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How to Escape the Minimum Wage Economy

Frustrating, isn’t it?

No matter how hard you work, or how frugally you live, when you earn little more than minimum wage it can be near impossible to get ahead financially.

I speak from experience, having spent several years after university working in minimum wage retail jobs, slowly slipping ever deeper into debt. While those times were tough, today my life is completely different. I’m writing this from the villa I have rented in France for the summer – an experience I would never have even considered possible just a few years ago.

If you’re fed up with living on the minimum wage and never getting ahead with your finances then in today’s article I’d like to discuss the steps that I followed myself to finally get ahead financially…

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Improve Your Skills

Wages are a case of supply and demand. The more people there are able and willing to do a job then the more competition there is. People are willing to accept lower wages just to land that job.

This means that more basic jobs tend to pay more basic wages. Work on the checkout at a supermarket or pour beers at a bar and you’re minimizing your potential income.

One very effective way to escape the minimum wage economy is therefore to prepare yourself for more specialist jobs – and this means gaining experience and skills. Make it part of your job to put up your hand when new responsibilities arise. Become a “Yes Man!” and your boss will likely reward you for your efforts.

Accept Responsibility Before Promotion

One common theme I have seen over the years is that people don’t like to take on additional responsibility without landing a respective pay raise. At the same time, employers don’t like to promote people without knowing how well they will do the job. This creates a vicious cycle.

In my 15+ years of experience in the retail industry, the people who got promoted were those that have already proved that they can do the job.

They’re the one who has run the store for a week while the manager is off sick or on vacation. They’re the one that has been in charge of a department before a big visit. They’re the one that has resolved a customer complaint so well that a letter of commendation gets sent to Head Office.

The point is this: always be looking to take on extra responsibility and prove your worth. It may take time to develop the skills you need, and even longer for your superiors to notice the job that you’re doing, but every day you’re getting closer to that promotion that will take you one step further away from the minimum wage economy.

Time Can Be Your Best Friend

In my first retail job, working in a small store, I was carefully plugging away each day but getting nowhere fast. In a team of less than ten people there simply weren’t many opportunities for promotion. Then suddenly one day the manager of another store down the road quit, and I was offered their job.

It would have been all too easy to have got frustrated at spinning my wheels, and to have quit before this opportunity arose.

Amusingly, after a couple of years I started to get bored again and finally handed my notice in myself. As it turned out, unknown to me, my boss had also handed in his notice on the same day, and the company needed someone to fill his shoes.

Who did they offer the job to? Yup, you guessed it. If I’d quit a matter of weeks earlier that opportunity also wouldn’t have fallen into my lap.

The thing is that climbing up the greasy pole in a minimum wage job – factory, retail, hospitality – is difficult. Nobody wants to hire a manager that has no management experience. At least at first, therefore, it’s best to stick like glue to an employer.

Pay your dues, put the effort in, and seek promotions as they arise. In time, you should be able to rise (slowly) through the ranks. In other words, time can be your best friend.

Be Prepared to Jump Ship

While I wouldn’t recommend jumping from one company to another in the early days, later on in your career moving employer can be highly beneficial.

Don’t think that a checkout girl is going to land a manager’s job just by moving company; it’s highly unlikely. But a manager of a small store might succeed in becoming manager of a much larger store at a another company – for considerably more money.

The point is that once you’ve started to move up, and have landed a few promotions and pay raises, jumping ship to a new company offering a higher salary and more opportunity can often be an excellent way to grow your salary further.

That’s exactly what I did; moving from being manager of a small store in a small company to being assistant manager for one of the UK’s biggest retail companies. From here I was able to progress up once again, landing bigger pay raises each time.  

Start a Side Business

While starting a side business won’t directly land you a pay raise at work, it can be a very effective way to grow your income and get ahead. My retail jobs typically paid a salary – rather than an hourly rate. As a result, even if I worked longer hours I wasn’t entitled to any additional pay. The solution was therefore to find ways of earning extra money outside of work.

I started all manner of side businesses to help bolster my finances. I did some freelance writing for online business owners. I wrote a handful of Kindle ebooks (which still bring me an income today – years later).

Most importantly of all, I started a number of blogs. Not only do these blogs bring in a healthy income each month, but I even succeeded in selling one of them to an investor for a five-figure pay day. Talk about a lifestyle change!

These days it’s possible to start a blog for a matter of a few dollars, which can grow into an impressive source of extra income. If you’re new to the idea of setting up a blog you can see just how easy it is in my tutorial.

Alternatively, you’ll find a whole host of ways to earn extra money from home here.

Change Industry

After running my online business in my free time a funny thing happened. Over time, I found that I was picking up new skills and developing my value. Suddenly I knew how to find profitable keywords, I understood how to write compelling content and how to promote a website.

This allowed me to change industry. I was able to jump from retail wage slave to an exciting new career in marketing. Using my existing blogs as evidence that I knew what I was doing, I was able to move to a job that offered a more comfortable salary – as well as markedly better working conditions.

And while I had to start at the bottom, all too soon I was landing pay raises and promotions, which within a matter of years allowed me to quickly escape from the minimum wage economy.

Today, combining the income I receive from blogging and my comfortable salary at work, I have well and truly escaped from the problems of low earnings.

While I’m far from a “fat cat” I have over the last few years managed to pay off my debt, build up an emergency fund and start saving the future. All those years of disappointment and of scraping by each month seem like a lifetime ago.

The point is that you can escape from the minimum wage economy if you’re willing to put in the work necessary – I’m living proof of that.

How has living on minimum wage affected you? What is your plan to increase your earnings? What advice would you offer others in this situation? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below so that we can all learn from one another…

Living on minimum wage is no fun - but there are solutions. Written by a blogger who went from drowning in debt, to escaping the minimum wage economy and earning considerably more in a short period of time, find out how you too can start growing your income and building wealth - no matter what your current skill level.


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Hi, I'm Richard, a UK personal finance blogger on a journey to financial freedom.

I've paid off my consumer debt thanks to a frugal lifestyle and now I'm saving hard for the future.

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