I remember sitting in my apartment and journaling as to why I wasn't feeling financially secure on a perfect sunny afternoon one year ago. On paper, I'd done everything right: I completed my freshman year of undergrad at a community college with essentially free tuition thanks to a scholarship; I worked hard in my internships and was one of the first of my peers to nab a real-life, paying job after graduation; I saved each month and purposefully lived within my means, rarely purchasing clothing that didn't live on the clearance rack. However, here I was, living nearly paycheck-to-paycheck and seeking a more stable financial foundation.
I wanted to start growing my 401(k), saving for my future home, and to be all-around less anxiety-filled about money. More selfishly, I wanted to have options: the option to explore full-time entrepreneurship in the future, the option to invest in furthering my education through online classes and workshops, and the option to travel abroad should the right opportunity arise. Boosting my income by over $10,000 in one year may sound too good to be true. But last year, that's just what I did. I made two concrete changes in my life that ended up with me earning $15,000 more in 2016 than I did in 2015.
I Changed Jobs
Three months ago, I moved from Colorado to Missouri to join my fiancé as he transferred to a new city with his company. I looked at this big life change as an opportunity to not only grow in my career with a new employer, but to also get one step closer to my financial goals. With that in mind, I knew that my asking salary would need to be 10 to 15% more than what my gig in Colorado paid.
After interviewing and negotiating, I was able to land an amazing role with a great company that met my financial needs to a T. How did I pull that off? Well, I practiced my negotiating skills prior and confidently stuck to my guns while asking for the compensation that I desired. Coupled with a lower cost of living in St. Louis compared to Denver, I was making more and saving more right off the bat in my new city.
While I'm not suggesting you quit a perfectly good job, I am saying that if you aren't happy with your current role or how you're being compensated, don't wait around. While I've always been averse to the idea of being viewed as a "job hopper," the fact is that leaving your current company might be the best way to get a salary bump. So if you're feeling stuck and don't have the opportunity to negotiate a raise, moving on to a new opportunity could help you grow your skill set and your bank account.
Of course, before you give two weeks notice and dive into a slightly higher-paying job elsewhere, do your research. I've found that free online tools like PayScale are extremely helpful in determining a realistic and attainable salary range based on industry, location, level of experience, and more.
And don't stop at your computer, get out there, go on informational interviews, and reach out to LinkedIn connections. Once your ideal salary's determined, it'll be much easier to pass on and move forward with potential job prospects based on your new, savvy income goals. (Of course, make sure you're considering the role's responsibilities, the overall benefits package, your potential managers, and the company culture before saying yes. As you know, money isn't everything.)
And yes, I know "get a new job" is so much easier said than done. But to be honest, "stop buying lattes" isn't just advice you've heard 1,000 times, it only goes so far. If you want to see big changes in your earning potential, you have to be open to big changes in your career.
I Started Freelancing
Over the last year, I've used my free time to side hustle like no other. In early 2015, I took on a copywriting client, and later in the year, I began working with an international social media client to create content and drive engagement.
The best part? By abiding by a weekly schedule (setting aside certain hours just for clients and other hours for myself), I still had a really fun life outside of my work, because I was intentional about how I spent all of my time.
Although I'm currently taking a break from freelancing to focus on getting up to speed in my new full-time role, the great thing about picking up side work is that it'll always be there: Someone will always be in need of your awesome writing, design, web development or creative skills.
Unsure where to start? Jot down a list of your talents, and see how you can best market them to help others. Look both at online postings (places like CloudPeeps, FlexJobs and The Muse) and reach out to your network. I know people who make amazing, consistent streams of side income through services and goods like hand lettering wedding invitations, paper goods design, portrait photography, proofreading and editing, floral styling—and so forth. It is possible to pursue a passion while also padding your bank account at the same time!
The key here is getting very clear on where your strengths lie and being honest with yourself on how much of your free time you're willing to invest in a side hustle for the sake of bumping up your income.
And there you go: By taking these two steps I raised my income by $15,000. It wasn't easy (I changed jobs! I launched a freelance career on top of my full-time career!), but so far it's been worth it to achieve that financial security I so desired.
I'm not suggesting that making more money will suddenly make you happier or even sleep better at night, or that this $15K fixed everything forever. What I am suggesting is that you sit down and figure out how much money you'd need to be making to achieve your goals—whether that's to travel more, to retire early, to afford to eat lunch out every single day, to pay off your debt.
Then, once you have that dream number, map out how you'll get there. Maybe you love your job and know that it'll never pay what you want. Well, if you really want to make more, think about freelancing. If you're unhappy in your current role, but love your field, go after a new company. And if you hate your industry and are interested in one that happens to pay more, stop dragging your feet and do what you need to in order to get hired.
While only you know the specifics of your situation, I can tell you that five figures will never just be deposited into your bank account because you want it; you're going to have to make a few sacrifices, take some risks, and put a plan into action to make it happen.