Why You Will Always Be A Broke Architect

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Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this post. This means that at no cost to you, I will receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. I will only ever promote the products and services that I trust and 100% recommend. You may read my full disclosure policy for more information. Thanks for supporting my business in this way.

If you spend enough time with a group of architects at a bar, inevitably the topic of compensation will come up. I have had the pleasure (or misfortune) of living in some of the most expensive cities in the world including both San Francisco and London. 

As a result of living in these exorbitantly priced locations, any person not earning an equally exorbitant salary is often going to feel broke. So it must be the fault of these hyper-pricey cites then!

Well, no.

I have also spent a lot of time in some of the lowest cost of living towns in the U.S. and I hear the same complaints from architects. 

So if it is not the location then it must be something else. It must be the profession!

Architecture is to blame and it is making all of us architects broke!

Sorry, wrong again. 

I have some news for you it isn't New York or Los Angeles that is making you poor. It isn't the architecture profession either.

It is you. 

The good news is that since the problem is you, means it can be easily fixed by you.

So let's discuss how we can get you out of that basement apartment with five roommates and into the penthouse.

Or at least the ground floor. 


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So here are a few reasons why you will always a broke architect and what you can do about it.

1. You don’t invest in yourself

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Whether you are recent college grad or a decade out of school, learning does not stop once you get out of the classroom. Education has to be treated as an ongoing effort. 

By continuously keeping your skills and qualifications up to date you are much more likely to stay competitive in the work environment. This ultimately translates to promotions, new lucrative jobs and a higher salaries. 

Examples of skills that are currently valuable are becoming a licensed architect, becoming LEED Accredited, and becoming a Revit expert.

By investing the time upfront it will keep you in a great position for future negotiations. 


2. You are bad with personal finance

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Let's face it, most people are bad with money, architects are no exception. 

According to Bankrate's latest financial security index survey, 34 percent of American households experienced a major unexpected expense over the past year. However, only 39 percent of survey respondents said they would be able to cover a $1,000 setback using their savings.

Translation: most people are living on the edge of financial disaster. 

I understand you became and architect because you are the creative type that didn't want to deal with boring subjects like accounting and economics. I happen to really enjoy the topic of personal finance, so I will share a few observations. 

In a previous article, How Much Does An Architect Earn, I covered the details of earnings in the U.S. Even using the most conservative averages it still works out to be a very comfortable income. So why the complaints?

I believe the main problem is not income but rather that expenses and spending are out of control. I won't get too detailed here but you need to aggressively control your biggest expenses. For most people this is housing, food and transportation. 

Create a budget and stick to it. Pay off debt and avoid it like the plague. Dig down into each of your spending categories and see where the money is going. 

If you find you are spending more than 25% of your take home pay on rent or mortgage payments you may have to downsize.  

Pay a price now to win later. Your future self will thank you. 


3. You are not willing to adapt

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The only constant is change. 

You can either choose to let things happen to you or be proactive and make the change yourself.

There will be another recession in the architecture profession.

I know this because it is cyclical. Whether it happens next year or in ten years I don't know, but it is coming.

Are you prepared?

What if the recession is only in your area? Are you willing to move?

What if your architecture niche becomes outdated? Can you retool and adapt? 

Prepare now for this inevitable situations.

The best time to fix your roof is before it starts raining. 

You have to be willing to adapt to the changing profession or you will be left behind (along with your paycheck).

Technology has made architects much more efficient in recent years so knowing how to REALLY use it is key to becoming indispensable. 

In addition, skills such as project management, leadership and coordination are essential to being a sought after architect. 

 


4. You work hard but not smart

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I blame architecture schools for encouraging a culture of spending endless hours in studio thinking that is what is means to be productive. The fact is that very little "work" is typically being done at 3am in studio. However, by just being there, you can tell yourself you got something done.

For the majority of people it is simply not possible to be productive and efficient working in excess of 50 hours per week.  

I see this carry over into the workplace after college too. The fact that you are sitting at your desk does not necessarily mean you are getting anything done.

Distractions are everywhere so you have to put systems in place to stay on track. Try to check email and messages as sparingly. Disable popups and use your calendar as a tool. 

Create detailed to-do lists to stay on course and get the sense of accomplishment when you cross something off. Focus on the most urgent and important tasks first then work down the list. 


5. You do not set goals

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Every self-help guru in the world will tell you a key element to success is setting goals. It is impossible to know where to aim if you don't know what you are shooting at.

Write down your goals, it doesn't have to be perfect, start small.

Simply open the notes app on your phone and write down one thing you would like to accomplish in the next 12 months. Keep adding to the list and making the goals more and more ambitious. 

Work backwards from a big goal to break it up into small tasks that can be done in a day.

So,  for example, if you want to earn a six figure architecture salary, you could start by getting the study material for the architecture exams. 

I look back at what I thought were crazy accomplishments a few years ago, seem so easy now. 

Thanks for reading!

Want to find your dream architecture job?
Check out The Architect's Guide Resources.

To help you with your architecture job search, I've created a mega-pack of free resources that includes architecture resumes, cover letters, and an extensive collection of application documents. Click for a free download:

Thanks for reading, see also my posts on:

5 Factors Affecting Your Architect Salary

10 Tips To Get An Architect Salary Raise

11 Architect Salary Negotiation Tips

The Best LEED Exam Prep Materials

 

Good luck!

Brandon Hubbard, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

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