yellow taxi

Financial Lessons From a Taxi Driver

yellow taxiI don’t know what it is about me and taxi drivers. Whenever I’m in a car alone with them – something that happens infrequently – they tell me their life story.

Four years ago, I was told by a driver that he was too old to succeed and that I am really old. Well, that was the implication since it turns out that we are the same age. You can read about our surprising exchange in this blog post.

Earlier this month, I found myself in the back of a cab at an ungodly hour of the morning, en route for the airport. As I settled into my seat, intending to zone out for the thirty-minute ride, I was snapped back to reality by my chatty driver, Ted*.

“I could turn to Google maps to get out of this neighbourhood, but since you live here, you’re the expert. How do I get to the highway from here?” he asked.

A man who asks for directions! I liked him already. I told him how to manoeuvre out of my suburban labyrinth and we were on our way.

“Are you travelling for business or pleasure?”

Here we go. I told him that I was headed out west for a bit of both.

“What do you do?” he kept on.

OK, he really wants to talk. Fine. How can you refuse such a jovial man? I gave him an outline of my work teaching financial literacy, mostly to women. He kept asking questions: How had I ended up in that line of work? Why did I focus mostly on women? What sorts of things did I teach? Were many families in trouble based on my experience?

“I’ve been very lucky in that regard. I’m a few months away from my retirement and I’m in good shape. My wife and I plan to do a fair bit of travelling after some time adjusting to not working,” he said. He went on to tell me his story, complete with his approach to money.

And I’m so glad he did. His approach, and choices, are an inspiration.

Successful immigrant

Ted immigrated to Canada more than thirty years ago, landing with only a professional degree and little else. When he discovered that his degree wasn’t recognized here, he looked around at his options to earn a living. He started to drive a cab while searching for a job until a funny thing happened: He realized that he was making a decent living being a taxi driver. It also dawned on him that with time, he could purchase his own license plate as an investment for the future.

By his own recollection, he worked long, hard hours and approached every fare with a feeling of gratitude. Not once did he feel bitter about his inability to work in his profession. Sure, it was unfortunate not to be able to use his degree, but he was so glad to have the opportunity to set down roots in Canada that he simply accepted this as the price he had to pay.

Not long after, he got married and started a family. His wife, about whom he speaks with devotion and his trademark gratitude, stayed home to raise their two children while he worked in his taxi business. Eventually, he bought two plates, using one himself and renting out the other. If Uber hadn’t popped onto the scene, the two plates would today be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, because of the disruption to his industry, the two plates are worth a mere fraction of their pre-Uber value.

Ted shrugs his shoulders. “What can you do? It’s OK. I have made good money from them and we are in good shape. I will sell them, get what I can, and be happy in retirement. Life is good.”

Ted’s financial approach

When I asked him how he managed to end up in such great financial shape, he offered the following explanation:

  • My wife and I bought a good home. It’s a big house, because we wanted to have room for our extended family. We raised our children in that house and now our son, his wife, and their children live with us. They contribute to the costs and the maintenance. When we had a mortgage, we made paying it off a priority. Now that the mortgage is paid off and we have no other debt, we take the extra money and invest it.
  • My wife has also been very good at making food inexpensively, making things for the house and the children when they were little. We saved a lot of money that way.
  • We never went into debt except for the house purchase. If we didn’t have the money for something, we saved for it first. We only bought things when we had first contributed to our savings and investments.
  • We spent a lot of time together as a family but we didn’t have many expensive holidays. We travelled frugally. Our children never felt as though they were deprived.
  • We paid for our children’s education in full so that they could concentrate on their studies and have opportunities we didn’t have. My son chose to go to work for the city after graduating from school, whereas my daughter is working on her Master’s. She is on track to land a good job. She has worked hard and done very well. She is an excellent student. We are proud of them both.
  • I worked hard and focused on doing a good job. Always be polite and positive. It’s good for customers and for business. This business has been very good to me.

“What about your kids?” I asked. “Do they share your financial approach?”

“Oh yes, they are both good savers. They work hard, look for opportunities, and save as much money as they can. They are also investing for the future. This is something my wife and I have emphasized from the beginning, and thankfully they have listened. You need to build security and skills. They are both on a good path for that.”

“You know,” he continued, “I have been very lucky. I am married to a great woman who has worked hard than me and kept the household going. I have been fortunate to have success in my profession, and I have been welcomed in this country. Now, I’m a few months away from retiring and I get to travel. Life is good.”

“Where do you plan to visit?” I inquired.

“Maybe the Rockies. I hear they are beautiful. My wife and I will head out in a car and make our way around slowly. We are not in a rush.”

“Well the good news is you’re pretty handy with a car!”

And with that I bid him adieu.

If he weren’t retiring, I might hire him for my financial literacy business given how sensible he is about money.

No corrosive debt, a focus on saving and investing, and a positive attitude. You really can’t beat that as a financial approach.

Happy retirement, Ted. You deserve it. And thanks for drawing this reluctant passenger into a conversation very early in the morning. It was worth it.

*Not his real name.


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