can be low-paying. Most companies suck at providing steady work for entry-level employees. We work away from home a lot. And, it’s difficult to maintain a steady relationship because of this combination of complications. As a result, many long-time CRM archaeologists become downtrodden, sullen, and right out angry over the way their careers have panned out.

The life of an archaeologist is not for everyone. But, then again, neither is the life of a corporate executive, plastic surgeon, lawyer, or any of the “well-paid” members of our society that we tend to look up to. Archaeologists tend to think that everything would be peachy if they had more money. If they got a lot of money for their work, most archaeos believe that all their problems would be solved. I mean, if we were all millionaires everything would be totally easy, right?

Deep in our hearts we know this is not true. Look at the well-paid workers in the northern Great Plains oil fields or the numerous construction managers we encounter during our jobs. Are they happy? Are their problems ameliorated by the fat paychecks they bring home? Are they doing fulfilling work that helps the world become a better place? Are they?????

What do I mean by Poverty Mentality

Poverty is more a state of mind than a financial reality. Sure, homeless people and folks on public assistance are poor. They live in grinding poverty, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a poverty mentality. You’ve all heard about the single mom on welfare that works two jobs to put herself through college and ends up becoming a judge, pulling her and her children out of poverty. That is an example of someone that lived in poverty but did not have a poverty mentality. Or, the archaeologist that started a company 10 years ago and is now worth more than $1 million.

Poverty mentality is an attitude, a persistent belief that you will never have enough money and that your dreams and desires will always go unfulfilled. Archaeologists believe they have to take whatever they can get for their services because there aren’t enough jobs or projects or companies or ways to get paid for doing archaeology. We will always have to work for a living. We will never be rich enough to stop working; we’ll never be financially independent. We keep believing that suffering, struggle and strife is our lot in life. After all we’re the “Blue Collar Members of Academia” and being poor is a requirement for being blue collar. If we were rich, we’d no longer be blue collar. If we were financially independent, we wouldn’t have an excuse for not achieving our dreams. Right?

Archaeologists do work hard and we perform an extremely valuable service for humanity­– guaranteeing that the past is not forgotten. We are not the highest paid scientists in the world, but that doesn’t matter because cultural resource management is not just about the money. CRMers are integral to historic preservation and heritage conservation because, through our Section 106 work, we help the state historic preservation office with their mandate to perform a statewide survey of historic properties. They don’t have the manpower, but we do. We also find archaeological sites and create history from the ground up. Academicians and historians are increasingly dependent on our finds to do their work. We will never be paid adequately for our work because, frankly, what we do for society is priceless.

The poverty mentality pervades CRM and historic preservation from top to bottom. Even at its highest levels, CRM companies have few assets to show for all that hard work and public money they’ve received. CRM appears to be in a rapid race to the bottom where undercutting and low-balling seems to be de rigueur. It’s hard to get archaeologists to unionize or advocate for their own betterment because we all feel like we have to take whatever we can get. Unionized workers might say we “scab” each other because there’s always a desperate archaeologists to fill any job no matter how sh*tty the pay. CRM companies are horribly capitalized and exist through a contract-to-contract, breath-by-breath business cycle. If they don’t land another meal, employees don’t eat. Layoffs ensue.

However, we can do much to improve the financial straits of our industry and its practitioners. Each archaeologist and CRM company needs to move towards achieving financial independence, which means having enough money to fulfill the entity’s needs and striving to get a little bit extra. This means we will have to take action, something that people with the poverty mentality have trouble with, and it also means we will have to think in a different direction than we have been for the past 50 years.

6 Steps for Getting Rid of Poverty Mentality in Archaeology

Want to end the poverty mentality in archaeology? Then, we’ve got to create robust, financially independent practitioners and well-capitalized, diversified companies. Here are some steps we can take:

1)            Change your mindset­–This goes almost without saying. You will never be financially free as long as you keep some of your old ghosts alive: the belief that more money is better, the idea that you will never be wealthy, the thought that luxuries will never be yours until you get more money, the concept that the CRM industry is ‘feast or famine’, the mantra that we are all ‘just archaeologists’ and doomed to a life of noble poverty. All of those ideas are untrue and keep us wrapped up in a poverty mentality. Companies will always eke out a living on the margins of profitability as long as they do not change their mission and work towards financial independence.

Changing the way you think is the first step towards becoming financially stable and independent. It is the cornerstone upon which all of the following steps rely.

2)            Figure out what you need to survive–­ This shouldn’t be too hard. First, add up all your bills, obligations, and debt to see how much money you are spending each month in order to maintain this quality of life. Second, decide if all of these expenses are absolutely necessary. Do you need an apartment with a guest room? Do you need a second car? Do you need cable? Does your company need to own its own Trimbles/trucks/office space? Does your company need its own HR or IT departments?

In order to achieve financial independence, you need to know how much money you are spending and what you’re spending it on. You also need to take a good, hard look at the way you/your company is spending money. Is it on acquiring assets (i.e. things that bring money into your pocket) or is it mostly on liabilities (i.e. things that suck money out of your pocket)?

3)            Start saving– Desperate people take desperate measures. You will take that sketchy job with no per diem that doesn’t pay drive time if you don’t have enough savings to cover your expenses during times of unemployment. Companies will lowball a project just to get some money in the coffers even if they know they won’t be able to do justice to the resources they might find. Everybody needs to have a rainy day fund that can cover at least 6 months of your expenses. Companies would do better by having 12 months of expenses covered, but, oftentimes, that isn’t possible.

The goal here is to stave off desperation by creating a robust savings account that will help you in times of need. You will be less likely to sacrifice your morals if you know you don’t have to work for peanuts and can wait out bouts of unemployment. For CRMers that work in the field, a few months of per diem should be enough to build up a 6-month savings stash. For companies, you may have to start a side hustle (a.k.a moneymaking venture not associated with your core service). See Step 3.

4)            Start a side hustle–­ Prehistoric people didn’t put all their seeds in one Hohokam red-on-buff jar. Why don’t we follow their lead and diversify our income strategies. Side hustles are absolutely essential for CRMers that work in the field, specifically field techs. None of our jobs are secure enough for us to depend upon one income stream to cover all of our expenses. There are myriad industries, services, and activities you can do that will bring in a couple extra bones on the side. If you play your cards right, you may even be able to parlay that side hustle into your main income and just do #freearchaeology to give you the thrill of discovery that archaeology brings.

CRM companies may have a little difficulty with this because many CRM-only firms are committed to just that aspect of historic preservation. Buying and developing historical income properties is one side hustle that isn’t too much of a stretch for these companies because they can already do the NRHP nomination form in-house and have assets to draw upon for loans. In the process, this property might be eligible for historical tax credits and other tax incentives. Helping clients through the historic tax credits process is another form of ancillary income that may be lucrative.

There are almost too many ways for each of us to start a side hustle, so think about how you can diversify your income today.

5)            Tackle debt­– Some debt is good. A mortgage on a house that is worth more than you bought it for, student loans (as long as you didn’t overdo it), and a temporary small business loan that allowed you to hire crew for a field project are all examples of good debt because they further your financial mission and help you pay your bills. Credit cards, auto loans, underwater mortgages, and, God forbid, payday loans are all examples of bad debt because they suck money out of your pocket each month. This is the kind of debt you need to tackle right away.

There are three main ways of eliminating debt: A) allocating a portion of your current income towards diligently paying off the debt, B) increasing your income and using that extra money to pay the debt, and C) a combination of both. It doesn’t matter what strategy you use as long as you get rid of the bad debt as soon as you can.

6)            Acquire assets­– Assets are things that put money into your pocket. Stock portfolios, certificates of deposit, and interest-bearing savings accounts are all easily acquirable assets. Investment properties and investing in small businesses and start-ups have more risk, but also have the potential to be highly profitable assets. Recently, most CRM growth has been achieved through the acquisition of small companies by larger entities. You can also create assets. For example, you can write an eBook, create an online class, or build an app that brings in revenue. You can also buy one of these assets from its owner, which keeps you from having to reinvent the wheel.

It doesn’t matter how you do it, but, once you’ve gotten your nest egg established and bad debt eliminated, you need to start buying assets.

Ending the poverty mentality will take time. It will require a step-by-step reorganization of the industry and reeducation of its practitioners. Some CRMers will achieve independence quickly. They may build a lucrative side hustle that more than adequately supplements their CRM pay, rolling their profits into asset acquisition or working fewer hours to pursue personal interests (like volunteering at the kind of sites where they always wanted to work). Some companies may invest in creating T-people at their organization, folks that are deeply knowledgeable about a certain aspect of archaeology, historic preservation, or business while having a breadth of knowledge in a variety of other topics. They may also expand their thinking and acquire assets that help bolster the payroll while shedding unnecessary/unprofitable departments and work processes that take away from the bottom line.

At the end of the day, we need to stop thinking that more money, more contracts, and more work will solve our financial needs. We need to end the poverty mentality in archaeology in order to forge a more prosperous and productive future for ourselves and the communities in which we serve.

Where to start

Follow this sequence:

A)           Figure out how much money you need.

B)           Start saving and, perhaps, a side hustle.

C)           Educate yourself.

D)           Take down debt.

E)           Buy assets.

F)           Keep going until you die

I know more about being an employee than being a company-owner because I’ve worked for others much longer than I have worked for myself. Here are some books and resources that have helped me improve my finances and business acumen:

Small Business Administration– (www.sba.gov)­ Loaded with great information and advisers, your local SBA can help you turn your side hustle into a business.

Happy Black Woman­— Rosetta Thurman manages a website that is loaded with inspiration and ideas for starting your side hustle. A former non-profit grant-writer turned speaker and business coach, Rosetta will help you move from employee to business person.

Allen, Robert G.

2005       Multiple Streams of Wealth: How to Generate a Lifetime of Unlimited Wealth. Wiley, United Kingdom.

While not really that specific, you can get this real estate classic for $0.01 on Amazon. It’s a good place to start thinking about tried-and-true pathways to creating residual income.

Clason, George C.

1926       The Richest Man in Babylon. Penguin Books, United States.

THE quintessential classic of personal finance. I’ve given this book away dozens of times and keep passing out paperback copies even though you can read it for free (http://www.ccsales.com/the_richest_man_in_babylon.pdf). Each time I read it, the book just keeps on giving. This should be one of the required texts in junior high schools across the country.

Dominguez, Joe and Vicki Robin

1992       Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. Penguin Books, Ltd., New York.

This book will change the way you think about money and what true wealth is. Money= life energy. Is your salary worth the life you trade to get it?

Ferriss, Tim

2009       The 4-Hour Work Week: Escape 9­5, Work Anywhere, and Join the New Rich. Harmony Publishers, United States.

The title of this book is overhyped, but it does provide a lot of brain food for starting a side hustle. Best of all, it stresses automating your side business. Most importantly, it advocates getting rid of meetings, which I believe are the most wasteful job task in the CRM industry.

Fried, Jason and David Heinemeier Hansson

2010       Rework. Crown Business, United States.

Stop talking. Start working. You can start your own business.

Guillebeau, Chris

2012       The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Crown Business, United States.

You don’t need a bunch of money to start a business. This book is full of examples on how you can bootstrap your side hustle and supplement your income.

2010       The Art of Non-Conformity: Set your Own Rules, Live the Life you Want, and Change the World. Perigee Books, United States.

Thinking outside of the box on steroids. A great read to get your hustle juices flowing.

What do you think? How do you think we can end the poverty mentality in archaeology? Write a comment below or send me an email.

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