9 traits of underearners

I just read Barbara Stanny’s “Secrets of Six-Figure Women.” I was happy to find that I share similar traits to the 150 women she interviewed. But there was a section that stood out to me, mostly because I didn’t expect it to stand out to me.

We previously reviewed Stanny’s book “Overcoming Underearing.” Guest reviewer Jeremy M. wrote:

“[Stanny] learned that the big difference between highly successful women and less successful women was how they valued themselves and what they were willing to do to get what they wanted.”

I’ve never thought of myself as an underearner. I value myself highly, and I’m willing to work very, very hard to get what I want. So I was surprised when I got to the chapter on underearning. Stanny outlines nine traits of the typical underearner, and contrary to what I thought, I fit the bill for quite a few.

(Note: While the book definitely addresses women’s issues, I think men can get just as much from Stanny’s insight.)

1. Underearners Have a High Tolerance for Low Pay

“High earners make darn sure they’re well compensated for their time and work,” Stanny writes. “But it rarely dawns on (or appeals to) an underearner to set her sights on a higher salary.”

As I read this, I thought to myself, I wouldn’t say I have a high tolerance for low pay, but I have tolerated it in the past.

I tolerated it because I felt I had to pay my dues. Low pay never lasted long, as, after a while, I began to suspect I was worth more only to discover that, indeed, I was.

But the fact that I was rationalizing this made me feel uneasy about what was to come.

2. They Underestimate Their Worth

Stanny points out that “women, in particular, have a tendency to undervalue themselves.” She uses various university studies to support her argument. In those studies, women consistently paid themselves less than men did for doing the same task. Psychologists call it the “depressed entitlement effect,” saying that, subconsciously or otherwise, minorities devalue themselves.

When I decided to become a freelance writer, for example, I assumed it wouldn’t be a very lucrative career. And even now, in the back of my head, there’s the stigma that writers should be poor.

Stanny points out that you shouldn’t put a limit on what you think you should be making. Within reason; she admits that there are certain fields where six figures aren’t possible (though she says it’s still possible to earn more). “Women accept lower wages because they presume they must deserve less,” Stanny writes.

Although I’d like to think that “women” is interchangeable with “writers” in my situation, the point is, perhaps I underestimate my worth.

I hear people talk about what they’re “worth” a lot. My old, practical philosophy is that you’re only worth what someone is willing to pay you. But that philosophy is evolving. It’s not just about how much you’re paid, but how much you can offer.

3. They’re Willing to Work For Free

“Underearners regularly give away their time, knowledge and skills for nothing. They’ll work at no charge without thinking twice. Most of the time, it’s so ingrained they aren’t even conscious they’re doing it.”

Stanny’s not just talking about directly working for free, but also the indirect work we often don’t think to bill. She cites an example of a woman who was offered to speak at a women’s finance event — for free. She refused, unless they agreed to pay her.

“It’s not right to ask women to have economic empowerment and not practice it themselves,” the woman argued. Stanny added that the woman did occasionally do things pro bono.

“…those are choices I make, not obligations.”

I found it significant that Stanny used the term “pro bono” in place of “free” when describing work that the woman chose. I also wondered how the woman determined what was a choice and what was an obligation.

I’ve written about how I’ve done work for free, because when I was switching careers, every bit of advice I read suggested that you may have to work for free or next-to-nothing in the beginning in order to build a portfolio.

So yes, I was willing to work for free. Am I doomed to be an underearner?

4. They’re Lousy Negotiators

“Underearners are reluctant to ask for more,” Stanny writes. “…Underearners hold back simply because they’re too scared. ‘What if I raise my prices, and they laugh in my face,’ said Annie, a bookbinder.”

I’ll admit, I’m scared to negotiate. Even at flea markets, I have a hard time asking for the mutually understood discount. But I’m not afraid of being laughed at; my fear is a fiscal one. What if they don’t consider me for future projects? What if they decide to hire someone else altogether? These are the understandable doubts that run through my head, but perhaps I’m devaluing myself.

While reading this, I felt a little disappointed in myself. But Stanny had some encouraging and empowering words:

“It’s hard for most women in all income brackets to demand more. High earners might not like it (and they rarely do), but they do it. That’s how these six-figure women got where they are. They do what they are afraid to do.”

5. They Practice Reverse Snobbery

Hate rich people? Then you might be an underearner. I harbor no ill will toward the rich, but I am admittedly kind of a frugal snob. When I see a $100,000 car, I roll my eyes. And that’s not very nice of me. Many underearners equate money with limitations, so they grow to become resentful of it. Stanny believes this is indicative of someone resigned to earning less.

“Just about every underearner I’ve met believes real wealth comes at too high a price. … The irony is that few people work harder or obsess more about money — or rather, the lack of it — than underearners do.”

6. They Believe in the Nobility of Poverty

“At the same time underearners are spurning the wealthy, they are singing their own praises for surviving on so little.”

Despite my financial situation, in the back of my mind, I still have an impoverished mind-set that’s no longer doing me much good. I’ve been trying to rise above the notion that poverty gives you access to all sorts of qualities wealth can’t.

“…many underearners genuinely believe money is tainted, materialism is bad, and there’s something virtuous about surviving on a shoestring,” Stanny explains. “According to this line of reasoning, they are much better people for rejecting financial gain.”

While I still believe in the value of frugality, I do see her point. You can overdo it. You might spend too much energy on a false sense of virtue instead of realizing your earning potential. You might put forth a little less effort to earn more, because, in the back of your mind, you equate wealth with materialism and vice.

7. They’re Subtle Self-Saboteurs

Stanny argues underearners unwittingly set themselves up for failure:

“…applying for work they’re not qualified for, creating problems with coworkers, procrastinating or leaving projects unfinished, hopping from one job to another, always stopping just short of reaching their goals. The common thread is their propensity to be scattered, distracted and unfocused.”

She adds that underearners always seek out a scapegoat or a savior rather than take responsibility for their own behavior.

8. They’re Codependent

“There’s a fine line between loyal employee or devoted wife and sacrificial lamb,” Stanny writes.

Indeed, when it comes to work, I often find myself volunteering to bear the brunt of the load. Of course, employers come to expect this after a while, and this eventually leads to resentment, which Stanny predicts:

“Subjugating our needs for the sake of others inevitably leads to resentment, depression, burnout and breakdown.”

I still believe in workplace gratitude, but I’m reconsidering my level of service. I do tend to tiptoe the boundary between loyal and sacrificial.

9. They Live in Financial Chaos

Finally, Stanny makes the point that underearners are “more likely to be in debt, have smaller savings, fewer (if any) investments, and little idea where their money goes.”

While I’m debt-free and handling my finances well, there was a quote in this section that stood out to me. Stanny interviewed financial counselor Mikelann Valterr, who described the psychology behind debt:

“Debt is about giving your energy away … it cuts off our options, giving the illusion there’s enough because when the money runs out, you can just whip out a credit card and continue spending. You never have to confront head-on that you aren’t making enough. Which is why people use debt. It keeps you from confronting your fear of success, making hard decisions about how to earn more, and experiencing the discomfort when life becomes more expansive.”

It takes courage to get out of debt, Stanny says.

And really, it takes courage to overcome any of the traits on her list. Negotiating, not always volunteering, letting go of some of my past philosophies — it’s overwhelming and a little scary to consider all of this.

But she would argue that this fear is natural. Six-figure women are scared, too. They just do it anyway.

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There are 75 comments to "9 traits of underearners".

  1. TB at BlueCollarWorkman says 25 April 2013 at 05:29

    #5 and 6 (They believe in the nobility of poverty and practice reverse snobbery) I admit to. I do it all the time, haha! But other than that, I’m not like this at all. I’m always asking for more money and trying to get more out of people. I have a family to feed and can’t afford to be shy or unconfident in asking for (probably) more than I’m worth! And I usually get it!

    • Marsha says 25 April 2013 at 14:41

      When I hear about the “nobility of poverty” my father’s voice rings in my head: “The best way to help the poor is to not become one of them.” Making more money allows me the luxury of giving more to noble causes.

  2. El Nerdo says 25 April 2013 at 05:48

    EXCELLENT. See also Jerrold Mundis, who wrote “Earn what You Deserve” in the 90s.

  3. Alex C says 25 April 2013 at 05:49

    This article sounds like all my friends. I snicker sometimes at the people who say the rich are evil and it is like a sin to be rich. Or they say money is not everything.

    Okay, money is not everything, but why wouldnt you want more of it? Money sure gives you options. You can live a rich life. Maybe your rich life is donating thousands of dollars.

    Is money still eveil then? Would you like more money now? That is just what I say to those types of people

  4. Adam - HireMeHigherEd says 25 April 2013 at 05:53

    While not a woman, I see much wisdom in the above words. Especially the “nobility of poverty”. I did not realize this was a phenomenon, but I have found myself here on many occasions. My pride in surviving or even thriving on less, has often stopped me from seeking more.

  5. A-L says 25 April 2013 at 05:58

    #1-3 and #8 are true for me. However, I don’t feel I have much choice. I am a public school teacher which has very little flexibility in the pay. Historically, it’s been you have this degree with this amount of experience, and here is your pay. And yippee, every year you can get a $500 pay increase!

    Of course, that’s changed the last several years. In addition to no pay increase (for experience or anything else) the last three years, I now live in a state at the forefront of reforming teacher pay to make it more “competitive” with the business world. You start off on the salary scale based on your education and experience. If you are exceptional (top 10% or so), you get a $600 annual bonus, and get a pay raise of $500. If you are good (top 40% or so) you get a $200 annual bonus, and a pay raise of $500. If you’re not in the top 40% you can only qualify for three raises in your lifetime, and then you’re stuck at the same salary forever. And the base salaries are not exactly competitive with the business model either. Even worse, a neighboring district just announced their “step” increases. $500…but you stay on each step for a minimum of two years.

    Yes, I could choose a different, more lucrative field. Perhaps I might venture off into some kind of consulting work. But I like teaching, and I think it’s a worthwhile and noble profession. Unfortunately, the pay is just not near my “worth.” So I guess I will continue to be an underearner, but I suspect that others (like social workers) will fall into this same boat.

    • kandace says 25 April 2013 at 08:28

      Like you, I work in the non-profits arts sector. Not a lot of money to be made, but I enjoy it. I see myself in many of the traits above, and I do try to negotiate where I can, but often there is a ceiling–the salary listed is in a structured format, as are the vacation benefits.

      Sometimes the rules can’t be broken and sometimes the problem are personal behaviors.

    • Kristin Wong says 25 April 2013 at 11:01

      She had a great quote about this; unfortunately, I just returned the book last night and didn’t write it down. But it basically acknowledges that, yes, there are some fields in which earning six figures isn’t realistic. But she adds that she thinks it’s still possible to earn more in those fields, even if it’s not close to $100,000 a year.
      I agree with kandace, though. Sometimes the rules can’t be broken. But you do what you can!

    • Leigh says 25 April 2013 at 16:56

      I am also a public school teacher, so I know what you mean! Some things on the list have limited relevance for me, but one thing that I did stop to think about was the one that says “willing to work for free.” Teachers end up doing this all the time, of course, and some of it is unavoidable. I have tried over the years to be more assertive in saying no at least some of the time when I am asked to work for free. I’m usually not talking about things that would directly benefit my students anyway. For example, in the past I’ve been a department chair (big time commitment, with a stipend). This year they’re eliminating the stipend but will need a volunteer. Have to resist the urge to “be a team player.”

      • A-L says 26 April 2013 at 09:40

        Yep. Just got an e-mail from my principal asking me to attend a 1-day training over our vacation, with no stipend. I’ll attend (gives me some job flexibility), but yeah, we’re often asked to do things for free.

      • Cindy @ Applestone Cottage says 29 April 2013 at 05:46

        My husband is also a teacher (for 33 years) and I have worked in social service field.
        I don’t seeing being frugal and looking for deals as short-changing us. Rather I look at it as a way to live better with less.
        After my husband retires from teaching in one more year we are going to start our own small business.
        Then we will have more flexibility on what to charge!

  6. My Financial Independence Journey says 25 April 2013 at 06:02

    I’m a bit guilty of #5. Negotiation just isn’t my thing.

    I’ve seen a lot of self-saboteurs out there. I’ve got a good friend who seems more proficient at shooting himself in the foot than just doing his job.

    I would also add #10, the conspiracy theorist. The whole world is against these people. Their coworkers, their bosses, the banks, the company, the alignment of the stars. All their problems are someone else’s fault and can never be overcome, because you can’t beat the conspiracy.

    • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies says 25 April 2013 at 08:07

      Totally agree that I am also guilty of #5.
      In fact, I’ve never had to negotiate since I either take the first offer or they have taken my salary/bonus request and given it to me. I like to think I’m fairly valuing my services, but in reality, if they are that eager to pay it, there’s a decent chance I’m undervaluing them…

      Proposal for #11 – Have more than enough, feel greedy asking for more. We make enough to meet our goals and then some… Our pretax savings rate was about 50% last year. So at what point is it just greed to ask for more pay?

  7. Cory says 25 April 2013 at 06:12

    We can’t all be wealthy.

    • Janice says 25 April 2013 at 10:19

      No, we don’t all have to be wealthy, but I think the real message is not to devalue yourself by accepting less than you’re worth and by making financially smart decisions (like staying out of debt) that will enrich your life.

  8. Laura says 25 April 2013 at 06:48

    Ugh. I am absolutely an underearner right now. I have a job that I enjoy and that pays well per hour but doesn’t give me the opportunity to be full-time. I supplement that with a low-level job with no room for advancement. I know that I should scrap both jobs and find a more ambitious position, but I feel stuck.

    I’m planning on reading this book… I think it will be an uncomfortable read for me.

    • Melissa M says 25 April 2013 at 09:58

      I read the book years ago, and while I’ve outgrown some of the patterns, I see I’m still stuck in a few. Reading the book was uncomfortable but SO worth it. The real stories of women who were making 6 figures but still living paycheck to paycheck were a real slap in the face, especially for me because I believed the myth of “more money makes everything better”. Chicks were buying $3,000 shower curtains! It truly isn’t about how much you make IF you have an underearner’s mentality!

    • Kristin Wong says 25 April 2013 at 11:08

      It was kind of an uncomfortable read for me, too. But this chapter was just the beginning, and there was some really empowering advice in the rest of the book. She writes about learning to let go when you feel stuck, even if you have to let go gradually (which I did when I switched careers). I’m not sure all of her advice will go over well with everyone (some of it I couldn’t help but question), but for the most part, I found it to be really encouraging. I’ll share in my next post!

  9. Laura says 25 April 2013 at 06:54

    I will have to chew on this post for awhile, but my immediate reaction was that Barbara Stanny strikes me as a rich girl, someone raised in an upper-middle class household with many outliers orienting her towards material success and away from having to actually deal with realities of life.

    For example, the tired old saw about don’t accept low pay but insist on what you’re worth – I have a friend doing exactly that as she job hunts. She’s been unemployed for 4 years.

    I know my self-worth just fine. But what I value about my ability to perform isn’t necessarily what people will pay me. I think El Nerdo had a post within the last month on how the work one wants to do and which is even valuable to society isn’t necessarily what society will pay much for.

    I would love to see PF books about achieving success from people who, like me, came from poverty-line families and backgrounds where society tells you overwhelmingly you might be good enough to work at Target but don’t get your hopes too high. IMHO, Barbara Stanny ain’t it, she’s just another privileged 1 percenter. It’s true that you want to emulate those who are successful instead of those who fail, but it’s a lot more meaningful and easier to emulate those who started off where you did instead of someone already 3 social classes above you.

    • El Nerdo says 25 April 2013 at 07:21

      Hi Laura, alright, but see, I think it’s useful to look at the money psychology of people with different upbringings and see what ideas we can borrow or steal and adapt to our circumstances.

      True, I’ll be the first to say not everyone can be a one percenter, but that doesn’t mean one must surrender to poverty either– if you think about it, the logical conclusion of overcoming underearning in many low-paid occupations is… organized labor! 😉

    • Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says 25 April 2013 at 07:41

      I disagree strenuously and also believe strongly that the lower fown the pole you are, the easier it is to get ahead of where you were. Take the discount store worker. It takes an average of only 2-3 years to reach management at Wal-Mart and nearly doubling your salary. Those who don’t make it in that time, though, rarely ever make it.

      Why? Because most people who work there have no ambition and little concept of hard work. Those who make their goals clear, telling management that’s what they want to do and where they want to be and then working hard for it, are rewarded.

      Big fish, small pond. I’ve seen it again and again.

      • William Cowie says 25 April 2013 at 07:58

        I’m with Jenny here: I came from a background of extreme poverty: we never had a car, or even a telephone, till I was in high school and my mother remarried. She told me the key to escape poor circumstances was (a) get all the education you can muster and (b) work your tail off… including to get a scholarship for said education.

        That advice works… if you follow it. I just retired, after being a senior executive for the past 25 years. It is possible for anyone who makes the sacrifices, takes the lumps, makes the mistakes, but above all keeps learning and keeps on keeping on.

        • El Nerdo says 25 April 2013 at 09:26

          Right William, but I think the point Laura is trying to make is that even an individual can make senior executive with hard work and determination, said executive will have oodles of employees at their command who will not be able to have the same job or make six figures (or whatever Stannis Baratheon makes… I mean Barbara Stanny–hA!).

          Plus, even with hard work and determination not everyone is meant to be management– there are excellent manual workers who would make terrible executives due to ability or temperament. Peter’s Principle, etc.

          Yes we can all work to make more but not everyone can/ has to be CEO, these organizations require subordinates. The thing is though, the working class doesn’t have to be the dying class. The problem is not just that rich people say “if you’re poor it’s your fault,” but that many of the poor are accept this as a natural state and hate themselves for it.

          It’s important to overcome psychological barriers to prosperity (however we define that), but the solution can’t always be leaving others to drown behind you while you alone swim to safety.

        • Ellen Cannon says 25 April 2013 at 14:47

          I interviewed Barbara years ago and heard her story: She is from a privileged background — her father was a founder of H&R Block — and she inherited a lot of money at a young age. She let other people, including her husband at the time, manage that money — and then it was all gone, totally mismanaged. She started over by educating herself (she was a journalist) about money and then wanting to spare other women from making similar mistakes. She tells her tale in her first book, “Prince Charming Isn’t Coming.”

      • Jane says 25 April 2013 at 08:32

        “Why? Because most people who work there have no ambition and little concept of hard work.”

        I don’t know anything about you, but on the surface this type of simplified logic reeks of a contempt if not hatred for the poorer among us. Do you reserve your contempt for low wage workers in the United States or do you feel the same way about those in third world environments? Is that mother who lives in a shack in Guatemala there because she doesn’t understand hard work? I’m genuinely curious where your misinformed stereotypes begin and end.

        I personally think it is awfully hard work to stand on your feed all day in a retail environment or flip burgers in a fast food establishment, regardless of whether you eventually advance to management or not. Society doesn’t value this type of service work, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard work.

      • Jessie says 25 April 2013 at 21:33


        Thank you for your comment. I would suggest you read “A Framework for Understanding Poverty” by Ruby K. Payne. It might offer some insight to you as to why those who work in retail never make it to management positions.

        I personally work with community members in poverty and am from a lower income family as well. There are many misconceptions about those living in poverty. I hope you don’t continue to believe that the reason people don’t become managers is because they are lazy. Poverty is closely tied into many external factors that are out of control of the individual, including race and family background (i.e. those from poverty tend to come from poverty).

        It’s really excellent William C. that you were able to break the cycle, but it’s not fair to assume everyone can do it. I believe that is the basis of the traditional American Bootstrap mentality that is often used to justify why people remain in poverty.

        I rarely comment in these types of forums and am a huge fan of GRS, and appreciate everyone’s opinions. Thanks for hearing me out!

        • Carla says 26 April 2013 at 08:02

          I couldn’t agree with you more!

        • Peach says 04 May 2013 at 20:13

          Well said, Jessie.

      • BD says 26 April 2013 at 15:22

        Jenny: No. Sorry, but not everyone lives in an area where the retail store is large enough for people to move around. When I lived in a remote area in Florida, I worked at Home Depot. In the 2.5 years I was there, no one went anywhere (unless the person in the higher position was laid off, which happened a few times, but there were no replacements allowed).

        There was no hope of moving into any sort of higher position at all, unless you literally moved out of the area (not an option for me at the time), because the people in any position higher than “stocker” or “cashier” literally never quit, and there were never any openings. There was a lot of turnover in the cashier and stocker positions, so those were always open (i tried both), but there was no place to go from there, unless you had the money and resources to move hundreds of miles away (which most poor people do not have).

    • Ms. W @ GrowingHerWorth.com says 25 April 2013 at 08:11

      I grew up in a poor area, and this review didn’t strike me the same way at all. Honestly I think even in the lower middle class, some of us don’t value our work enough. For example, I didn’t negotiate my current position. I knew what the person before me was making, and it was a good $10,000 more than I was offered. I justified that the person before me had more experience, which is true. But I have a Bachelors (she didn’t) and am working towards a Masters. And regardless of who had what, the job we’re doing is exactly the same! I undervalued myself.

      Your friend, on the other hand, is over valuing herself. That should have been obvious to her much earlier on. I would venture to say anyone who has been out of work for 4 years because they expect more for their work than the market will pay doesn’t actually want to work. That’s a completely different topic, and doesn’t discount the fact that a lot of people undervalue themselves.

  10. Wyoming Gal says 25 April 2013 at 07:07

    I had several six figure jobs in corporate America and I enjoyed my accomplishments. But you certainly aren’t paid well for nothing. There are often difficult and stressful tasks that go with a high salary. After paying for my children’s college and saving a healthy amount for retirement, I knew my health would benefit if I moved to a management position with less pay, less pressure and an important mission in a non-profit. I am glad I did this, even though my family’s budget is certainly tighter. I think the way to decide your path is to consider what matters most to you.

  11. Jake Erickson says 25 April 2013 at 07:26

    This is an awesome list. A few of my friends who I consider underearners have many of these characteristics. Many of these can be taken away if you just didn’t underestimate yourself.

  12. @debtblag says 25 April 2013 at 07:46

    There’s certainly a distinction among people willing to give away their work free when looking at people who do it strategically, perhaps to secure future employment or a future customer.

  13. William Cowie says 25 April 2013 at 08:02

    #8 above, when it comes to volunteering for those extra assignments, is a fine line between the snotty “that’s not my job” attitude and a being doormat.

    I get the point that you don’t want to just volunteer for everything because you feel worthless, but the reality is those who get ahead all help their coworkers out, including supervisors.

    • Budget Girl says 25 April 2013 at 08:31

      I agree with taking on the extra assignments and helping out as much as you can. Folks will remember the great job you did. You can’t put a price on cultivating a can-do attitude.

  14. Budget Girl says 25 April 2013 at 08:10

    I identify with most of these traits. But I’m paid a lot more than I would have ever valued myself. The main reason is because early in my career, I studied for and passed licensing exams. These qualified me to take on more types of work and strengthen our department as a whole. I’m a terrible negotiator, but I’ve gotten raises and/or bonuses every year since I’ve passed those exams. It’s as though they set a floor under my salary. And each year I get experience using the license makes me more valuable. Headhunters call at least once a year. So even though I’m guilty of most of the traits on the list (except financial chaos and self-sabotuer — I’m organized with my finances, I never look for scape goats and take full responsibility for anything that goes wrong and is my fault. This is incentive for me to make sure things don’t go wrong.), it’s as though the licenses are doing the worth-valuing and negotiating for me. It is possible I could be paid more if I were a better negotiator, but I can tell from my discussions with headhunters that I’m being paid above market value.

    Of course, I have a tendency to think it’s all too good to last (though I’ve held my job for 10 years now and been promoted and offered further promotions), so I save as much as possible. I don’t feel the need to spend much anyway. I’ve never been much into status symbols and prefer the idea of recycling and reusing. Garage sales, anyone?

  15. Ms. W @ GrowingHerWorth.com says 25 April 2013 at 08:18

    I’m guilty of all but #5. I’ve never gotten the whole “money is evil” thing. Definitely time to read the book! Hopefully I’ll learn to overcome some of my issues!

    Great post Kristin! Probably one of the best book reviews I’ve read on the blogosphere! The book itself sounds like something I could gain from reading, but you also did an excellent job of not just reviewing it, but tying it into your life. It made it that much more interesting and unique!

  16. Ramblin' Ma'am says 25 April 2013 at 08:23

    I probably am an underearner. But not because I’m scared, but because I’m lazy. Honestly. I like working 35 hours a week, and not being expected to check in at night or on weekends. I like that my vacation time is really a vacation and my sick time is really time to recover from being sick. Hey, I like that I can access this site at work!

    At the same time, I do take saving seriously. My financial goals for the future are all based on what I can someday save, not on what I might earn. Sure, I could save more with a higher salary, but I just don’t want that much responsibility!

    • Jane says 25 April 2013 at 08:41

      I very much relate to this. I’ve often said that our family is not wired to make a lot of money. We value our free time and the low stress work environment that ends completely at 5 p.m. More often than not earning more means working more. Yes, some neglect to ask for raises or push for what they are worth. This is certainly true. But usually to make more money, you have to enter management. For instance, my husband makes around $75,000 after working at a very large financial institution for over a decade. He gets bonuses and profit sharing that increase this by around $10,000. We are happy with this, because for him to make more, he would have to become his direct superior, who probably makes around $150,000. But she works after hours and on the week-end. She also has to manage people, which comes with its own set of stresses. Instead, we choose to live on less and be grateful for the generous raises and bonuses he gets. We also remind ourselves that this is far more than most families in this country live on.

      I agree with Cory above that not everyone can be rich or command a high salary.

    • Juli says 25 April 2013 at 11:47

      I have exactly the same attitude as you. I go in at 8 and leave at 4:30. I take my lunch break every day. I don’t answer emails at night or on the weekends. And that is exactly the way I like it. My boss makes a lot more money than me, I’m sure, but she also puts in a whole lot more time and energy. We have enough to pay the bills, save some, and have a little bit of fun — I have no desire whatsoever to earn a 6 figure salary.

  17. olga says 25 April 2013 at 08:29

    I checked into all but #5 and #9. Although as author, I roll my eyes on fancy expensive stuff (or most likely don’t pay attention, but totally don’t hate them, just wonder why from time to time). As for #9, I never in my life was in debt. Ever. But, other than that, yes, the mental checklist is totally falling in. Ha. Anything to do about it?

    • Kristin Wong says 25 April 2013 at 11:11

      Yes! That’s what the rest of the book is about. I’ll share in my next post 🙂

  18. ImJuniperNow says 25 April 2013 at 08:43

    OMG, this is my sister, especially the financial chaos part.

    My parents put her through school to get a degree in a highly-sought-after field where she could name her price and she would rather baby sit or run errands for old people.

    She’s divorced with two kids, can’t pay the mortgage, utilities or taxes. To my knowledge she has no car insurance, no health insurance.

    People LOVE her. She’s so poor and yet so good.

    I’d print the article out and put it on her fridge, but she’d never read it.

  19. Carla says 25 April 2013 at 09:08

    At one point or another I am/was guilty of #1, #2, #4, and #9.

    I never had any animosity towards the rich or people with money (especially since I lived most of my life in one of the most expensive areas of the country), but I never though I deserved more than the scraps. I’ve actually always had a lot of shame because I didn’t have much which doesn’t help either.

  20. Alea says 25 April 2013 at 09:22

    All true because women are raised to not value themselves, but to only value what they give.

    For me the best example of this is the job of the First Lady of the United States. Not just Mrs. Obama, but every first lady in memory.

    The First Lady is expected to work long hours representing the office, our country and the President. She has to be smart, funny, easy going, and hold her tongue on any controversial topic. She has a support staff, yet, she does all this work for FREE.

    Why? The job of being a First Lady is pretty much a full time job, and as the years will move on we will have more and more accomplished women as far as education and career, yet, once in office, she is expected to work for free. A man would never accept this and would never be expected to “donate” his time for free.

    • HKR says 25 April 2013 at 09:56

      First ladies only do their job for ‘free’ if you don’t include all the perks that come with the job, which includes a $40k/yr clothing allowance, an entourage of 20+ attendants, and some pretty awesome vacations, not to mention free housing. That’s definately more than I make, so maybe you can say she’s underearning, but it’s not really working for free.

      • Samantha says 25 April 2013 at 10:21

        If my boss said, hey, we’re going to convert your salary to clothes and housing, BUT you get your own secretary, I would quit. The First Lady can’t quit.

        • Gen says 25 April 2013 at 11:34

          Well, she could quit, but it wouldn’t look good.

    • Carla says 25 April 2013 at 10:33

      I wouldn’t say she works for “free”. The president gets a salary and after their term ends there will be job offers in the public and private sector, book deals, public appearances, etc. Its not like the rest of us.

    • Erica S. says 26 April 2013 at 20:58

      Hmm. I’m pretty sure my husband would be the First Man if I was president–don’t think he’d scoff at having to work “For FREE”. I think he would be proud of me and support me in whatever way he could.

      • Peach says 04 May 2013 at 19:58

        Good point. In fact I’d be thinking of it as working in partnership with the Prez to make a lot of positive changes, and an opportunity to make a difference, especially with military families. So,I can see the OP’s point about working for free, but there’s personal satisfaction in making some kind of a difference. Also, the First Lady wrote a book last year about the White House garden, which I’m reading, very slowwwwly. (It’s a huge book) She has other streams of income open to her.

  21. lady brett says 25 April 2013 at 10:08

    having not read the book this comes from, i just hope this is explicitly directed at those folks who are unhappy with what they earn, because it sounds here like it’s directed at anyone who earns less than whatever the author deems a creditable amount. it just seems crazy to me to judge someone’s income by anything other than whether they are okay with it, personally and financially.

    if i am happy and not in financial chaos, who other than myself could possibly care if i am earning the absolute most i could, or what i am “worth” (whatever that means)?

    • Kristin Wong says 25 April 2013 at 11:18

      Good point. I thought that, too, while I was reading the book. There did seem to be some judgement toward people who have resigned to earning less. But then again, people who pick up this book probably are working toward earning more, so perhaps it just comes across as judgmental because she’s tailoring her advice to motivate those readers.

  22. Emma | iHELP students loans says 25 April 2013 at 10:33

    Very interesting! I don’t necessarily agree with all of these points, but many do make sense, and especially “living in financial chaos.”

  23. lmoot says 25 April 2013 at 10:38

    I’ll admit I didn’t have time to read the article (will do so later), but I prickled at the connotation that success = how much you earn.

    Also, I sincerely hope that when they refer to said “underearners” they are talking about underearning within their chosen profession, and not labeling their choice of profession as underearning.

  24. krantcents says 25 April 2013 at 10:44

    I like you statement about 6 figure women doing it anyway although they are scared. I think all of us are scared of the unknown at one time or another. Doing it anyway is important. Successful people have all the same excuses, but never use them.

  25. John S @ Frugal Rules says 25 April 2013 at 11:38

    Interesting list. I think she hit the nail on the head in regards to #9. Having been in debt myself I can relate to how it held me back in so many ways and it does to those who’re currently in debt. I used to avoid negotiating as much as I could, mainly out of concern I would be laughed at. I have learned through running our own business how vital it is to negotiate and have been able to grow in it.

  26. abby says 25 April 2013 at 12:25

    good article! i wish i could negotiate my salary but everyone in my position company wide gets the same pay….pay grade 7. there are 10 pay grades and you are assigned one of the based on your job, and since they are the highest paying company in my county short of moving there isn’t much i can do about it. good thing i love my job though!

  27. Sara says 25 April 2013 at 13:52

    I liked this article, and will definitely pick up the book.

    This is a problem I have, and I’m working on fixing it. My first job I just took whatever they offered and was grateful for it. My last job I asked for an extra week of vacation and received it. I’ve also asked for a raise and received it.

    It’s funny – I’m doing the same job now as I did 10 years ago (different company, same job). I now make about 50% more than I did 10 years ago, and my job is actually LESS stressful. So yes, I associate it with success – more money, less stress – win-win.

  28. Another Laura says 25 April 2013 at 13:59

    I read Barbara’s Stanny’s Overcoming Underearning book about 7 years ago when I was looking for a new job largely because, while I liked the job, the salary was low and raises were scarce. Following the advice in the book, I set a “target”, which my then boyfriend said I would never meet. Well, he was wrong and I did. On the plus side, I’m in much better financial shape than I had been. But, I have pretty much hated the job since Day 1. It’s not that I “sold my soul” and switched to a different career path…just a different organization with the same type of mission as the first. I just don’t like the culture and politics of the place. I’ve been looking for a new job and have gotten to the point where I think, “I just need to get out of here,” but, given the nature of the work I do, it’s hard to find places that pay a decent salary. And, there is a lot of competition out there, obviously. So, now I’m back to a place I never thought I’d be again. Saying, “OK, should I take a pay cut so I can get out of this situation?”

  29. G says 25 April 2013 at 15:29

    2 rules to abide by to reach your financial goals:

    Rule #1: Never do comparison of your socioeconomic status to others, buy whatever makes you happy as long as it does not interfere with your long term financial goals

    Rule #2: Do not forget Rule #1

  30. Rose says 25 April 2013 at 15:31

    I think I’m guilty of numbers 1-6, but I definitely don’t self-sabotage, like to keep my personal life and emotional well-being as separate as possible from my work environment, and since I don’t make that much money I MUST have my financial house in order (no consumer debt, no mortgage, paid off credit cards every month, no student loan debt myself, and paying over the minimum on my spouse’s student loan payments).

    I didn’t really mind parts of this article, but I agree with other commenters who remarked that she doesn’t really seem to give credence to careers/lifestyle choices that will realistically never make six figures.

    I’m an opera singer and music teacher (private, not public). This has been my most lucrative year yet, and I didn’t even make $30k. I look forward to hopefully earning a little more next year, but it would be a GREAT year for me if I made $45 or $50k. But I love love LOVE what I do… It just seems like her idea of success didn’t leave any room for passion outside the corporation or the board-room. Thank goodness not everyone (artists, teachers, social workers, journalists, enlisted military etc) doesn’t define success the way she does-think where our society would be if we refused to engage in these professions?

  31. sjb says 26 April 2013 at 04:58

    wow ! – I loved this insight and, although too late for me, as I’m retired; it’s wisdom for all younger women to absorb. Felt like my story was part of the research. I’m chuckling to recognize that my current feeling of freedom with my volunteer work (#3) is now “okay” .

  32. elaine says 26 April 2013 at 10:15

    I love Barbara Stanny’s work. This is an excellent column.

    I used to be able to make a decent living as a professional writer and editor (a mix of business and marketing writing, market research writing, columns in my area of expertise, magazine articles, and books). It’s no longer possible because so many people write for free or for very little money. Writing for free not only diminishes you as a professional, but it devalues every other writer along with you. “Exposure” is meaningless. I’m most shocked by magazines that wouldn’t think of not paying designers and photographers but think the writers’ contributions should be unpaid. Just don’t do it.

    Write your own blog for free — where at least you own the content — if you need writing samples. But if you’ve gone to the trouble to learn to write well, don’t devalue the entire profession by giving it away.

    • Carla says 26 April 2013 at 13:44

      I was definitely guilty of that. I would write for very little money because at the time, that was my only choice. I also thought I didn’t “deserve” to be paid based on my education and experience level.

    • Jane says 26 April 2013 at 13:56

      Out of curiosity, Elaine, what do you consider little money in the freelance writing world? I’ve often seen consultants or freelance writers saying not to take less than $30-$40 an hour. I’ve been at it for almost 2 years, and I don’t think I have ever made more than $25 an hour. I have written in my specialty and for marketing firms.

      I have certainly turned down jobs that were $10 or $15 an hour. One law firm wanted me to write copy for their website for $10 an hour. It was so low I didn’t even bother e-mailing back. With such a low initial offer, I figured there was no way they were going to pay me anything close to what I wanted.

      The rates at many of those aggregate job sites for writing (Odesk, etc.) are insultingly low. It shouldn’t surprise me, but I still wouldn’t go so far as you do and argue that other writers are devaluing the profession. What about placing the blame on the actual companies who are unwilling to pay a decent amount for a product? I think writing is a nebulous field, and many fancy themselves writers. You can’t easily claim to be a graphic designer if you don’t have some training, but anyone can apply for a writing job.

      What I do think is that businesses suffer from their cheapness. I just had a job that paid me $9 for each marketing press release. In their instructions, they told me to write in such a way that the client (who was paying hundreds for the press release) would be satisfied with the quality. Since I as a contracted writer was only seeing $9 of this money, they got about $9 worth (i.e. 20 minutes) of effort on my part. If they had paid me more, I would have worked harder and longer to produce a more polished product.

  33. BD says 26 April 2013 at 15:30

    Guilty of #1, #2, #3 and #4.
    But I didn’t really start out that way. It got beaten into me by life, and a healthy share of bad luck.
    When you get told so many times that your career is worthless, and your kind is “a dime a dozen” and not worth paying more than minimum wage, because “the bosses’ kid can do the same thing on the computer” (graphic designer), you really do believe that you’re worthless, and you HAVE to have a high tolerance for low pay, unless you want to be unemployed.

    I finally have switched careers, and am going to school (again) to become an accountant, but now I have my age working against me. Businesses generally do not want to hire people older than 40 who are starting on the same level as a college kid.

  34. Shawn says 26 April 2013 at 19:50

    I agree with BD. I am guilty of several of these, but it’s because I believed they were true because I was told that they were true for so long. I was raised that way as a child. I grew up hearing and seeing my parents talk about these limiting ways of experiencing money. I am slowly trying to transform my thought process around my self worth and ways of thinking about money.

  35. KC @genxfinance says 27 April 2013 at 00:25

    Am guilty with some of these. I know that sometimes I underestimate my worth. I don’t hate rich people but there are moments when I do, especially when I have a financial problem. Lol. But hey, at least I know I’m not in a financial chaos and I am working on better financially.

  36. roger says 27 April 2013 at 13:36

    Whoa whoa whoa. Did anybody ask the “six figure income” ladies if they’re honestly happier than the non six figure ones? Are they? It seems that there’s an assumption behind the statements in this article that, if you got paid as much as *they* did, you’d somehow be better off. Would you, though? My snobbery is showing through here, but I almost wonder if the rich don’t have as much or more stress than the poor LOL

  37. Northmoon says 28 April 2013 at 06:22

    I noticed early in my career that men were willing to apply for a job a little beyond what they were qualified for and for way more than they were currently earning – and they often got hired!

    Now I’m in a union position and don’t have to negotiate my salary in person thank goodness. However, in order to increase my salary, I have had to be willing to change employers several times over the years. As an example, say my current employer would have the mindset ‘she’s just a receptionist’ so it was better for me to move to another company as ‘admin assistant’ at a higher pay grade, where they had no preconceived notions about me. I noticed a lot of women got comfortable in one place and were not willing to do this.

  38. b_cpa says 28 April 2013 at 11:09

    I am a woman who earns six figures and have so for 3+ years. I am in my early 30s and have my CPA, and a master’s in taxation. I still have struggled my whole life with underperforming and self-sabotage and this has lead to staying in my current position even though I could earn close to $30k more if I worked hard enough for a promotion.

  39. Frank Powell says 29 April 2013 at 00:53

    Under-earners are always unsure of their abilities. With less payment, personal finances always seem to be one of their prime headaches. This is why they rarely think of starting a business on their own.

  40. plynch says 25 July 2013 at 00:08

    Ambition has its disappointments to sour us, but never the good fortune to satisfy us. Its appetite grows keener by indulgence and all we can gratify it with at present serves but the more to inflame its insatiable desires..Benjamin Franklin.

    I can’t help but wonder what the world would be like if no one possessed any of these “faults” listed above. Everyone can’t be top earners. There isn’t enough to go around. A large chunk of people have to be content with whatever it is they already have in my opinion.

    Maybe there are more positive ways of channeling the traits above. Instead of “Willing to work for Free” they could actually “Enjoy working for Free” Volunteering their time.

    Instead of “being a reverse-snob” they would be “a concerned charitable citizen”. That person with the $100,000 dollar car has every right to buy it, and have it. They sure do wish that person would have made a more equitable decision, and donated some of that money to a good cause.

    I’m still trying to decide for myself whether ambition is a Virtue or a Sin.

  41. Ragnar says 11 February 2014 at 09:14

    This article describes me to a T. 🙁

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