Updated on 01.21.10

Trimming? What About Earning More?

Trent Hamm

During the entire “Trimming the Average Budget” series, the focus has been on spending less money. It’s a walkthrough of every significant financial element of an average American family’s life – and a look at how they can spend less in each of those areas.

Saving money is a powerful tool, but it’s equally important to recognize that increasing your income is at least as powerful as saving money – and putting the two in tandem is particularly powerful.

There are many, many ways to increase your income. Most of them boil down to the following:

Earning more at your current job. Simply asking your boss for a raise increases your income in surprising ways. Even if you work hourly for 40 hours a week, a simple quarter per hour raise earns you $520 more per year.

Getting a new, better job in your career path. This can come in the form of a promotion at your current job or a new job at a different location. Either way, you’re often earning more (sometimes a lot more), but there’s often more responsibility (and more work) in exchange for that pay.

Starting over with a new, more lucrative career. At first, this often means a dip in earnings (it certainly did for me). However, it often means a job that you’re more passionate about and, over time, you can really jack up your earnings by riding that train of passion.

Getting a second job. To put it simply, this means trading more of your time for more money, but often not at as good of a rate as your main job. This is a great way to boost your income over a short time, but it’s hard to sustain without serious burnout.

Starting a side business. Many people (myself included) engage their free time and their passions by starting a side business to profit from the things they’re interested in.

Whatever path you choose will help you earn more. However, all of these paths have several key skills in common – skills everyone can work on to improve their earning potential. Here are a few of these skills that will help you to earn more no matter what you’re doing – and a few simple ways to work on them.

Communication skills The ability to effectively communicate your ideas, your thoughts, and key information to others is essential in almost any career path – even ones that seem quite solitary.

How can I improve my communication skills? Read more. That’s the first step. After that, write more. Plop yourself down with a book that interests you, then when you’re done, send an email to a friend about it. Another effective way is to teach someone else a skill you already have, as it forces you to communicate very carefully.

Organization skills Over the last few decades, the economy has really transformed into an information economy, in which the flow of ideas and data is incredibly powerful. The more skill you have in organizing all of that data that comes your way, the better worker you will be no matter what your specific job is.

How can I improve my organization skills? Get control over your own information. Maintain an organized calendar for yourself that has all the relevant information right there. Start a personal filing system for all of your important documents. Organize your picture collection in such a fashion that you can find any picture you want quickly and easily.

Politeness and presentability Rudeness and crassness might fly with the gang and it might get a giggle out of a coworker, but it won’t ever do you any favors over the long term. Why? Much of the economy is a service economy, and even big pieces of the economy that aren’t centered around service involve interacting with customers and associates. The better you interact with them, the better off you are.

How can I improve my politeness and presentability? Clean up. Dress well. Bite your tongue. Speak slowly and choose your words with a bit more care. Encourage polite speech in every element of your life – if the gang you usually hang out with uses a lot of crude language and a thick accent, work hard to battle against that with your own speaking.

Handling criticism well I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen employees completely blow up when criticized about any aspect of their work performance. If you tend to fire back with insults or shouting or seething rage when you’re criticized, you’re not going to go anywhere. Remember, the vast majority of the time, criticism is issued in the workplace to improve the overall workplace, which you’re a part of. It’s not a vendetta against you – it’s someone trying to make things better.

How can I improve my ability to handle criticism? Don’t get angry. If you have nothing worthwhile to say in response, say nothing at all. Do not fire back with insults. Later, after you’ve had a chance to calm down, think about the criticism. Likely, there was a reason it was issued. Take some time to actually act on that criticism and attempt to improve yourself. The more you do this, the easier it becomes – and you’ll see improvements in how others treat you and the opportunities that come your way.

These ideas just scratch the surface, but they point to a big truth: improving yourself in constructive ways improves your earning potential. That’s a big part of the equation of financial success.

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  1. Joanna says:

    “Bite your tongue.” GREAT advice, Trent. This is something I consistently notice about leaders in my company. People who are in senior positions exercise a significant amount of self-control regarding what they choose to say and not say. It’s an area that I’m working on growing myself, and is something that demonstrates real maturity IMHO.

  2. J says:

    A few additions to politeness and presentability that I see constantly at my workplace. Trent’s suggestions are spot-on for a job that requires physical interaction, but a great deal of today’s interaction is electronic.

    – Spell and grammar check ANY electronic communication that you make. Pour speling and grammer make u seem lkie an idiot and wil hurt your carer. If you know you have difficulty with this type of communication, ask a co-worker to help proofread as a first line of defense. There are also many options (online, community college, library, etc) to help improve written communications skills — take advantage of them.

    – PUT AWAY THE PERSONAL PHONE AT WORK. I constantly am in meetings where people are blazing away on their phone writing text messages, browsing the Web and playing games during meetings. I’ve also been in one-on-one conversations with co-workers who will get out their iPhone or Blackberry during the conversation. It’s rude behavior, and it DOES absolutely get noticed by the higher-ups. It also makes it look like you have the concentration span of a two year old. Two year olds don’t get picked to head up big projects and progress in their careers.

    – Be smart about what you put in ANY electronic communication — email, Facebook, Twitter, IM and so on. More than one acquaintance has been “talked to” about a comment they posted about work on Facebook. People have lost jobs for making blog posts about their workplace. The stories about people getting busted for putting things in email they shouldn’t have are legion — just open the paper and read about the politicians, climate change scientists and so on who have lost serious amounts of credibility because of stupid email messages.

    This isn’t to say you can’t put something critical in an email. Far from it. Valid criticisms of projects and tough questions can certainly be stated in email. But keep the tone appropriate and professional. Keep personal attacks, “blowing off steam” and the like to private conversations, since they can very easily be taken out of context and/or forwarded to your management — who will not appreciate dealing with this kind of problem.

  3. chacha1 says:

    This post and these comments are very timely. With so many people are out of work and others living in fear of a layoff, furlough, or shutdown, everyone has to be ultra-conscious of exactly what constitutes a good employee. Job-specific skills are actually a very small part of it.

    I’m extremely cautious about email because so much of my business life requires it. Privately, I have regretted immediately the few times I’ve sent a blog comment too fast. I don’t flame people or try to start fights – I don’t find it entertaining for one thing, and for another NOTHING is anonymous anymore – but there have been times I’ve been hasty, and didn’t take time to really articulate what I intended to say.

    To use a dance geek example, last season Adam Shankman cautioned a So You Think You Can Dance contestant about thoughtless comments in backstage clip packages. Everything is recorded nowadays. We have to conduct ourselves accordingly.

  4. The upside of increasing your earnings is that there is no limit on how much you can make, but there is a limit on how much you can save.

    An interesting aspect is that saving $100 is actually worth more than earning another $100 when you consider taxes. If you earn $100 more, the government will probably keep about a third of it leaving you with $66. If you save $100 that you’ve already paid taxes on, you are left with $100.

  5. jgonzales says:

    For those looking for a second job, Trent you had a great article on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. It doesn’t make great money but it means you can be where ever you have an Internet connection and do it on your own time instead of trying to fit your life around your second job. Just know that like freelancing, how much you put into it is how much you make.

  6. Vicky says:

    Worked two jobs for two years. My main job, then as a video store clerk part time. For free movies.

    That I didn’t get to watch, because I was at work.

  7. Lisa says:

    It’s not too terribly hard to work multiple jobs without burning out…you just have to know how to relax and take advantage of the free time you do have. For the past several years, I have worked 2-3 jobs at the same time totally around 60 hours a week. I have found that working like this is actually very beneficial for me…I am much more thankful and aware of the time I do have to myself, and I have learned how to take full advantage of it. Granted, this does not work for everyone; just thought I’d share my experiences. :)

  8. deRuiter says:

    “if the gang you usually hang out with uses a lot of crude language and a thick accent, work hard to battle against that with your own speaking”. Maybe in this case the person who wants to improve themselves needs a new social circle? From the “crude language” part, NOT the “Thick accent” part, it appears the “gang” is losers. If you associate with the kind of people you want to emulate, you can better yourself. If you socialize with thosae who constantly use “crude language” you are limiting your opportunities to improve. “If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.” Mark # 4 THIS IS BRILLIANT! It’s why if a person choses to prepay on a mortgage, they save so much money. If your monthly payment is $1400. and your principal is $300 of that, the $1100. you don’t have to spend actually represents over $1500. you do not have to earn to pay the $1100. interest. Good job putting it succinctly Mark!

  9. Andrea says:

    Related to taking criticism at work. A few years ago my work group did the Myers-Briggs/DiSC personality profiles to see how our group could communicate better internally and also externally to other groups. Turns out most of us were in the Cautious camp and one of the common characteristics for that trait (myself included) is that when someone questions their work, it is seen as a personal attack on who we are as a person.

    Light bulbs went off for me to learn that. While I was surrounded in this workplace by lots of people who felt this way, it was NOT the common theme for every other person on the planet, particularly the external groups that we always felt were ‘attacking us’.

    The end lesson for me was to know thyself. Also, if you know who is asking the questions, you don’t have to take it so personally. You can even confirm with the person raising the questions that they are just asking about the data or whatever you have produced. While outbursts were not common in the group, internalizing was, but knowing this information was the #1 factor in improving the quality and quantity of our group. Most of whom went on to be promoted (again myself included).

  10. Claudia says:

    Don’t depend solely on the spell check on email or other written communication. If the word is spelled correctly, spell check can not understand that you meant to say they’re instead of there or their or too, two or to.
    Also learn the correct conjugation of verbs. “I seen him yesterday” makes you sound stupid. Learn the difference between words such as accept and except. There are books out there that can help with grammar.

  11. Lisa says:

    Hi! I don’t know where people are getting second jobs. I can’t even find a first one now. Jobs are scarce , here in Ohio. McDonald’s isn’t even hiring. I called all the hotels to see about housecleaning work & they told me to try back in 4 months, maybe the economy will pick up.I applied for a dietary aide at a retirement home & have worked in nursing homes before with good references. I got a letter this week that they are hiring someone more suited to the job.There are so many people here that one job for custodian had 800 people apply.My husband just laughed when I told him to ask the company for a raise. Companies re barely making it & this is a company in business over 70 years with no debt. He got a raise about 3-4 years ago. I think it was a nickel or dime.What state has jobs? We could try relocating. Lisa

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