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Comment of the week: Going from $20k/year to $90k/year

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On a recent blog post, James left this great comment:

Ten years ago, I was working in a lumber yard. I asked myself, “What do I want my life to be like in five years?”.

I knew two things: that five years would pass, and that if I didn’t do anything different my life would still be the same (ie, I’d still be poor).

I took computer classes. I picked the hardest classes with the fewest students. That would put me in a smaller pool of people with those skills, increasing my value.

In five years I went from making 20k /year to 90k /year. I had to pay for the classes myself, but I’ve never regretted it and I’ve never looked back.

What if you’d done that five years ago? What if you did it today?

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28 Comments

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  1. Wow. That is powerful – thanks James and Ramit for giving us something to think about. Sometimes you have to invest in yourself to make more

  2. It’s a good comment alright. Several times I’ve read that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in five years, which sounds right to me but I always find it tough to plan out that far.

  3. Ramit & readers,

    Not trying to brag here, just being honest. I make $90k a year now doing the whole computer shtick. How I can identify the next corresponding jump (say, doubling this)? My friends are going back to school for an MBA, a JD, etc, but I’d like to consider options that don’t put me back $300-400k in tuition, expenses, and opportunity cost.

    What would you recommend just for exploring? Informational interviews? Career coaching? Particular books?

    -Ben

  4. It’s a very good point and definitely one to explore.

    I work in desk side support and telecom for a utility company. My boss has told me before that work would pay for me to take telecom classes on work time so long as they aren’t sending me far away. I’m also debating on also taking A+ and Net+ and Cisco classes just to increase my worth (it’s more that I’m not sure which road of my career I want to go down.

    My question to you is: what are the best ways to find such courses and such? I’ve asked some of our vendors and they, not wanting to lose us as a customer are too hesitant to give details. What do you suggest?

  5. I spent the bulk of my 20s chasing a livelihood as a musician, and realized that while my friends had been reaping the financial and creative rewards of the first Internet boom, I had developed one skill (musician) that actually cost me money to use, and another skill (waiting tables) that enabled me to subsist and nothing more, while slowly killing my soul. So at he age of 27, I got a job as an admin at Northeastern University. It didn’t pay well, but it allowed me to attend 12 classes a year at night, free of charge. Since I had taken on the equivalent of a full-time class schedule, I was eligible for Stafford loans, which complimented my decreased income (and payed off much of the debt I had incurred in my previous career). Five years later, I finished school and got a job that almost tripled my income.

    Equally important: I enjoy that job as much as I enjoy playing music. I don’t know how relevant this was for James, but when I settled on a degree program at Northeastern, I didn’t think all that much about what I was going to earn when I was finished. I just chose the program that had the most interesting classes. I probably make less money than James, but I also find it really easy to supplement my income with an extra 10-20 hours of freelance work every week. I don’t think I could handle that if I didn’t love what I do.

  6. I am in the same boat right now. About two months ago I realized that my life will be exactly the same next year if I don’t start doing something different. I stopped my normal routine and just focused on getting my web marketing consultancy off the ground. My friends and family have no idea what my service is or does, and don’t understand why I can’t hang out anymore; but a year from now I know I’ll be in a much happier place professionally and financially, and that the sacrifice was well worth it.

  7. AHHH, I love this post! I’m doing this with my life. I needed a push in that direction though and the push was that I got laid off from a job I loved but knew wouldn’t give me a lot of profit. Now I’m going back to school to gain skills where I will most likely make more money than my ex-job (I say this because it’s a proven statistic, I’m going from artsy field to health care specialized if I go for my master’s). I’m not only going for the money though as I’ve been interested in this other industry for a while now, but my point is that I know this is an opportunistic~ time in my young 20s to carve out time for school again and reap a higher income in the end.

  8. This is very true, and very inspirational. Now, all I need is a good idea that will make me 6 digits.

  9. My favorite part of that post?

    What if you’d done that five years ago? What if you did it today?

    Forget about what could’ve been—what can you do about it now, today? That’s the important part….

  10. Beautifully written post! Four years ago, I moved overseas at the request of my employer. That move alone accelerated my salary level by at least a decade (ie – it would have taken me 10 years to get to where I am now, only 4 years after the move). As a side benefit, my wife, kids, and I are experiencing a different culture (way different!), traveling around parts of Asia we thought we’d never see, and putting away short-term and long-term savings at a much improved rate.

    @ Ben (above comment) who asks what he can do now to make the next big “jump” in salary: If you’re already near the “ceiling” of your job’s salary scale, look for diversification in income streams. Keep your day job, but consider taking some of that $90k/year and investing in the stock market, real estate, or a start-up/business opportunity. In future years, the “passive” income stream may be enormous compared to your current $90k.

    As a side note, passive income makes up about 4% of my current net income. In 5 years, I’d like to see it closer to 10% or more.

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