Ask Stacy: What Can I Do If I’m Not Making Enough?

Money Talks News

You love what you do for a living, but you’re not making an adequate living doing it. Sound familiar? Then you’ll appreciate this week’s reader question.

Hi! I am a 33-year-old mental health program manager for a crisis stabilization program for at-risk youth. I love what I do. However, I have major student loans and my salary does not align with my payment. Any suggestions? Desperate … Nicole

As with all people who find themselves with more month than money, Nicole has two choices: make more or spend less.

How to make more

The two obvious ways to make more money are to ask for a raise or switch to a higher-paying job. Unfortunately, both will probably prove problematic for Nicole.

Nicole says she loves her work. And nothing’s more important than spending your work life doing something fulfilling. Like true love, it’s rare. So when you find it, switching jobs becomes less appealing.

As for earning more at her current job, Nicole should definitely try to earn as much as possible by seeking a raise. But work in the mental health field is not typically high-paying. Jobs are often through government agencies or nonprofits, neither known for high salaries or Wall Street-sized bonuses.

What does that leave her with? A side hustle.

Earning money on the side

One of the most common questions I get is how to earn extra money. The ways to do it are limited only by your energy and imagination. From bartending to freelance writing, there’s something for everyone. And that’s especially true now that we have the Internet, the greatest source for extra income ever devised.

Example: A few weeks ago I came across an article that blew me away. It’s called “How I Made $50,000 Selling on Amazon Last Year.” As the title suggests, it’s about someone who says she made 50 grand on the side simply buying things cheap from various retail sources, then selling them on Amazon. From the author’s first article about how to do it:

Essentially, you buy retail items at dirt-cheap prices. Think Target clearance, Kohl’s 30 percent deals, and any other deals you find on Slickdeals or FatWallet. Then you box it up and ship it off to Amazon. The strategy has earned the name “retail arbitrage.”

And that’s just one of countless ways to earn money on the side, thanks to the Internet. Other possibilities:

  • Social media manager. We pay someone who works full time elsewhere to manage our Facebook and Twitter accounts. Presumably other sites do as well.
  • Weekend baby or dog sitter. Check out sites like SitterCity for kids or DogVacay for dogs.
  • Help with chores. Sites like TaskRabbit can help you earn money by helping your neighbors.
  • Sell your knowledge. From gardening to dealing with troubled kids, you can sell advice on places like Google Helpouts.

I could go on, but if you’re interested in more ideas, just do a search for “side hustle” or “making extra income.” There are literally hundreds of ideas out there. Just avoid any that require you to pay them before they pay you.

The best side hustle of all? Do what the people behind the sites linked to above did: Use the Internet to develop a solution to a common problem. Those who have aren’t having any trouble paying their bills.

How to spend less

For decades I’ve been approached by people complaining they can’t make ends meet. The first question I always ask: “Are you tracking your expenses?”

No matter what your situation is, the best way to squeeze more money from any budget is tracking where your money is going. In pre-Internet days, this was a laborious process. Now it’s not, thanks to free online services like those provided by one of our partners, PowerWallet.

Once you see where your money is going, you can start finding ways to save. Some will be obvious, others may require some thought, and still others, sacrifice. But if you’ve never really looked at exactly what you’re spending money on, doing so will almost always reveal some ways to spend less.

Dealing with student loans

We know one place where a lot of Nicole’s money is going. She says, “I have major student loans and my salary does not align with my payment.”

What Nicole needs to do is get some advice on her student loans to see if she can get a lower rate, lower payment, or potentially even forgiveness of some of her loans.

  • There are programs that offer income-based repayment of student loans.
  • There are programs that offer loan forgiveness for those in public service.
  • There are ways to consolidate loans to get a lower payment.

If she finds the process of dealing with her student loans overly complicated and wants professional help, she should enlist the assistance of nonprofit credit counselors who will offer her inexpensive or free advice. There are many, but here’s an example of a company I’m familiar with.

Before turning to any fee-based provider of student loan assistance, however, she should read “The Ultimate Guide to Dealing With Student Loans You Can’t Afford.” It’s written by Steve Rhode, a guy I know and respect.

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The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. In other words, don’t ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you. And if I don’t get to your question, promise not to hate me. I do my best, but I get a lot more questions than I have time to answer.

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This article was originally published on as 'Ask Stacy: What Can I Do If I’m Not Making Enough?'.

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