Within two years of graduating college in 1998, I was working as a business analyst in an IT consulting firm and making a higher income than each of my parents: a university math professor and a high-ish-level federal government employee with a Master’s Degree in math. (Yes, I come from numerate stock.)
I remember being delighted that I was making so much damn money, but also not-so-faintly weirded out.
That time in the tech industry was not unlike now: companies are hungry for workers. The tech sector is hot, both for employment and for stock. Some of my clients are getting multiple offers that almost make me rethink my move out of tech into financial planning. (Not really, but still, those are some big dollars!)
The Reality of Your Big Bucks
First, let’s check yo’self. Do not compare your parents’ income in, say, Newport News, VA (where I grew up) to an income in the Bay Area. That’s just silly!
Look at the Cost of Living
Many of you earning crazy high compensation live in crazy expensive places. You need to adjust for “cost of living” before comparing your income to anyone else. Here’s one of (I assume many) online cost-of-living calculators.
For example, according to that calculator, earning $100k in San Francisco/the Peninsula is equivalent to earning $55k in the Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News, VA area. That means you’d have to earn almost twice as much to have the same standard of living in the San Francisco area.
Risk Versus Reward
In investing, we always talk about “risk versus reward.” It wouldn’t surprise me at all if you lost half your investment in a stock over one year, but I would expect a government bond to lose single digits that same period, at most. Stocks are, in that way, riskier. But that’s why stocks historically return more than government bonds: to compensate you for that risk.
So, what risks do you face, working in tech? That your job can disappear overnight. That your company stock can become worthless, or at least lose a lot of its value, over a few months. That the entire industry can go <kersplat!> like it did in the early 2000s’ Dot Com Bust and you can’t find a new job easily—or at all—for too long.
Compare that to, say, a public school teacher. They get paid a whooole lot less than you do. But then, it’s much less likely they’ll lose their job. In fact, many of them will have the same job for their entire working career. (To be sure, I believe teachers should be paid a heck of a lot more. But the profession clearly illustrates the risk-reward dynamic.)
Go Ahead, Be Generous!
Do you want to share your good fortune? With friends and family whom you love and want to support? With charities or other organizations whose mission you wholeheartedly believe in?
I have clients who want to help siblings with down payments, or treat their parents to special vacations, or help their parents live a more comfortable retirement. Many of my clients, especially since last year’s presidential election, want to give more money to causes they care about, to help protect those who can’t protect themselves.
And I say, Good for you! Go for it! This is part of the awesomeness of tech-industry pay. It enables you to make change for the better in your world, in our world.
Allow me to channel Oprah for a moment…
You need to take care of yourself first. If you’re a woman, especially if you’re a mother, you are more likely to put other people’s needs ahead of your own. You know where that lands you? Unable to help those people at some point in the future when you’ve depleted yourself and your resources.
It’s the old “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others” mantra.
What does this look like financially?
- Have an Emergency Fund that can cover your expenses for at least 3 months, and preferably at least 6, seeing as how you work in a volatile industry.
- Save at least 15% of your income towards retirement. And preferably much more.
- Save some towards nearer-term goals. (Home down payment? Career change? Starting a family? Some ill-defined dream?)
Many of you should be able, with intention and planning, to protect yourself in all these ways and still help out the people and causes you care about.
Those Damn Emotions
I’m no therapist, but I know what I felt when I was 24, and I have heard similar from several of my clients. Discomfort. Guilt. Feeling you can’t openly talk about your finances with your family.
If it really screws with your head, who knows? Maybe you’d benefit from seeing a therapist to help you work through the emotional challenge.
But from a financial planner-y perspective, I beg of you, don’t let it make you complacent, or worse yet, even self-sabotage your career or your finances, because “I’m making so much money already!”
An Opportunity Not to Be Squandered
You might not always want to work in tech. Take me for example. Or my husband. Or the expressed desires of several of my clients.
You might not always be able to work in tech. ‘Tis a sad reality, but age, especially as a female, is often not a valued quality in tech. There’s definitely a youth bias. Not to mention, while the industry is going gangbusters now, it won’t always be. Jobs will be harder to come by for everyone.
This is a drum I beat repeatedly. Because it is core to creating the life you want. Work in the tech industry can give you so many financial opportunities: But you need to use those opportunities correctly. Don’t be blasé about them just because the money is coming in now.
Can you imagine how much of a bonehead you’d feel like if you decide, 10 year from now, you want to switch careers, and you can’t do it (at least, not easily) because you don’t have money to live on as you transition? And you realize that you could have had such a safety net if only (if only!) you’d been more intentional about your money for that whole time?
So, use your advantages while you’ve got them!
Are you surprised and, well, slightly discomfited by how much money you make? Do you want to make sure you’re making the most of the opportunity? Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.