Tag Archives: salary

Without a Raise, How my Salary Increased from $20k to $90k in 5 years.

Some people get annual raises of 3% to keep up with inflation, or more if they’re lucky, and less if it’s in the middle of a recession in a company that can’t afford to offer raises.

I’ve never gotten a raise. Since graduating from college in 2005, I started out making $18 an hour at a non-profit and am now making $90k a year. This was not through raises. In fact, my income trajectory is due to learning to pick myself back up when I lost my job, re-brand myself as something more valuable, and attack the job market with as much belief as disbelief in myself, which allowed me to take a lot of risks as I wandered my career path to where I am today.

Had I remained at my first job for longer than 6 months, I might have received annual raises and be making somewhere north of $25 per hour today. I’d have five years of Admin Assistant at a non-profit on my resume, which, if I were to leave to another position, would move me into yet another admin role, or a very low-level assistant position in another department.

Instead, I got laid off. Well, in that case I was fired. I was in the depths of one of my worst depressions that year (yea, got to love being bipolar) and my boss didn’t exactly understand why depression made it hard for me to drag myself out of bed and get to work on time. So that job ended, and within a week I managed to land my first full-time position as an editorial assistant at an international magazine making $35,000 a year. At the time, I was extremely excited to be making more than $20k.

I stayed in that position for a year and it went well enough, though the career path was not quite right and when the opportunity to jump ship came I jumped. This was the only time I was actively recruited, and thus my salary went up from $35k to $50k. This was a huge jump. Again, had I stayed at my employer where I was working as an editorial assistant, I’d be lucky if I were making $50k today. Instead, I left. And I stayed at my next position for three months, at which time I discovered I was (and still am) a terrible reporter (too socially anxious to be a good reporter and ADHD to pay attention to all the facts) so I left that role, again depressed, thinking I had thrown away all chances I had of a career, and moped around for a few months.

But then another opportunity came up. I found a part time job writing copy for a local startup at a rate of something like $35/hour. My contract there expired monthly, and I managed to re-negotiate a higher hourly rate each time. It got to the point when both my boss and I were tired of negotiating, and he offered me a full time job. I pushed the salary up a bit in our final negotiation to $65k, which I was offered. At the time I felt like I was rich.

Two years later, I’m laid off again. This time because the product I was working on was being shut down. I go for a month without a job and again fall into a deep depression — oh woe is me — oh woe — oh what am I going to do?

I land two jobs in those two months — one full time contract at a large, international tech company where I’m able to negotiate a $65/hour payrate (! — I inquired how much the role paid — $30-$60/hr, told them I wanted $70 an hour, totally thinking I was going to throw away the job by asking for so much, and they came back with $65) and another hourly role at a startup on the side at $40/hr. After a two month hiatus from the work world, I had the most profitable 6 months of my life. But that too had to come to an end.

The contract role at the big tech company was not extended because the product I was working on was being shut down (story of my life) — but I was ok with that. The startup I had been working for over the length of the contract was doing well enough to hire me on full time. And while I could have pursued a full time role in the large company where I had the contract (I had a few leads that might have turned into something) instead I decided to jump to the startup, assuming I’d have a stable salary and health insurance, vs the contract setup.

Mission accomplished. I secured a role with not only a $90k salary, but also a title that (assuming I am successful in this role) sets me up for higher-paid positions to follow. I doubt I’ll get a raise in this job either, but I also assume that within the next 3 years I’ll move on to a new position, and ideally break six figures, because now that I’ve found an industry and role I’m good at, I am sculpting myself into a valuable prospective hire.

Those first few years were really rough, and I’ll undoubtedly have a ton of rough times ahead, but at the very least I am confident that the harder you fall, the more room there is to leap higher than you’ve ever leaped before.

When Your Career Ladder Looks Like a Jungle Gym

My resume was a great conversation starter at an MBA recruiting event I went to this weekend. My takeaways were that I can likely get into at least one of my top choice schools if I manage to get a really, really high score on the GMATs (as in, over 700.) Most schools seem to like that I’m not the typical MBA candidate, which is a good thing.

But this post isn’t about my quest to get an MBA, or it isn’t directly about this quest. Instead, it’s about moving up, down, and diagonal on the career “ladder.”

My current job is a huge leap up from any positions I had before in both responsibility, salary, and company respect. But it’s a six month contract which is ending soon, and likely won’t be renewed (more to do with the state the company is in than my work here, my boss wants to keep me on.) So I’m in a pickle. Where do I go from here?

The biggest problem is defining my career goals and understanding how my next steps will get me there. Incredibly, with the large-name company on my resume I’m getting calls back on my applications from other respectable companies. That’s not to say I’ll get past the first interview, but the phone is at least ringing.

It isn’t clear where I’m supposed to step to go up in my career. Most of the jobs I really want require an MBA or a lot of luck. Then there are all these very good jobs that are all so very different and can lead me in very, very different directions. Do I want to do customer support? B2B or B2c? General marketing? Social media marketing? How do these answers change when each option has a specific company attached to it? How do they change when each company has a salary attached to it?

Honestly, I’d be happiest doing online customer support. Because I love helping people and solving problems. That role is at an excellent company, but I bet my pay would be cut in half. Or maybe I could negotiate a little more, but I can’t imagine they’d pay a customer support person the same amount I’d make as a marketing manager or even marketing assistant. I’d be happier in the short-term, and there’s a chance getting a foot in the door at this company can lead to bigger and better things, but is it really a step up in my career? Should I care?

When it comes down to it, I need to look at what I’m good at and what makes me happy. I know I get the most reward out of helping people, solving problems, etc. Those types of jobs don’t pay as well as selling to people. Ideally I’d find a role where I can solve problems and help people while developing and marketing products. That may require an MBA. Right now I can possibly get hired as a social media manager, but that career path is limiting. It’s also all marketing and not as much about improving a product. It can be, it just depends on the role, product and company.

Regardless, the pickle I’m in now will only continue to, well, pickle, before I can take a bite and discover the taste of my future.

What Salary Buys Happiness in Your City? $75k or $160k?

Today, the Wall Street Journal attempted to figure out just how much money (yearly, salary-wise) you need to be happy in any given city in the US. The article is quite relevant to the money tiffs my boyfriend and I have been having over how much a person / family needs in the Bay Area to be happy.

The whole concept is based on a study that says once people earn $75k, any additional income does not improve their happiness. But we all know $75k goes a lot further in the middle of nowhere than in Times Square. The WSJ attempted to figure out what $75k means across the US based on the cost of living.

Of course, my city is the second most expensive in the country, requiring an income of $118.5k to be happy. Only New York, which would require an income of $163k for the same level of happiness, is more expensive (and much more expensive at that, though I feel quality of life in the Bay Area is much higher.)

The chart is an interesting comparision of just what equals a really good salary in different parts of the country. This is the first year I’m, in theory, earning $120k (though likely only earning a little more than half of that due to on-and-off contract work) and I can attest to the fact that this is the first year I feel happy with my salary and quality of life. I’m living cheaper than I have to in order to save money, but that’s more because I’m going to end up earning $80k this year and not $120k. I can see that extra $40k just pushing me up to the amount where I’d feel stable, would be able to spend a little on things like… a car that has functioning air conditioning, and still not break the bank.

Hmm, maybe I should move to Dothan, Alabama.

Then again… they need to factor in how happy people are in each city to figure out the true cost of happiness where people live. In the Bay Area, I think happiness is cheaper because there’s so much to do outside – for free – and weather is generally decent enough to spend a good chunk of the year outside. Whereas, in Chicago, you may need less money to hit this target salary of fiscal happiness, but then that happiness is much more expensive… to keep yourself entertained all year long, you have to pay a lot more.

What do you think? What salary would you need to make in your city to reach the ultimate “happiness” a salary can offer before the excess is just luxury, without affecting your emotional state?

Clashing Long Term Fiscal Values in a Young Relationship

My boyfriend and I have been together four years. I quickly fell in love with his kindness and calm nature, which contrasted with my oft-anxious and somewhat self-centered relationship with the world. Mostly, though, I found that after dating a law student for two years I felt much more comfortable in a relationship with someone who had less motivation than I did than more. With the lawyer, who had an Ivy undergrad education and a JD from a top-10 school, I could never equal his level of success (or so I thought at the time) with my average schooling and internship salary.

Thus, dating a guy who wasn’t striving to become the next Joe Jamail was a refreshing relief. With the attorney, I always felt like he looked down on my choices and with that my depression over uncertainty, my 21-year-old lack of clarity. Enter my current boyfriend with his lack of concern over professional title or climbing up the corporate ladder, and I felt safe. With him, I felt comfortable moving up my own corporate ladder. It’s not that he is stupid or anything, he too has a degree from a top school with a high honors mark on his diploma to boot. So intelligence is not the factor here, more so, it’s the fundamentals of what motivates a person.

Four years later, my boyfriend and I still have little arguments about money. He doesn’t like discussing finances – which, fair enough, is not something two people dating oft discuss prior to marriage or at the very least engagement. After being unemployed for a year and not applying to jobs, he eventually landed a low-paid, part-time internship (one that I had completed earlier) and after that found an hourly editorial job at a non-profit that paid less than I made at my first non-profit job. It was obvious he hadn’t cared to negotiate for a better starting wage, but mostly I was proud of him for finally getting out of his funk and getting a job.

The years go by… and neither of us are by any means perfect. I manage to get fired from… a few jobs… because I lack motivation when I believe my contributions would be better contributed by a robot. As I learned to force myself to do my job no matter what, I got laid off because that job was no longer needed. To my credit, every time I lost my job I managed to practically double my salary in my next position. I moved across industries and tried out a lot of different things to figure out where I would be fulfilled. I realized that I am, to some extent, motivated by money – not by having nice, flashy things, but by watching my networth increase… my maxing out my 401k… by feeling that I may one day have enough to afford a house, even in the Bay Area.

My boyfriend, on the otherhand, spent those three years working at the non-profit. He did his job very well, followed orders, increased productivity in the company by making many of the processes more efficient. He never asked for a raise. His boss gave him a very small “raise” when he decided to work less hours and go 1099 contract instead of W2 hourly. He’s still making $20/hr, while I’m billing upwards of $80/hr on some of my projects.

This isn’t to say that I would judge anyone for working a job that makes $20/hr – there are plenty of jobs I respect out there that earn this. If you’re talking about $20/hr in Kansas, that’s also a very different income than $20/hr where the average small house costs over $1M. But this is where we always get into our little tiffs about money… I argue that before I have kids, I’d like to have an average yearly dual income of at least $150k. Long-term, I see no reason why that dual income can’t be $300k. And I would feel more comfortable in life, before deciding to have children, to know that we’d make that kind of income in our lifetimes.

My boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. Maybe I am. $150k for a family income is not unreasonable, but the majority of people in America live on much less than that – and many of them have healthy, happy families. I just look at my current spending – which could be more frugal, but is by no means extravagant – and wonder how I’d ever be able to save for retirement and pay for a house and potentially pay back graduate school loans, all while also affording children (I want two or three of them within the next 10 years.)

My boyfriend, who also wants to return for graduate school (either to become a teacher or psychology researcher) will never care about income above and beyond middle class. It’s not that he’d mind if his field paid more, he just will never be the type to push for raises or chose a job because it pays better. And as much as I admire that about him – as much as I feel safer in my own career journey knowing that my partner will accept me and love me if I make $30k a year or $200k a year, I still feel like sometime down the road this difference in fiscal values will start to hurt us a lot more than it does now.

There are times when I think of what it would be like to continue my search for my life partner, and I just can’t imagine being with anyone else. I love this guy to death, and again, I couldn’t be with someone who cared that much about money. If anything, I know that I’m most comfortable bringing home the bacon because then I feel I have more right to be in charge of the household finances. My mom is clueless when it comes to money and my entire life my parents have argued about how it should be spent. As my father was the one bringing home a single income (albeit over $200k by the time he retired) he never felt she had any right to be involved in financial decisions. If I was with a guy who understood finances more than I did… and made more money… then I might end up in that situation too. So I’d rather be the one in charge, making more money, and with a guy who maybe doesn’t care that much about his salary.

It just makes me nervous about limiting my choices later in life. What if I want to take a year off to spend time with my newborn child? What if I want to work part-time to be able to go to my child’s plays during the school day or drive them to soccer practice? On the whole other hand of this, I’m terrified of knowing I’m worth “$200/hr” or whatever my going rate would be at the time, and then deciding not work that hour because I want to spend it with my family. It would almost be easier to have less money, have a stable job, and never feel like my time is stamped with a dollar value. Or, at the least, have a partner who earns as much as I do, or around the same amount, so we could contribute to a goal income for the year… and enjoy the time we have off without the calculator in my head exploding over lost income opportunities.

Follow Up to: Tips for Making More Money Long-Term for 20 Somethings

A few days ago, I wrote a post about how to make more money over your entire life. The trick? Believe you “need” more money than you do now and approach your life’s choices based on that need… then save the difference in what you get vs. what you actually need. Always live below your means. Ok, this isn’t revolutionary advice, but I got some interesting comments from my readers, and I wanted to respond.

Anonymous #1, from Kentucky, said “I like the idea behind this advice. I also agree to an extent. On the other hand, it’s not just career choice that will determine the amount that you make, but geographic location as well. A $120,000 per year job to you is more like $60,000 per year here.”

Meanwhile…

Anonymous #2 said “that was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read! …No offense, but you are still a kid and have a lot to learn. Don’t get me wrong, you are way ahead of most other 20-somethings (not hard to do in this day & age, though!), but be careful about advice you are giving (or taking). Also – you could reach your $100K goal MUCH easier if you moved to a place with a lower cost of living.”

While one commenter loved my advice and the other hated it, both had a similar comment on how my choice to live in California makes it more difficult for me to reach my financial goals. I disagree.

I’ve lived in many different parts of the country through my life, though perhaps never the places where the lifestyle is extremely cheap. But I’m not sure how much a move would save me, unless I moved back home and lived with my parents.

My rent right now is $630. With utilities that adds up to maybe $700 a month. Granted, in Detroit, according to Craigslist ads, I could get similar room in a 3br shared apartment for around $350 a month. I don’t know Detroit so can’t compare my nice neighborhood to the offerings on CL, but let’s just say the rents for a room are half what I’m paying now.

Everyone seems to think living in California is impossibly expensive. It’s not. It IS expensive if you want to buy a house here. Gas is a little higher than in the rest of the country. State tax is higher than some other states. Ok, it’s not the cheapest place to live. But there are also a lot of opportunities for work here, especially in the areas where it costs more to live. So salaries do, to an extent, compensate for the difference. As my first commenter said, $60k in Tennessee is maybe equal to $120k in California. I’m not sure I agree with that math, but there’s obviously some truth in it. I COULD move to a cheaper place, make less money, spend less on rent, and save the same amount. But I would have a very hard time finding a job in my industry outside of this area. If you’re in an industry you can work in anywhere, then by all means, live somewhere more affordable. That doesn’t change my argument that you should always think you need more money than you do, and that this thinking will help you earn more in the long run.

Now, commenter #2, who has worked as a hiring manager, made a good point. He/she said that once a candidate for a job refused to take the job unless given $5k more than the offer. Eventually, the company hired someone else. OK, I never said “be stupid.” If you really want a job, are unemployed, and have no other options (if you “walk” will you be unemployed for another six months? Or are there other opportunities on the table) then take the job. My logic still works, though. If you think you need $x more per year, then you might get a side job, or seek out freelance income to meet your goals. You don’t NEED to make the extra money through your day job. It doesn’t hurt to push a little in negotiating but always be realistic. I took a big risk during my negotiations for my current job and it paid off. I was really nervous that it wouldn’t, and I got lucky. I also knew that I was by far the top candidate for the role and my company really wanted to hire me. I also did not get what I asked for, but I quickly accepted a realistic offer that was still much higher than I was making at my previous job.

In comparison, I look at friends of mine in their 20s who are living at home or living in cheap apartments and thinking that they only need to make enough to cover life month to month. The fact is that your future salary is largely determined by what you make before it (not always, but having a strong salary history helps.) If you spend your 20s making a smaller income because you do not see a reason to strive for more earnings, then you will be at a disadvantage in your 30s. Again, I’m not saying this works for every field… some fields have set salaries. You can still make extra money. If you’re fortunate enough to not be in debt in your 20s, take advantage of this and save as much as you can. The best way to save more is to make more. That’s the math I believe in.

Commenter #2 also asked “Do you have a net worth goal you are aiming for by the time you are 30? Don’t you think NET WORTH is a better goal than just “savings?” I keep track of mine yearly. I just looked back to what it was when I was 30. I did NOT have $100K in the bank then, but the net worth was $170K.”

I am not sure what factors into Net Worth to be honest. Right now I’d say my “Net Worth” is my bank account… that is, the combination of my savings, Roth IRA, stocks, CDs, and other investment accounts. I don’t own a home (again, that’s one of the things that is too expensive for me, living in California) but I own a used car (it’s worth maybe $2k, but I don’t bother including that in my networth because I’ll use it until it stops working) and a few other gadgets and things that I don’t count.

So, commenter #2, what was that extra $70k including for your net worth at 30? Did that include a house? That makes complete sense, especially since you have a family. Since I’m single and could move to a job in another city at any moment, it doesn’t make sense for me to own. So my whole Net Worth IS my bank accounts.

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments!

Dear Investing Newbie and Simple in France

Since both of you left such great comments on my last entry, I thought I’d follow up in another entry to clarify, while still being vague enough to hopefully keep anyone who finds my blog from knowing who I am. (It’s getting tougher and tougher to do that while being 100% honest on my earnings!)

Simple in France recommends that, since I don’t know exactly what my income will be over the year, I budget for one that’s “shoestring” and save everything else. There’s no harm in saving. And I agree. I have a feeling my income this year will double, if not triple the $60k I was making last year. Yes, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that I could even hit $200k. I could also “hit” $10k – if for some reason after a week into the job they end up hating me. Not saying that’s going to happen, but anything is possible. And it’s so easy for them to say so long when you’re not a full-time employee. I can’t count on anything.
I’m trying to continue my goal of having diverse income streams, but it is difficult to maintain more than one job when one is a major 40+ hour-a-week commitment. The good thing about being on an hourly contract is that you’re pretty much limited to 8 hours a day of work. That means you probably won’t be working 60 hour weeks at one job, or if you are, you’re getting paid for those extra hours. So that leaves room for picking up (or keeping) other freelance gigs. My biggest concern, though, is that I’ll be asked to work those extra hours and I’ll struggle to keep the balance of my diverse income streams. At least when I’m in a contract position I feel like it’s fair to accept other work (unless the contract is salaried and specifies they own you for a set period of time). I never want to only have one income stream, I know I can be laid off at any time, or a company could go under. I don’t care how much I’m making at one job, I need something else that at least covers the rent and minimal food just in case. At the moment, I have a part-time contract gig that moved from 8 hours a week to 16 hours a week recently. That pays slightly less than the 40 hour a week gig, so if I had to chose one to keep it would definitely be the 40-hour-a-week one. But there’s no harm in working 4 hours extra 4 days a week (or spreading out my time even more) to save more money. And that’s my goal. Save as much as possible this year. I’ll probably — best case scenerio — get myself into a ridiculously high tax bracket, have to pay self-employment tax on some of my income, and end up earning not as much as I could have at a lower-paid, full-time job with benefits. But, I think it will work out ok, as long as I can keep this all going. And I’m going to make this work somehow. To prove to myself I can. And to save a lot of money. Because right now I’m either look at going to grad school or buying a condo (???) in the next 1-2 years and I don’t mind keeping my spending low to increase my savings.
Investing Newbie asks if I know what I’m guaranteed as income, and that I should budget based on that. Yes, and no, is the answer. As stated above, in a contract role “guaranteed” for only half the year, the most I’m guaranteed for — even if I am amazing at my job — is 6 months worth of work. They also are perfectly free to tell me that they don’t want me to come back in to the office at any time. They could even tell me that before I start my first day. I doubt they will, but I accept weirder things have happened. Then, my other income streams, while smaller, are a little bit more predictable. I have a blogging gig which, at the most, can bring in $500 a month. That I’ve been doing for a while. I got behind badly in Feb but did well in March. I just need to get up early and spend about 30 minutes to write a blog post for 20 posts a month. It’s totally do-able. That gig is probably the most stable of them all, but the company that runs the blog could chose to shut it down at any time. Then there’s the 16-hour-a-week project I noted above, which is sort of guaranteed at 16 hours per week for the next two months. It’s with a stealth startup where I’m doing some writing work that I can basically do whenever (ie, night time, after work, weekends.) That also could end at any time. So the simple answer is — I have no idea what my gross income will be for the year. There’s a good chance it could be way more than I’ve made in the past. There’s a chance it will be less. I don’t know what to plan for. Other than to plan for a little bit of income ($35k about) and budget off of that.
Investing Newbie also writes that I could open up a plain savings account with a good rate and save up money for 40+ years or to invest if I feel comfortable with it. I do have savings accounts and investment accounts, and I plan to split my earnings among those accounts. Since I started working, I’ve put $5,000 a year into my Roth IRA, but if the best-case scenario works out this year, I won’t qualify for a Roth. Again, not the worst problem in the world to have, but I would like to put money away for retirement. I also don’t want to put everything away for retirement because — as I said — I either want to buy a house or go to grad school in the next 1-2 years. So where does that savings go?
Up until now, I’ve been fairly aggressive in my Sharebuilder investment account, in terms of stock and ETF purchases. I started slowly and was down a lot (like everyone else) when the markets crashed, but kept investing when they were down (bought a lot of a few companies I thought were on sale) and am now up 25% and have an account worth about $10k total. Still, I only invest $100-$400 a month. It would be a lot harder to put $2000 a month into my volatile stocks and ETFs. I also have a Vanguard account (besides my Roth IRA) that’s just a mid-cap index fund. It’s doing ok. I could put more money into that (or open up another taxable Vanguard fund) but I’m still a little nervous for shorter-term investing. Granted, I’m young enough where if my networth goes down I can recover. Maybe I’ll have to take out a bigger loan for grad school or not buy a house in the near future, but it wouldn’t kill me. I’m fine renting and living with roommates. I don’t need a lot to be happy.
So, yes, I could just put whatever extra money I make over my shoestring budget and put it directly into a basic savings account or FDIC-insured laddered CDs. I’ll probably lean more towards investing anything over my monthly expenses. I think for the first time in my life I’ll have access to a 401k plan (though I’m not sure how good it is) so it probably makes sense to put some money away pre-tax. It’s SO HARD to figure out if that makes sense, though. If my yearly income is less than $80k (or whatever the cut-off is for a single person this year) I am better off funding the Roth IRA first. But if it’s more than that, the 401k makes a lot of sense. I probably won’t know until next December which of those will be accurate. I guess there are ways to fund one thing and move money around until the year is over, but that’s a huge pain. I’d like to just pick something and stick with it. The Roth IRA has been the no-brainer for the last few years, but it sounds like I should take advantage of the 401k while I have access to it.
Other places I could stash my cash? The 529 plan (which has, like, $1200 in it right now (enough for – what – one month’s worth of MBA textbooks?) which is only free from federal taxes… I could buy a condo now and give up on my grad school dreams… and also trust that I can continue earning some decent income for the next 50 years, I could put about $2500 more into the HSA plan which I may or may not continue… I’d have to get it in there before I cancel the insurance, and pay a yearly fee forever to keep the account open, but that’s a place where I can put pre-tax money and not have to pay taxes if I use the money for health expenses… and that makes more sense than the FSA which is also available with my new employer. I don’t like the idea of FSA’s since you lose the money if you don’t spend it at the end of the year.
Anyway, I’m going off topic. I’m in a good situation right now all things considered, but the way I look at money, and savings, is drastically changing. I don’t understand how to lead a six-figure lifestyle. Especially one that isn’t guaranteed to be a six-figure lifestyle. It’s fine to live this year like I’m making $35k and ignore anything above that I make. But when in my life will it be ok to stop and live a slightly nicer lifestyle? Go for a massage every once in a while? Buy a good road bike? Get a better car (mine will die soon, so I will need to invest in another car anyway)? Sign off on a condo or small house? All these luxuries… at what point in income and income stability do I need to be at before it’s ok to spend more than a shoestring budget? Or is the key to never do that, no matter how much money you make?

Shooting Through My Glass Ceilings

This year has been full of fiscal ups and downs. After making a solid salary at a full-time job, I was laid off in February and ended up picking up part-time gigs which, while paying great by the hour, didn’t cover enough hours to meet my prior salary. And then I interviewed for a bunch of jobs and got a few offers. In the end, I landed a six-month contract with very strong hourly pay.

It’s almost funny how just a year ago I was writing about how what I was making then would give me so much extra to save, and then I quickly found that I while I had money to save, the cost of doctor’s bills and life kept my savings per month low. And now, looking at the next few months of income, I’m more excited than ever about helping my networth move out of being stuck in $35k. My goal, by the end of 2010, was to have a networth of $50k. Now, I’m aiming for $75k.
What will that take? Mostly, being amazing at my job, which I plan to do. Also, I can’t look at the number I’m taking home and get as much out of my bank account into savings accounts before I have a chance to get near a mall or travel website.
I’m not going to complain about how much I will make because I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to save for grad school and a house (MBA, here I come), but it makes savings a lot more complicated. I don’t know how many of you can relate because there’s a chance this year I’ll hit six figures. I’m not sure it will happen — I will only really know for sure next winter. It’s certainly possible for the first time in my life.
With that type of income I move out of the average American household and hit what many people in America would consider rich for a single person. In the least, there’s a chance I will make over the limits for a Roth IRA. For the past five years my Roth IRA has been my primary retirement savings vehicle. I’m not really sure where else to save money for retirement. I might be able to set up a 401k but it’s going to be kind of messy to do that since I’m a contractor. None of the companies I’ve worked for in the past have had 401k funds, so if I am able to participate, even without a match (there won’t be a match), I will. I probably should put a good amount of my monthly income into a 401k if I can open one. I can always max out my Roth IRA at the end of 2010 if I don’t end up making the higher end of my potential earnings. Or a traditional IRA if that makes more sense. I also may put a lot more into my 529 plan for grad school, though I’m nervous about putting too much in that account as there’s a chance I’ll never end up going to grad school. I do want to have children, so I’d like to think if I don’t spend my 529 plan for me, I can pass it on to my children one day. But that’s a long time off, it’s tough to put more than $100/month in that account without worrying about wasting money on that account. I can always take it out for something else, but I’ll have to pay a fine. And in my state the money put into that account is only tax deductible on the federal level, not state. Still, it’s probably worth it this year to put a larger amount than normal in that account, since I may not have access to a Roth IRA.
It is hard to plan when the amount you may make over the year is not set in stone. On one hand, it’s kind of exciting. It makes me want to work extra hard to prove myself and earn as much as possible. As I grow in my career, my blog title becomes more and more misleading. I’m not going to be overconfident with this as so much is up in the air. When I’m 10 years out of undergrad (in 2015) I will write a post on how my income fluctuated over the years. I’d love to know what will be in that post, but I like being surprised by life too.

Negotiate

Breathe in. Breathe out.

This is an exercise in staying calm while all cards are on the table, lying face down. You study the deck, eyes squinted, imagining how if you can see clear through to the other side, this game would be so much easier. Instead, you breathe. You wait.
There are a few different jobs I’ve interviewed for over the past month. Some are better than others. A few pay pretty good salaries. There is one I really want. The job requires a ton of responsibility. Global travel. It’s a great opportunity for me from every angle, except that it doesn’t provide benefits or paid time off, etc. It’s hourly. But that shouldn’t matter if the hourly price is right.
And that is where the cards are lying right now. Except in this negotiation there is a mediator. Someone hired for the sole purpose of finding out what my cards are, bringing them to the company, and deciding if I’m worth what I’d like to make.
I did what I normally do and asked for a range they were looking at first. The range was somewhat low, although not necessarily lower than I expected. I inquired if it would destroy my chances of getting the position if I asked for more. Are there other candidates? The answer – yes, there are two other candidates who made it to the final round. But they like me the most. They seem to really want to hire me. That’s great. I think they’re right because I’d be really good for this job. Given my normal lack of confidence on these sorts of things that says a lot.
But what I don’t know is where those other two candidates stand. Am I really the top candidate? Are they willing to negotiate with me until we settle on a fair hourly rate? Or did I high ball too much? Too little? It’s hard to say. It’s hard to figure out what is comparable to an annual salary when you drop all benefits. Even my last job, which paid an average annual salary, ended up being worth more with a severance, stock options, conference fees, and a free computer. Those stock options, in theory, could one day be worth even more. In a contract position all you get is your hourly salary. So why not try to get a fairly high rate?
I’m just not sure what counts as high and what counts as “she’s crazy for asking for that much.” On one hand, there’s a part of me that feels like I did that right now, on the other hand this is a short-term project and if they don’t like me or think I’m worth my rate they can easily terminate me at any time, so it’s not like they have a lot to lose if I’m not all that and the bag of chips they think I am.
Right now I’m trying to figure out what the lowest I’ll go is. The range I was quoted seemed a bit vague. My title isn’t generic, so it’s hard to say what level it falls under. Even researching what other people are paid in this position elsewhere is tricky, there just aren’t many specialists in this type of role out there. At least not with enough experience to get this far in the hiring process.
I’d really love it if I got a call today that said “ok” to the dollar figure I quoted. I have a feeling they’re going to come back with something lower. How much lower… I don’t know. I really hope they wouldn’t say “you’re too expensive for us so we decided to pass.” That would be the worst thing to hear. Yes, there are other opportunities. Yes, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I really want this job. It would be so good for me. And I think I can really make a difference in this organization. Show my stuff, so to speak. Move to the next level.
God, I hate waiting. I was told they will get back to me fairly quickly. Sounds like they want to hire someone yesterday. It would make my year if they just said yes, and gave me a start date. Fingers crossed for the best possible outcome when our hands are flipped face up.

Career Advice: 10 Tips to Negotiate a Raise on Hire

A friend of mine recently asked me for advice regarding her promotion. After being stuck in dead-end retail jobs since graduating college two years ago, she finally landed a temp-to-hire customer service gig. On hire, her boss informed her that if she were to be hired full time she would get a raise.

Two weeks went by and they decided to offer her a full time position. The HR department gave her an offer letter, however, she was shocked to see that the rate quoted did not include a pay raise (though it did add in benefits, which is a raise.)
In such difficult economic times, every company is looking to cut costs. If you accept a salary offered to you, a company is not going to say “we were low balling you, you’re supposed to try to talk us up.” They’ll give you whatever you’ll take.
The best advice I’ve ever received is that no one is going to take your job offer away if you ask for more money. The worst that will happen is they’ll say no, and you will then have to decide if you want to take the job at the quoted rate or walk. Likely, you’ll gain the respect of your boss for having the guts to attempt such a negotiation. This proves that in the business world you will negotiate on behalf of the company. If you’re good at getting what you want, you will probably also be good at getting what the company wants.
My friend was extremely worried about messing up her chances at being hired full time, so she almost decided not to ask for more money. Her offer was $31k, even though her Salary.com research showed that someone at her level should make, on average, $38k. Starting out, you do have to be willing to accept lower than what you may think you’re worth to get in, but you don’t have to settle for a rate you’re uncomfortable with. Ask, and you – more likely than not – will receive.
These were my recommendations to my friend that ultimately resulted in her getting $4k more a year and a salary review scheduled in 3 months….
1. If your company has a separate HR department, talk to your boss first. Your boss should be able to speak to HR for you, and determine what your pay rate will be.
2. When talking to your boss, it is always wise to come prepared to discuss your contributions to the company or any previous work you’ve done that relates to what you will be doing for the company in the future.
3. It’s good to show “you understand” the financial situation of the company. One line I like to use these days is – “I understand the economy is tough right now, and it is such an honor to be working for this company. However, I do hope to be compensated fairly based on what I have and/or may contribute to this company…”
4. Don’t be afraid to high ball, within reason. I once was offered $40k for a job and asked for $50k, assuming I would maybe get a counteroffer of $45k. I was extremely shocked when my boss simply said “ok.” (I’ve also gotten a flat out “no” when trying to negotiate a $1200 a year raise at a different job.) Hiring is a complicated process but what’s most important to many bosses and hiring managers is to have the right people on their team. The difference of $5,000 a year may not mean a lot to a company, but it will mean a lot to you.
5. Be ready to walk, if you want to walk, or even if you don’t want to. Apply for other jobs if you have to. Make it seem like you can get something else, even if you can’t. You always want to seem like not only the best person for the job, but a person that the company is lucky to have. Of course, you need to follow up with proving this while working at the company once hired or promoted. Right now, you need them to know just how great you are, without sounding full of yourself. Just be confident – it goes a long way.
6. Think of your total compensation package and negotiate for better benefits (more time off, telecommuting days, etc) if the pay rate is set. You’ll be glad you asked for this later. Don’t let company’s fool you into thinking stock options are worth a lot more than they are. 401ks are only exciting if the company matches, and few companies do these days.
7. Ask for a 3 month review. This is especially important when you’re first hired and if you’re willing to accept slightly less than what you would like to be making. At a lot of companies you have to wait for a year before getting a review and the raise that goes with it. It’s fair for a company to want to test you out a bit before giving you a significant raise, but ask that your work be reviewed within a set amount of time (3 months) and make sure to document your work over that time period and meet with your boss in 3 months to get that raise you deserve.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you deserve. I know, it’s scary to ask your boss for more money. As a shy girl (or guy), we’re likely worried about confrontation. We just want to be offered the things we deserve. Unfortunately, in the business world, that just doesn’t happen. Negotiation is expected, and you’ll feel so much better once you’ve done it.
9. Dress really nice (for your work environment) on the day you ask for a raise (and the days prior and after).
10. Be rational. You’re not going to get a pay bump from $30k to $100k in a year. Don’t ask for a raise every month. Use common sense and you may end up with some extra spending/saving money each year.
Do you have any other negotiation tips? Share them with your fellow readers of Her Every Cent Counts in a comment below.

Getting Back on Track – goal: from $12k to $30k savings in 1 year

In this past year, despite being conscious of my poor spending habits, I managed to whack my net worth down from $26k at its highest to about $12k, where it is currently, give or take a few k.

Most of the damage was done on my trip to Israel, when I basically threw most of my financial wisdom out the window. The biggest problem, it seemed, was that because the trip was pretty much “free” (even for the week after the free trip, I stayed with my family all over Israel for “free”) it was easy to spend money for gifts and little items for myself here and there. Well, it all added up. Meanwhile, I was paying $1050 in rent for the month for my empty studio apartment back in Cali, and I wasn’t making any money either while I was on vacation. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure that out.

The good news is that as long as I stick to a tight budget this year, I should be well on the way to healing my ailing savings account.

While I need to just accept the fact that anything in my net worth involving the stock market is being kicked in the groin repeatedly right now, I can do quite a bit to get myself out of this financial rut and figurative debt.

According to my calculations, I’m about -$9000 in the “red” (not literally) in my cash accounts. My non-liquid savings accounts are at $21k, which includes those suffering in the stock market, so in reality my overall “net worth” is somewhere at $12k. I’m also getting another paycheck in a few weeks, though some of that will go to rent.

For the sake of my mental health, I’m going to use this entry to re-draft my budget, so that I have a very clear plan on how I can save $17,000 in one year. That’s really just about $1500 a month, right? I think that’s… well, that might be do-able.

————–
Fixed Spending: $994.32

$635.12 – Rent (includes water & garbage)
$60.00 – TV / Internet / PGE (estimate)
$97.64 – car insurance
$146.78 – health insurance
$54.78 – cell phone
—————————————
$994.32

OTHER: $900

$400.00 – Food
$100.00 – drugstore / vitamins / cleaning supplies
$300.00 – gas
$100.00 – entertainment
—————————————–
$900

$1600 – $1900 – approx “necessary” spending (+/-)

Income:

$4800 + $400 / month before taxes
$5200…

about $2600 after taxes

So… saving $1000 a month, if I never ever go to the doctor, or buy clothes, or eat out… is possible. Right?

I’m also looking into seeing if I could get a cheaper health insurance plan since it’s not really doing me any good and it’s just for emergencies. I had to pay $65 to go see a doctor just to get antibiotics for my last UTI anyway, so why does it matter how high my deductible is?

Anyway, saving $1500 a month looks somewhat unlikely. However, I am overestimating my tax payments since they won’t really be exactly 50% of my income. They’ll be close to that, maybe 45% when all is said and done after self employment tax, but at the least, I figure if I’m saving 50% that will give me some extra dough at the end of the tax year to close out my Roth IRA for 2008.

Ugh, I feel like I’m making a lot of money, but it’s no where near enough. I wonder if I should look for another, better paying job. But I LOVE my job. I make $57k a year, though not really, since that’s on contract and no benefits or time off is included. So I figure I prob make about $50k a year in comparison to my past jobs. I just have no idea what I should be making. I charge some clients $50 an hour for work, but that’s all on smaller projects, I can’t justify asking for that sort of raise at my current gig, nor do I feel the work I do there warrants $50 an hour. There just isn’t enough work for me to do there in terms of work that I know how to do – writing. I do a lot of other things, but a lot of those tasks are literally shared with an intern.

Futz, I’d like to be making $65k a year w/ benefits. I have no idea if that’s a ridiculous amount to hope for with my experience and given that I live in the Bay Area. I’m also kind of frustrated with the fact that 40 hours per week at my company does not = full time. Granted, I work my 40 hours a week at random hours of the day and night, and they aren’t picky about it – but still, I just dislike that 40 hours a week no longer equals full time. To be full time at my company, I have to work 60 hours a week. But really, what would I do for 60 hours a week? I don’t even know how many hours I’m actually working… but I’m sure it’s more than 40. I need to start keeping track of where my hours are going. I just feel like… if I worked for an advertising or interactive marketing agency, I’d know where my hours were going, because they’d be spent writing, and I’d have something to show for all those hours. At my current job, it seems like I have little to show for the work I do. I’m so used to being a journalist, where every day you’re worth is in your clips. Here, it’s ideas, it’s finding bugs on the site, it’s doing a lot of little things that are kind of sort of in my job description… and I worry that I’m not doing enough, and I worry I’m doing too much, and I wonder how I can move up in the company when there’s really nowhere to move up to…