When Our Salaries Are Not Enough

When I was fourteen or fifteen, I joined this one online website called Gaiaonline (I think the site still exists until now). It’s basically a community forum, and it’s here that I found some really cool friends in the writing and roleplaying community. Gaia also had mini-games and an online world of sorts, so there’s always a lot to do there. But I was there for their discussion forums, especially the writing section.

Anyway, one of the awesome things about Gaia is that each account has an avatar representing the user, and is also linked to a customizable profile which you can design however you like if you know how to play with CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). And I think every month or so, they’d release premium items that you can purchase using Gaia gold to decorate your avatar. Like a cool hat, or a magical cloak, or whatever. You can either purchase Gaia gold using real money (ew) or earn the gold passively through surfing the site. A lot of people sell things like custom artwork for Gaia gold, and there are also competitions held between users to get gold. It’s pretty fun.

When I played Gaia, one of the things I saw (and immediately wanted) was a Kiki Kitty Plushie. It’s basically a white cat doll that your avatar can hold or put on his head, and dear God, I wanted it. Because it was an old limited edition release, the price was $245,000 Gaia gold if I purchased it off from the marketplace from a different user. But I didn’t care. At 15 years old, I knew that somehow, I needed to raise $245,000 Gaia gold to get my Kiki Kitty Plushie.

First I played mini-games. This would score me between $20 to $50 Gaia gold per game, which meant that on average, I would need to play the mini-games around 8000 times to finally raise $245,000 Gaia gold. Nope. Not happening. Then I started to join writing contests. There usually was one or two contests each month, and the first prize could go as high as $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 or even $100,000 Gaia gold. These I joined often, but I rarely won first prize. So I couldn’t rely on this fully either.

Then I started to look for something I could sell. Sell poems and stories? Not a big market for that one. Sell art? My drawings were not the best, really. And then I thought – I could sell graphics, and make custom profiles.

I had fiddled with a lot of softwares by then, but I had never tried Photoshop. And I knew that if I wanted to sell graphics, first I needed to build my skills and build a portfolio. So I opened a free graphics shop. Basically I accepted any graphics order for free, and the customer is free to contribute as little or as much as they see fit. I made banners, signatures, wallpapers. With each request, I enhanced my Photoshop skills further, and slowly began building my portfolio. Once my confidence grew, I began to learn CSS coding to start selling custom profiles. It took a while, but eventually I was able to set up a shop and sell my profiles from $5000 to $15,000 each, often at prices even higher than that. Around 20, 30 profiles later, I purchased my Kiki Kitty Plushie. ❤

I didn’t see the value of this experience until recently, once I got married and became pregnant. After finding out about my pregnancy, budgeting and financial planning was something that became a topic I started to really read up on and take seriously. My salary is not high, and with each paycheck and extra earning from proofreading and editing, I had to make a choice – to save for myself and my desire to do laser eye treatment, or for our house downpayment, or, recently, to buy another essential item for the baby. 

If you think about it, salaries are a new phenomenon. There are still places around the world today where the concept of a salary does not exist. People get their earnings from farming or trading. When harvest season comes, farmers sell their produce and the money they get will probably last them through fall and winter until another season arrives. In short, they receive their ‘paycheck’ not knowing when the next paycheck will arrive. Too many of us, perhaps even the majority of humankind nowadays, will probably not even know how to survive if we don’t have a paycheck at the end of every month. And then when prices increase, we complain, when in fact having a paycheck at all is actually a luxury that most of our ancestors never even experienced.

If I calculate and budget properly, yes, my salary is enough to cover all expenses, alhamdulillah. But it does not allow me to offer luxuries. The only way for me to afford a real-life Kiki Kitty Plushie is through doing something extra. I would equate my salary as the small $100-200 Gaia gold that I’d get when I surf the website every day. At least with Gaia, I didn’t need to think about paying for groceries, or gas, or for a baby.

Some people are like the majority of the users in Gaiaonline. They have no problems with the default avatars, and spend their days enjoying the website as it is. Some are like me, who zero-ed in on a $245,000 item (due to inflation, a Kiki is now worth several millions) and would find their way to generate extra income to earn that Kiki. I am most inspired by Atenn Azlan, whom I had followed on Facebook when her story went viral about how her life was, earning very little yet working so hard to decorate her house. I followed her through her journey of selling Honey Bee Venom moisturisers until where she is now – a businesswoman with her own small empire who had managed to purchase her first house.

Many of us would love to own a house, and a particular lifestyle. The question is, have we earned it? I believe our parents had it tougher than us. The difference is that back then, they didn’t have the internet and social media to express their complaints. They just went on with it.

What my fifteen-year-old self questing for her Kiki Kitty Plushie taught me, now 25 years old, a decade later, is that if I ever feel my salary is not enough and the world is unfair, I can complain about it all I want. It still wouldn’t change the price of the Kiki. But if I started to ask the question, “How can I afford this?” then my brain is put to work, and through lots of hard work and effort, insyaAllah, I will be able to earn it someday. 

To me, there’s no shortcut method to getting what we want. We can complain about the government and the living costs and the oil prices all we want – it still wouldn’t change anything. What would change is if we did something about it. Anyone can do anything for extra income to earn what we desire. But if we sit and wait for paycheck after paycheck, all the while lamenting about how much we cannot afford this and that – well, at the end of the day, it’s us who are always at a loss.

Now ask yourself. What extra thing will you do to afford and earn what you desire?

Maibreakstheice is a blog where I like to tackle life questions through my personal experiences and, where applicable, through my knowledge as a graduate in family counselling. Keep your eye out for updates every Tuesday, or subscribe via email to receive updates straight to your mailbox!

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