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Remember how I said in this post that nothing makes me happier than when people work towards FI, follow their passions, and create happiness in this world?
Well, today, I’m pumped to introduce you to Chautauquan Brandon, who did exactly that. When Brandon first came to Chautauqua UK last year, not only did he impressed us with this kickass video editing skills, he elevated the whole experience with loads of laughter (mostly my childish giggles). Case in point: we were eating an English dessert called “Spotted Dick” and Brandon went around the dinner tables snapping “Dick pics”:
So you can see why we’re kindred spirits. I was ecstatic when Brandon came back to Chautauqua this year, bringing along his lovely girlfriend, Kimmy (you can see a video on her thoughts about Chautauqua here). And I knew, from the first time we met, that Brandon was a go-getter, but what completely blew me away was his salary increase since the last time we chatted. I knew this was a story that needs to be shared. So without further ado, here’s Brandon’s story about going from working in factory making $7.50/ hour to a 6-figure job that takes him all over the world:
How To Get A Raise: The Less Traveled Path To Financial Independence
A few weeks ago I was at Chautauqua where FIRECracker and Wanderer were kind enough to sit down with me after hours to review my finances. Yes, these are the fun activities we stay up late for at Chautauqua. I started by showing them my costs and savings rate. Then FIRECracker’s eyes focused on my income and gasped, “You make how much?! A year?! Wasn’t it like way less the last time we talked?” It was.
I definitely don’t take my high paying career for granted based on where I’ve come from. Although I hadn’t realized how unusual it was to double my salary over the course of 5 years. It got me thinking about my much less talked about path towards Financial Independence. Getting paid! Specifically getting paid more for the work I’m already doing.
My job as a Digital Consultant (somebody who helps companies build software to solve business problems) takes me all over the world. Currently I’m writing this with my laptop sitting on a tray table flying back home from Silicon Valley. I just finished a week of meetings with one of my biggest clients and even got a preview of some top secret technology that hasn’t been released to the public yet. Not only do I get to work with the biggest household names in the tech industry, but I’m paid bank to do it. If you had told my 17 year old self I’d be making six figures and flying all over the world to solve technical problems I would have blown smoke in your face and walked away.
Small Town, Limited Opportunities
To give you an idea of how I got my hefty salary and how you can too, let me back up a bit and tell you about my home town….It was so small that there were only 63 students in my graduating class. Have you heard of a “One Stoplight” town? Well, we didn’t even have that. One restaurant, one bank, one cop car, you get the picture… In a tiny town like that the best job I could get was a factory job in the auto industry because college was something that other people did.
Right out of high school I landed a manufacturing job in, you guessed it, the auto industry. It was the only option I thought I had. It wasn’t all bad though. Factory work bought me a house, car, and 2.4 children. Well not quite…nobody wanted to sleep with me so I spent that portion of my salary on cigarettes and beer.
Working on a factory floor isn’t what it used to be. My grandfather worked at Ford Motor Company with a starting salary of $15.72/hr (adjusted for inflation) in 1957. Then retired after 25 years with a full pension. Whereas my first job started at $7.50/hr with no pension. After 12 years I was making $21.25/hr because I averaged $1/hr annual raises.
At the age of 30 I decided to make a career change from factory work to knowledge work. And it paid off. Let’s take a look at my salary over the past 19 years.
This is the first time I’ve looked at my salary in a graph. What stands out to me the most is the power of education. That huge dip around 2012 and the skyrocketing line afterward is when I went back to school to finish my degree in International Business and Management Information Systems–the first in my family to do so.
I worked harder in college than I ever had in my life and six months before graduation I accepted an offer from the largest privately held company in the world. I had no experience in technology, outside of helping my mom log onto Facebook, yet my starting salary was significantly higher than my factory pay.
Thankfully I discovered FIRE (shoutout to GoCurryCracker) shortly after my salary started increasing exponentially. Otherwise I’d still be spending my extra income on cigarettes and beer instead of making it work for me. As I devoured the various FIRE blogs I noticed that people concentrated on two main paths to get there.
- Cutting costs by eating lentils and sharing a bathroom with stinky roommates
- Earning extra money from a side hustle like real estate or some type of lifestyle business.
Nobody seems to concentrate on increasing their salary as a means to get there. Maybe it’s because a lot of people pursuing FIRE hate their jobs. For people like me who love their jobs though I feel like it’s a perfectly valid path. I can hear the haters now, sure, sure you love your job. Would I do it for free? No. Would I continue to work after FIRE? Maybe, maybe not. I’m looking forward to having the option.
A year and a half into my Digital Consulting career something unexpected happened. I was laid off with the other 80% of my department in 2015. Shit. No job = no salary.
When I finally found a new job, to my surprise, it came with another raise. As you can see from the chart from 2015-2018 I continued to have significant raises. My salary is just over $100,000 which is the number that made FIRECracker gasp in disbelief. “You have to write a post on this. People have to know!” She said.
It seems there are only two places where talking about salary is not taboo. Chautauqua and blogs. It’s a taboo subject and there’s no way around it. I wish it weren’t though. I’m proud of my raises and I want to share my story so you can get paid too! My purpose for sharing my story is two fold. To shine some light on a less talked about path to FIRE and to show you how I did it so you can do it too. You have more earning potential than you think but you have to take some risks to unlock it.
What I’ve learned about getting paid
Each of my 6 raises after college came from a different managers. It worked to my advantage because I think managers take their employees for granted. They get familiar with you and when you’re badass they come to expect that from you. So it doesn’t seem like a big deal to them when you go over and above. That’s when you have to make a decision to stay or go because you’re manager is not giving you the recognition you deserve.
Your manager only has so much authority. Even if they wanted to pay you more, it’s not their money. They are likely working within a budget or some other type of company constraint. The work you’re doing might be worth a 20% raise but they might only have authority to give you 5%.
Raises are given in context of everybody in your company. When I got the biggest raise of my career my manager went to bat for me and she had to sacrifice giving raises to her other employees to do it. Keep this in mind too, every employee thinks they should be making more. Every single one. You, me, and that incompetent bum that comes in late every day. Managers have to balance all those expectations.
One of the hardest truths about compensation is that it’s not linked to performance. Let that sink in for a minute. Salary and performance are not related. We are programed to think that if we work harder we will get paid more. My experience has shown me that is not true. Case in point, you probably know some idiot that makes a ton more that you. A boss, owner, etc… and you ask yourself “How the hell did they get in that position?”
If you want a fat raise and you’re manager can’t or won’t give it to you then you have to change managers. That means finding a new job. “But I’m comfortable at my job and I like the people I work with.” Okay that’s awesome. Just know that you are sacrificing your fat raise for them.
But Wait There’s More…
There’s an opportunity to increase your salary no matter your situation. Quitting my job and going back to school was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. There were some days that I was so scared of failing that I didn’t even go to class. Counter intuitive I know but that’s what anxiety does to you.
I love the phrase “You’re stronger than you think.” We have so much potential inside us but we’re so scared to pursue it because we might fail. I’m not going to tell you I’m not afraid of failure. I am. But looking at the potential I’ve been able to unlock up to this point assures me that I have to take those big risks in order to get paid.
My path towards FI is a less traditional one. I’m not counting every penny or using my extra time for a side hustle. Instead, I’m pushing hard, taking risks and so far I’ve been able to double my salary. Now, I’m sharing my story with you so you can do it too. What’s my compensation for sharing my story? Some crappy Greek wine that Wanderer shared with me while we watched the moon reflect off the Aegean Sea. Ahh well, it’s better than a swift kick in the face with a golf shoe.
Have you ever had to negotiate a raise? Did you get what you wanted? If not, what did you do about it?
What are your ideas for getting paid what you deserve?
Note: To learn out more about Brandon, check out his blog “Today, I Learned About Myself”
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