The Earnings Engine: Power Your Journey to FI

Last week we went over the three principle levers to pull to accelerate your timeline to financial independence. Today, we’ll look at the earnings engine in particular and ways to go about upgrading it. Buckle up!

Traffic. Again!

You’re stuck behind someone in traffic going just under the speed limit. You hop over into the left lane to pass and step on it. After all, you’re on your way to a well deserved vacation and want to get there sometime today. The tiny V4 engine in your overweight car loaded up with all of your gear squeals as it struggles to increase your speed. As you slowly pass, a Bugatti comes into the distant view in your rearview mirror. “I’ve still got plenty of time to pass,” you think to yourself.

A Bugatti in the left lane with its powerful engine

In an instant, the Bugatti is on your tail, way too close for comfort and you try to push your foot harder into the floor. Instant apologetic thoughts rush through your brain as if the driver behind you could hear you lambasting your car’s acceleration abilities. The next second feels like an eternity as you start sweating from the pressure of letting the supercar pass you. Finally! You made it. A woosh rings through your ear drums as the Bugatti screams past fully utilizing its 1200 HP, W16 engine. You wipe a bead of sweat off of your brow.

The FI Highway

Now imagine the same scenario except there are an endless amount of cars to pass, but also as many left lanes as you could ever imagine. Now add in the ability to upgrade your engine and vehicle type as well, remove speed limits, and you’re all driving towards freedom. This is the exact scenario we are in when we talk about Financial Independence.

The vast majority of the world lives idling in the right lane, living paycheck to paycheck, never moving over into the left lane to pass by the rest. But there are as many left lanes as you can imagine! Why wouldn’t you move over and get out of the traffic? Well, since the left lanes are only as many as you can imagine, many people have not yet had the fortune of imagining all of the left lanes that exist yet. They’re trapped in traffic on a one way with no way to pass.

Bumper to bumper traffic on a massive highway system

You see them though, don’t you? Left lanes as far as the eye can see. You actually managed to move yourself over into one of them, but you’re just squeaking ahead of the rest of the traffic, not flying by them at the rate you would like. Out of the corner of your eye, you can see others whizzing by seemingly at the speed of light. Maybe it’s time to look at upgrading your vehicle. Sure, you could get a sleeker car that doesn’t have as much drag that better utilizes your engine, but you know what would really help? Getting a more powerful engine.

The Earnings Engine

Earning is the engine that provides the power to your FI vehicle. While you can get there earning just barely more than what you spend, you’d get there much faster if you earned more. The engine in a Bugatti may be attractive to some, but the bigger you go, the more risk you have of crashing and burning. What many of us want in the FI community is a nice, safe, powerful engine that can easily zip by the rest and get us to our destination in a reasonable amount of time.

Luckily, we have control over our earnings engine. We can upgrade it. It might take some time off of the road at the dealership to get this upgrade, but it is possible. And in this metaphorical world, we can even upgrade these engines while still driving!

Mechanic in front of a car with the hood popped open and engine visible

Engine Types

In order to know what upgrades to make, first we need to know what types of engines exist. Really there is only one way to make money: do something that someone else values. In order to do this we can either get a job or make a job. Both of these have a wide range of capabilities, from driving you into debt to driving you into a 4 car garage in your countryside mansion. However, how we go about making more money through them is very different.

Jobs / Careers

Getting a job is the default answer for many when asked how to make money. The proposition is simple. You have a skill that an entity needs. In exchange for your time using that skill to improve their bottom line, they provide you with money and other benefits in an attempt to keep you working for them. A career is just a job or series of related jobs that a person has throughout their working period of life. Typically, levels of responsibility and pay increase throughout a career as a person becomes more competent and higher level employees retire. The most typical ways to upgrade this type of earnings engine is to switch jobs, get promoted, or to pick up another job on the side.


What if you don’t want to provide your skill to just one entity, but many? This is where business comes in. Starting a business allows multiple entities to pay you for your skill. It also allows you to train up others in either the same or complementary skills to create an organization that can provide more value than a single person can on their own. They have the benefit of potentially sky high earning potential but also the risk of complete and utter failure. Upgrades for businesses include improving sales, hiring more employees, acquiring other businesses, and more.

Upgrade Your Engine

The Corporate Climber Model

Start at a corporation right out of school, whatever level is appropriate for your line of work, and start the climb. Fight for that next promotion. Learn the organization’s politics and how to operate for maximum effect within it. Don’t be satisfied until you’re the CEO (or whatever upper level position is required to give you the earnings engine you want)!

Business people meeting at a conference


  • Climbing can take a while depending on the organization
  • Corporation could go under or you could be fired / laid off
  • May not enjoy the job or the added responsibilities associated with climbing


  • Most corporations have full benefits packages ensuring you have access to health care, retirement plans, etc
  • More likely to have a decent starting salary
  • If the corporation is healthy and you are competent, you have a secure source of income

The Hustler Model

Who needs school? Work a bunch of odd jobs until you find something you like. Get really good at that thing. Start a business around the services you provide. Hire others and teach them how to provide the services you are so good at. It’s worked for tons of other people, why not you?

Hustle sticker attached to concrete block in urban setting


  • Likely to start with a low wage depending on what you do
  • No corporate benefits available to you until large enough to provide them yourself
  • No guarantee that your business takes off


  • No upper limit on your income although less likely to become ultra-wealthy than the next model
  • You are your own boss the majority of the time
  • You are doing something you are good at and enjoy in the end

The All-or-Nothing Model

Drop out of everything to create a startup! It may be risky, but sometimes you’ve got to risk it for the biscuit. Yeah, statistically you will probably end up completely broke but have you seen the lifestyles of the people that are successful? Two words: worth it.

Man staring at wall with a bunch of sticky notes on it


  • Likely going to go into debt to fund your endeavors until they take off
  • No guarantee that they actually take off leaving you with a bunch of debt and no income to pay it off
  • Even if it does take off, no guarantees that it will be successful enough to be profitable


  • One of the few ways to make enough money to buy your own rocket ship
  • True freedom as you will always be working for yourself
  • Likely working on something that you are passionate about

The Continuous upgrade Model

Start with a solid career choice that aligns with your interests. However, instead of going 100% corporate climber, start adding side hustles based around your passions. Once the side hustles reach the point where they are bringing in enough income to do it full time, leave your career. Now focus 100% on growing your passion project into a fully fledged business. In other words, build a tricked out earnings engine on the side and swap it in once you’re ready.

A brand new engine sitting on a stand


  • Could get fired / laid off before your side hustle is large enough to cover your expenses
  • Less likely to receive promotions as you may be dedicating less time than your coworker to the climb
  • May have to work an undesirable corporate job for a substantial amount of time


  • Provides high levels of initial security
  • Builds in a path to transition from a job you do because you need the money to a job you do because you want to do it
  • You will eventually work for yourself with unlimited income potential


Now that you’ve made the decision to get out of the slow lane on the highway to FI, you want to go faster. You can see the open road in front of you and cars zipping past to your left. Some of them are gliding smoothly and some recklessly. Either way, your current engine can’t keep up with them. You need an upgrade! Do you want to climb the corporate ladder? Strike off on your own? Maybe a bit of both? Let us know in the comments below what upgrade model you are using for your earnings engine.

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