That Decade I Earned $0

That Decade I Earned $0

Being transparent with your finances online is interesting. I know it helps to see real numbers which is why I share everything, but there are obvious downsides. Like, all of the times people tell me that they wish they had my income.

I can’t help but think that if they knew the full story, they might not be so quick to take the positives weighed down with their accompanying negatives.

Sure, my starting salary at my first full-time job was $65,000 – after I negotiated it up from $58,000! I’m earning 30% higher than the average in my area, which is substantial. That’s in Canadian dollars – make sure you find your currency conversion before you get too excited.

The number on its own can be misleading, so let’s look into the details.

For nearly all of the first ten years of my working life I was also attending university full-time, with several casual and part-time jobs wherever they would fit. Over that decade, I earned roughly $130,000 – an average of $13,000 per year which is well below the poverty line in Canada.

Still wishing for that income?

Friends who started out earning $20,000 in a minimum wage job would have made over $200,000 by that point – assuming they stayed in the same position for a decade and were never given a single raise or promotion.

Even now, after two years of full-time work with my shiny new salary, I’ve just reached the $20,000, on average, that my friends started making 12 years ago. I estimate that I won’t hit a $65,000 average until I’ve been in the working world for at least 20 years.

Adding in my $130,000 of student loan debt to that total, I’m actually at a net of $0 over ten years. 

It will take me almost five years to pay off my student loan debt, which requires minimum payments of $1,300/month – 1/3 of my net income. I won’t be finished until I’m 32, a full 14 years after I started university but six years earlier than if I would have followed my original repayment plan.

Not to mention the years of compound interest I missed out on by delaying retirement savings! Ouch.

I feel behind in many ways, and it will be a while before I’ve caught up. That’s not something I focus on, but I think outlining these factors is important to understand the full picture.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful for my opportunities. I’m very privileged to have the education and experiences I did. When I do catch up, I’ll have much more financial stability than most. I just want to put my current earnings in context, and hopefully encourage others to ditch the unhealthy comparison habits that we all seem to fall into. It’s pretty freeing, actually. I know this because I used to envy the salaries of some of my friends too – until I stopped to think that they were often putting in longer hours in higher pressure situations, traveling away from their families for extended periods of time, or working in dangerous conditions.

There’s always more to the story than a number.

15 thoughts on “That Decade I Earned $0”

  • As a physician, I feel similarly about my admittedly great salary. I am definitely earning a lot now, but I spent 16 years in post-secondary education before reaching this point, with most of them unpaid and requiring me to accumulate student loans.

  • Great post, made me reflect. I graduated after getting my bachelors and then went straight to work. I didn’t opt to go get my masters or MBA. That must have tough at times for you, but did you consider looking into ways to get supplemental income or side hustles during this time?

    • I was in university full-time and working 2-3 jobs at any given point on the side, and my mental and physical health was a wreck during law school even at that point. I think taking on additional work would have caused something else to slip.

  • This is such an important piece to take into consideration. Big salaries tend to also come with big time commitments up front for schooling (and usually a lot of money). On the flip side, my career pays reasonably well, but it also only required an undergrad degree to get started.

  • I wish I had your brains 🙂 I was so scared of debt I went off academia but then again I figure that was laziness in there too. Don’t worry about opportunity cost, I feel like your chances for career and salary advancement can eventually balanced out of the time missed.

  • Great post Veronika and scary – but so true – to think of it like not earning anything for a decade. I’m confident that after your meagre decade there will be many affluent “decades of plenty” in front of you. In life, you can invest in human or financial capital. You have frontloaded your life with investments in human capital (e.g. your law and writing skills). Now, your compounded human capital starts producing dividends – which will allow you a faster compounding of financial capital going forward. My background is quite similar (invested in skills for many years before switching to “harvest” mode). Cheerio!

    • Thank you! There will definitely be decades of plenty ahead. I’m looking forward to that break even point where the student loans are paid and the time invested starts paying off!

  • I was going to comment on your post about this on Instagram but somehow got distracted, so here’s an actual comment haha. Essentially yesssssss this is so important! I’ve found myself getting jealous of people’s salaries before (hell, I’ve probably been jealous of yours) without taking into consideration exactly everything that got them to that point. Thanks for the reminder that you hardly ever know the full story!

    • It’s pretty common to have income envy! I’ve been there too – keeping all of the factors in mind helps me stay in my own lane and appreciate how far I’ve come.

  • I assumed you were going to be like me: I had a decade out of the workforce while I raised my boys until the last one was ready for school.
    But yikes! Your student loans are a killer.
    When I did my Bachelors my degree was free. My boys are now wishing our present government was as generous as the one back then!

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