The Empowered Mindset: How You Earn Your Money
The Empowered Mindset is a series that dives deep into some of life’s most pressing financial topics. The goal? To help you develop a framework for making money decisions that work for you. This series is dedicated to getting you into the driver’s seat of your financial future.
We talk a lot about empowerment in your personal finances, but what about in your career? The money you earn is half the equation, after all, and it’s just as important to optimize that as it is to optimize how you spend your money.
But it’s not always intuitive to realize that we can influence our income. Programmed to think we’re stuck with the pay we get, we can fall into patterns of tweaking everything about our financial situation but our income. So, let’s talk about how to break out of that pattern and maximize your income.
How You Earn Your Money Doesn’t Have to Be Limited to Your 9-5
First of all, let’s remember that your day job doesn’t have to be the only way you earn money. There are many ways to earn income beyond the 9-5, such as:
Using the skills you have to work as a contractor in your free time.
Not only can this help you earn more money, it’s an opportunity to take your skills to the next level and learn about entrepreneurship. You might even find that the things you learn as a freelancer strengthen your skills in your craft overall.
And if you have a pipe dream of working for yourself someday, this is a way to learn by trial and error without risking it all. Since you’ll already be taking home a steady salary, you can withstand the struggles of first-time entrepreneurship.
Taking the money you earn to the next level with investments.
If your day job leaves you no time to build contract work, you can still expand your earnings by putting them to work for you in the form of investments.
Once you have your basic living expenses covered and anything else you need (such as money to build an emergency fund, pay down debt, or save for retirement), then take a look at what you have left. Can you live without it for a few years? If so, you can potentially grow your money in investments such as low-cost ETFs.
Investing your spare change is a way to make your money work for you, even when you sleep. If you’re new to investment, sites like Acorns and Betterment can make it easy to get started, and they offer low-risk profiles for those who need them.
Of course, stocks, bonds, and ETFs aren’t the only types of investments out there. You can also explore other types of investing, such as buying property to rent out. Just make sure you calculate the operating costs (including your time spent on maintaining the investment) compared to revenue so you know for sure if you’ll actually make money. Both of these strategies are sometimes referred to as “passive” income, that is income that doesn’t depend on you showing up and clocking in. However, the “passive” part really depends on the individual investment opportunities you choose to partake in.
Moonlighting in side gigs to reach short-term financial goals.
Finally, if you aren’t financially (or emotionally) ready for investments and freelancing isn’t your thing, you can look into side gigs to help you earn some extra cash. This is an especially effective way to reach short-term goals.
Let’s say you don’t have any extra money at the end of the month to start saving towards an emergency fund. Taking on some shifts at a restaurant, working for a local retailer, or even driving for a car service can help you earn that extra money, while also being something you can stop once you reach your goal.
The low level of commitment is really helpful if you have a demanding job and aren’t sure if you can really take on the extra work. It also helps you stop and start as needed, and you can always take on more if you want to.
What’s more, if you have a really long-term goal, such as student loan debt payoff, you can take on this type of work to help you make large chunks of progress. There’s certainly no harm in viewing side gigs as a boost for your sprint, not a marathon.
And if you want to create a habit of doing this in regular intervals, such as once per year, check out seasonal opportunities where you live. Ballparks and stadiums pick up a lot of temporary hires when certain sports seasons begin, for example, and retail stores often need a little extra help around the holidays.
Focusing on diversifying your income stream in general.
Even when you have a secure full-time job that generates a salary, there is overlooked risk associated with it. Even though it is hard to lay off or to fire a full-time employee, companies change strategies, work moves abroad, jobs get automated. The scariest thing is you don’t have any say in those situations, and they tend to come out of left field. The security of a full-time job just isn’t what we think it is.
Just like investments, you reduce risk when you introduce diversification. So no matter how comfortable you are at work, reduce your dependency on your salary by finding other ways to generate income. Having a plan B can make all the difference in our fast-moving world.
How You Can Shape the Pay at Your 9–5
Once you have a job offer and base pay, it can feel as though that number is set in stone until you’re up for a promotion. While that may certainly be true sometimes, you might find yourself in a situation when you should be considered for a raise faster than the next round of reviews (especially if your company doesn’t stick to an annual review schedule).
Here’s what to do if you want to keep your pay from being etched in stone:
Start researching salaries in your field.
The first thing you should know is where you stand compared to average salaries in your field. Sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn Salary, and PayScale can help you do this research for free. Be careful to fill out the survey honestly and take into account factors such as the size of your company and where you live.
If you find that your pay is way under the average — and your company is well-funded — that might warrant a conversation with your manager right away.
In general, industry trends can change quickly, and with them the salaries. Therefore, it’s not a bad idea to perform this kind of research once or twice a year. While you’re at it, go beyond looking at what your title offers. Take some time to learn what titles you could be promoted to in the future and then see what the pay trajectory looks like for those as well.
Mapping out your future won’t guarantee that you can eventually get those exact salaries, but it can help you understand the potential ahead of you.
Even if your company isn’t in a place to pay you more at the moment, start having the conversation with your manager about your worth. You should walk away with an understanding of when they can bring your compensation to market rate and what you need to do to get there.
Catalog your contributions.
Whether it’s time to start talking to your manager about a raise or not, that conversation will go a lot better if you can clearly state what you’ve contributed to the company. And it’s a lot easier to keep track of those contributions if you do it as they happen. Get into the habit of reflecting on your work monthly, noting down your accomplishments and spelling out how they contribute to the bigger picture. Not quite there yet? Create another bullet point for your next month’s goals and a plan to accomplish them.
When it comes to having a successful salary negotiation, data will get you a lot further than attempting to appeal to someone’s emotions. Rookie negotiators might lean on phrases like “I feel,” or “I would like,” or “I think I deserve,” but what incentive does that give the person on the other end of the table to care? Sure, you might have a really great manager who wants to keep you happy and believes you deserve it as well, but at the end of the day, they represent a corporation with revenue and expenses. And in order to convince the powers that be that you are worth more (increasing their expenses), you need to show them that you have helped them increase their revenue, or other valuable attributes.
Remember, employment is an exchange of labor for pay. Just as you would negotiate a fair price on a new car, you should get fair compensation for your work.
To do so, talk about percentages or even dollar amounts that show how you’ve impacted your company. That gives your manager a clear vision into why you should earn more. What’s more, if your manager has to take it to their manager to get a raise approved, these numbers make it easier for them to advocate for you.
No matter what you do, don’t go into a negotiation without being armed with facts to make your case. And that doesn’t mean things like hours worked or years on the job — showing results is the best thing you can do for yourself.
See what else is out there.
Even if you love your job or company and never want to leave, seeing what other opportunities could exist for you is just as important as researching your salary. When you know what else is out there, you get a much-needed perspective on your current situation, even if that means you should stay.
It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that the inner workings of your company will be the same as all others, and thus this exercise could feel like a waste of time. Even if you want to leave your job, for example, you might feel convinced that the issues you face in your company will be the same issues you’ll face in a different one. But that’s not always the case.
Even when companies are in the same industry and are of the same size, they won’t necessarily have the same internal structure. Two companies can look almost identical on paper but have totally different work environments, promotion tracks, pay structures, and so on. So before you write something off, it pays to do some research by either talking to employees of other companies you might be interested in or going through the interview process.
The more you know, the better.
Above All, Take Ownership of How You Earn Your Money
We need jobs to make money, and we need to make money to live, there’s no getting around it. But that doesn’t mean we have to feel enslaved to our jobs or our salaries — though it doesn’t take much to slide into that mindset.
Whether you’re in a job you despise or a job you love, remember that it’s just a job. It doesn’t define who you are — and your salary doesn’t define your success. We have to spend more time at our jobs than we do at home or with our loved ones, so make sure you invest time and effort to make sure they are hours well-spent.
And that includes taking ownership of how you earn your money.
That means not being afraid to make a change if you need one. It means following the steps above to make sure you’re maximizing the amount you can earn, as well as getting the most out of your earnings through savings and investments. When you take the lead in your career and your financial life, then you’ll be well on your way to creating the life you envision.