What Earning $0.10 an Hour Taught Me about Gratitude


Written by Liz

Just your regular 27-year-old, queer, super-introverted, FIRE-chasing, frugal Singaporean, who lives a pretty good life while earning only a modest salary, but still plans to retire at age 40 with $1,000,000. Click here to read more

October 28, 2018

I once worked a corporate 9-to-5 job, where I earned a very handsome 10 cents an hour. No paid leave. No medical benefits. Just full-on daily grind. If you’re interested, you can read about my entire $0.10 an hour corporate job story here.

This particular blog post, however, isn’t about practical tips on how to save money on a meagre salary. Or how to discover smart ways of earning money on the side. Or how to save money on a small income.

It’s about gratitude.


What it’s Like Earning $0.10 an Hour

In the 6 months that I worked at the crappy job, I was paid only a sum of $120 during my 5th month on the job. One single measly payment, and no more.

I couldn’t even cover my transport expenses, let alone food, water, and the works. When I fell sick, I had to foot my own medical bill.

I wasn’t even entitled to any leave, and my supervisor would constantly bother me over the weekend over the smallest things.

I was constantly hustling outside of my full-time job, looking for any means that would allow me to stay afloat.

I was exhausted, and defeated.

Misery was my best friend, to say the least.

But after I realising that my pay-checks were never going to come, and that I was being taken advantage of, I sent out my resume like my life depended on it.


Landing a Higher-Paying Job

I eventually found a corporate job that paid me $2,800 a month, with a 1-month bonus in December, and a variable performance bonus in March.

I was ecstatic, and took the job. I got my pay-check promptly every single month, 14 days of paid vacation, $800 of medical benefits, and insurance coverage.

A couple months into the job, however, and my initial euphoria faded into nothingness. Crunching numbers and pushing paper aren’t exactly my idea of excitement. On top of that, my law school peers were making a lot more than I was, and many of them kept telling me to switch jobs.

Soon, I was grumbling about how I earned only $2,800 a month, or $140 every 9-hour working day, or about $15 an hour.

This sucks big time. What a drag! A waste of my life.’, I complained, the thoughts racing through my head faster than I could catch then.

I can’t wait till I’m out of here.

Those seemingly innocuous wishes floated through my mind every single day.

I constantly grumbled about how little I was being paid, comparing my peanuts to my peers’ moneybags.


The Vicious Cycle of Discontentment

Over time, working became more and more of a drag. Sunday nights made my insomnia exceptionally chronic, and Monday mornings saw me dragging my feet into the office.

I was miserable, all over again.

But this time, my financial situation was very different.

I was being paid a wage that could cover all my living expenses. I didn’t have to constantly hustle outside of my corporate job. And when I did hustle, it was because of choice, not necessity.

There was no lingering worry that I would starve to death the next day. There was no nagging anxiety about when I would get my next pay-check. In fact, I was diligently stuffing away a couple thousand dollars every single month.

I watched my bank balance increase unceasingly, month after month.

Everything that I couldn’t do on my previous 10 cents an hour pay-check.

Yet, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t content.

I wasn’t grateful for what I had.


Reflecting on My Progress

It wasn’t until recently that I decided to pen down my story of how I once made 10 cents an hour at a full-time corporate job. I recounted the stories of my six months’ suffering that I buried at the very back of my mind.

Through that, I realised how far I had come.

I chuckled to myself as I acknowledged that switching jobs had given me a 14,900% increase in pay. From 10 cents an hour, to $15 an hour! Not too shabby, eh?

I decided to stop comparing myself to the peers that I knew. Sure, they were cashing in pay-checks far bigger than mine, but is that the only measure of success?

Why couldn’t I see that my success was overcoming the immense difficulties in my life? I came out of the closet, was rejected vehemently by people I loved the most, had my life’s purpose ripped away, suffered emotional torment and almost become homeless without much money to my name.

So for the first time in a very long, I finally acknowledged that I had to go through all of that and somehow, came out alive. Then, I gave myself a long-overdue pat on the back for overcoming all of that.

I mean, I went from being almost homeless while having practically nothing to my name, to working a 10-cents-an-hour corporate job, to saving thousands of dollars every single month.

I think I owe it to myself to not be sucked into a vicious cycle of misery, right?


Practising Gratitude

While I may not enjoy my current job, I am still grateful for it. I’m grateful for the fact that I don’t have to worry about covering my living expenses, unlike before. The fact that I can save a not-so-insignificant sum of money every single month, unlike before. Also, the fact that I have adequate work life balance to side hustle and blog.

My current salary isn’t anything to shout about, but it sure beats 10 cents an hour, any day, in any universe.

Understanding gratitude was never easy for me. I used to be a trust fund baby who was given $250,000 in my early-20s. On top of that, I was sitting on a huge inheritance. Other than choosing a life partner, I did everything my parents told me to do.

But my parents took everything away from me anyway, just because I came out of the closet. When you’re stuck in that kind of situation, do you even have anything to be grateful for?

Going from having everything, to having absolutely nothing, is crushing. And in those moments, you don’t see any light. Gratitude is the last thing on your mind.

But what I’ve learnt over the years of loss and suffering, is this.

If you don’t learn to be grateful for what you have now, you will never be grateful for what you may have in the future.

You’ll go through life, a constant vicious cycle of attainment and subsequent unhappiness. My experience with switching jobs and a 14,900% increase in pay is an ideal case in point.

For many of us, learning to be grateful is a hell of a challenge. A daily battle between resentment and contentment. And we usually let resentment win.

How often do we tell ourselves, ‘Look at all my suffering! And now, look at everyone else! Why do I have such a damn difficult life? Isn’t there any justice in the world?

But nothing good ever comes easy. Gratitude included. While you may struggle with the constant tension of attainment and contentment, truly knowing that you should be grateful for whatever good is in your life – well, that’s the first step.

Stop comparing yourself to others – that’s the second step. Do what you need. Delete social media. Remove all temptation.

The third step? Reflect on all the progress you’ve made in your life. It could be big goals, or it could be small baby steps. Be grateful for how far you’ve come. Compare yourself not to others, but to yourself in the past.

Practice, practice, practice. Every single day. This is the fourth, and most crucial, step. Be grateful for all the big things, like the progress you’ve made over the course of your life. be grateful for all the little things too. Like a good day at work, or an interesting chat with a colleague, or an awesome comment on your blog. Give yourself something to be grateful for every single day.

After a while, gratitude becomes more natural. You’d be more at ease with yourself, and with the world.

Gratitude still doesn’t come easy for me. And it won’t come easy for you. But we must try.

Because it’s our best shot at leading truly amazing, wonderful lives.


To a brighter future filled with content and gratitude,

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  1. Dragon Gal

    Hi Liz, Thanks so much for this timely post. I fall into the trap of comparing all the time, and it truly does make me feel depressed. Even in early retirement, I tend to compare: wow, look how they are slow traveling the world! In a sailboat! Look how that person wrote a book! Started a platform for their passion project, etc. etc. Then I have to talk myself out of an existentialist crisis. And I completely agree with you that gratitude is antidote for falling into this trap! Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for what I do have and not for what I don’t. Cheers, Dragon Gal

    • Liz @ Splurging on Freedom

      Hi Dragon Gal, I’m glad that you found this post helpful! It’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparison, unfortunately. I’m glad that you’ve been finding ways of talking yourself out of an existential crisis. I probably would have to do that as well in early retirement / financial freedom 🙂 Keep on working at it and soon you’d find that gratitude comes much easier than before. Good luck with it, Dragon Gal 🙂