When money is tight, you have two main options – spend less or make more. Of course, the third option is the best: do both. You can cut costs many ways. 

To make more you can ask for a raise, get a better paying job or take on side work. But if you find yourself constantly making less than your peers, even when you both have the same experience and qualifications, you may be an underearner. Here are five traits of underearners with some tips to turn it around. 

1. You Undervalue Your Worth This one may seem obvious. If you believe you’re not worth much, you’ll accept less. Underearners will accept a lower salary and sometimes even work for free. There’s nothing wrong with offering to work pro bono to establish yourself or give back. 

But if you find you’re always using your skills and never being rewarded, that’s a problem. Make sure you are getting something every time you use your skills. This doesn’t have to mean money. But if you are writing an article for free, get the byline so you can create a portfolio. Then you can use that to get paid opportunities.

 2. You're Oblivious Underearners aren’t always aware of their financial situation. They may not realize they’re being undervalued because they don’t realize how much it costs to maintain their lifestyle. A simple budget can put it in perspective. You need to make sure that you’re not working and working but falling into debt. 

Also, underearners often don’t take a long term view of their finances. Factor in retirement and unexpected disruptions like a furlough, layoff or emergency. Having a complete picture of your own finances can help put your contribution and how you should be compensated into perspective. (If you want to get a glimpse of your debt profile, Credit.com has a free tool called the Credit Report Card that can tell you how your debt is impacting your credit scores.)

 3. You Don’t Care It may sound noble to say you don’t care about money. But studies show underearners actually think about (and even obsess about) money, or the lack of it, more than others. So while you can value other things over it, you can’t ignore money. 

Perhaps you think giving back is more important than having lots of money. But if you are properly compensated for your work, you can make more money and give more to charity. 

4. You Work Hard, But Not Smart Underearners tend to work a lot but are less productive than others. They log long hours but don’t seem to get anywhere. A great way to combat this problem is to be more organized. Create a list of what needs to get done and prioritize those items. If you find you’re spending a lot of time on the least important things, stop. 

5. You Don’t Negotiate Asking for more can be tough. But if you don’t ask, you’ll never get it. When starting a job or taking on a project, make sure you understand what it will take to get done. Then be able to clearly outline that to your employer. 

Being able to explain what you will be providing can help you ask for the correct compensation. Skipping the negotiation can lead to bitterness and unhappiness later. Negotiating may be unpleasant but it’s worth it in the end.

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