How to Make $80,000 a Year at Age 23

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For most people who become impressively wealthy, they start their own business. They spend years and years building something from the ground up and retain majority ownership of a profitable business. This is the most common route to making millions. But there’s a reason not everyone can do it. It takes a significant amount of time, energy and sacrifice.

For me, I’m not looking to become a multi-millionaire. I’m not looking to be part of the 1%.

My financial goal is very specific: I want enough passive income to live life on my terms. I probably don’t even need $1 million to make this happen. Since I’m only 23, technically I could start a business, but there’s no guarantee I would make money from it and the time horizon on when I would make money is unknown. The most surefire way for me to start earning a significant amount of money now is to get a high-paying job. 

So that’s what I’ve done.

Yesterday I started my new job as a data analyst. My base salary is $80,000 not including benefits. It’s not an astronomically high salary, but it’s above average for most 23 year-olds. 

Here are some important steps that helped me land this high-paying job:

I majored in a high-paying field

As an undergraduate student, I chose to major in statistics. I chose this field because I enjoy working with numbers (can you tell by all the grids I make?) and thinking about solutions to problems in terms of formulas. But along with that, the highest paid professionals tend to have engineering, math/stats, or computer science degrees. So I was setting myself up for a well-paid position out of college.

Next, I completed a program that offered a 1-year master’s degree in applied statistics. Having a master’s degree was incredibly helpful in terms of the potential job opportunities it opened up.

Statistics is also an incredibly niche field. Very few people hold statistics degrees. In my graduate classes there were typically only 4-6 students. Because of this, a stats degree stands out on a resume. It also helps create a demand for statistics tutors, which I have found to be a lucrative side hustle

Also, I figured if I have to work for someone else, I might as well get paid decently for it. I’m borrowing (stealing) this idea from Ty at Get Rich Quickish, whose dad told him: 

“One way or another you’re going to work hard for a living.  You might as well get paid well for it.”

I love that quote because it holds so much truth. A huge majority of us will have to work a 9-5 at least for a while in our lives to build up our finances. We might as well get paid well for it.

I learned useful skills outside of my classes

Picking a high-paying major doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job offer. Unfortunately, the curriculum taught in college classes isn’t always transferable to real jobs. For example, at my college we were taught entirely with a programming language called SAS, which used to be wildly popular in the field of statistics/data science but has quickly become outdated in recent years due to open-source software languages such as “R”. 

As I began looking around for employers near my college, I noticed that almost all of them were looking for students who knew how to program using R. So I went to my local library and rented the three books they had on R. I learned the ins and outs of the programming language so I could comfortably place it on my resume.

I worked on my own projects outside of class

Towards the end of my undergraduate years, I decided to build a statistics educational website completely from scratch. It took about 4 months and I worked on it during my free time in between classes. I learned HTML, CSS, and Javascript to build the website, all of which are programming languages I also placed on my resume. 

Last month when I interviewed with the company I work for now, I was able to show them the website I had built and explain how I made it completely on my own time. I’m sure this was another point on my resume that helped differentiate me from the competition. 

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to college students looking to set themselves apart from the competition is this: work on your own projects outside of classes to showcase your skills.

It doesn’t even matter what your major is, you can make a simple site with WordPress to highlight your photography skills, or showcase projects you’ve worked on, or show examples of code you’ve written. This is guaranteed to impress a potential employer and give you a leg up on your peers.

I improved my interviewing skills

In addition to all of this, I worked to improve my interviewing skills. Using advice from my older brother, looking up random “How to get better at interviewing” questions on Quora, and watching videos from Ramit Sethi, I was able to pick up some useful interviewing tips and tricks.

The best tip I learned was this: don’t talk about how much you love statistics or how you’re passionate about it, but instead tell your potential employer how you can add value to them. Employers don’t care if you’re passionate. They care if you can help them achieve their goals. In my interview last month I made sure to emphasize all the value I could bring them and how I could improve their processes. 

I also joined Toastmasters for several months, which is a group that meets once a month to practice public speaking and improve communication skills. This was a huge help to me because it allowed me to get comfortable speaking in front of a group of people. There are Toastmasters groups all over the world in nearly every city; I recommend most college students join a group.

Nobody Cares If You Fail

Lastly, I finally realized that nobody cares if I fail. Nobody is tracking my failures. This has given me courage to apply to multiple jobs, some of which I was under-qualified for, but I didn’t care because if I failed it literally didn’t matter. Worst case scenario when you fail as a young person: you gain experience. 

I used to think the whole world was quietly watching me, waiting for me to fail, to try something new and fall flat on my face. But over the past couple years I have had the beautiful realization that everyone is too concerned with their own pitfalls to care about mine.

Also, only successes count. When people look at my LinkedIn profile and see “Data Analyst for Corporation X”, they don’t see “This kid also got turned down by 10 other companies” right below it. Nobody knows about all my failures. So I might as well go out there and try, try, and try because eventually I’ll stumble upon success.

It’s Not About the Money…But I Need it to Get Where I’m Going

By itself, my salary means nothing. I couldn’t care less about the actual dollar amount I get paid. I only care about what the money will allow me to do. I’m trying to stack up as much cash as possible while I’m young so I can use it to craft my ideal life. I only care about having a high-paying job because I want to gain freedom as soon as possible.

I don’t have a desire to be the worlds greatest data analyst or the highest-paid young person. I don’t want wealth to buy a huge house or flex on instagram in a new car. I just want to save up enough money to travel, spend more time with people I love, and work on projects that make an impact on people. To do these things, I need savings. I need passive income.

I’m glad I have a high-paying job, not for the money itself, but for the freedom it will buy me in the future.


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14 Replies to “How to Make $80,000 a Year at Age 23”

  1. Great job and congrats on the high paying job! This will open a lot of doors, both for saving/investing and for spending if you don’t keep it in check, but you have a good perspective and plan. Invest early and often… good luck!

  2. Isn’t it crazy how simple the formula is for a high salary? It’s funny though, because so many of us don’t follow it. I was able to get a pretty well-paying gig thanks to teaching myself skills like coding and SEO, which are juicy skills for marketers these days. I majored in marketing so I could switch industries if the industry I was working in went belly-up (I guess that’s the result of growing up during the Recession, eh?)

  3. One of the best ways to build skills outside of classes is to intern during the summers. I made good money as a summer engineering intern, secured a high pay permanent job offer where I interned and eventually ended up running the company and retiring a little early.

    1. Summer internships are fantastic ways to gain both experience and earn above minimum wage while you’re young. It also gives you a one-up on the competition since not all young people have internship experience. Congrats on your success and early retirement as well 🙂

  4. I love this post. This is exactly where we’re trying to go with our life. Although I really wish I read this when I was younger. I’m 25..wait 26 now and you’re definitely years ahead of most people.

    When I was 23 I was bringing in 40 base, 60K (including bonuses) and I was living in San Francisco. At 80K for a 23 year old is where my husband started and he’s doing 200K+ in his late 20s so your goals for passive income are well within reach. I’m impressed!!

    1. Lily, thanks so much for the kind words! I’m definitely blessed to have stumbled upon the F.I. community while I was young because I’m able to get a jump start on my financial journey before most people I know.

      It’s encouraging to hear your husband was able to ramp up his income so quickly in his 20’s as well, I hope to follow a similar path. It sounds like you both are setting yourselves up for F.I. potentially at an early age. Best of luck on your journey and keep in touch 🙂

  5. Great suggestions on skill acquiring and interviewing. And who cares about the failures. Just accept and LEARN from them. Congrats on the new position and I wish you much success!

  6. That is a good attitude to have regarding money. Something to keep in mind though as you are start off in career and life. Life has a very very funny way of throwing curve balls. You may have plans for your money and life, but those plans may be derailed with life. However, it is just another path life has chosen. Having the freedom to use your money to help with the curve balls life throws is great. My life, late 40’s, is nothing that I envisioned when I was in my 20’s. Married with kids? I wouldn’t trade a thing for it. One constant though, financial security to weather the craziness of life. I don’t recall ever having to say “Where are we going to get the money to pay for this?” I didn’t take a month long trip through the US in my early 40’s that I envisioned long time ago, but that path is gone. However, a new path could be developing in the future that includes the trip. We shall see… Ain’t life great?

    1. That’s great advice and something I will definitely keep in mind. I agree that having money on hand is nice to help weather the storms and make the ride a little smoother when times get tough. I’m glad to hear everything has worked out well for you, even if it didn’t quite go as you had planned 🙂

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