March 10, 2023

Rich Girl Roundup: Balancing a Rewarding Job with Low Pay

Rich Girl Roundup: Balancing a Rewarding Job with Low Pay

Find a higher income or stay where you love?

"What if my dream job isn't lucrative? Is it worth finding something better, or is it more valuable to stick around?" Both Katie and Henah have gone through this experience, and they reflect on how they balanced a job they loved and a lower-paying salary.

Welcome back to #RichGirlRoundup, Money with Katie's weekly segment where Katie and MWK's Executive Producer, Henah, answer your burning money questions. Each month, we'll put out a call for questions on the MWK Instagram (@moneywithkatie). New episodes every Friday.

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Katie: I almost felt like the ghost of a coal miner was gonna emerge and be like, “You whiny son of a bitch. I used to spend 12 hours a day underground and you're crying that you're not getting paid enough for your fake email job. Screw you, Katie.” 

Welcome back to another Rich Girl Roundup weekly discussion, Rich Girls and Boys. I'm your host, Katie Gatti Tassin. And today, Henah and I are going to be discussing what to do if your career is rewarding but doesn't pay well. Before we dive in, here's a quick message from our sponsors.

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Katie: Henah, I'm honestly really excited to hear your thoughts about this topic.

Henah: Next time just @ me, okay, people? No, this is a previous question from Henah a couple years ago, so really excited to dive in.

Katie: I know that we have talked in the past about balancing a job and a life that you love with not getting paid well, and how it can create this tension. So I guess, let's talk through some of the nuances, right? Because I think that this is a relatively nuanced topic. What if your dream job isn't lucrative? I also have a blog post from, I think, 2020 or 2021 about this, a little throwback, so we'll throw that in the show notes as well. But I mean, Henah, I feel like your experience in nonprofits and social impact work probably has a good background for this one. 

Henah: Yeah, for anyone who's new, I worked in nonprofits and social impact for almost a decade before I converted to the “dark side,” but Katie gave me cookies so I couldn't resist. No, I'm kidding. But I was very used to not making very much money. I think the highest amount of money I ever made in the nonprofit space, even after having a master's degree, was $60,000. And that was in New York City. So, very hard to keep up with the Joneses on that kind of salary, even when I loved my job. And I did love my job. I wanna put that out there. I truly found it so rewarding. I was like, “I'm okay with being paid less 'cause I'm getting this other experience, or I have these amazing people that I've met,” or whatever. I made such a difference and so that was really fulfilling. Katie, I've talked to you about this. It's very hard to feel behind, though, on my money goals, or to constantly feel stressed about money and then feel like, “Okay, but I have this job that I love.”

So you have also talked about, people don't always have jobs they love, and that's okay. So I wanna hear that first before we dive in. 

Katie: Oh, okay. I have a couple thoughts. Well, for starters, I do feel like it's a tough one, because anytime that I used to complain, like “Mm, I don't love what I do for work” or like, “Oh, I love what I do, but it doesn't pay well.” I almost felt like the ghost of a coal miner was gonna emerge and be like, “You whiny son of a bitch. I used to spend 12 hours a day underground and you're crying that you're not getting paid enough for your fake email job. Screw you, Katie.” So I'm very aware of that kind of millennial vibe when we're talking about passion and work and stuff. Especially 'cause it is such a new idea. 

So tiny history interlude: In the 1980s when the boomers, the original “me me me” generation—now the millennials, their children, are the “me me me” generation—but that was a lesson that the boomers passed down to us. Like, “You should follow your passion,” but, da da da da: Some passions are not paid well. Some are. Like Patrick Mahomes? Probably pretty happy. He followed his passion. He makes $50 million a year. 

Henah: If only my passion were football. You know? 

Katie: Right. I know. 

Henah: And I were like a foot taller.

Katie: Maybe two feet taller. But I think it comes down to, okay, if you're in a job you enjoy but you are not thrilled about your income, it is probably worth clarifying. I'd call this kind of nuance number one. Are you having a hard time meeting your basic needs? Like, is money a constant source of stress for you, or is it that your friends all work in investment banking and you are unable to keep up with like a multi-six-figure lifestyle that they're trying to rope you into? Because I think if it's the former, it really may be worth making a change, just 'cause if you're having a hard time meeting your basic needs, that stress is so damaging. It compounds over time. And I don't have to tell somebody that who's stressed about money. You know how stressful it is when you can't pay your bills. 

Henah: Yeah. 

Katie: But if it's the latter, I actually think you would probably regret exiting a career that you really liked just to chase some short-term money. So I think it's something where, as long as you're able to meet your basic needs and still save a little bit—doesn't have to be crazy, but as long as you're still saving something for the future, I think it's fine if you really, really like what you're doing. I think it's so hard to find a job that you love that it's kind of invaluable once you have one. 

Henah: I'm gonna challenge you on that. 

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Henah: I agree to an extent, right? So in the pandemic when I was still working in the city, my pay got cut to like $1,300 per paycheck because of the financial uncertainty of what was happening, and my rent was basically the equivalent of a paycheck. And so I think I could have made the argument that yeah, I was still saving a little bit of money, but one, it was incredibly hard to save 10%. Like it just took so much effort. 

Katie: Well, I guess, yeah, I would say that you were in a situation where you were having a hard time meeting your basic needs. Your rent was more than 50% of your income. That to me is having a hard time meeting your basic needs. That's not…

Henah: But let's say that I did meet my basic needs, but meeting any savings goal felt impossible. And then on top of that it was like, “Okay, but I have this job that I love, but I feel behind in what I personally want in my life.” So being able to have a certain home or a certain car, whatever. I guess I feel like there's a balance there between, stay in a job even if you can't save that much, or can you comfortably save and have your basic needs met and you happen to like your job?

Katie: Yeah. Should clarify that I'm talking about…I'll use a personal example to try to make this more real. I had a job that I loved that paid about $70,000 a year. And I ended up switching to take a job that paid about a hundred thousand. So obviously that's quite a big bump up in pay. I was less happy in the job that paid a hundred thousand 'cause I did not like the work as much. I missed my old team. I should have stayed in the $70k job. I was still saving; I was still meeting my basic needs. I got greedy. I was like “Ooh, I need to make whatever.” It’s not to say I didn't like the job, but I was less happy. I underestimated how much value I got from the people I worked with and the team that I was on and what we were doing. 'Cause I really think I overestimated how much my life was gonna improve going from $70k to $100k. And obviously I don't know how that all would've panned out in the long term had I stayed in that original career path. But I can be overly pragmatic when it comes to money, and I worry sometimes that by saying, “Oh, it's okay if you don't love your job, and you gotta put yourself first and you gotta make financial progress,” I worry that saying that piece without also saying, “But you're gonna spend 40-plus hours a week doing what you're doing,” so probably, if you have something you really like, I would think twice before…

Henah: Totally. I agree. And there's also this kind of reframing moment that you can put on it, which is, maybe your dream job can make money in a way that you haven't realized or considered.

Katie: I like where we're going here.

Henah: Obviously higher earning income. If you can't find a salaried role that's paying what you'd prefer to make, are there other opportunities that you can explore to buffer it so that you can keep doing what you love? Whether it's a side hustle, or is it looking for that new job and maybe it's in a different industry, but you're doing the same work that you're really excited about. I would say right now it is a dream job for me at Money with Katie, but I'm also the best-paid I've ever been. But I think it's because I'm so excited about my job, and… 

Katie: Wait, can I segue here? 

Henah: Yeah.

Katie: That is where I was gonna go next. Which is that it is not uncommon for money to follow passion. So even if you're doing something right now where it feels like, “Okay, this isn't super highly paid right now,” I think it's worth asking, “Do I see a reasonable path to earning more? Is this a field where even the top people at this company are working 70 hours a week and making $50,000 a year?” Or to use MLM language, “Can I see the upline here and see where things could get better?” Because passion usually leads to obsession and relentlessness, and I think when you pursue something with obsession and relentlessness, it tends to eventually become lucrative. And I think that's kind of a hack. So you know, kind of point blank, if you really like something, you're gonna do it a lot. You're probably gonna get better at it because you're doing it a lot. And it's not that just because you're doing something right now that you like that's not highly paid doesn't mean it never will be. So I think that's kind of, you know, look around, look up. Are there people doing what you're doing that are doing really well? Do you see a path to get there, or not so much? 

Henah: Yeah, and especially when that review time comes, is it something that you can advocate for? 'Cause I think every little bump helps. 

Katie: Henah’s sub-tweeting me right now because we're in performance review season. 

Henah: Hello, boss. No, I'm kidding. I think the reality is that we often need to work for money, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we have to relegate ourselves to low pay or that we shouldn't be able to love what we do. So if you find something you love, see if there's a way you can make the best of both worlds, I guess, which seems like the most obvious answer of all time. 

Katie: Henah’s like, “Have you considered making more money doing the thing that you like?” I also think it needs to be said, and this is how I will wrap up my own thoughts here, is that sometimes the reason you end up really enjoying a job is because you are good at it and it pays well, and that can 100% be enough. It doesn't have to be what you are put on this earth to do, but usually being good at something and being paid relatively well is enough that, “Yeah, I really like this job.”

Henah: I have just one note on top of that, which is that you can do a job that you like, that you're good at and pays a lot, and then after a certain amount of time, move to a job or feel more comfortable supporting a job that maybe pays a little less but is what you love. 

Katie: Hmm. Like a baristaFI situation. 

Henah: Sure. Or I was gonna say, like going to a nonprofit after 10 years.

Katie: No, baristaFI, you know, baristaFI. It's where you work the job you don't love but makes a lot of money. You save a ton of money and then you're like, “All right, cool. Now my income doesn't matter anymore 'cause I'm set. I'm gonna just let that money compound for the next 30 years and just work the jobs that I actually wanna work.” 

Henah: Which is ironic 'cause that's what my mom told me to do, and I didn't listen, and now here I am. But I think that there's a balance, and hopefully you can strike it in the middle somewhere. 

Katie: Yep. Thank you for listening to this week's Rich Girl Roundup. We will be back next Friday covering something that Henah and I actually approach very differently. So maybe it'll be a repeat of the Chase/AmEx smackdown, which we did actually get into a legitimate fight over text about that… 

Henah: We did. 

Katie: …after the fact. So I'm a little bit nervous about this one, but we'll be talking about how we split our money with our partners.