5 Ways to Overcome Chronic Underearning

Here are five ways to get unstuck if you realize you're in a vicious cycle of financial dead ends.

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Although Barbara Stanny published her book, Overcoming Underearning: A Simple Guide to a Richer Life, in 2005, it seems that people are still just discovering that it is possible to make well over six figures and still be an underearner.

As the term implies, underearning occurs when someone makes under their potential and has a mental block around deserving or earning more. It can feel like being stuck in a loop—only making enough to get by. It can be caused by an accumulation of bad habits or even a mindset full of limiting beliefs. Either way, anyone suffering from underearning deserves to break the cycle.

According to Stanny, underearners "have a high tolerance for low pay." There are a few ways to self-diagnose:

  • Constant financial crisis: You're always in a financial mess, in debt, or feel dead broke.
  • Financial ignorance: You're clueless about how much money you have, earn, or need.
  • Isolation: You're not comfortable asking for help, especially about ways to earn more or to do your work in a more efficient or cost-effective way.
  • Procrastination: You generally mismanage your time or drag on work that could be done quickly.
  • Undercharging or accepting low pay: You underprice services for fear that you'll lose clients or that you don't deserve that much. This may be justified by market factors, as well as low self-esteem.

Although underearning may show up in a variety of different ways, the process to fixing chronic underearning generally has five solutions.

01 of 05

Accept the situation.

If you are in denial about your financial situation, you cannot make the money moves needed to fix it. You must first concede that you have a problem. Perhaps you fear that if you make over a certain threshold, your friends and family will expect handouts. Or maybe no one else you know has ever made over a certain amount, so you think it is impossible for you to do so. Maybe you think that only people who have certifications and degrees—or those who work in certain fields—can earn in increasing amounts.

Acknowledging the problem is a form of self-acceptance. No need to blame yourself or others; just admit that you're an underearner today and you don't want to continue. You can now begin to think back to why you have these financial challenges and the ways that you may be self-sabotaging.

02 of 05

Get educated.

Gather information: your earnings, your expenses, your debts, your assets, your habits, your preferences, and everything that affects your finances. You'll have to get very clear about what your expenses are and whether they're higher than they should be. Cancel subscriptions you don't need and get rid of anything that is a drain on your household income.

Next, get educated about cost-effective alternatives that could lower the amount of cash flowing out. And plan to open your mind to quick and easy wins that will allow you to bring in more money, easily. This could mean committing to watching free YouTube and TedX videos around your industry to learn how to position yourself for a raise or how to justify a price hike in your business. Being open to learning is important to improving your habits and increasing your earnings.

03 of 05

Get organized.

When you're suffering from underearning, it can feel like everything is a mess. You're never in control of the things that matter most—your time and money. With the clarity gained from education, you'll need to commit to getting organized. Take an inventory of how you spend your time and your money. Are you spending too much time on things that don't earn you money? Could you be more efficient at taking on more clients or hiring staff to do administrative work? Once you get organized enough to find the inefficiencies in your current patterns and to create strategies to get organized, then you're on your way to breaking the cycle of underearning.

04 of 05

Access the right kind of resources.

Since you're reading this, chances are you're looking for helpful resources. But there are a lot of resources to choose from, and they're not all worthwhile. Your search might be misplaced if, for example, you haven't already done steps one through three to really identify what's holding you back. If you discover you have a savings problem, you'll want to look for books, podcasts, and experts who can help you understand why it is so hard for you to hold on to money, even when you earn large amounts.

If you realize that you're constantly de-valuing your work, even after you've compared market rates and your successes, then you may need a therapist to help you tackle low self-esteem. Or you may want to hire someone specifically to handle the sales and billing for your company, so that you don't have to have those difficult conversations about raising prices or increasing rates.

Do your research, take classes, join support groups, and put yourself in a position to earn more—regardless of your industry, age, skillset, or background. Be ruthless about helping yourself overcome the barriers that once held you back.

05 of 05

Make it a practice.

Practice doesn't always make perfect, but it does make you way better than you used to be. Whatever changes you're trying to enact, you must keep doing them—even if you're off to a rocky start. Relapses can be avoided, but they are common. You'll have spending splurges and you'll forget to turn off a bill. But with time and practice, these mistakes will happen less frequently.

It is so much harder to work your way out of debt and underearning than it is to get into it. So be gentle with yourself as you improve your situation, little by little. Take a look back every quarter and congratulate yourself for the things you're doing a lot better than before. Over time, your bank account will reflect your wins, not your stumbles.

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