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Your Income Is Not an Extra

We need to talk about your income.

During the just-completed coaching sessions for my Master Your Money Mindset Course, three women said something striking to me. Let’s call the ladies Brenda, Joanne, and Susan.

Susan is a stay-at-home mom whose children are now old enough that she wants to figure out what her next steps are. She feels unfulfilled. She stopped working when she became a mom because, according to her, “I didn’t need to work. My husband earns a large salary and we don’t need the money.”

Joanne is currently a salaried employee, but in her heart she’s an entrepreneur. Several years ago, she ran a well-regarded business and won a prestigious award for high achievement at a young age. There was just one problem: She didn’t know how to manage the finances. As a result, she went bankrupt, which caused her to feel deep shame.

When Joanne started to explore her pattern of financial failure – just as she starts to make “real” money, she ends up in the hole – she discovered something interesting. “I grew up in a household where my father was the main earner. My mother worked, but it was for extras. I realized that the message for me is that when women earn money, it’s for extras. Women don’t earn larger amounts of money.”

Brenda is self-employed and, by her own description, she “does OK.” However, she feels that her financial thermostat is stuck at its current level of “just doing OK”.

She feels conflicted about striving for more. “Let’s face it; we don’t need the money. My husband earns a great salary and I pay for fun extras, like trips. We already have a lot. It feels greedy to want more.”

I’m sharing these three stories with you because they tie into a fundamental limiting belief that plagues a lot of women just like you, if these situations resonate with you.

At their core, these issues are about the value you place on the money you make and your view of your position in the money-making picture.

Are you an extra?

In the 1950’s, the social norm was that the husband worked outside the house, and the wife stayed home to run the Family HQ and take care of the children. This separation of tasks predates the 1950’s by a long shot; but by then, it was entrenched in peoples’ psyches.

Men are the earners, women are the caregivers.

When women ventured outside the home to make money, it was typically as an add-on to the main source of income – the man’s income.

It was extra income to pay for extras.

That’s a whole lot of thinking like an “extra”.

And where are we now, sixty years later?

We’re still stuck thinking of ourselves as extras in the game of earning money.

We are not the star of our own show (i.e. our life); we’re the extra. If we had a title, it would be Head of Extras.

What do you think of that title?

Were you put on this planet for that? To add a few extras?

Hell no!

You are here to share your gifts, skills, abilities, and talents with the world to the highest extent possible and to receive the highest possible level of abundance in return, whatever that means to you.

You were meant for a hell of a lot more than extras.

Here’s a question for you: How can you expect to grow your wealth and achieve your financial goals if, subconsciously and/or consciously, you’re sending yourself the message that your earnings are not as valuable as your partner’s?

Or, that you don’t “need the money”?

Give away your time or focus on earning a bit for extras if you choose to; but don’t for a second get sucked in by the limiting belief, “We don’t need the money” or “Men earn the real money; I earn money to pay for the extras.”

It’s not the 50’s anymore. We’re sending that era back where it belongs – relegated to the history books.

Why you need the money

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and present five reasons you need to make your own fulfilling income. And why it’s about so much more than the money.

1. It’s about Protection

Every woman who does not have her own strong, stable source of income is vulnerable. Sure, your spouse may earn a mitt full of cash, but if something happens to him or to your relationship (e.g. illness, divorce, death), you are on your own to navigate your finances.

Major traumatic events are hard enough on their own, but they become downright crushing if you also have to deal with figuring out your income, how to manage money, and your financial future at the same time.

I speak from experience here.

My book, Protect Your Purse, Shared Lessons for Women, presents my own story of having the rug pulled out from under me, leaving me widowed and $400,000 in debt, as well as the stories of dozens of other women who faced a range of traumas. The biggest factor that made everything worse was a lack of money.

And, nobody saw the trauma coming. Not one woman I interviewed.

You need your own income.

No one knows what the future holds. One of the smartest things you can do for yourself is build a strong source of income and learn to manage money well.

2. The message you’re conveying

When you view your income as less important or less vital than your partner’s, you perpetuate the message that a man’s income matters a great deal. A woman’s income? Not so much.

Think about the ripple effects of this harmful belief.

Consequence: It’s easier to justify paying a woman less than a man for the same job if “it matters more for the man.” If his income is more important, then it’s not a big deal that a woman earns less.

Are you mad yet?

If you have a daughter, would you be comfortable sitting her down and saying to her, “How much you earn doesn’t matter as much as how much your brother earns. Just focus on earning a bit for extras. He’ll focus on earning a good living.”

I have two daughters and it galls me to even think about that message to them.

Is that really the message we want to send to our daughters, sisters, mothers, and girlfriends?

It’s the sort of message that I heard, directly and indirectly, throughout my childhood. “Men have families to feed.” As if the women didn’t have those same families to feed. As if the women’s money-making efforts were less vital.

When you treat your earnings as crucial for you, you send a message to yourself, to your daughter(s), to the men in your life, and to the universe that the money you bring in is as important as anyone else’s earnings.

Either we are equal in all respects or we are not. There is no middle ground on this one.

3. Your confidence and self-worth

It is certainly true that your self-worth is not defined by your net worth; but it is also true that for a lot of women, the ability to be paid well for work they do plays a huge role in how they feel about themselves.

Under-earning, or not earning anything at all, affects their sense of self-worth; their sense of contribution. Those women feel “less than.” They frame their contributions as less important and, in turn, they think of themselves as less important.

The result is a nasty, self-perpetuating loop.

When you build a strong source of income, you grow your self-confidence in the process. Making good money for your contributions, your services, and your work, helps to build your feelings of self-worth.

It’s about validation and development of self.

That’s not the whole picture, but it’s an important aspect that cannot be dismissed.

4. The power of choice

Money doesn’t give you power; it gives you options.

It gives you the power to choose whether or not to stay in a marriage.

It allows you to select the best educational path for yourself and your children.

You can select the most effective medical treatments to keep you all healthy; not just the ones you can afford.

Opportunities to travel, explore, and grow.

The chance to make a difference in the lives of many more people (more on this in a moment).

The freedom to choose where you live and the work you do.

Want to give a woman the best gift ever? Give her the gift of having options in her life.

Having your own strong income goes a long way to providing just that. It’s not the whole answer, but it’s a hell of a start.

5. It’s about greater impact

The more money you make, the more people you can help.

It really is that simple.

Those who say that wanting more money makes you a greedy person are simply putting their own limiting beliefs on display.

If a man were to say that he wants to earn more money, would you think that he’s greedy? Not likely. You’d probably describe him as ambitious, driven.

Why, then, would you think you’re greedy when you, a woman, want to earn more money?

It’s time to part ways with this destructive belief. It’s like an unwanted file that has parked itself in your brain’s hardware. 


All the single ladies

My friend Katie had a great question for me: What about all the single ladies? How does this affect them?

All of the limiting beliefs I’ve described above apply to you, too, if you’re a single gal.

You may not be in a position to say, “I don’t need to work because my partner’s income is sufficient”, but you are just as apt to be affected by negative money scripts that make you feel unworthy or greedy for wanting to earn more.

You, too, may find yourself in the all-too-common category of female under-earners. It’s worth taking a moment to explore your beliefs about your income and about making money in general.

If, on the other hand, you’re happy with your current income and you feel fulfilled, that’s awesome. There’s nothing for you in this post.

Back to our three ladies

I suggested to Susan that she set aside any thoughts about her family’s financial situation and simply ask, “What do I want to do? What would make me feel fulfilled? Do I want to work? If so, what work would make me happy?” Then do it, without justification. You don’t ever need to justify your desire to work.

Going back to work may disrupt the comfortable family routine. So be it. Her spouse and her now-old-enough children will adapt, just as they adapted to having her be there to meet their every need.

Steadman Graham is Oprah’s long-time partner. He didn’t throw up his hands years ago and say, “You know what? My partner’s worth billions. I don’t need to work.”

Mr. Graham is a successful business man. He does his own, fulfilling work because he’s clear on who he is, what his goals are, and why he’s here. He doesn’t angst about greed or any other limiting beliefs.

There’s a great message in there for women: Figure out who you are, be yourself, and fulfill your desires. You are worth it.

Joanne, for her part, needs to internalize the belief that the money she makes is vitally important to her, in any amount that she chooses. She’s not making money to pay for extras. She’s sharing her enormous talents with the world and she deserves every bit of abundance that comes with that. The sky is the limit, if she chooses so.

And that’s just it: she gets to choose. The old money scripts from her past belong to someone else. It’s time she redefined those scripts to fulfill her goals and dreams. No apologies.

By now, you probably know what I said to Brenda: Let go of the limiting scripts from the past that tie making money to greed. Make as much money as you want, without apologies or justification.

Because the money you make is vital for reasons that go far beyond the money.

And because you deserve it.

There is no better reason than that.

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7 Responses

  1. Thanks Doris! This one resonates with me and I appreciate all your work, knowledge and advice. I am getting anxious now to get settled in Victoria to figure out what I want. Now that I know I WANT to work.

    1. That’s awesome, Stacy! I’m delighted to hear that you have clarity on that. I’ll be cheering you on from the sidelines!

      Thanks for popping by and sharing your thoughts. Safe travels.

  2. Hi Doris!

    Thank you for posting this! I LOVED it and have shared it with my mom as her situation is similar to *Susan’s* and reason number 3 (lack of confidence and self-worth) is exactly what I see! And yes, single ladies are impacted because money scripts come from childhood memories usually involving parents/guardians and their roles. KEEP WRITING!!!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Sydney! I’m glad my post resonated with you. I hope your mom finds something in there for her, too.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and encouragement. I appreciate it! And yes, I will keep writing. 🙂

  3. Women continue to be held to a lower standard. Earning a solid income is an option for married women but is an absolute requirement for a married man.

    1. Paul, I’d like to understand what you’re trying to say here before I comment on this bit: “Women continue to be held to a lower standard.” By whom? Are you referring to societal expectations? And what’s the standard you’re referring to?

      I disagree with your suggestion that earning a “solid” income is optional for married women, but not for men. That ignores my primary argument in this post. Restrictive societal norms have led many to believe that this is the case. A commonly-held belief is not necessarily true.

      From a strictly economic perspective, living on a single income may be an option for some couples, but in those instances, it is not the case that the man must always be the earner. I get that men may feel pressured to be the main earner, but there’s no imperative.

      Just as I’m working hard to break down financial barriers for women and close the wealth gap between the sexes, I think it’s equally important for men to advocate for the option of not earning an income and taking care of the household, if they choose to. And there’s the rub: it must be their choice.

      1. Women consider a man without a job undatable. But there are plenty of married women who don’t earn an income. That’s the lower standard.

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