Slowly but Surely, Times are Changing
I began my work journey more than 25 years ago in various project management and analyst roles in fields that were male-dominated at the time. I first worked as a project coordinator at a truck equipment company and then for an electrical contractor before moving into a project support and then project management and analyst roles in telecommunications.
Not only did I experience a “good ole’ boys club” atmosphere in these industries, but I earned less compensation. While it was relatively easy in those to figure out how much my male counterparts were making, it was much less easy to find the confidence to ask for a raise or negotiate for a larger salary after receiving a job offer!
Luckily, women are making significant strides in building strong careers in every avenue of the workforce even though there have been setbacks from the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent research highlights women’s increasing participation in traditionally higher-paid, male-dominated professions. The now decades-long focus on encouraging STEM education for girls and women has dramatically increased the number of women forging ahead in related vocations.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that while overall women’s workforce participation is up slightly in the 20 years between 2000 and 2019, certain careers have seen tremendous inflows of women. Women are becoming chemists and other scientists, mathematicians, and dentists at impressive growth rates, and the number of women becoming veterinarians has doubled. This is great news for my animal-loving daughter!
Source: U.S. Census Bureau; 2000 Census and 2029 American Community Survey
As women enter higher-paid professions at increasing numbers they lower the gap between male and female salaries. And as women are creating their wealth, they are doing it in ways that reflect their lifelong needs, habits, and goals. These are – and should be – different from men at every life stage.
Here’s my round-up of some things I think women should consider as they work to create lasting wealth at every stage of their career.
Early Career Planning Tips
If only I’d known some of these tips early in my career. In the time many women graduate high school or college and start working full-time, they will likely see rapid increases in their income. However, this is often tempered by sometimes significant debt that results from college loans and relying on credit cards.
Another danger is "lifestyle inflation” risk because not living within their means and saving for the future lessons the ability to build a foundation for future wealth. A goal for this stage should be to create financial security and from there work to build flexibility for things like changing careers, going back to school, or even taking time off to travel or have children. Systematic saving and investing can make those choices possible. Important things to consider:
Lower debt more quickly by refinancing to a lower interest rate, paying more than the minimum every month and automating payments online.
Create a cash flow plan which isn’t about budgeting. Rather, it’s about lining up money with short- and long-term goals. Especially in cases of inconsistent income from bonuses or variable work hours, mapping out a strategy makes it easier to put money to work. Hint: Open separate bank accounts to align with goals.
Increase income and reduce taxes by negotiating for better employee benefits. Always contribute at least enough to a 401(k) to get the employer match, and ultimately strive to save 15% of annual salary. Make sure to take advantage of healthcare and commuter benefits and discounts.
Have an emergency savings fund in place to prevent using credit cards when an unexpected expense like a car or home repair happens. Plan to save between three to six months of expenses. (It’s not necessary to save three to six months of your current income.)
Set it and forget it! During this life phase, the easiest way to pay down debt and save more is to automate payments for bills and transferring a set amount from a bank account every payday to a savings and/or investment account.
Mid-Career Planning Tips
For most women, single or in a relationship, mid-career is an extremely busy time. In addition to receiving promotions, getting a better job or taking on more responsibility at work, many women are at this life stage are also traveling, buying a home, getting married and having kids, or helping out family members.
Besides being the mainstay of a partner's and kid's lives, it’s important for women to act as CEO of their career to ensure they’re being paid fairly and maintain the work-life balance they desire and to make sure they're prepared financially for the future.
Get a prenup before getting married. A prenuptial agreement isn’t just for the rich and famous. They’re for everybody nowadays because the way couples manage their money is different than in the past. The best way to think about it is as a roadmap for how a couple will manage their money. Following a “yours, mine and ours” approach how money is managed in a marriage not only creates trust, but sets a precedent for open, honest conversations about money and goals.
Get in the habit of saving and investing with a 50/50 rule. Save and invest at least 50 percent of any increases in income such as from a bonus, raise or new job; and use the remaining 50 percent for lifestyle improvements like a vacation, home project or new home. Why does this work? The key to saving for the future more is to do it consistently, which is much easier to do by enjoying some of these fruits of labor today.
Save for retirement no matter the work situation. Women have longer life expectancies, and therefore need their money to last for more years in retirement. Women who choose to work part-time or leave the workforce need to discuss contributing to a spousal IRA with their partner to ensure their retirement savings stay on track during less work or no work years.
Perform an annual career benchmark. Women should wait for a promotion or a raise. Keep track of what others are achieving and being paid by hiring a consultant, building a relationship with a good recruiter, or reviewing salary trends like salary.com or payscale.com.
Career Downsizing or Retirement Planning Tips
After working 20+ years, most women find themselves in a role where they’re considered an industry expert, are in a leadership position, or are running their own company. But instead of thinking ahead to retirement, I have clients who want to downsize their career. Whether because they want to travel more, spend more time with family or reduce their stress, having a plan to scale back is important. Think through:
How to pay for health insurance coverage. Unless there’s a partner with an employer healthcare plan in place, it’s important to budget for private health insurance before age 65 when Medicare benefits kick in. This can be an expensive proposition, so do the research before making a career change. The government provides a plan finder tool to find insurance outside its Health Insurance Marketplace.
Delay filing for Social Security. If possible, waiting until full retirement age (or later) can provide a much larger lifetime benefit. The Social Security Administration has a table that shows the rate of monthly increase for number of delayed years. This means taking income from other sources such as a part-time job, savings or investments. It’s also good to know that Social Security bases your benefits on your 35 highest-earning years, so replacing an early career year with a more highly paid later year can bump up your overall payment amount.
Determine how to pay for long-term care. It’s important to plan for long-term care costs. The type of help needed can range from getting help with chores around the house and getting nursing care after a major surgery to moving into an assisted living facility or nursing home. Learn about the pros and cons of the various options including paying for a long-term care insurance policy, funding an annuity with a long-term care rider, using cash or investment savings or taking out a reverse mortgage. The National Institute of Aging has a helpful guide explaining the options.
Review and update estate planning goals. Even though it’s not fun, make sure to talk through everyone's wishes for what will happen as you age. Doing it now while you're healthy and creating a funding source will help ensure a graceful, happy older stage.
Planning Now Can Pay Off Later
Women continue to make tremendous progress on all fronts while guiding and leading us towards a more inclusive world. Taking time to plan and manage your financial needs at every stage can put you on the path to financial independence.
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