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Are You an Underearner?

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By Marshall Loeb, MarketWatch

RISMEDIA, Oct. 29, 2007-(MarketWatch)-No one could argue that you’re unmotivated or underqualified. You work harder than most everyone you know and you’ve got professional credentials to spare. So why are you just squeaking by financially while the competition keeps getting further ahead?

You may be an undiagnosed underearner, says Barbara Stanny, author of the book Overcoming Underearning.

Underearners aren’t underprivileged, nor are they people who have made a conscious choice to pursue a line of work that offers more emotional rewards than financial payoffs, like teachers. Underearners are bright, dedicated, tenacious folks who seem unable to break out of the cycle of paycheck-to-paycheck living, in spite of their many gifts.

Think you might fall into this category? Here are five signs that you’re an underearner:

1) Underearners consistently underprice their services. Underearners have a tendency to devalue their skills and services and this is reflected in their paychecks.

“[They] give away their time, knowledge, skills, experience for free or at bargain prices, because they don’t believe they’re worth more,” Stanny writes.

Solution: Give yourself a reality check. Is your work on par with people in your field who are charging more for their services? If so, stop lowballing yourself.

2) Underearners are risk-averse. Moving ahead in your chosen field requires the ability to take calculated risks. Success means accepting that job you don’t feel entirely qualified for, moving to a new company that recognizes your talents or taking on projects that are more demanding. Underearners often shy away from these challenges because they fear change, says Stanny.

Solution: Stretch beyond your comfort zone. “We think when we get scared that we’re on the wrong track, but that’s usually a sign that we’re on track for the next level,” says Stanny.

3) Underearners are unfocused. Underearners frequently sabotage their success by spreading themselves too thin. “They unconsciously do things that make achievement impossible…like procrastinate, job hop, take on too much, become scattered and distracted,” Stanny writes. This makes it next to impossible to keep their goals in clear focus.

Solution: Make sure your everyday activities support your long term financial goals, rather than distracting from them.

4) Underearners prioritize the needs of others. Underearners have a habit of sacrificing their own needs to fulfill the needs of others. Don’t mistake self sacrifice for nobility, warns Stanny; it’s an unconscious way of sabotaging your goals.

Solution: Recognize that the more resources you have — both emotional and financial — the more you’ll be able to give back.

5) Underearners avoid dealing with their finances. Many underearners only have a vague grasp of where their money goes. They typically have trouble keeping tabs on their spending and are poor at planning for their own financial futures. This inability to grapple with money leaves underearners feeling out of control, and undercuts their ability to make informed choices about how to improve their financial picture, Stanny warns.

Solution: Stop relinquishing responsibility for your financial life and take the necessary steps to improve it.

Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and the Columbia Journalism Review, writes for MarketWatch.

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