How to Win Financially While Working on an Oil Rig

Working on an oil rig is not a typical 9-5. Payroll works differently, you have fewer expenses, but you also have access to fewer commodities than you might need (or want). Here’s a brief guide on what to expect from the financials of working on an oil rig, and how you can better manage your money.

If you’re one of the thousands of people who are lucky enough to find yourself employed on an oil rig, you’re going to learn two things: (1) it’s hard work, and (2) it’s a tough lifestyle. That it’s either of those things, however, should not dissuade anyone who’s up for the task and eager to be a part of what it ultimately is — an amazing experience.

Basically, working on an oil rig is as far from your typical 9-to-5 job as coveralls are from suits. You’re working long hours for weeks at a time, and then you get a bunch of time off.

You bust your butt to get the job done, but you’re rewarded financially for your efforts.

There are pros and cons to living that lifestyle and making that kind of money, but if you are aware of what you’re up against and what you can do to mitigate any of the negatives, you will be making a damned good living in one of the most exciting industries in the world. Here’s what you need to know about how to manage your money and get the most out of a career in the oil patch.

Save for down time

When you work on an oil rig, you can expect to have a few months of downtime each year. When spring breakup comes, the ground gets soft as the frost melts away, and rigs cannot be moved.

In the fall, as everyone waits for the ground to freeze, you’ll have some time off then, as well.

You may even find yourself with time off due to exploration being cancelled and resources being dedicated to other projects.

When that time comes, you don’t want to be broke, so you need to save for those times. How much to save? The answer is simple: as much as you possibly can!

You never know what’s going to happen, so make like a good scout and be prepared.

Automate your bills

Most rigs work a 14-days on, 7-days off schedule. That means you’re going to be away from home a lot and if you don’t have someone there to take care of payments for you, automating your bill payments is the way to go.

This can be done quickly and easily through most banks. The vast majority of rig camps will have some kind of internet access now, and if you’re staying in a hotel/motel, you’re bound to get WiFi. Get it all set up online and make sure you don’t miss any payments.

Don’t buy two of everything

No. Don't.
No. Don’t.

You’re going to be making a bunch of money. You may get a paycheck that is bigger than any you’ve ever had before. Don’t let the temptation to take that check and blow it on a bunch of stuff that you don’t need!

When I worked on oil rigs, there was a saying: “Roughnecks buy two of everything.” This is fun right up until the bottom drops out of oil prices and you’re only working sporadically.

Your budget should account for the fact that the industry you are working in can fluctuate from feast to famine rather quickly. That shouldn’t Scare you away from the industry, but rather serve to prepare you for what you’re getting into and how to best deal with it.

When you’re about to buy something, ask yourself if you can do without it. Give it three days, at least. If you still want it, be sure you know exactly what it’s going to do to your finances.

All I’m trying to say is, just be an adult with your money. You’ll thank yourself when you have savings and the rest of your crew is going to day labour companies on their time off to try to make up for the money they’re missing.

Buy top-quality gear and take care of it

You’re responsible for a lot of your gear on an oil rig. Most companies will provide you with your hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, and maybe even a pair of coveralls, but beyond that you’re paying for it all. And it ain’t cheap!

Like anything else, if you’re cheaping out when you buy it, you’re going to get what you pay for.

For something like winter boots, for example, you do not want to buy the cheapest pair available. You want a pair that are acid and oil resistant, have a self-cleaning lug outsole, and, above all, are going to keep your feet warm! If you put the money into buying a good pair of boots, you can go a couple or three seasons in them, no problem.

Winter coveralls are also a sizeable investment, but it’s a necessary part of working on oil rigs in northern Canada. Ask more experienced hands what they use and try to get a consensus on something that’s going to be the best value in both price and durability.

When you’re not working, make sure you get your gear cleaned thoroughly. This is a part where you will NOT want to skimp on effort.

Your gear is a big part of what keeps you comfortable and safe at work. Treat it well, and it will treat you well. And you won’t have to invest in new equipment every time you have time off!

Enjoy the life — don’t buy into the lifestyle

Let’s face it: it takes a certain type of person to work on an oil rig. Every now and then, you’ll come across someone who has bought into the romantic vision of what an oil rigger is supposed to be.

Don't be this guy. Source
Don’t be this guy. Source

That tough guy who drinks in the bar until closing and spends all his money at the video lottery terminals is a dying breed. And for good reason. People either figure out that the lifestyle is not sustainable and figure out how to do it right, or they end up hurting themselves and aren’t able to continue working.

The life of an oil rigger is a great one, but don’t by into the myth that it’s necessary to have a certain kind of lifestyle in order to enjoy your job. You’re there to make a living, first and foremost.

Conduct yourself accordingly. Stay well rested, don’t abuse your liver, don’t throw away your money, and don’t make the mistakes that so many others have made.

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