Guest Post With Jane From Cash Fasting
Hello all, today’s post will be a little different: its a guest post! Please welcome Jane from Cash Fasting. Jane started her blog after realizing that moving to NYC had completely blown her expenses out of proportion. She now uses Cash Fasting as a means to hold her spending in check, via a series of “Cash Fasts,” a no-spend or reduced spend challenge similar to “Zero Days.” If you’ve never read her blog, make sure you head over. There’s a lot of great content, and I really enjoy following Jane’s journey paying off her student loans. Having paid off mine fairly quickly after college, I understand how hard it can be.
My parents worked very hard to put me where I am today. I went to a good college and got a marketable degree, and even tacked on a graduate degree without having to take out an institutional loan (big thanks to them for footing the bill and letting me pay them back at my own pace). I’ve been working full-time for roughly three years and I think I’ve made huge strides towards my goal of early retirement/financial independence.
Since I’ve started blogging, I’ve been extremely open about the importance of setting up savings goals, planning for retirement, and even discussing my personal job negotiation experience. Since I’m only a few years into investing for myself, I don’t feel comfortable talking at length about index investing, or the stock market in general. I care a lot more about compensation transparency in the workforce, even though I haven’t been fully transparent about my own. Today I’d like to finally bridge that gap. My favorite personal finance bloggers are those who don’t shy away from giving specific numbers in their posts, to help make their content more relatable.
I graduated in 2014 with a Master’s degree and $35K of debt, which was the cost of my one-year graduate program, minus a scholarship and a grant. Although I was in a rigorous business program filled with A-type consultant wannabes, I struggled with being vocal about my thoughts and expressing them in a professional manner (which is really a death blow in business). Many of my classmates had secured jobs through academic excellence or hardcore networking. I was an average student, and hated initiating conversations with strangers. By the last day of the program, I was in the minority of students that had not yet secured a job offer. Through sheer dumb luck and the vast power of the alumni network, however, I ended up at a marketing research consultancy only a month after the last day of class. This isn’t the last time I’ve experienced such a thing in my career. When things move, they move.
Before we go any deeper, I want to backtrack quickly and discuss why I did grad school in the first place. In my last year of undergrad, I found myself close to graduation without a single job prospect in sight. It’s embarrassing now to think about how unprepared for the real world I was then, and how naïve I was during interviews. However, I did end up with one job offer, which I wasn’t really qualified for – a close friend’s father knew the CEO of a company, and I managed to not f*ck up enough and get an offer. The position was in Philly, with a starting offer of $48K. I didn’t love the idea of relocating to Philly, where I had no friends and family, for a job that I wasn’t excited about (mortgage insurance). I opted into grad school and gave myself one requirement: that I would get an offer above $50K (setting the bar low, I know).
Fast forward to the market research consultancy. They offered my $60K, which I accepted immediately. Luckily, I found out later through friends that I wouldn’t have been able to negotiate a higher salary if I had tried as the company had strict compensation packages. That said, I didn’t get a starting bonus and I missed out on stock options because I didn’t ask. Over the course of my first year, I got used to having a full-time job. I contributed to my 401(k), and was ecstatic over my 2.2% annual increase. By the time I hit two years I was getting frustrated. Despite having proven myself to upper management, and being promised that my promotion was “in the works”, I was making no progress in terms of career development. That’s when I started talking more candidly with a few of my coworkers who were receptive to discussing compensation and career growth. While not all of my coworkers were willing to share numbers, the older ones who were gave me negotiation tips that were eye-opening. When my promotion finally did come through, I went from $61K to $69K.
For reasons unrelated to my compensation and more directly related to general dissatisfaction with the work I was doing and changing company culture, I began interviewing for new jobs. Thanks to help from my coworkers (who were now some of my closest friends) I was ready this time. After a six-week process I had three job offers. They came in at $72K for a credit card company, $75K for a media company, and $85K for an ad agency. While the $85K job had the highest compensation, the location required a long commute, which I was not excited about. On the other hand, the $75K job was located in NYC, where my boyfriend had relocated a few months prior. It was an easy decision. Even though my compensation only increased by a small amount, the new job included a title bump, which I valued at the time.
I fully understand that making $75K a year, two years out of college, is already above average. Living in NYC though, still paying off my student loan debt to my parents, it sure didn’t feel like a lot. This last month, about a year after moving to NYC, I nearly left my $75K job for a $90K position. There were some concerns over job security at my existing job, so I started interviewing just to see what was out there. Also, as a rule, I take every recruiting call, just to get a sense of what’s in the market. $90K would have been a huge bump for me, and I was excited about the role; to the point that I even tried to put in my two weeks notice with my manager. Before I received the offer, there had been ongoing discussion about what my raise would be, which was slated to increase from $75K to $84K. This covered a yearly increase as well as salary renegotiation I had added to my contract before I started (thank you, previous coworkers). As exciting as $84K was, $90K was better. However, transportation costs actually made it so that at the end of the day, there was no difference, compensation-wise, between the two jobs… that is, until my company matched the other offer (which was something I had been told was completely off the table, initially).
I can blab on and on about how great I’m doing, but that’s not very interesting. What specific things did I do to get my salary where it is today, and what do I recommend for others?
- Talk to coworkers. There are opinions on both sides of the fence for this one, but I’m solidly in favor of being open. Since it’s a touchy subject, be careful how and who you broach it with. For me, it was a great way to see if I was getting paid on par with my coworkers, what I could expect from a promotion, and what negotiating levers worked best with my managers.
- Always have an eye out for open jobs. Oftentimes the best way to see a big bump in pay is to get a new job. Having a job offer in hand can also help in negotiation salary increases and better understanding your market value.
- Work on your soft skills, like networking. I 100% would not have gotten a matching offer from my existing job if I didn’t have a great relationship with my manager and other people within the company. From not being able to speak up in grad school to now, I’ve definitely come a long way. Everyone can do this one; it just takes practice.
- Identify non-monetary benefits and job opportunities. Plenty of things can set up for future salary growth, like training new hires or taking on the big project that no one wants. Essentially, think big picture. If you’re working in a large corporation, you have to build up a case for yourself to be paid more, and that starts with taking initiative.
In three years of working, I’ve increased my salary 50%, from $60K to $90K. Along the way, I’ve learned valuable skills in salary negotiation and knowing my worth. I still want to see my income grow, especially since I live in one of the highest cost-of-living areas in the country. That said, my personal view on money has changed quite a bit from my $60K salary days. The best part? While my income has grown, so has my savings rate, which means I’m saving a vast majority of my paycheck. In a few months, when I’m done paying off all my debt, it’ll be so gratifying to see my investments start growing by leaps and bounds. Tell me your stories of salary growth below! In general, have you seen more savings success by increasing income or by cutting expenses?