You know, it’s kinda horrifying to pore over job boards and career options, and it dawns on you more and more each time you look at them that you would earn more per hour by just going freelance using the skills you already have than almost any steady job you could get locally, yet that’s the situation I’m in!
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising; in the undisclosed location I call home, I’ve long noticed that everyone who earns much of anything beyond a rather low ceiling owns their own business or is in sales, or sometimes both! Where I live jobs that pay more than $100,000 (or even $80,000…) a year are slim pickings even for those who have credentials and extensive experience, let alone for those without them!
In the nearest major city it’s somewhat better — six-figure jobs are at least available in significant numbers for those with extensive experience and hotshot credentials — but even there opportunities to crack $100,000 a year working a regular job are pretty thin. And the effective ceiling seems to be around $150,000 a year; about twice as high as it is locally, but still rather low. To the extent the odd listing or two from remote high-tech jobs out of San Francisco stick out like a sore thumb when they advertise $300,000 a year salaries; there’s nothing operating out of my city that pays that much to employees.
To business owners and freelancers, on the other hand, it wouldn’t be terribly unusual. Assuming 40 hours a week 50 weeks a year, the hotshot San Franciscan rate of $300,000 a year comes to $150 an hour, and there’s no shortage of service businesses whose owners charge around that much for their labor. Sure, in some cases a lot of that will be taken up by expenses, but not always. For instance, I’m currently working on becoming a ballroom dance instructor (an obvious business for me to enter, since I like teaching people and it’s a skill I already have), and for a standard-issue freelance teacher with just a few years of experience rates ranging from $70 to $110 for a 45-minute session are the norm in my area; floor rent for the venue they’re giving a lesson in will suck up maybe 20% of that rate, tops.
$110 isn’t the ceiling, either; if you amass experience and skill substantially in excess of the norm you can charge $200 an hour; that’s the going rate for a standard-issue coach in the upper echelons of the field. $300 or $400 an hour isn’t unheard of, but about the only people who can charge that are nationally famous, world champions, and so forth, i.e. exceptional individuals, so I’d say the effective ceiling is in the neighborhood of $200 an hour.
$100 an hour full-time (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year) works out to $200,000 a year, $200 an hour $400,000 a year. Wow. The catch (there’s always a catch…) is that the amount of work available tends to fall short of full-time. Not that far short, though; I see plenty of standard-issue ballroom instructors who seem to work about half-time, which at $100 an hour equals $100,000 a year. I’ve noticed those in the upper echelons tend to have very busy schedules, taking on as much work as they please.
A Path for Me!
Those triple-digit hourly rates are both motivation and inspiration for me; not just in ballroom dance, but in a few other ideas and dreams that have come to me, which together might form the equivalent of a full-time job and income even if any single business falls short. Call it the $100 rule: a career has to pay at least that much per hour for it to be worth my time to pursue it. Psychologically, $100 an hour seems to roughly be the point where my whole being goes from “blech” to “let’s do this!” when it comes to labor.
Easy for me to say, since I could live, and indeed have lived, off my stock portfolio alone for a long time, a privilege most people don’t have. Yet consider this: look around at the service businesses around you that charge $100 an hour or more. Look at the sort of skill, experience, training, and education their owners had to go through to get there: in many, many cases it doesn’t amount to that much. Indeed, in a lot of these fields one nets more as a relative rookie than one ever will at many regular careers even with decades of experience.
A Way to make the Benchmark?
When it comes to hustling many think of the likes of driving for Lyft or shopping for Instacart, but these sort of gigs pay $10 to $20 an hour. All told that’s actually better than the bottom quarter or so of the regular job market (especially considering you can, unlike a regular job, choose your own hours), and many people do need that money; it’s a great thing such opportunities exist for people. But really, hustling at such tasks for your whole life, the path, whether it be a regular job or a business, so many fall into by happenstance, is a loser’s trick: your sights should be set on the sorts of labor that pay ten times that much: $100 to $200 an hour. Chances are that’s going to come from making your own job, not working for someone else.
In my post “No Escape for the Cheap” I figured the benchmark you should shoot for in terms of early-life career ambition, namely being able to the median apartment in any city of your choice, is between $117,000 and $159,000 a year. To afford the median house it’s up to $421,000 a year (!). Assuming you’re working full-time the lowest of these figures comes to $58 an hour, the highest $210 an hour. The self-employed-skilled-labor level of pay discussed here falls comfortably within that range. As I hinted at in that post, going to work for yourself, or at least getting into a high-rolling commission sales job (e.g. real estate), is the best shot most people have. In this regard I might actually be typical of the general population, surprisingly enough.
Expanding my Budget
I know it’s a bit silly, but just to visualize what that level of income means for a person, I’m thinking $100 an hour full-time; that’s $800 a day, $4000 a week, $16000 a month. So many ways of living would open up for me with an extra $16000 a month it almost boggles my mind. I could fly to Europe first-class and spend a week in a luxury hotel every single month (or charter a private jet to Europe every year or two, spending a month at my destination) and still have like $6000 a month left over to squirrel away into my stock portfolio. I could buy myself an exotic ultra-luxury car and easily afford the payments. Want a pied-à-terre in the big city? I could qualify to rent any property up to $4800 a month. That’s starting to get into the range of apartments I actually like!
Admittedly I couldn’t do all those things simultaneously, but those are some of the possibilities that would open up to me if I just go further along the track I’m on right now and prove successful at it. I could splurge considerably more than most of these $100 an hour freelancers because my basic expenses are covered; I’m already in the “leanFIRE” demographic financially, the only problem is I need extra money to support my chosen lifestyle.
On one hand this means that I’m in an awkward spot: I’m comfortable enough to not need to work stricto sensu but still uncomfortable enough to need to work to get anything nice that I’d actually like. Hence my personal $100 an hour rule of thumb: go big or go home. On the other hand, it also means that any money I do earn from working is purely extra; it’s not going toward child care, a mortgage, or some such. So I could live considerably more richly than my annual earnings would suggest.
Investing that $100 an Hour: toward the Golden Triangle?
It’s also worth noting that I’m not going to be spending all or even most of my earnings immediately; a lot of those $100 bills are going to be invested aggressively (a lot of the spending will be in the form of margin loans anyway, meaning that spending money will stay invested). If it’s a secular bull market my leveraged strategy will grow $100 into $10,000 over the course of a decade; even if it’s not such a bull market, over the long haul (20-30 years or more) growth will still average out to 20% a year or so (I’ve backtested it!).
If you invested $16,000 a month into TQQQ (3:1 leveraged Nasdaq 100) starting in 2010 your account would have grown to $27 million by today; $66 million at the recent market top. Well, at that point your $200,000 a year business income would barely even matter, as you would have entered the upper class and be well on track to becoming a billionaire by old age, but it does illustrate that as lucrative as one side of what I might call the golden triangle can be — high wages, high savings, and high returns — having all three working for you is powerful.
Here I focused on the high wages side of the golden triangle. One cannot simply will a $100 an hour job or business into existence — if it were that easy everybody would do it — but I hope this post helps you realize faster than I did the level of thinking that’s really required to get anywhere in life: you need to stop fretting about how you’re going to win the scrap of going from $25 to $30 an hour, and start brainstorming a path that’ll pay you $100 an hour in the near future. There’s nothing like eschewing anything that pays under triple-digit wages to help you weed out the dead ends and loser’s tracks, and really help you zero in on the career and business options you should be pursuing. It’s already helped me; chances are it’ll help you too.