How "Make More Money" is Like a Video Game

How “Make More Money” is Like a Video Game

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Maybe you’re like me. You read all these amazing posts about how the solution to your problem is simple. Make more money. And then you think: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great?!” The posts say: “Don’t worry. It’s easy. Start a blog. Make an extra $90,000/year” Or “just start an e-commerce business and watch the sales replace your day job income in no time!” Now, as a consistent blogger of nearly 2 years that has made a grand total of less than $400 on this blog (want to increase that? Sign up for Personal Capital with my affiliate link. The service is free. And awesome. I promise), and as someone that runs an Etsy shop with 2 total sales (I won’t pitch that to you as well. You’re welcome), let me tell you that I finally figured it out!

There are levels to the game Make More Money

The quest to make more money is exactly like a video game (think NES Mario, because that’s my jam), but once you reach the final level, all you can think to say to other people is: “just rescue the princess from the castle!” That’s great advice because that’s the goal, but it’s not particularly helpful advice for those of us still pounding bricks in level one.

Just like in a video game, you start at the beginning and you work your way up the levels. The levels get harder as you advance. They take the skills you acquired in lower levels and advance them. Yes, there are stories of people that have found shortcuts and skipped a level (or many levels), but most of us will spend some amount of time in each level. Note that the levels are not defined by the amount of time worked, but by the monetary value of the time worked. This is important. 

Level 1 – Minimum wage (or less)

In the game of Make More Money, you have to start with making any money at all. For most of us, this started with babysitting or flipping burgers at the local burger shack. (For the record, I was babysitting.) Now, I dare you to walk into your local burger shack, sit down with the minimum wage employees and say: “Your lives would be so much better if you just made more money.” It won’t work. (Remember when McDonald’s tried to show employees how to budget, but really ended up proving it’s nearly impossible to live on a minimum wage salary? Good times.)

Level 2 – Minimum wage plus some

Level 2 in Make More Money is the level where you realize you can build on your minimum wage earnings. You can work hard and earn raises. Then, you can work the same amount of hours and actually make more money than you were before! By the time I graduated from Grad school, I was making $12/hour (2008) teaching classes and grading papers. Look how far up the ladder I climbed! If you’re still in your burger joint, maybe you’re an assistant manager now. Congrats!

Level 3 – Salaried position = Double minimum wage or more!

Many, many people will be stuck in level 1 or 2 for their entire lives. Why? Because in order to “level up” to level 3 you need to collect enough resources to advance. There are challenges within the levels as well. You break bricks, you collect coins, stars, mushrooms, and you keep getting killed by that stupid turtle that comes out of nowhere. Then you have to start all over. In real life, the resources you’re collecting are coins, skills, and time. You gather coins by working minimum wage jobs, but gathering education and time is much, much harder. In order to advance beyond level 2, you need to attain more skills. This would involve time outside of work learning new things. If you can’t afford the typical route of college, adding new skills to your resume still costs money in most cases and in all cases it requires time. Since it’s actually more expensive to be poor, it’s really hard to live on a minimum wage. So, when you get home from work, you probably have to go to another minimum wage job. That adds more coins, but takes away time. We won’t even bring up family and health constraints. Let’s just say if you make it to level 3, you probably got a 1UP in level 2. Remember that. 

So you made it to level 3! Woo hoo! That means you may not even know what you make hourly because you were handed a big fat number that will be paid incrementally over the course of a year. Median earnings in the U.S. equal about $21.23/hour so you’re now making around double minimum wage (obviously varies by state). Once you make it here, you start to see the possibilities of future levels and your chance of moving up levels improves significantly. In level 3, you get to earn skills WHILE collecting coins. In most level 3 jobs, you get to learn new things on the job that could help you level up in the future.

Level 4 – The Doubled Salary

In the game of Make More Money, level 4 is when you realize you can literally double your earnings again (like you did between levels 2 and 3), but this time it might not take more formal education or even off-the-clock skills learning! Just by getting your head in the game at work and learning your work culture, you can soar!

Level 5 – The Unlimited Income Mindset

All Make More Money stories are written by people that have passed through level 5. In order to advance in Make More Money, you have to reach the point where you realize you really have an unlimited income potential. In levels 1-4, your thinking is limited to your current level of time, skills, and coins. You realize there is upward mobility, but you see a very firm limit to it (“I’ll never be able to make more than my boss” or “People in my profession are making about the same as me. The market has dictated my income”). This is not always in your control (remember if you got a 1UP or more in earlier levels), but the most important element of winning the Make More Money game is realizing you can earn bonkers amounts of coins in the same amount of time you currently work. This step is not actually earning that money, but realizing the possibility of doing so. 

Once you realize your unlimited income potential, you realize you have a high monetary value on your time. Also, with all of the skills you’ve attained in your job, you start seeing the possibility of earning the same amount of money (or more!) outside of your job. This is the level where you test out contracting work or side hustles. You probably have a lot of failures, but because you’re earning so much in one (probably still your day job) and you’ve collected so many coins and skills at this point, they don’t even seem like a part of your journey. The goal of this level is to find a different kind of coin. You’re still raking in coins at a large rate in this level, but you’re on the hunt for coins from a different source. When you’re in this level, you focus your talk on where your coins are coming from rather than all the routes that have failed on the search for new coins. Instead of telling your friends and family about your Etsy shop with 2 sales, you focus on telling people about your day job because that part is already successful (for the record, this is us. We’ve only recently made it to level 5 and are trying our best to beat it!).

Level 6 – Make More Money! (AKA: You’ve Rescued the Princess!)

You beat level 5 by successfully raking in coins from a new source. Level 6 is where the unlimited income mindset becomes a reality. “Look! I make thousands a month on my blog and you can too!” or “I just decided to throw my stuff online and sales started booming.” We don’t hear about all the products that failed, all the blogs that died, or even the months/years it took to build up to this level of money on those successes. At this point, the advice is always: “Just get out there and try something.” Again, fabulous advice, but it requires coins, skills, and time. In reality, you’re saying: “Get to Level 5 as quickly as possible. Then, hopefully, you’ll be one of the successful ones like me that actually made it to Level 6!”

The tricky thing about level 5 is that you can’t follow the same route to level 6 as someone else. You can take a similar path, but you can’t take theirs. So, there’s no right or defined way to beat the level. You have to figure out if YOU can find a way to level 6 and no one can tell you how to do that. Maybe it’s sticking with your day job. Maybe you are happy enough and successful enough at work to Make More Money. Maybe you join the gig economy. Maybe you start freelancing. Maybe you start a blog. Maybe you start selling things.

You won’t know if you can make it to Level 6 unless you try. And trying requires 3 things: time, skills, and coins. So until you have a little excess of at least 2 of those things, you will keep reading Make More Money stories and think: “Yeah, wouldn’t that be great?!”

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links which, at no cost to you, helps support Northern Expenditure and keeps our heat on in the winter. Thanks!

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32 Comments

  1. Oh, Maggie. What a fabulous post. This is definitely Rockstar material. Levels 1 and 2 are brutal. And very tough to escape without sufficient coin, skills, and time. Adding kids to your life at this stage will make it almost impossible to level up. Meh. Mrs Groovy and I are at level 5, and I don’t see reaching level 6 anytime soon. We have been blogging for almost 2 years now and haven’t made a cent. But that’s ok. No one not selling something ever said monetizing your blog was going to be easy. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Maggie. Great way to start the week.

    • MaggieBanks

      Awww. Thanks Mr. Groovy. We’re really trying to nail level 6 because Mr. T isn’t happy with is job. That’s been our goal the whole time. But we didn’t intend the blog to get us to level 6… that’s not the goal. We just need to figure out what works for him.

  2. Great way to think about the money game. Obviously, in order to sell stuff, everyone out there has to push how easy it is to get to the level 6. A lot of time, you even get the sense that you start out at level 6. Really, you’ve gotta start at the bottom there and work your way up. Unless you’re lucky and have a cheat code that lets you jump ahead…

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh we all want that cheat code… but if people have it, they don’t usually share it. And if they do, it doesn’t always work for everyone… because each path out of level 5 is different.

  3. Matt @ Optimize Your Life

    I love this framework!

    “The tricky thing about level 5 is that you can’t follow the same route to level 6 as someone else. You can take a similar path, but you can’t take theirs.”

    This is a great way to put it. This is about where I’m at and it feels like button mashing at this point. I know there’s a way to get through to the next level…why can’t I find it!? I’m working on going back and collecting more coins and skills in level 5 and taking a bit more time to enjoy the game along the way.

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m with you Matt! We really want to figure out how to allow Mr. T to quit his job in the next 3-5 years and be able to do something else for himself… so… we’ve got work to do. 🙂

  4. I’d say I am definitely at level 4 or maybe into level 5. Like you I’ve only made about $60 off the blog so far, and counting the costs, I’m negative a few hundred, lol. Of course, minus a few personal capital links and some random Amazon links, I haven’t really tried to monetize it yet. I did get a job offer while looking for lots around Canyon Lake this weekend. 🙂

    So, I’m comfortable knowing I can walk into a side gig when/if we move there. I haven’t figured out how to beat level 5 though… That is yet to be seen. 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      My monetization strategy is haphazard at best. I just threw up a couple ads and have some random Amazon and PC links like you. Hilarious. Clearly the blog is not my level 6, but that was never the point of it. And I’ve gotten to meet friends like you guys! Excited to hang in October!

  5. I. Love. This!

    I think I’m about level 4 now and I gotta tell you, it’s like a whole new ball game.

    • MaggieBanks

      Each level is a whole new ballgame! And there’s no reason everyone has to make it to level 6. Many, many don’t and are perfectly happy with that.

  6. My problem with level 6 (and maybe all the levels) is the time piece. I’m always so overly ambitious with volunteering to make more money. And then I run low on time…or steam. Fun post, Maggie!

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes. Agreed! I have a million projects I’d like to be doing, but don’t have the time to do practically any of them!

  7. I’m firmly entrenched in level four. The problem is that the more successful you are at four the less time you have to start five. Also the more successful at six you have to be to stop four. In my case I’m approaching a cross roads. I know my value will support going full on consultant or making four be more like quadruple instead double. Both though require obscene amounts of time commitment in different ways. So which way do you go…

    • The answer I’m alluding to in my somewhat facetious question (which I cut myself off from accidentally) is really being able to increase salary or move to level six comes at a cost. It may not be worth that cost to continue up in time and health. Be careful what you wish for..

      • MaggieBanks

        I agree with you which is why we’re not jumping in full-time to level 6 yet. We want to have a big enough cushion of savings that we don’t need to worry about completely replacing our income and stressing ourselves out.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes. The crossroads are tricky. We’re sort of there as well. Mr. T has a few years to decide whether he wants to go for his boss’s job when she leaves or whether he wants to leave to do his own thing before he gets a new boss.

  8. Love this, so so much! I might be at a weird in between level. The point where money isn’t the object. I want to help as many people as possible, make the most change possible and greatest impact. It’s all about leverage at this point but leverage from the amount of good I can create. In some ways, I think it will make level 6 easier, because I’m not chasing the coin anymore. It might just start chasing me. =)

    • MaggieBanks

      I would like to get to that point. But our $100+k investments just aren’t going to grow into what we need by themselves. I look forward to having a better cushion so we can focus more on helping (not that we don’t give at all now).

  9. Awesome post! It was a fun and interesting way to look at things. I can totally relate with all the Make More Money blogs and all those Etsy stores that are selling like crazy. They’re motivating yet make me feel like a loser all at once!

    • MaggieBanks

      I know, right?! I’m all simultaneously like: “Oh, I could totally do that!” and “Why can’t I do that?!”

  10. Pat

    I have been saying to myself ALOT lately that this paper chase is just like super Mario or getting coins and 1ups or like Sonic getting rings. Remember when sonic ran into something and all his rings came bouncing out. Yup sounds like an unexpected expense. Lol. I LOVE this post Maggie.

  11. Mel

    “and you keep getting killed by that stupid turtle that comes out of nowhere” LOL And so true. Even as I start to make it into Level 5, there are still some stupid turtles that come out of nowhere – but you do learn how to knock them out quicker than they knock you out – usually because of all the times you got knocked down in Level 1 or Level 2!! 😛 Or maybe that’s just me.

    Great post!

    • MaggieBanks

      Definitely the more you have to deal with the stupid turtles, the more you know how to deal with them in the future!

  12. Jover

    I’m pretty lucky in that I never really worked the minimum wage job, graduated from college into Level 3, learned the Level 4 stuff without actually doubling my salary (cut expenses by half instead) and feel comfortably in Level 5 now. I wonder if Level 6 could include investing a substantial part of your income to diversify from the single source of income (j-o-b) into Index funds, dividend stocks, peer to peer lending, etc. One of the high level skills is to let your money do the hard work for you, which is what I’m currently trying to do.

    • MaggieBanks

      Yes, your money making more money is certainly level 6 and another proof that the people in level 1 and 2 that can’t advance will never get there at all!

  13. savenowidiot

    Usually when I get stuck on a level, I have my 14-year-old cousin come hang out and beat it for me. Teenagers are insane at video games … any analogy for me in finding a real life version of my 14-year-old ringer in this Make More Money video game? 🙂

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh I wish… maybe my 9 year old would be able to jump us up to level 6!

  14. I had such a great time playing those “rescue the princess” video games growing up, but now I’m the princess and I’m rescuing the prince 🙂 I never thought of the ability to make money being a step-by-step level thing but I think it’s very true. It’s a very different set of steps than what we are taught in school (by getting good grades, etc). Great post!

  15. drk

    I’ve been reading through all of your great blog posts, and this one is my absolute favorite. Thank you for this new perspective! I’m in level 5, too, but I think I can just make out the shape of level 6 from here.

    • MaggieBanks

      Oh I hope we figure out how to get there as well! The video game is fun and frustrating. Good luck to you!

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