One of the most important things I’ve learned from pursuing financial independence is that not only is your time valuable, your time is the most valuable resource. Period.
See, you can turn time into money by working. You can quantify health in terms of how much time you have left. You can even use time to increase the strength of relationships or create new experiences.
One of the coolest things about financial independence is that it also reverses this equation and takes the money you earn and turns it back into time. That’s time you can spend doing whatever the hell you want because you are no longer obligated to work for a living.
But, for those of us still working for money, not all of our time is valued equally. Some jobs pay $10/hr and some pay $100/hr, right? Once you’ve got a handle on your expenses and you’ve set up your investment strategy, one of the quickest ways to speed up your FIRE journey is increasing your pay.
One of the lessons that’s been the hardest for me to learn is valuing my time enough to fight for increasing my compensation.
Problematic Money Messages I Learned As A Kid
I grew up in a very conservative community that heavily relied upon “traditional” family and gender roles. Women were not allowed to have leadership roles unless those roles involved children. Women were shamed if they didn’t take the lead on child rearing, cooking, and caring for the home. It was also understood that, because of how time consuming all of these tasks were, the man would be the breadwinner (and I say man here because no other type of relationship was acknowledged or accepted). Women were supposed to be sweet, docile, never question authority, and certainly never, ever earn more than their husbands.
These days, as a very liberal feminist, I don’t exactly jive with those ideals to say the least. But, in spite of completely rejecting the gender norms (along with a lot of other things) I grew up with pretty early on as a teenager, some of that worldview still ended up buried in my subconscious.
This means I’ve needed to work incredibly hard to overcome the internalized belief that my time was not monetarily valuable.
What Not Valuing Your Time Looks Like
In high school, I worked at my church on weekends and they put the money I earned towards religious camps I attended and mission trips I took during the summer. I never signed a W2. I never received a paycheck. I never received a pay stub. I recorded my time on a spreadsheet that disappeared after my shift, never to be seen again. No one ever told me this was not supposed to be how normal jobs were. No one told me I was being taken advantage of. No one informed me that I was volunteering my time and relying on a corrupt system of bookkeeping to credit me in theoretical mission trip dollars that magically amounted to exactly what the trips cost in return.
My male coworker doing the exact same job as me? He was paid. In actual money. I saw my boss handing him a check one day and asked where mine was. My boss told me that my coworker “needed” the money more than I did, and I blindly accepted that as a reasonable answer. He made money. I made a theoretical currency my church created which could only be used with them, essentially company scrip.
When I was 20, I interned for a summer through my university and received a fellowship and a stipend through a program I applied for, bringing my compensation to roughly $7/hr. At the conclusion of the summer, the program director told us that anyone who had received a fellowship as well as a stipend should return the stipend to the program out of fairness to those who only got the stipend.
You know who felt morally obligated to return the money for a program they applied for, got accepted into, and completed in full? Yeah that would be Yours Truly. I essentially paid my employer for the privilege of working for them.
Who accepted countless jobs after that which paid less than market value and didn’t speak up for herself? Yup, me again. That’s honestly what I thought I deserved, and I felt like I should be grateful for any opportunity to work and “build experience.”
I wish that were where the story ended, but I could go on and on with different examples like this. I didn’t have the framework at the time to feel entitled to the money I actually earned much less ask for a raise or negotiate for higher pay.
Then And Now
Hear me and know that this story is not unique. There are so, so many folks out there who don’t know how valuable they are and how much money they are leaving on the table.
It took a lot of work to learn to value myself and my time enough to start showing up and actually advocating for myself.
Nowadays, I tweet shit like this regularly:
I came across some statistics yesterday that said approx. 60% of women have NEVER negotiated salary
Over 80% of those who do negotiate see increased compensation
One study showed only 45% of women negotiated salary in 2018!
Ladies, negotiate and get your money! 💲💲
— HippieFinance (@hippie_finance) July 23, 2020
And I have big wins to share, like negotiating for a 25% hourly pay raise after taking a sabbatical for a year.
I have spent years trying to unlearn lessons from my youth and I still find myself apologizing for taking up space. I actively fight the urge to shut up and just take what I’m offered in the workplace. There’s a voice in my head that consistently says it’s easier to just work unpaid overtime than stand up for myself. But, my time is valuable, and so is yours!
Lessons That Helped Me Start Taking My Time Seriously
One important lesson was realizing that, if I don’t value myself, then why should I expect others to? Similarly, if you don’t recognize that your time is valuable and worthwhile, how will others?
Another was realizing that no one was coming to fight for me, and no one was coming to rescue me. My employer was not my friend and most certainly did not have my back or my best interests at heart. I was never going to have a knight in the shining workplace that magically created a better working environment and gave me appropriate pay. I couldn’t count on what I wanted being offered to me on a plate.
The world we live in is one where the gender wage gap and the glass ceiling exists. And I am the only one responsible for learning how to navigate my place in that reality and fight for what I deserve.
Time and Money
Maybe you check Glassdoor and learn how much the going rate for your skillset is. Maybe you put out feelers for new positions and pick up some interest. Maybe you get an offer. Hell, maybe you get a promotion.
Maybe you even take your timeline to FIRE and cut it in half!
Never forget, your time is valuable, and so are you.