How to Get Rich Working in Media

The-Makegood.com_MattStraz_260LA few years ago, I achieved an unexpected level of financial security. For a decade I had worked in media planning, an industry not known for its exorbitant salaries. But through some basic techniques I was able to secure a decent nest egg. Here’s what I learned along the way:

Keep saving. It may sound boring, but saving money is the surest path to financial security. For example, when I worked for WPP, I socked away the maximum amount in my 401K plan. With the tax-deferred nature of these plans, plus compounding interest, 401Ks can be surprisingly effective.

Stay employed. A job is like a bond that produces a guaranteed return every month. You need a consistent income to keep saving, so do whatever you can to keep a paycheck coming in.

Be frugal. Don’t listen to real estate brokers who tell you to buy the largest home you can afford. Buy one that’s reasonably sized so you can keep things manageable. If you work in media planning, you probably won’t be spending much time there anyhow.

Pay off debt. Pay off all your debt — including your mortgage—as quickly as you can, so you can plow more money into savings. If you own a car, keep it for as long as you can and try not to take out an auto loan if you need to buy a new one.

Go public. If you have kids, commute a couple of hours each day so they can go to a good public school. This can save tens of thousands of dollars each year in private school expenses.

Hustle. Have you ever noticed that not many people over the age of 40 work in media planning? There’s typically a brief window of time where you can make your money in this industry. Hustle as hard as you can and then make a transition to another kind of business when the time is right.

Enjoy the perks. There’s an old joke about how media planners can’t afford to pay their rent but dine at high-end restaurants multiple times a week thanks to sales reps and their expense accounts. Take advantage of the free drinks, lunches and the occasional boondoggle if they come your way.

Charge it. Use a personal credit card for business travel (later expensed) so you can save money in the process. For example, some cards allow you to automatically put 2% of all charges into a 529 college savings plan.

Share risk. If you’re going to start an advertising-related business, try to find some people to invest in your company. Putting your entire life savings into a single idea can be very risky.

While it’s not easy, getting rich (or at least financially secure) in media planning is possible. The key is to keep the money coming in, save aggressively, and pivot your career when necessary.