9 Things I Learned Making Under $18k a Year for the Last 5 Years

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Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash

I’ve made under $18k every year for five years. Actually, I’ve made under $18k every year for the last 27 years. I already know you don’t care about my financial position and that’s not the point of this article.

The money I made came from working low wage jobs, part-time jobs, selling old pairs of clothes on the internet to barely make rent, and bartending. Most of my money came from bartending. I never really had money to do anything.

The idea of what money is has grown on me.

This has been a recurring thought bouncing around in my head for a while now. Understanding money meant understanding myself, specifically that I’ve been really lazy, haven’t had the upbringing of most of my rich friends (all of whom claim they “started from the bottom”), and am still clinging to the hope that some day I won’t live paycheck to paycheck.

Here’s what I learned scraping by.

It wont’ make you a better person

There are arrogant people everywhere who make a lot of money and treat people like garbage in the process. Seeing and meeting these people has made me obsessed with not mimicking their behavior.

These people suck, and I’m not friends with them.

However, I’ve met lots of people who make even just twice what I make and are great. They’re friendly, occasionally grab a round of drinks, are still down to earth, and don’t seem too snobbish about their wealth. It’s probably because they aren’t wealthy, but also aren’t struggling.

Having a little bit of wealth is healthy, in the sense that it’s healthy to have your basic necessities covered. You also don’t have the constant stress of how you’re going to make rent loom over your head, and the crushing reality that if you stop working for even a day it’s going to affect you.

That said, I’ve learned a lot from having no money, like how to be frugal and prioritize what matters to me. That said, it would be really great to not be under constant stress.

It expands what you think is possible

I always thought I was going to make a lot of money one day. I grew up in a family that lived paycheck to paycheck, watching my mom struggle as a single mother to take care of me and my three siblings. I swore that one day I would return the favor.

I got a degree in Computer Science from a prestigious school in 2015, but never really took off with it. I did part time jobs here and there, but avoided working at F.A.N.G. because of horror stories I heard from my fellow CS grads. In reality, maybe I was just scared or unmotivated. Hindsight is 20/20.

Honestly though, I finally did start at a big company this year, and having a little bit of money has really opened my eyes to how productive and positive I can be. It’s really nice to be able to treat a friend to dinner or Venmo my mom a few bucks for a glass of wine without worrying if I’ll be able to put gas in the tank next week. A+ would recommend.

I don’t think I need to be seriously wealthy, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to function in society.

The first paycheck feels like a fluke.

The next one feels like luck.

After that you feel pretty good knowing that you have stable income and might be able to set your sights on actually taking up a hobby again or spending some time recovering your mental health.

I’ve never made a million dollars and I don’t know what I’d do with the money

Now that I don’t barely scrape by anymore and my basic necessities don’t constantly feel jeopardized, I can occasionally splurge. My partner and I are about to buy a mattress and a bed frame! We won’t sleep on our old mattress anymore and maybe our sleep will improve.

Some people say maybe you’ll want a million dollars someday. That’d be cool, but I don’t really know what I’d do with it. I guess I’d invest and try to give back to my family/causes I support. I’ll let you all know.

Lots of money tactics are nonsense

I tried all kinds of ways to cover the rent.

Mowing lawns, picking up extra hours at the bar, working part time as teaching programming. None of them made as big a difference as what I did recently though.

I’m lucky that I was able to get the role that I have. Don’t get me wrong — I worked my ass off to get it, but not everyone gets lucky like me, and yet so many still struggle to make ends meet. I don’t know.

More ways to help = more money

Now that I have a basic income, I can help my family and friends because I’m not drained of all of my time and energy trying to survive.

Better yet, I can focus on helping others, which according to smart people is how to make even more money. Pretty cool cyclic help thing going on. Bummer that this can’t be the default so that we could just help each other instead of stepping over others to help our loved ones up.

It will make you more generous

It will make you more generous because you know what people are dealing with. You’ll give them what you can even if you don’t have it because that’s what you’ve always done.

It won’t solve any of your problems

Unless you were really rich before and didn’t understand the value of not having money, you probably aren’t going to get much out of scraping by. People will tell you it builds character, and I guess that’s true. I don’t know — kind of feels like a way to trivialize or even fetishize the pain and anxiety that poverty causes.

What do I know, though.

It can put your life in perspective

Since it’s the only thing you know.

Money is an opportunity to understand what living is

There is existing and living.

Money has helped me define what living means over the last 5 years.

  1. Living is giving something of yourself.
  2. Living is relationship-based, not transactional-based. Being able to make transactions helps build healthy relationships, though. Now that I can afford my basic shit it’s a lot easier to be my best self around the people I love.
  3. Living is making your life and the lives of others better simultaneously.
  4. Living is having more time to think, and less time worrying about money.
  5. Living is doing work for fulfillment not money.
  6. Living is having the choice to do what you want, when you want, how you want.

All of these things you probably need a basic amount of money to do. At minimum wage you might not have access to these. It sucks and gets demoralizing, especially around people who make significantly more than you and don’t seem to understand where you’re coming from.

Earning below $18k for my entire life helped me realize that money doesn’t necessarily make your life great, but it certainly makes it livable. Most of my friends who were at or below the poverty line didn’t hold too tightly to fantasies about having a lot of money, but we did know the value of not having to stress about how to stay alive. That takes a lot of energy.

Money can shift your life towards a goal you could have never imagined.

Original story credit to Tim Denning. I wrote this is as satirical response to his article which can be found here. It’s a great article, and I wrote this in jest, not criticism. Thanks again for sharing, Tim.

They/Them | Software Dev | Chronically seeking orange juice | devon.wellsa@gmail.com

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