By: Revanche

Money in my 20s

March 9, 2012

Balancing acts in adulthood

I’ve been enjoying the conversations over at Wandering Scientist on work life balance. As I teeter into my thirties, I’ve been examining some of the financial and professional choices I’ve made during this decade and reflecting on how effective those philosophies have been and whether they will continue to hold true for the upcoming decade. I suspect that life and money and career in my thirties will be just as interesting a trip, but beyond that? Well, so far I’ve been terrible at prognosticating so I’ll just leave it at that.

As for my twenties ….

These were absolutely the foundation years: completing the final years of undergrad, deciding to hold off on graduate school until I knew better what I wanted out of it, throwing myself into my career at full tilt while digging out of debt and then building up a nest egg.  My approach to my career and my money was the same: more is better.

Philosophically, the natural, deeply ingrained, unthinking element was an intrinsic need to achieve something, a drive to have a discernable growth pattern, to do something that seemed tangible. I wanted to build a career, I wanted to have achieved something substantive.

The logical, considered, and reasoned plan was to aim for a position where my work-life balance wouldn’t be dictated by the company because I was highly placed enough where they didn’t care about niceties like when I showed up or how many hours I worked as long as the job was done well.  Essentially, I wanted to achieve the ability to talk terms with the company I worked for as long as I was an employee.

*** 

In Oil and Garlic’s post, A Precarious Balance, she discusses the ignored constraints in finding work-life balance when your income doesn’t stretch to buying flexibility and help. She lists a number of things that one can do to earn or achieve more flexibility from her perspective as a non-manager with a mid-level salary in a HCOLA.  That combination probably describes a fair number of us who simply don’t have the ability to buy out of the choices that we have to manage to run households and feed mouths, day to day.

Meanwhile, she notes: At my company, those in manager positions and above enjoy a higher autonomy.   They don’t have to ask permission to work from home.  They also have the money for nanny and cleaning help, something that my household has paid for but at a great sacrifice (and only temporarily).   They can still enjoy many luxuries like massages, travel and dining out.  True, they have greater responsibilities, too, and they’ve earned it.  But their solutions often aren’t applicable to those those in lower income brackets.  In other words, they can buy some balance while many people don’t have that same privilege.

I very much agreed.  Having worked many years in retail and other similarly low-wage environments while going to school, I’d observed very early on the vulnerabilities of being in the middle and lower tiers of any organization. One typically has less negotiating power in terms of responsibilities, is considered more expendable or is less valued as an asset to the company, and blends in with the rest of the equivalent employees holding the same role.

In that position, an individual’s power, and the choices one would like to make for oneself tend to lie in the advocacy and kindness of an immediate superior and his or her ability to persuade at least one or more rungs above if flexibility isn’t part of the company policy.

***

In the long-term, that was far too slim a reed for me to rest my life and my family’s lives on, particularly when I had the additional concern of a chronic illness for which there were no immediate prospects for improvement.

Superficially, need and circumstance dictated that I simply earn a living but I was compelled to steer my career trajectory as steeply as I could, as early as I could, while building a strong reputation in my chosen field. My theory was that should I be derailed for any length of time, for any reason, that reputation would serve to smooth my way.

Cloud, of Wandering Scientist confirms, whatever choice you make to take a break for family reasons after you’ve established yourself, you’re usually starting from a better place:

Once you have kids, you can decide whether or not you want or need to ease up on your career, but whatever you decide, it will be easier to keep your career viable if you have a strong reputation built in your earlier years. Whether you keep working or take a break, that reputation will serve you well. I think that one reason I haven’t suffered from much “working moms are slackers” bias in my own career is that I have a sterling reputation for productivity- and have maintained it. But we are also actively recruiting someone right now who is coming back after about 5 years off with young kids. We actually sought her out and asked her if she was ready to come back, on the basis of having been impressed with her work before she took the break.

Details will differ a bit across industries but the basis makes sense to me – someone who had a solid reputation before taking a break would have a leg up on someone who hadn’t established one.

***

My personal net worth has gone from -$50,000 in family debt to around $100,000 in assets over the course of nine years in addition to paying for all living expenses for a family of four. While it’s no great shakes, it’s certainly a fair start at a real financial basis with which to start a family.

I haven’t taken a break yet, and I don’t know if and when I (or we) will decide that it’s time to, but right now, I’m in a strong building phase of my career and striving for higher earning power. It’s only partly a joke that I’m trying to outearn PiC before the end of this year. That’s partly ego, and partly practicality. If I’m the higher earner, and we start a family, there’s a stronger case for him to stay home with the kids! 😉

In the end, my choices throughout my twenties were tailored to setting the scene and creating opportunities for freedom and better choices in the future.

This post is part of Women’s Money Week 2012. For more posts about Money in Your 20s see Money in Your 20’s/30’s/40’s/50’s/Retirement Roundup

3 Responses to “Money in my 20s”

  1. If I’m the higher earner, and we start a family, there’s a stronger case for him to stay home with the kids! 😉

    Somehow, I feel like BF would love to stay home 😛

    He’d love it if I earned more.. but that’ll never happen.

  2. oilandgarlic says:

    Thanks for the link back. I think you’re probably on the right path. I did not give much thought to career or money until my 30s, and also did a career switch, which put me lower in earnings and lower on the ladder.

  3. Revanche says:

    @mochiandmac: I keep going back and forth on this. I’d like to be able to choose, I guess. But I want to be the higher earner to “win”…. *innocent*… what??

    @oilandgarlic: I had considered a career change before this which would very likely have done the same. Right now I’m glad I didn’t but I’m always considering it…

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