Making a six-figure income is a financial milestone that many of us daydream about, but very few have yet to accomplish. You might even think it’s beyond your grasp.
But, as your parents likely told you as a child, you can do/be anything you want. And that is 100% true. All it takes is determination, a lot of time, and a bit of bravery.
As you’ll see from these six Millennials, making a six-figure income isn’t so out of reach, no matter who you are.
Here’s how they did it.
1. Just say “No”
Jenny Castillo is an associate attorney based in Washington, D.C. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Jenny credits much of her success to her mom, who raised Jenny on her own and encouraged her to pursue an education.
“My mom insisted that going to college and obtaining a graduate degree would change the course of my life and career,” Jenny says. “She was right.”
Jenny became the first in her family to receive a graduate degree in the U.S. and now earns a six-figure salary.
Jenny’s best advice: Learn to say “No”
Jenny shares details about her finances and lifestyle on her blog, Jenny the HENRY.
First coined by Shawn Tully at Fortune magazine, HENRY stands for “High-Earner, Not Rich Yet” and typically refers to Millennials earning an annual salary of $100,000 to $250,000.
“They’re people who want to get their financials together, but still keep their avocado toast, SoulCycle, and boozy brunch lifestyle,” explained Priya Malani of Stash Wealth, a financial-planning firm that caters to wealthy Millennials, in an interview with The New York Post.
However, according to “Jenny the HENRY,” that’s not entirely accurate. Even six-figure earners need boundaries to maintain their financial health.
“Successful HENRYing means having sufficient self-awareness to realize when something is out of reach,” she explains. “I still have to prioritize spending and decide if a particular item/experience fits my budget. If not, I have to enjoy it vicariously through Instagram stalking.”
2. Learn about money and keep planning
Alex Pardoe began his hairstyling career as a teen in 2012. Five years later, he opened his own salon. Shortly after, Alex launched his product line and began teaching aspiring stylists how to hone their craft.
Eventually, Alex reached an annual salary of $280,000 — at 25 years old.
Alex’s best advice: Make a plan and work hard
Alex proves that you don’t have to be a financial whiz to reach a six-figure salary. Although Alex spends thousands of dollars every month on cars, food delivery, and fashion, he has invested significant time and energy to develop a prominent reputation in his industry.
Today, as an expert in his field, Alex takes advantage of opportunities to simultaneously make money and advance his brand — through affiliates and sponsored Instagram content, his haircare line, as well as teaching.
Alex also makes intentional choices to pursue his goal of early retirement. He saves $1,800 every month in a Roth IRA as well as a brokerage account, and recently became partial owner of an investment property. He also began working with a financial advisor in an effort to learn more about healthy personal finance.
“You’re not taught finances,” he says. “I learned a lot about just how to manage things a bit better, and I’m still learning now.”
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for a raise
Julien and Kiersten Saunders met in 2012 while working in marketing for a hospitality company. While there, both Julien and Kiersten received multiple promotions and eventually reached six-figure salaries and paid off $200,000 in debt — then they quit.
In 2017, the couple launched their website, rich & REGULAR, to help other Millennials pursue their own financial health and success.
Kiersten’s and Julien’s best advice: Ask for a raise
As employees who tripled their salaries in the span of a decade, Julien and Kiersten have a wealth of tips (pun intended) to help Millennials reach their full financial potential. However, one of their greatest pieces of advice is perhaps their simplest: ask for more money.
Many people avoid asking for a raise and that might just be one of their biggest income setbacks. For some, a lack of experience keeps them quiet. Others may fear confrontation. But, to these individuals, Julien and Kiersten say the outcome is often worth the effort.
“Open your mind to the possibility that your time and contribution are worth way more than whatever you’re making at your job,” says Kiersten.
4. Pursue passive income
Unlike some of the Millennials mentioned thus far, Sam Dogen’s primary goal was not building wealth — it was finding freedom. Sam started his career working in the financial industry in San Francisco, but, after a few 14-hour days, he knew he wouldn’t last long at the company.
Immediately, Sam started saving aggressively, and later he invested much of that savings in stocks, bonds, and real estate. Eventually, Sam had built up enough passive income to leave his cushy corporate job to spend more time with his wife and son.
Sam’s best advice: Build passive income streams
In 2009, three years before quitting his job, Sam Dogen launched his personal financial site, the Financial Samurai, “so we can all achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.”
Among the many tips highlighted on the site, there is one piece of advice that has changed Sam’s own life for the better — build passive income (income that doesn’t require him to be actively involved).
While working full-time, Sam saved more than 50% of his income after tax, and then used his savings to purchase rental properties, stocks, bonds, and CDs.
“Things will be slow going at first, but once you save a little bit of money you will start to build momentum,” he says. “Eventually you will find synergies between your work, your hobbies, and your skills which will translate into viable income streams.”
Today, Sam makes more than $250,000 annually through passive income streams.
Read more: 3 cool, passive FIRE investment ideas
5. Learn to network
Khaleelah Jones is the founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency, Careful Feet Digital. What started as a side hustle for some extra spending money in her 20s blossomed into an established and effective business.
Today, Khaleelah manages a team of freelancers with decades of experience, offering scalable marketing strategies for companies of all sizes.
Khaleelah’s best advice: Network
A significant factor in the growth of Careful Feet Digital has been simple networking. Whether you’re pursuing a freelance career, opening a local coffee shop, or launching a line of products, building a business is complicated. You need to invest time and energy to establish your credibility, and, according to Khaleelah, one of the many ways you can accomplish this goal is through networking.
While Khaleelah admits she’s not the most extroverted individual, she has worked hard to utilize social outings as opportunities to advance her brand.
“Whether you attend charity events, professional development sessions, or even a coffee or drinks to catch up, they’re all great opportunities to meet new people, hone your communications skills, and of course — talk about your trade,” she says. “You never know where those conversations will lead.”
Read more: How to network like a pro
6. Start small, be patient
Alex Fasulo didn’t set out to make six figures; she just wanted to make rent. In 2015, Alex relocated to NYC for a job, then quit just a few weeks later. With no income to keep her afloat, Alex turned to freelance, sifting through writing gigs on Fiverr.com.
After a few months, she had sufficient income to afford her rent and basic needs. By 2017, she had built a stable reputation and clientele — enough for Fiverr to notice.
That same year, Alex joined Fiverr Pro, and today she makes more than $400,000 each year and teaches ambitious freelancers how to utilize their skills and increase their income.
Alex’s best advice: Start small and be patient
For Alex, freelancing was a lifeline. The day she quit her NYC job, Alex seesawed from feeling empowered to panicked. Fiverr was meant to fund her shopping budget or cover the occasional dinner out. Instead, she found herself scrambling for cash, pitching services for as little as $5.
Nevertheless, those $5 gigs became the catalyst for the career Alex has today.
“[Use these to] amass five-star reviews,” she explains. “The more reviews you have, the more you can charge in the future.”
Over time, Alex also learned how to better brand herself with colorful photos and utilized social media as a marketing medium. Gradually, Alex began to elevate her prices to match her level of expertise, and, though the process was slow-going, she says that’s part of the journey.
While Alex wouldn’t suggest a sudden switch to freelance, she encourages budding entrepreneurs to start small, charge cheaply (at first), and be patient.
“Everything is going to work out,” she says. “Be kind to yourself.”
Other tips for making 6 figures
Prioritize certain jobs and industries
I have a bachelor’s degree in English and business management, and, this summer, my brother graduated with a degree in computational engineering. Who would you bet makes more?
It will likely come as no surprise to learn that certain industries (like engineering) pay better than others (like writing). Some of the more profitable professions are found in healthcare and technology, for instance, making positions like gynecologists or software developers more lucrative than a teacher or a baker.
Read more: Careers with the best starting salaries
Move with the money
Another common correlation among six-figure earners is their cost of living. Your location has a dramatic impact on your ability to make more moolah.
For example, San Francisco has the highest median household income, at $119,136 as of 2020. Not surprising, given the number of tech start-ups that call the Bay area home. Similarly, cities like Seattle, New York, Boston, and Washington DC all boast some of the highest median incomes and job opportunities — making them appealing to those seeking six figures.
But it’s important to keep in mind that the “value” of a dollar in San Francisco, California, is not necessarily the same as, say, Omaha, Nebraska.
So, while you may be tempted to follow the money into cities with the highest-paying jobs, you could also find yourself actually earning more just by going to a city (or country!) with a lower cost of living. And with so many jobs switching to remote post-pandemic, you may be able to score a higher salary without paying the bulk of it to rent. Even if your paycheck isn’t six-figures, it might feel like it in a cheaper location.
Just keep in mind that there may be tax implications, or your employer may be required to pay you the average salary for where you live rather than where they’re located. Get all the info before you bank on living in Thailand or Costa Rica and making NYC-level wages.
Get an education
Do you really need a college degree to make six figures? The short answer is “no.” But, should you? Probably.
The reality is you’re much more likely to earn a six-figure income with a degree under your belt. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 74 out of 832 occupations listed in their Occupational Outlook Handbook offer median annual salaries of $80,000, and all require a bachelor’s degree at the very least.
However, there are also a number of well-paying trade jobs, which typically require little more than a high school diploma. Distribution managers, commercial pilots, and even nuclear power plant operators, for instance, can all earn six figures without a four-year degree.
To help you expand your income streams while establishing financial stability, learn from the successes — and failures — of established six-figure earners.
Though the thriving freelancer Alex Fasulo made a sudden shift from full-time public relations to $5 Fiverr gigs, she encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to take a slow and steady approach to building wealth.
Similarly, Jenny Castillo has become a successful associate attorney and enjoys frequent travel and Gucci goods as a result. However, she urges others to set budget boundaries and learn to say “no” to maintain financial health.
If you’re dreaming of an added zero in your income, learn from the successful six-figure earners of our generation and begin taking steps towards your financial aspirations today.