Peak Earnings- How to Grow your Income when your Salary is Maxed Out

Shmarya Rosengold felt queasy and trapped. A review of the family accounts showed that although his and wife’s income had risen considerably over the past few years, it still wasn’t enough. Worse, at this point he knew that, bderech hatevah, they had almost peaked salary-wise. The $120,000 he earned as a staff accountant combined with his wife’s $40,000 as a part-time office manager was about where they’d max out. After taxes, that didn’t even cover their modest housing, tuition, and other very basic needs, forget about saving for the future or small luxuries.

With seemingly no way to increase their earnings, how can the Rosengolds make ends meet?

Scary Awareness

A painful reality settles in at some point for many couples. There’s an initial shock when leaving kollel or klei kodesh often causes a drop in financial security. Adding another taxable salary generally means that family support, communal assistance, and government safety nets fall away. But the next shock hits a few years further down the line because even after hitting peak earnings, many jobs don’t pay enough to cover all the bills a typical frum family faces. Even well-credentialed, savvy employees working as accountants, therapists, programmers, administrators, etc. will usually bump into salary ceilings, which, though relatively high, are not high enough.

What am I Doing Wrong?

Often, people who hit this stage ask themselves what they are doing wrong. Everyone else seems to be doing fine or even very well, while they live simply and work hard at well-paying jobs and still don’t make it.

So, what’s going on? The answer, often, is life. Even though the average frum couple is earning well above median household incomes, our cost of living is much higher too. Between large families, tuition, kosher food, and being located in expensive localities, frum life comes with extra financial challenges. Even people who do everything right can feel constantly strapped for cash.

I don’t want to belabor the challenge of middle-class parnassah pressures here. We’ve touched on the topic before, and most people are well aware that a low six-figure income isn’t much for a full-size family. The question is, what can someone do about it?

Moving up the Ladder

Often, the top incomes are reserved for those who can actually bring in new business directly by finding clients, securing deals, and the like. It’s possible that a staff accountant can network and brand themselves in such a way where firm revenue is clearly based on their presence.

Those who bring in clients and deals to companies are often referred to as rainmakers. I don’t like the arrogance and pagan origin embedded in that word, so we’ll use rainhelpers instead. A firm’s rainhelpers command much higher incomes or even get offered a partnership stake. Some rainhelpers do sales all day, while others are professionals but due to their expertise, networks, and public profiles, control revenue and are rewarded with a good chunk of that. Otherwise, they move out to the competition or open their own firms. Either way, learning how to bring in and retain clients or make the firm more money is a good way to boost income.

Side Hustles

But what about those who aren’t schmoozers or otherwise don’t have realistic pathways to capture client revenues? When someone has reached their max income potential in one space, they may be able to open a side hustle to at least cover the shortfalls that the primary job leave. Side hustles run the gamut from doing freelance work to teaching a course to opening a small business around a hobby to seeking real estate deals to making equity connections and on and on. Side hustles especially make sense for those with typical nine-to-five jobs; there’s often room to build something solid on the side over nights and weekends.

Not Hishtadlus?

Years ago, a fellow who was struggling with parnassah told me that doing a certain act was surely not part of his chiyuv hishtadlus. I didn’t say so at the time, but I was wondering, How is he so confident? How to balance bitachon and hishtadlus is one of the hardest questions of all, and over the generations, even very pious jews often worked very hard under difficult conditions to eke out a living. Just because something is uncomfortable and time-consuming doesn’t mean it’s not included in hishtadlus. Too much, too little, or just right? We need to seek rabbinical guidance on where the proper balance lies.

Needs or Wants

We may also need to consider what parnassah really means. “Posei’ach es yadecha u’masbia l’chol chai ratzon” means Hashem provides sustenance to all creatures. So why are so many people experiencing ongoing financial shortfalls despite an overabundance of sweat (b’zei’as apecha)? A talmid chacham once explained that the parnassah that Hashem guarantees all creatures is living basics, not luxuries. And although the definition of living basics surely varies, we can’t assume that Hashem guarantees us whatever we decide is a must-have.

Communal Soul-Searching

Living standards are very much influenced communally, so certain things are beyond any one family’s control. I’m definitely not pointing fingers at people doing their best to pay the bills while living within communal norms. But as a community, perhaps we need to think more deeply about how we collectively are driving up standards and cost of living for each other. This stuff is way over my pay grade, but it’s something to think about.

Want to dig deeper?

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