When I was growing up, $100,000 was more than I could comprehend. My parents didn’t have six-figure salary jobs, and we always had orange juice stocked in the fridge (my indicator of wealth as a child). But as I have grown up and entered the career world the search for the “six-figure salary” is omnipresent. Everyone and their dog seem to want a six-figure salary and it makes sense: millennials in the United States are often told we are the “renting generation”, that medical expenses are the highest in the world, social security may run out because of the baby boomers and the newest iPhone is coming out in a few weeks with a predicted price tag over $1,000! A six-figure salary often sounds like the only way to cope with it all.
How much is six-figures?
It can be hard to comprehend what $100,000+ a year breaks down to, let’s so consider it in dollars per hour.
If you work 52 weeks a year, 40 hours a week, that'ss 2080 hours a year. To make $100,000 in that year you would have to make $48.08 an hour. It doesn’t always play out this nicely: there are taxes, the unpaid time you might have to take off, bonuses, overtime and many other factors that might put that number up or down. But for a ballpark, you should look to make $50/hour if you want to make a six-figure salary and work a normal workweek.
$50/hour can sound unachievable, especially at the beginning of your career. The federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour according to the Department of Labor, and the median wage for a full-time worker in the US is $22.50/hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This means that most people in the United States get by with way less than a six-figure-salary. This is encouraging if your motivation for finding a six-figure job was because you thought it was necessary to live comfortably. However, if you wanted a six-figure-salary to have a six-figure salary, this news might be less than encouraging. On the bright side, if you have a partner and you both work, your household income could easily be six-figures without either of you having to earn too much more than the median wage of a full-time worker in the United States.
“Salary,” “income” and “wealth.”
Remember that salary, income, and wealth are related, but very different things. Your salary is how much your primary job pays. Your income is how much money you bring in from all your money-making ventures. And your wealth is how much money or value you have to your name. To have good personal finances and to put yourself in a good financial position for the future, you need to consider all three.
Debt can negatively impact your wealth. So even if you have a six-figure job, if you have a lot of debt, this can eat the salary and leave you in poor financial standing. Through paying your debt off with your income, refinancing, consolidating debt and enrolling in loan forgiveness programs, you can hopefully diminish the negative effect your debt has on your wealth, and you can improve your financial footing. To build your wealth over time, you need to consider your salary as part, but not all, of your income. You can have a job you love but whose salary is shy of the six-figures you desire, if you can boost your income in other ways. Consider a side-hustle, investing or taking on another job part-time if you want your income to go up and increasing your salary isn’t an option.
Many rich people don’t make high salaries despite their giant incomes. Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth is almost 70 billion USD. However, he famously takes a one dollar/year salary. He has a high income; it just primarily comes from his Facebook shares and other investments. While most of us do consider our salary as the primary contributor to our income, the Mark Zuckerberg example is helpful to remember when distinguishing salary from income.
How to make six-figures.
The easiest way to make six-figures is probably through already having money and investing it. But since that makes assumptions and is very risky given the market could go down instead of up, we will stick with earning a six-figure salary. The easiest way to earn a six-figure salary isn’t through finding a job no one has heard of or even going back to school. It’s through finding something you are passionate about. Cliché as it sounds, the things we are passionate about are the ones that we end up being best at, simply because we are willing to work at them.
Think about the jobs that are in demand (medical personnel, programmers or inspectors) and how your passions can fill a niche in those areas. To make a six-figure salary you need a career you can pour passion into and where you can stand out. The majority of people making six-figure salaries today didn’t get six-figures out-the-gate, they worked, gained experience, worked, became more desirable and specialized, worked and over time, were promoted or hired into a high-paying classification. Below are a few, but far from all, jobs that often pay out six-figure salaries.
Six-figure jobs (that don’t require a college degree).
Many people working in networks and IT have college degrees, but it isn’t always necessary. Companies need their networks and everything on them (from computers to printers to alarm systems) to run smoothly, and they will pay a lot of money to ensure this happens. Some networks and IT managers make a huge amount of money just by making sure they have the personnel to fix things when they break.
The world never seems to have enough inspectors as the number of elevators, vehicles and machinery in our lives go up. Inspector positions often require certificates, but applicants can avoid college. The jobs involve staying on top of the current standards, a lot of memorization and arduous repetition, but it is also quite easy to move up in the career and make more and more money as you do.
Public relations managers.
Companies and individuals that have a public image are often willing to spend a lot of money to uphold and improve that image. A public relations manager has to communicate with a wide range of people, present to relevant audiences, evaluate risks and prepare for events. While it doesn’t require a college education, it does require excellent sales-skills and tenacity for working with people all day, every day.
Pilots and air traffic controllers.
Commercial pilots are, of course, very respected and glamorized, potentially getting to fly all over the world and make a lot of money doing it. But other types of piloting, from cargo to corporate, can also bring in high salaries. Likewise, air traffic controllers can easily make over $100,000/year, though you have to decide if you can live with the stress of having potentially high numbers of people’s lives in your hands on a daily basis.
VAs can make a lot of money working from home and picking up a large number of clients or a couple of clients who need a lot of assistance and are willing to pay for it. While college is not required to be a virtual assistant, online courses, especially in virtual assisting, can go a long way to helping you perform effectively and pick up clients.
Really good managers are hard to come by. While there are many people who have snatched great managerial positions thanks to their connections or being with a certain company a long time, sometimes you can squeeze in if you demonstrate that your ability to organize, motivate and coordinate employees is something special.
It doesn’t look like the world is going to slow down on building things, and construction workers are hardly ever out of work. Construction workers with a strong work ethic and who understand hard work, vision and people often become the best construction managers before long.
Many medical professions require college, but radiation therapy often only requires certification. Radiation therapists use radiation to target cancer cells in the body, and given the field and the importance of the work, they are often paid quite well.
From technical writing to speech writing, the salaries that are doled out to writers vary greatly, but with practice (and a few connections) it isn’t unusual for a writer to earn over $100,000/year.
People make six-figures doing many other surprising jobs, from being a skycap to a golf-ball diver, a cargo loader to a bartender. Sometimes tips make all the difference, sometimes it’s knowing the right people, being in the right place at the right time or satisfying a niche. Consider your life, your position and your priorities before you dedicate too much energy to clearing the six-figure mark. Some of the happiest people in my life are those that took lower-paying jobs because they gave them more freedom to rock climb, travel or spend time with their families.