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Earn more money: Spending less is only half the equation

Most personal finance advice focuses on spending less, but finding ways to earn more money can help you reach your financial goals faster. Here’s why.

Often, the best solution to money worries is to earn more money online (or otherwise).

Last night, I spent a couple of hours catching up on reader emails. Inevitably, about a third of the emails I receive are from people in their twenties or thirties who are either stuck under mountains of credit card debt or student loan debt, or who simply don’t earn enough yet to keep up with the cost of life.

Many of us have been in one (or both) of these positions before, and, despite trying our best, saving doesn’t always cut it.

Not saying you shouldn’t save, but you should also consider if there are ways you can earn more money. That, in the long run, is what will help you reach financial freedom.

Spending less only goes so gar

If you have been reading personal finance books and blogs for a while, you’ll have come across plenty of advice on frugality – how to live on less and save money on everything you buy.

It’s there for a good reason; it’s smart to be frugal and not pay full price for everything.

But frugality has its limits.

Eventually, you’ll reach your limit

It’s possible to eliminate unnecessary expenses and save money by comparison shopping, using coupon and discount promo tools, negotiating, or buying used – but you can only trim so much fat before you start cutting away the meat.

Sooner or later you’re going to hit what I call your expense floor. It’s the amount of money you need to live at your minimum comfortable level. Once you hit your expense floor, you can’t practically cut your expenses any further.


Everybody’s expense floor is different. Yours will depend on things like:

  • Where you live.
  • How much debt you have.
  • What you’re willing to sacrifice and what you aren’t.

The last one is tricky.

Personal finance gurus love to advocate SACRIFICE. They’ll say you should sell your car and take the bus to work. Or that as long as you’re in debt, you should never take a vacation or go out to eat again.

Now, I’m not saying you should indulge in a week in Paris when you can’t afford it. But I AM saying this: allow yourself to enjoy life while you work on your financial goals. Within reason.

Why? Because if you don’t give yourself little indulgences on a routine basis, eventually you may break down and sabotage your progress by blowing your money on something big.

There are a lot of great studies out there showing that willpower is like a muscle, and that willpower can be depleted.

This applies when you attempt to run a few miles, work uninterrupted for several hours, stick to a diet, or resist spending money on a regular basis.

(Also, I shouldn’t need to point out, that when you reach your expense floor, life won’t be much FUN. I mean, you don’t need to be rich to enjoy life, but nobody WANTS to sweat every penny month in and month out).

How then, do you continue to find more money to save or put towards debt if you’ve cut your expenses all the way to the floor?

You earn more money.

This is the conclusion I came to several years ago.

How I started to earn more

Here’s my story. (Cue the wavy lines and flashback music).

It was the Spring of 2006 – and the consequences of my early-adulthood financial fatuity were approaching their most severe. I had been out of college for three years, but my choices of both major and initial career (sociology/journalism) weren’t exactly helping my finances.

I had managed to leverage my editorial skills to trade my magazine job for one writing marketing copy – a move that got me a sorely-needed extra $5,000 a year in salary.

Not enough.

So at 24, I swallowed my pride and moved back in with my mom and dad.

Still not enough.

I didn’t have to pay for rent or food. My only necessary monthly expenses were gas and car insurance (plus all the minimum debt payments). Of course, I wanted SOME money to have a little fun each month, but the fact was that I barely had enough to cover my debt payments, let alone accelerate my repayment progress.

I could’ve cut out every penny of “fun” spending I did in my limited spare time – the occasional dinner and drinks with friends – but I simply wasn’t able to completely cut this out (because I knew from experience, overexerting my will day in and day out only led me to later screw up in an even bigger way).

I had reached my expense floor. I couldn’t (or, at least, wasn’t willing) to cut my expenses anymore.

Still, I HAD to do something about my debt…I didn’t want to be in debt forever.

The decision

That month, I made the decision that would change my life…the decision to earn more money. I was sick of being in debt. I had cut expenses all I could. Then, I decided to figure out how.

I wrote down the three ways I knew to earn more money:

  • Get a raise or higher-paying job.
  • Get a second job or freelance.
  • Start a business.

Eventually, I would do all three, but I started by getting a second job.

I don’t necessarily think that a second job/freelancing is the easiest of the three ways to earn more money, but it’s absolutely the one you can make happen the fastest.

  • If you’re willing to do crappy jobs for low pay, you can find part-time work.
  • If you have marketable skills, you can freelance (this could mean becoming a freelance writer, designer, etc.)

In my case, I became a Starbucks barista. I’d work 8-5, hop in my car, and battle rush hour traffic to work 6-10 serving coffee 3-4 nights a week. Then I’d do a 6- or 8-hour shift on Saturdays. That brought in a little extra cash – about $800 or so a month (net).

That was good, but I wanted to get out of debt AND move out from under my parents’ roof. It wasn’t enough.

In a couple of months, I found a new day job that paid $6,000 a year more. I took it.

I continued to work at Starbucks, although with the new job’s location, I now had to sit in 45 minutes of even worse rush hour traffic to get between the two. But in less than six months, I had gone from earning $34,000 to over $52,000 a year, putting well over an extra $1,000 in my pocket – and towards my debt – each month.

Was it easy? Hell no. But I was making progress.

Just a few months later, I got lucky. My previous employer created a new position and thought highly enough of me to ask me to apply. Ultimately, they offered me more money to come back in a slightly different and more challenging role. The result was some good money: $8,000-a-year raise plus bonuses.

So now, in less than a year, I had more than doubled my income.

While all of this was happening, I started


Back then, this blog wasn’t much. I posted a couple crappy, wandering posts, let the site sit idle for several months, then wrote a bit more. But in early 2007, I started to find a rhythm with blogging. Some of my posts did well in the search engines, and rising traffic levels gave me the motivation to keep going.

I watched and learned from other growing blogs, and I kept at it, a little at a time.

Eventually, I started to earn some money from the site, too.

It started slow – a hundred dollars here, a couple hundred more there. A year later my site was earning over a thousand dollars a month. Another year, and my site was grossing the equivalent of a modest salary. Now, it’s a source of passive income.

I’m NOT saying this to brag about my blog’s success, but to show you that in five years, I increased my annual income by about 500%. As a result, I was able to pay off some $80,000 debt in just a few years. (Not to mention afford to get married, move into a house, and start a family).

Had I NOT increased my income, or not done it so dramatically, I would probably:

  • Still be in debt.
  • Not have emergency savings of any kind.
  • Not have been able to afford a home, have a baby, or even have gotten married.

So there you have it. If you’re tired of cutting expenses and getting nowhere, make the decision to earn more money today. If you’re willing to do what it takes, this is, hands down, the best way to get out of debt or reach your savings goals faster. I know because it worked for me.


Unfortunately, most of us do reach a point where we just can’t cut expenses anymore in order to save money. Plus, let’s be honest, the Hulu subscription you allowed yourself to keep really does help you relax.

In the event that you hit your expense floor, the best (and in many cases, only) answer is to figure out how to make more money. Whether that’s starting your own blog, getting a second job, or one of the many other ways you can earn some extra cash, there is a way to get more cash in your pocket.

While maintaining a second job isn’t always an easy way to earn fast cash, it can help you switch careers or simply do something you love.

About the author


David Weliver

Founder of Money Under 30, David has over 20 years of experience as a personal finance journalist covering credit cards, banking and investing.

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