Earning more is not cheating


Do you Remember Jason and Julie?

They were the couple with the campervan who got to FI aged 43 and whose story I featured in Our Gap Year For Grown Ups.

When the Daily Mail wrote about them in an article earlier this year, a troll-party kicked off in the comments section.

A common theme was:

Well its no wonder they were able to retire at 43…they earned a massive £90,000 per year between the 2 of them…this is totally inapplicable to the lives of normal people

It was as if Jason & Julie had cheated by earning more than the UK national average of ~£28,000 per year. But earning more is not cheating.

The complainers seem to assume they can never earn £45,000 per year. But despite what you read in The News (I warned you about that), it is possible to earn more. We hear more from the complainerz because they are more vocal.  Meanwhile, The Millionaire Next Door is not shouting about their financial situation…they’re keeping quiet and making bank.

I’m here to tell you that earning more money is not impossible…nor illegal…nor unethical.  I’d go as far as saying that earning more is A Good Thing.

The time it takes to get to financial independence depends on your savings rate.  And its easier to save more when you’re on a higher income. Obviously.

So let’s take a look at 5 ways you can earn more money:

  1. Work harder
  2. Take more risk
  3. Do something that others can’t (or won’t) do
  4. Get a side hustle
  5. Negotiate better

Unfortunately, none of these come with a guarantee.  That’s because there are no guarantees.

1) Work harder

I wanted to make money whilst taking as little risk as possible and was not prepared to be self-employed for the first 20 years of my career.

Instead I followed the money, seeking out an industry that paid well (finance) and I was then prepared to do pretty much whatever it took.  I’m not saying that everyone should do this…I’m just telling you what I did.

The bad news is that there’s a lot of competition for high salaries in nice middle class occupations.  The top jobs come with hidden costs; the main one is that you have to accept that your employer owns you. Or, to put it another way, you are now in The Prison Camp.

The good news is that these days top jobs are (mostly) allocated by merit (let’s not mention the Royal Family here)….a big part of which is: who’s prepared to work the hardest?

It sometimes seems like people assume that all jobs have the same hours and the same level of stress. But I don’t see it that way. I’m pretty sure being Prime Minister is harder than being a local government clerk.

So before any local government clerks leave angry comments about how unfair it is that they’re paid less than the Prime Minister, they might want to ask themselves…why are they not standing for election?

What % of people are prepared to do (not just talk about) whatever it takes to get and hold down a top job? How many are prepared to get by on 4-6 hours of sleep a night for 10 years, catch 5.30am flights, stay away from home and family in soulless airport hotels, carry the team members that take duvet days, manage clients with ridiculous expectations, do public speaking, cancel holidays, do cringey networking, live with email always on, sales targets and generally suck it up?

Ed Latimore puts it this way:

Crackheads hustle 4 days straight to get a rock. No sleep or food. You ever work that hard for something? 

Don’t get outworked by a crackhead.

2) Take more risk

One way to earn more money (and more freedom) is to cut out the middleman and sell your services direct to the customer / end-user rather than to an employer.

I know someone who is a plumber near me. He’s employed and makes about £40,000 a year doing the work that his employer finds for him.

I also have a mate who tells me that a self employed plumber in our part of the world should be making £70,000 – £80,000 per year.  He should know as he is one. He’s also been known to come to the gym with me during the daytime…he can do that because he’s his own boss. The downside is that if there is no work to do, he doesn’t get paid. For him, this downside is mostly theoretical as he has more than enough work.

So the choice here is £40,000 for employment versus £70,000 – £80,000 for self-employment. In this case, being employed is like a very expensive insurance policy where the cost is £40,000 a year.

Maybe being a self employed plumber should be the benchmark for middle class professionals?  If you are not in a job where you are (or will be) earning £80,000, that begs the question of whether university / college, student debt, PhDs, MBAs and other further qualifications followed by long commutes to office jobs, wearing ties etc etc are all that they’re cracked up to be??

3)  Do something that others can’t (or won’t) do

Talking of plumbers, I watched a fascinating documentary about 5 years ago where the employees of a large plumbing business in central London all revealed what they got paid.  The top plumbers were paid £250,000. It would be an understatement to say that The Escape Artist was surprised by this…I was gob-smacked.

Maybe that firm was unrepresentative? Yes, maybe.  But around the same time, I was talking to someone that ran a company that installed double glazing, windows and conservatories.  He told me that their top salespeople made £300,000 a year. No, that is not a typo. And trust me, this bloke was not the bullshitting type.

At that point, I slunk home to reflect on my lame-assed middle class assumptions that office job > sales job > manual labour. As Keynes once said:

When the facts change, I change my mind…what do you do?

In capitalism, salaries are determined by the interaction of supply and demand.  The fewer people that are willing and able to do a job, the more it gets paid. And the more demand there is for a specialised skill, the more wages get bid up by competition.

This is why you should always look for opportunities to make yourself more valuable, gaining rare skills that employers / clients are looking for. And be prepared to move location to take advantage of those opportunities.

This also explains why nurses get paid less than footballers or bank CEOs. You sometimes see angry internet comments complaining that this is unfair. But whoever said life was fair?

Please do not blame The Escape Artist for this…I don’t pay for cable TV (which funds footballers salaries). And in 2008/9, I’d have capped CEO pay for taxpayer supported banks. If you run part of the government machine you should get paid like a civil servant, not a Master Of The Universe.

4) Get a side hustle

If you are in a well paid job, a side hustle may be a distraction that you don’t have time for.

But, for other people, getting a side hustle up and running (without taking risk) can be a great strategy.  This includes people approaching financial independence who want something to do and some side income after they quit.

Just remember The Correct Way To Start a Business.

5) Negotiate better

In zee Prison Camp, zere are Rules.

Memos are sent from on high dictating what the annual gruel pay increase shall be for the prisoners.  These go something like this:

It has been a tough year in our industry with profits held down by intense competition, the high oil price and the shortage of leprechauns [insert own corporate bullshit here] but due to our CEO’s general awesomeness, we are able to give everyone a 2% pay rise this year…count yourself grateful suckers valued team members

Its interesting how people often accept the frame that is presented to them.  By frame, I mean the background assumptions.

I was talking with someone recently whose annual performance review was coming up.  I asked what their salary expectation was and they mentioned a firm wide inflation increase as if this were some unbreakable law.  ARRRGHHHH!!

At this point, I administered some tough love and reminded them they’d turned around a failing department, built a team, taken on increased responsibilities and recently been appointed to the board.  In a situation like that, YOU DO NOT JUST ACCEPT A 2% COMPANY WIDE INCREASE. No, you should be shooting for a 25+% pay rise. Again, that is not a typo.

Of course, there are no guarantees you’ll get that…but not asking is an automatic no.  You can think of asking for a big pay rise the same way as going over to talk to an attractive woman at a party.  Just doing it is no guarantee of success.  But not doing it effectively guarantees lack of success. Both can feel uncomfortable but, if done with some grace and good manners then, honestly, what’s the worst that can happen?

There will be times when you have unusual negotiating power. These opportunities appear when you move jobs or on big promotions or on restructurings or when your skills have become rare because others have left. At these times you need to signal to your boss that if they want you to continue solving their problems for them, you are gonna need your salary re-based. And that if they want loyalty, they should buy a dog.

This is important because if you get a couple of big pay bumps in your career, all subsequent % rises work off that higher base.  The compounding effect applies with wages as it does for investment returns.

Last but not least, a bit of luck is also gonna help. So all the best to you and to everyone in 2018!  🙂

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  1. No wonder I can’t find a plumber. They turn up, have a look then don’t quote. They pick and chose the jobs.

    Meanwhile the safety net of a reliable office job pays poorly – yet used to carry security.

    I work in a sector where I have been laid off too many times for my liking. As soon as I have the FU money, I’m off, had enough of the dog-eat-dog competition and shit working environments which just ruin my health.

    There’s gotta be more to life than the treadmill of work! Chained to the man.

  2. ladyaurora · · Reply

    Can’t believe TEA is doing this boxing day!
    Ive been self employed 32 yrs and its a hard road ,no holiday, pay no sick pay , working when your ill to keep clients from going elsewhere . Having to put my prices up periodically to why on earth are you doing this attitude! I think self employment is great but you need to be earning £60000 plus . My line of buisness is not in that bracket but ive still done it ! Morgage paid off years ago and FI in 8 months ill be 53 .it is possible on lower money.

  3. SurreyBoy · · Reply

    Thanks TEA for another year of thought provoking and instructive posts.

    My cash flow model tells me that in theory I will be FI by the summer. At that point I could dance out of the camp. I probably won’t RE because I want a buffer, but I can glimpse freedom. This site has played a part in that journey.

    Happy Christmas and New Year to TEA and all readers.

  4. Best blog I’ve read in ages

  5. Ex Pat Scot · · Reply

    Love the quote: So the choice here is £40,000 for employment versus £70,000 – £80,000 for self-employment. In this case, being employed is like a very expensive insurance policy where the cost is £40,000 a year.

    Perfect analogy.
    To that, you can also add the tax advantages and general flexibility of self employment, but set against both the risk of underutilisation and the unpredictability of your income flows.

    On balance, it’s still a very skewed equation though.

  6. i did it by a combination of many of the points raised but always hard work, saving, investing, watching (and enjoying) how i spent. Then became ill and disabled but still invest. this year i have made $150k on my investments after personal spending. caveat: good year and not all years are so good. I started out as a single mother with no prospects. not too shabby. it can be done. Focus is good.

    1. ladyaurora · · Reply

      Wow angela im impressed with you
      Go girl !!

    2. Incredible achievement and just what I needed to read for a decent dose of inspiration. Well done 🙂

  7. Income is very highly correlated with IQ.
    The mass of ordinary people who have an average IQ will never earn more than the average £26,000 no matter HOW hard they work.
    They can’t all retrain to be plumbers.
    I’ve had this argument before with RIT.
    Where both you and him go wrong is you want your wealth to be about your awesomeness because you think of your achievement (and yourselves) as being wonderful.

    The reality is its due to your higher than average IQ.
    IOW an accident of birth.

    1. ladyaurora · · Reply

      What ? TEA and RIT have what alot of people dont have and thats COMMON SENSE!
      Nothing to do with IQ
      You could be highly intelligent and stupid with money and not be able to live ,spend, invest sensibly and end up poor or you could have loads of common sense and on a moderate wage get to FI. Look at The Dividend Mantra over in the US …hes a car sales man with a huge shares portfolio paying him dividends. Soon if not already he will be FI.

      1. Income is very highly correlated with IQ.
        This is true irrespective of you thinking otherwise.
        Early retirement is based on being able to earn a larger than average income.
        Most people, because they only have an average IQ will never be able to get the high income that leads towards building wealth.

        Did you actually read the article.

        Dividend Mantra is rather interesting. Firstly, he wasn’t a car salesman, he organised servicing of cars that the dealership sold. Secondly, he had a really bad childhood which helps explain some of the choices he has made as an adult. Thirdly, his blog and other financial writings took off which helped him leave his job and move to a lower cost location, Chang Mai, Thailand.

        In any case the use of DM does not help your argument against IQ helping income.

        1. ladyaurora · ·

          Of course i read the article. The more money you earn the better the capacity to save large amounts and get to FI sooner if your savvy enough to do that (eg RIT). It can still be done on lower income though . In fact its amazing with the right mindset what can be achieved. I am a woman on my own , a mobile hairdresser,( not a big bucks profession) im 52, paid off my morgage years ago and next yr will have amassed 25 x my required annual income. I would have got there earlier had i come across these sites sooner that have taught me how to invest my savings.

      2. Seems like ladyaurora read and understood the article better than andrewhunt1…and, more importantly, put its messages into action several years ago.

        Intelligence without action is useless.

      3. jasonbuckley294196560 · · Reply

        Which is pretty much what it says here…


        I’m the Jason from the intro BTW, and the troll-fest was about me. Plenty of ill-informed allegations were leveled at me (and the odd valid one), but it’s a new one to suggest the luck of my IQ is the only reason I’m FI, hah.

        On average higher IQ means you earn more, but that doesn’t rigidly tie IQ and income together? One person with average IQ might earn twice that of her average IQ peers. The very same person can almost double their income by going self employed, I did it for 2 years, and presumably my IQ stayed about the same before and after?

        That’s what this blog post is about – exposing some of the methods people use to generate higher incomes. It does that very well. Why the attack?

        One thing is arguably missing, although it might be too obvious: the act of investing in cash-generating assets also increases your income. As we got closer to FI our savings rate grew closer and closer to 100% of earned income (as anyone’s will as they chase down FI).

        Thanks for taking the time to write this TEA, you’re a good man.

      4. Hi Jay…always a pleasure to hear from you.

        It’s disappointing when the trolls stoop to vicious personal insults….like accusing you of being intelligent!!!

        Is it just me or does anyone else think that the quality of trolls these days is not what it was?? 😉

  8. Little Miss Fire · · Reply


    I really enjoyed this post and I found it very motivating! I love the crackhead quote too! ha ha. I’m side hustles all the way next year so fingers crossed it brings the money in!

    Little Miss Fire

    1. Morning cleverclogs.

      Since this isn’t a vicious personal insult, then I’m clearly not trolling.

      Why are you so dismissive of those without your mental abilities?

      1. Little Miss Fire · · Reply

        Is this comment meant to be directed at me?

      2. Hi Little Miss Fire…please ignore the troll…the comment was directed at me but he couldn’t even get that right…sorry he wasted even 1 minute of your time 🙂

  9. Great article! Love the want loyalty get a dog quote!

  10. John of Hampton · · Reply

    I agree with the basic premise, that earning more is not cheating etc etc. But given the distribution of income in the UK, it is not fair to be quite so dismissive of those earning less than £80K a year. That amount puts someone well into the top 5% of earners nationally. If earning £80K plus a year is what you need to achieve FI, the complainypants trolls at the Daily Mail have a point, and it really isn’t for everyone.

    However, in reality FI (or something close to it) can be for everyone. Although I did just make it into the quoted salary bracket, I mainly achieved FI by living well within my means and running side-hustles. I have also seen plenty of people in my life who haven’t even tried to do it, but instead make endless excuses about why they are in the situation they are. An example is my former colleague who said she really needed to improve her qualifications, but had no time to study (though managed to find time to be a magistrate…).

    I am more than prepared to give people like that the metaphorical Mr Money Mustache face-punch. Not because they are not earning enough, but because they are not making the best of what they have. It is the latter that is the true path to FI, surely. Earning over £80K helps and is not cheating, but it is not the only way.

  11. The Rhino · · Reply

    I think you probably want to present income as a ratio instead, i.e. income/cost of living or income/house prices – you get the idea.. a london pound is not worth the same as a provincial pound.. This is a critical factor in the old FI game

  12. Survivor · · Reply

    @jasonbuckley294196560 – Hi, I enjoyed your story & really respect what you did.

    I agree that counter-intuitively, IQ is not the deciding factor in this quest – given that humans can often be hugely emotional with decisions they actually care about. That tends to negate common-sense in money matters too, even in people who’re proven smart in other aspects of their record.

    I’m curious as to why you chose to reveal your identity …….I totally get the helping others via inspiration, but why limit your quality of life by increasing the risk of ignorants approaching you to berate or argue with you? Surely it would take the gloss off the achieved quality-of-life surge in becoming FI? Even on an enlightened site such as this, there’s ample evidence of those who don’t understand relatively simple points, don’t listen properly or are just needlessly flippant. [as opposed to exercising a right to a different opinion]

    1. jasonbuckley294196560 · · Reply

      Why reveal identity? Great question.

      The first reason might be an attempt at authenticity. Reading blogs from people called ‘FI Guru’ or whatever had me slightly distrusting that such people really existed. This in turn reduced my ability to associate my position with theirs, which reduced my faith I could hit something as bananas as early FI.

      The second is the fact identity is hard to hide. It eventually comes out sooner or later.

      The third is naivety, no doubt.

      Has it reduced our quality of life? Yes, for about 2 days when the insults hit, and perhaps a slight degradation for another week each time as I process the ethical arguments.

      Maybe we have taken the concept of an examined life too far by exposing it to a national audience, but in the end I’ve not come across an argument which deflects us from our course, an encouraging thing.

      Right, I’m off to the pub. Cheers, Jay

  13. I really like your comparison of asking for a pay rise to approaching an attractive woman at a party. So so true. Perhaps it explains the gender pay gap: in general men are more used to doing that sort of thing and getting knocked-back at a party and maybe it’s (slightly) less embarrassing when men do that.

  14. Walter Neff · · Reply

    Great blog post, thanks.

    I’ve always thought that in the US, success (in this case FI) is generally celebrated whereas here in the UK the we tend to sneer at it, hence the trollfest mentioned at the start.

    You only get out of life what you put in, the whole FI movement has been an inspiration to many so please keep the articles coming.

  15. Haha! Thanks TEA. It’s great to see that economic ignorance is just as large across the pond as it is here. There’s a severe penalty for never being weaned off socialist pabulum. Too bad so few of the victims come to realize that. Great freaking post, my friend.

  16. thefinancialjourneyman · · Reply

    During your career, you should always be striving to earn more every year. Over the course of a lifetime, a 2-3% per year increase adds up do a decent salary by mid-career. To do that, focus on how you can add value to your employer. Find ways to show them that you are an asset and are capable of being promoted to a role of greater responsibility. There are no free lunches. If we want to reach financial independence, we must first maximize our earning to fund our savings.

  17. Jerry Brown · · Reply

    Great blog post! I am doing a roundup on my site and will feature this on it! I used to be one of those complainers until I started using my energy to look for ways to earn instead!

    1. Ha-ha… brilliant… gotta love a reformed complainer

  18. docgdiversefi · · Reply

    Yep. We forget that it is ok to earn more, and even spend more. The path to FI is a varied road. We make take different turns but hopefully all end up in the same place.

  19. Absolutely agree with this post. Knocked 10 years off our 21 year path to FI by starting a business and earning more. Why not play both offense and defense?

  20. This is a great post!

    Your lifestyle and expenses are not the only things that determine if you can reach FI. There is nothing wrong with busting your ass to do well at your job and earn more as a result.

    I tend to be on the higher side of earning among my peers yet still live a frugal lifestyle. However, the beauty of also putting the effort in to earn more is that if I slip one month or some type of emergency expense pops up, I’m more equipped to handle.

    The biggest payoff for me in regards to spending the last 10 years trying to maximize my income is that when my wife and I had kids, it was a no brainer when we decided she would stay home.

    In my mind, while you are working, work your ass off and provide value. If you don’t need the increase in income, great just save it. If you, boom it’s there.


  21. Very relevant post for my current situation. Started trading market neutral options strategies about a year ago and I’ve been seeing some big results over the past few months. At some point I’ll be looking to go full-time but right now it’s great seeing all that extra income.

  22. Work hard and/or smarter. Take every benefit from your employer you can – I see so many people pretty much opting out of benefits from their employer because it makes their current paycheck look bigger or they don’t want to invest the time.

  23. Of course earning more makes things easier but as others have mentioned, it’s all about living within your means and the lifestyle you choose. I’m reminded of this article where a couple is struggling, despite a combined income of £200k – https://www.ft.com/content/d6f1e58e-20c9-11e6-aa98-db1e01fabc0c

    Imagine if they had the lifestyle of a couple bringing in an average £56k and saved the other £144k a year…

    1. Weenie – I agree.
      It’s a question of having clear water between your income and expenditure, whatever the level of each.

      Our wonderful progressive tax framework however means that the don’t have an extra £144k a year over the “average” couple though.

      They probably (based on salaries of £125k +£75) end up with £112k after tax (assuming no pension contributions). Their effective rate of tax is 44%
      The average couple (based on salaries of £35k + £21k) end up with £45.5k after tax (again assuming no pension contributions). Their effective rate of tax is 19%.

      The net difference the “supercouple” have over the “average couple” is therefore £66.5k.
      If there are any children involved, then the difference further narrows due to HR Child Benefit clawback.

      Of course – all of this is rather missing the central point, is that Earning More is a tangible activity that gives you the opportunity of creating a wider gap between Income & Expenditure.
      Then the frustrating observation that so many people (including myself) miss this open goal…

  24. […] Earning More is Not Cheating – The Escape […]

  25. Some good points. Not sure why so many folks poo poo folks who DECIDE to make more. Who wouldn’t want to make more in order to retire earlier? Common sense folks!


  26. MarginOfSaving · · Reply

    General rule of thumb: when you’re dealing with sh*t, people will pay up for you to get rid of it. That’s why plumbers and garbage men (people) can make bank.

  27. I should have become a plumber!

    Joke aside, I also get mildly infumed when I read comments from moaners desperate for excuses as why X who achieved success, fame or early retirement got ‘lucky’ (and that’s why they haven’t done the same – let alone the huge process that went behind the scenes).

    Great post, I’ve subscribed and I’ll be back for more!


    1. The Rhino · · Reply

      @sam – no one likes a moaner, but then again its usually a mistake to underestimate the role of luck in your achievements. Do your best, don’t moan and be humble with your luck -> https://youtu.be/vwx5IvypC5Q

      1. Exactly, just to be born means I’ve won the lottery! Let alone being born in a western country with free education!

  28. Oh dear..was bracing myself when I saw mention of the Daily Mail comments section….

    I agree completely with the premise, and think most people can earn more if they are prepared to put in the effort, and don’t get discouraged when the fall at the first, second or third hurdle. It’s really resilience and adaptability that helps people get higher incomes in my experience.

  29. […] Earning more is not cheating. [The Escape Artist] — “I’m here to tell you that earning more money is not impossible…nor illegal…nor unethical. I’d go as far as saying that earning more is A Good Thing. The time it takes to get to financial independence depends on your savings rate. And, let’s be honest, its easier to save 50+% of your income when you’re on a higher income.” This is such an important point. It baffles me that there are people who feel guilt over their high incomes. [See also the second part in this series.] […]

  30. […] we covered in Part 1, it’s a lot easier to save more when you are on a higher income. […]

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