Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

109 in the shade!

painterM’hijito remarked that Bila the Painter will earn more in two days, painting the exterior woodwork on the downtown house, than either M’hijito or I bring home in a week. And one thing you have to say about painting: you can’t offshore it to India!

On the other hand: what does it really mean to earn more in two days as a skilled tradesman than a white-collar worker earns in a week?

Well… Today we broke another heat record for May 18. By midafternoon, thermometers on M’hijito’s patio, my patio, and SDXB’s patio all registered 109 degrees. That’s in the shade. A hundred-and-nine-degree day is, in a word, HOT. Bila earns his living climbing up and down ladders, hauling paint around, and slathering or spraying the stuff everyplace he can get it. And “everyplace he can get it” is as likely to be in the full sun as in the shade. 

M’hijito took a paid day off today to dance the Workman Waltz. If Bila takes a day off, being self-employed, he doesn’t get paid. At all.

The incredibly complex antique Baldwin lock did not remove readily from the door that Bila planned to sand and refinish. So we had to call the locksmith who specializes in museum pieces, and wait an hour on him. M’hijito and I went to breakfast in the interim. When we got back, Bila was sitting in the front yard gazing into space: the locksmith had yet to show up. If M’hijito and I unavoidably kill a little time on the job, we generally get paid. If Bila wastes time on the job, it’s time that will likely make him late to the next job: again, time he doesn’t get paid for.

Bila pays for the paint out of his fee. I’d guess he’ll buy about $200 worth of Dunn-Edwards’s best.

That brings his pay down to about what I bring home for two weeks—after a furlough day is taken out.

But he still hasn’t bought health insurance, paid self-employed FICA, ponied up other state and federal taxes, paid for the gas to run his truck, put money aside in an IRA…. A fair estimate is that all those costs would consume about 40% of his after-paint gross. 

$950 fee – $200 for paint = $750
$750 – 40% = $450, approximate net pay for about two days’ work

Supposing Bila actually got five days of work a week (a big supposition, especially in the present economy): $225/day x 5 = $1125/week, net

My take-home pay for a week without a furlough day is about $760. So, if Bila works very, very hard, he earns significantly more than I do. But very, very hard is the operative term:

• He’s doing a back-breaking, mind-numbing job outside in 109-degree heat.
To earn enough to support his family, he has to do it five to seven days a week.
• If he can’t get a job on a given day, he earns nothing.
• If he’s sick or hurt, he earns nothing. 
Any vacation time he chooses to take is unpaid. 

There’s a lot of paint splattered on Bila’s side of the fence, so it’s hard to tell what color the grass is over there. But I’ll bet it’s not any greener than mine!

Nothing like a 109-degree day to make us wage slaves appreciate what we have.

Housepainter: Lukeroberts at Wikipedia Commons
Paint cans: Sherwin-Williams 

Author: funny

This post may be a paid guest contribution.


  1. Not to mention the early starts and late finishes so you can stay our of the sun and make sure your paint doesn’t dry before you’ve got to the next patch… which makes life more difficult.

    (Speaking as the woman that still has to borrow stepladders to finish the “over the sink” area of the kitchen…)

  2. I actually painted houses to pay my way through college.

    $200 in paint on a $1,000 job is a bit high.

    On a $1,000 job my breakdown was usually:

    –$120 paint & other materials (rags, new scraper blades, caulk, glaze, drop sheets, sandpaper, gas for power washer, etc)
    –$30 marketing expenses (paying people to go door to door, discounts for booking on day of estimate, etc)
    –$50 misc expenses
    –$400 labor (including taxes, workers comp, insurance, etc, about $220 of it actually goes to the painters)
    –$400 profit

    A $1,000 paint job would take one day. Pretty much $1,000 = 20 labor hours, which is done in one 10 hour day with a 2 man crew.

    A lot of jobs I just booked and hired people and would just get the profit. Some jobs I would hire myself as a painter in order to get more money.

    If you want to estimate paint usage, I generally charged about:
    –1 gallon for every 100-200 sq ft of siding (depends on material, cedar shake, paneled, and how dry it is)
    –1 gallon for every 80 feet of decorative eaves
    –1 gallon for every 20 shutters
    There are lots of contributing factors.

    Man, I am a dork.

  3. Ahh, thank you. I’ve been known to gripe about how I should have skipped the B.A. all together and just become an electrician or a carpenter. I try to stay mindful and be grateful for my quite cushy white collar job but sometimes I need a push 😀

  4. Ok–I will be a party pooper. First of all, your son can earn a fantastic tax-free wage by painting the house himself. My husband does this–a little section at a time. You don’t need to do it when it’s 109 degrees!

    Of course, you may want to support your local painter.

    Also, your local painter has many tax breaks and it is unlikely that he pays 40% in taxes. The contractors and painters of my acquaintance have so many tax deductions that, even though they seem to make a lot more than I do, their kids qualify for Pell grants! My kitchen contractor told me that he pays almost nothing in taxes on a pretty good income. Self-employed people have many tax breaks.

  5. @ MLR: Doesn’t sound like dorkitude to me! That sounds like the start of a fine young entrepreneur, one who some day will be a rich old entrepreneur.

    @ frugalscholar: I wish! M’hijito and his roommate actually started to paint the house. Then they discovered that painting a house is…well, work. They also decided they didn’t like the color. So the back porch has been San Francisco Bay Bridge Red for the past two years, the front windows have had unpainted white caulking gracing the mullions, and the decrepit paint everywhere else has grown steadily more decrepit.

    The neighborhood is not going to turn around and we are not going to get rightside-up again if properties deteriorate. Even the place on the corner that’s been in foreclosure three times since we bought our house is decently maintained. Most of the houses are adequately cared for, with just a couple of exceptions. One of the exceptions has been our place. It was a wreck when we bought it; we’ve managed to renovate the interior, and now we need to make it look at least acceptable on the outside. I figure I’d better get as much done as we can while I still have an income, because once I’m “retired,” there won’t be any money for upgrades to that place.

    M’hijito is paying half the bill for the painter and the locksmith. That will allow me to pay my part out of cash flow. What we’re going to do about the landscaping remains to be seen….