One of the most common pieces of advice in personal finance is to increase your income. It’s a solid suggestion. Until it’s not. The truth is that you can’t always make more money.
There are a lot of instances when layering on a side income or two is hugely advantageous. I’d argue that in just as many instances, focusing on maximizing your main income source is even more important.
But sometimes there just isn’t any more money to make. There are only so many hours in a day and there is only so much a body can do. (Despite what the motivation bros and Beyonce memes would have you believe.)
So what if you can’t make more money right now? I don’t know the right answer for everyone, but I do know what we are choosing to do.
What I’m Doing When I Can’t Make More Money
Thankfully, I have long believed that personal finance is about operating multiple levers: sometimes you rely on making more and other times it’s about spending less.
When I started out teaching, I was a lot less frugal by choice. I fell into frugality as a necessity. I realize that I simply didn’t earn enough money to spend how I was spending. If I’m entirely honest, I didn’t earn enough to buy the house the bank let me buy either.
But I pushed through.
I hustled and hustled and hustled. I grew my side income streams and I doubled my salary at work. Making more money as a teacher is slow going, but I went.
But now I sit here with my last paycheck before my second unpaid leave starts, and I’m left with a new, albeit temporary, reality: I can’t make more money. This is what I’m doing instead.
Make the money I can.
For the next three months, I’m not going to earn a paycheck. My work will pay me zero dollars and zero cents during my maternity leave. I’ll return to work and earn about 60% of my salary for the remainder of the school year as well. Yup. You read that right. I won’t actually get a regular paycheck until August of 2022.
No amount of freelancing is going to fill in that gap. Not only do I not want to do that much work on my maternity leave, I’m not even sure I could.
Instead, I’ll make the money that I can and focus on another financial lever instead.
Shop our house.
No, no. I’m not entering the real estate market any time soon. In fact, I plan to live to the ripe old age of 107 and die in this house. I hate house hunting, home buying, and property renovating that much.
We’ve all heard or even said the phrase “There’s food at home.” Yeah, well, that’s not the only thing in my house. We’ve flirted with the idea of decluttering for years and years. But there’s still so much stuff.
So I’ll take a look at what’s in my closet to make some fresh outfits. We’ll rotate through our preschoolers toys to keep things exciting. Rather than run out to the store, we’ll make due with what we have.
Those hotel soaps and dentist toothpaste samples? Yup. I’m using those too.
Budget and track.
I was so sick during my pregnancy that anything other than existing and growing an eyeball or rib or whatever my body was working on that day felt like too much work. There was no way I was keeping a strict budget or doing any real tracking of any kind. Our money just sort of went on autopilot…along with most other parts of my life.
Now that I feel better, I can get back to what works. That means looking at our budget, paring down as much as possible, and keeping track of the money that we do spend.
Tiny leaks are tiny when you’re drawing an income. But they are a lot more significant when nothing is coming in.
Push pause on our goals.
People like to equate financial journeys to marathons. I personally think swimming is more effective than running as far as money metaphors go. Why? Because sometimes you need to tread water. That’s exactly what we’re doing in this short season of life.
Our mortgage payoff dreams aren’t destroyed. Our savings and investing plans aren’t done for. I’m confident we’ll come back more motivated than ever.
So I’m putting them on hold for now because it’s important not to create any extra stress.
Spend our savings.
This is painful to even type but it shouldn’t be. We’ve saved and saved, probably much more than we need by most personal finance standards.
And it’s a good thing you can’t tell me nothing ever.
Because that “too much money”? Yeah, I’m spending it. I’m not spending all of our savings or anywhere near it. But I know that we are going to have to rely on at least some of it. Because preschool doesn’t pay for itself.
For whatever reason (there are many but that’s another post for another day), I feel all sorts of ways about actually having to spend our savings.
My goal is to reframe my outlook so that I see my savings as a tool to make the most of my maternity leave, appreciating the freedom rather than focusing on the bank balance.
You Can’t Always Earn More Money
It’s good advice to make more money when you can. But it’s also worth realizing that it isn’t always possible. That’s why it’s so important to understand how to earn more and how to spend less.
Because the best way to navigate money is to know how to do both.
So Tell Me…Are you in a season of earning more or spending less?