Bullish: How To Ask for More Money, Part II

I want to start by saying that, even if you don’t care about money, you should care about money.

If it felt a little dirty or weird for you to even click on the link to read an article about asking for more money, I really want you to get over that.

I’m convinced that many fewer men than women have that feeling. Many elderly widows wished they’d learned more about money before they got to the point where they’re hoping they don’t outlive their own savings (I love math, but how sad a use of math is that?)

It is not selfish, greedy, or evil to want more money. Wanting more money is smart, ambitious, responsible, and caring. I wrote about the social and altruistic benefits of wealth in Bullish: Actually, We’re All Kind of the 1%. Specifically, at some point, someone you love will almost certainly get cancer. Having money allows you do to things like buy your family member’s groceries during a tough time, or take time off work to care for that person yourself.

Furthermore, asking for more money is important for feminism. Every time you should and you don’t, you reinforce the idea that women just don’t care about these things that much; every time you ask, you help normalize the idea that women want to get paid fairly — or at the highest rate the market will bear — for their work.

So, I wanted to get that out of the way.

You need to maximize your earnings, and the longer you wait, the more your laxity will hurt you. If you make $5,000 per year less than you should be making, and all your future raises are based on today’s figure, you’re $5,000 per year behind, for life. $5,000 per year for 40 years is $200,000, and that doesn’t even remotely account for compounding.

In last week’s How to Ask for More Money, Part I, I suggested some less combative negotiating tactics, thinking about providing for your future self and possibly your future family, and straight-up lying (my position: there’s nothing wrong with lying in response to personal questions when the question was none of anybody’s business anyway).

This talk about asking for money has hit a nerve: I’ve received quite a few questions! I’ll do my best with those next week. For now, some more ideas for maximizing your income.

Gifts from Brooklyn, Not Billionaires


Work with rich people and capitalists.

Even if you hate the rich, wouldn’t you rather that you have their money? (And I don’t think you should hate all rich people, as I’ve written in many other columns; it is a self-defeating posture.)

In Bullish: How to Make Money From Being Hip as All Fucking Hell, I answered a question from a circus photographer who was having a hard time charging for her work, because circus folk both make very little money and also often don’t believe in capitalism.

The best way to get paid is to work for people who really believe in capitalism, and to make a bunch of money for them. And then they give you a bunch of it, or else you’ll go elsewhere and they’ll stop making money off of you.

Or, more simply, make life easier for the very rich. Help them make more money (and enjoy their money more) by taking something off their plate and requiring as little maintenance as possible from them. Then raise your rates every so often, and busy rich people will typically pay your increased fees rather than switch to someone new who they don’t trust.

Working for wealthy people who believe in making money is often much, much easier and much, much more lucrative than working for less wealthy people who are ambivalent about the very idea of money as a means of exchanging goods and services.

If you are broke and artsy, don’t start businesses where your customers are all people like you.
Not only will rich people pay you more money with less guilt and wheedling, they will be amazed by all the skills that your artsy friends think are par for the course.

All of my broke, artsy friends know dozens of burlesque dancers, jugglers, trapeze artists, and comedians, as well as photographers who photograph and artists who draw all of the above. Most wealthy people I know got wealthy by not knowing any of those types of people; when they hear I’ve done standup, they often respond, “Oh my god, you’re so brave.” And when you tell a guy who gets six-figure bonuses that you charge $100 an hour or $2,000 per photoshoot or whatnot, they often shrug and think: “Well, I guess that’s about what I would charge.”

We simply do not live in a world in which the hardest things pay the most. As a teacher, I have offered my services for free to kids who need it, and for insane amounts of money to wealthy families. The wealthy are much easier to work with, without exception. Literally every time I’ve offered my services pro bono, I’ve been given fantastically more bullshit than when I’ve offered my services for money. It’s shocking! I say, “I am a badass and I know how to beat all the tests,” and wealthy people say, “Let’s go.” I say, “I am a badass but also a nice person and I will not only teach this adult literacy class for free, but convince someone I know to give us free classroom space,” and I get asked for a proposal, or a volunteer responds to me in a weird, jealous way, and then no one gets back to me. (See Bullish: How to Win When the Workplace Runs on Feelings.)


I’m not saying it isn’t worth doing all the hard, unlucrative do-gooding. But maybe that shouldn’t be a primary career. It’s hard to help others when you’re burnt out, full of resentment, and have no reliable access to dental care. Maybe you need multiple income streams.

If you are a salaried employee for a company where things are tight, don’t fall for guilt trips. Are you sure you’re “all in this together”? Or is that the line they feed to the more gullible, guilt-and-sacrifice-prone (young, female) employees?

Maybe if things are tight at your company, you need to go work for that company’s competitor. That’s not wrong. The system of capitalism only makes any sense when companies freely compete in the marketplace, thus driving down prices and providing better quality for the consumer, and providing options for working people like yourself.

(See also Bullish: How to Run Your Career Like a Business.)

Play different income streams off each other

Having multiple income streams can have a compounding effect on your income.

Oftentimes, I’ve been in the position of quoting a price for a service so unusual that no one has any idea what the price should be — and which, possibly, other artsy-types would agree to do for free. For instance, being a comedian hired to roast someone at a party, or (I really did this one) running a math tournament in a mall.

If you just have to pull a rate out of your ass, be prepared with some kind of line. When you say “$350” and someone raises an eyebrow, you say, “That’s my evening rate,” or “With prep and travel, that works out to about $75 an hour, which is what I charge.” Strongly imply that that’s what everyone pays.

But if you have other income streams, it’s not hard to play them off each other.

For instance, “My rate as a film editor is $75 per hour. I know you don’t have the same kind of budget as a movie production, but I really can’t take a pay cut in order to teach your kid French.”

When it came time to give a price to run a math tournament in a mall, I gave a pretty high number.

I got, “Hmmn, that’s kind of a lot.” I told the organizer what I made for an evening of private tutoring, and explained that, since I wouldn’t be able to tutor on math tournament nights, I’d need to get paid at least as much, or I’d be losing money. The response? “Oh, that makes sense. Of course.”

I’ve never had anyone continue to argue after, “I can’t lose money to work for you, of course.” What are they going to say? “Yes, you should”? At least that would make it easy to avoid working for total assholes.

(See this column for more on the principle that you cannot do business with sleazy people without getting some sleaze on you.)

Get compensated in resources other than money

If much of your client base consists of businesses that have no money – or if your employer is an undercapitalized small business or underfunded nonprofit – ask yourself what resources you can get paid in other than money (and then figure out how to turn those resources into money).

Having some non-monetary forms of payment on your wish list also allows you to save face if you can’t get the money you want.

After teaching an after-school program at a nonprofit school that provides free programs to underprivileged kids, I had a stroke of inspiration: Does the school have extra space during the summer?

As it turns out: Why yes, they do. Would they be open to my using their space for free, to teach classes I charge money for, in exchange for their own students being able to attend for free? Why, yes! When would I like to do that? Organizations that would have a hard time scraping together a couple hundred bucks to pay you often have other resources (like space, or mailing lists, or volunteers, or access to powerful people).

Writing for a magazine that doesn’t pay? Start a side business, and ask to get paid in free ad space. Freelancing for a company that can’t afford to pay you more? Maybe they have an unused desk and phone line in their office that they’d be happy to offer.


In a traditional position, you can always try negotiating for perks: working from home, working remotely a few weeks out of the year from an exotic foreign locale (an easier sell if you have family abroad), attending conferences on company funds, unconventional work hours.

A journalist I know (there’s so little money left in journalism) negotiated a nice book leave for himself: months off with no pay but continued benefits, and a job waiting when he finishes.

(See Bullish: This Year’s Most Aggressive Lady-Advice.)

Try my magic line

Here is my magic line: “It would be illogical [for me to do the thing that pays less money].”

Any line that was about to begin, “I feel like…,” just replace with, “It would be illogical….” For example:

Boss: I understand that you would like to be paid more for your work here, but we really don’t have it in the budget right now, and none of your coworkers are making that much.

You: I see that you’re in a difficult spot, and I don’t want anyone else’s toes stepped on. But my position is that, while I love working here, I have a lot of contacts at Other Company who are always asking me to jump ship, and I could easily make 10% more there. So, it would be illogical just to sit on that, rather than come to you with this and try to work it out.

The “it would be illogical” strategy puts anyone trying to argue you into accepting less money in the position of either acknowledging that their request is illogical, or else appealing to feelings. Few men — or women cognizant of lady-stereotypes — want to be reduced to appealing to feelings.

What’s that boss going to say? Either, “I see your point (because I am also logical),” or “How dare you stab me in the back with your money-grubbing requests! This really hurts me deep in my special-snowflake place!”

Obviously, there are plenty of other things someone could say, but something closer to the former is a lot more likely than something closer to the latter.

Moving forward…

Next week, we’ll have a Q&A on asking for more money. I’ll do my best with some tough situations.

I also hope you’re persuaded that this applies to you, even if money is hardly your top priority.

A decade ago, I walked around feeling vulnerable all the time, knowing one emergency could ruin me. I’ve since raised my income by about 30% per year over about the past 8 years, which allows me to walk around all day feeling like no one can fuck me over, because I can just walk away.

(See Bullish: Are You Under-Reinvesting In Your Career? and Bullish: Save Up an Emergency Fund But Be the Kind of Person Who Never Needs One.)

Money has also made me a nicer person. Because I’m not constantly on guard for my own sake, I have all kinds of mental space left over to think about others.

Money gives you options and freedom.

Your future self, if she wants, can always donate all your money to charity. For $75,000, you can build a school in Ethiopia. You could go on the Kickstarter of the future and become the patron of many fabulous and world-changing projects. I’m saying that there’s no way your future self is going to be like, “Look at all this stupid money I didn’t want.”

If you’re embarrassed to ask for more money, don’t imagine yourself in front of your boss, feeling awkward. Don’t imagine your boss naked, either; I think that’s a myth (and who wants to think about genitals on the office upholstery?)

Instead, imagine yourself in front of your 45-year-old future self, trying to explain to her why you screwed her over so fucking bad. What, because you were too shy or lazy to negotiate? Now that’s embarrassing.

originally published on The Grindstone

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