Hi all, and welcome back to another entry in my famous series on Breadwinning, Six Figure, and Millionaire moms. Today I have another awesome story to share with you, so sit back, grab a coffee and a snack, and settle down to read.
I’m honored to be able to share the story of Revanche, who writes over at A Gai Shan Life. She’s a 30-something mother of two in the Bay Area (across the country from yours truely in CT) and she’s been writing about money for over a decade now. Her story isn’t the typical “breadwinning mom” scenario you might be thinking of. Instead of being the breadwinner of her current nuclear family unit (spouse/partner + children), she supported her parents and grandmother starting at the age of only 17. While supporting her extended family she used the power of the internet and personal finance sites to pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Today she’s also officially a six figure earner, and a millionaire. Keep reading to learn how she did it.
Without further ado, here’s Revanche!
1. Tell us about yourself!
I felt like an imposter when I started writing this post but that was 4 months ago so like, most things this year, everything has changed (a little).
What’s changed: I negotiated a raise that finally brought my salary up to the six figure neighborhood and our net worth has crossed the double comma threshold. I don’t advertise either of those facts because I feel like the current numbers can undermine my 11-year-old blog’s message that we should all strive to improve our lives. The numbers make it seem like I’ve already made it and ignores the long years spent getting to this point.
What hasn’t changed: I have a co-breadwinner husband, PiC, and I’ve been supporting my parental family unit for more than half my life. A transplant to the Bay Area who has finally adapted to living in fog, my wonderful husband and I take turns chasing our toddler, JuggerBaby, when we’re not working. Seamus, our fantastic dog, takes a very proprietary interest in his human sibling’s welfare but has formally retired from his position as babysitter.
For the past 15 years I’ve been a hard-driving career woman but when we welcomed JuggerBaby into our lives, we also welcomed change and chaos! Over the course of a year, I’ve gone from being a working woman, to a stay at home mom, to a work and stay at home mom, and back to a work at home mom.
2. Let’s get some details – how much money do you make, and how long did it take you to get there? And are you a millionaire or are you on the way?
I started out making less than $28,000 a year at my first job which is nothing to live on when you have a family full of debts to keep afloat, so I busted my butt to double my salary in two years. My next job lowballed me at $60,000 in a much higher cost of living area but my strategy of accepting the lower salary to get in the door worked. My work ethic and performance was the basis for 36% salary increases across 3 years. Those positioned me to aim for the six figure mark – the first salary goal I set in 2005 when I started working in an industry that routinely underpays women by a significant margin.
After 12 years in the business, I’ve finally made it! That’s slower than I originally planned but after deciding to, and succeeding at, creating life, it made sense to take a deep breath and enjoy the fruits of my labor. Both labors. Pun almost intended.
3. How did you get started in the workforce?
My expertise at pounding imaginary numbers into an accounting calculator made me a natural cashier for my parents when I was 8. That didn’t pay very well (just room and board) but gave me the experience to land retail jobs in high school. Once I start started, I applied for just another generic retail job that turned out to be a godsend – I was allowed to work so much overtime that I paid my way through college, paid off over a hundred thousand dollars of my parents’ debt, and had my own investing and emergency savings. Everything must come to an end, though, so after a brief vacation mostly spent getting lost in Seattle, I made the leap into my Super Traditional Career path.
4. How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
In hindsight, getting hired at that retail job when I was 17 was the smartest and luckiest thing I did for myself and my family. When I applied, I was just looking to spare my parents the cost of college tuition and get some delicious Borders book money while I was at it. (Does anyone remember roosting at Borders Books & Music?) CMO side note – I sure do! I loved Borders.
I say that because the same year that I started my new job and college, my parents lost their jobs, Grandma was diagnosed with a terminal illness and moved in with us for hospice care, and Mom was diagnosed with diabetes among a host of other illnesses. In short, the bottom fell out of our lives.
I worked three jobs to get through college while paying off the debts that my parents’ job loss uncovered, and kept a roof over our family’s heads. After graduation, degree in hand, I applied for jobs for months, finally getting my foot in the door at an entry level job. From there, I built the foundation for my career, taking a conventional path: be a superstar, negotiate hard every year for a salary increase and promotion. Most of the time, my work paid off, I nearly quadrupled my salary in less than fifteen years.
There were a lot of downsides, like sacrificing my health and missing out on a lot of life experiences, but I was so focused that I missed them for a long time. Tunnel vision!
5. Three part question – What’s the biggest challenge – and the best part – of being a breadwinning mom? Becoming a millionaire is a dream of many people. How did you get there?And what do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?
I was the family breadwinner before I was a legal adult so I never was a young adult who could make mistakes or even take career risks. Someone had to pay the rent, and that was someone was me. My first career risk wasn’t taken until my early 30s – talk about a late bloomer. Now, I’ve come so far that financial independence could be our next great goal. I’ve enjoyed and hugely appreciated my career but my health has deteriorated significantly.
At 21, I predicted that given the constant rate of decline, I’d be crippled by 30, so making it 5 years past that line with some mobility feels like a miracle. But I’d still rather spend whatever years I have left being a dog rescuer, traveler, and generally a human doing good things, enjoying the world, than climbing the corporate ladder. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take the dirtbag approach (see Ms. ONL at Our Next Life), though, my body won’t stand for it but we’ll figure out the best way for us to do it.
The best part of doing what I do, how I do it, is multi-fold: I was lucky enough to meet the right partner early on, so long before we were married he supported my drive to earn the authority and autonomy I wanted before deciding on parenthood. The year I became a mom was when all my hard work truly felt worth it – we grew our family without sacrificing my career or putting it on hold because I was senior enough to be valued appropriately. The high salary is in itself one kind of reward, but equally importantly it represents the value that I’ve brought to my companies, and leadership, and that value is repaid with the freedom to balance life and work my way. Not having serious financial stress makes me a far better person than I was 10 years ago, too. I’m more patient, more understanding, and more loving a parent.
The answer to “how did we get to the double comma club” is a complex, possibly boring, answer. I should caution though, while it’s exciting in its own right, crossing that threshold isn’t meaningful for us yet. Because of our high cost of living area, and my health issues, I won’t be comfortable until we cross the $5M line, without debt.
Until my husband joined the picture, my net worth was composed of entirely my own efforts: my earnings, my investments, my decisions. On the spending side, I was always frugal, cut or negotiated expenses, and saved every penny I got my hands on. On the growth side, I pushed hard for every raise and promotion possible, and even those promotions that didn’t exist until I advocated for them, and banked as much of that as possible. On the strategy side, I made mortgage pre-payments whenever we could, maxed out our tax advantaged accounts to make us more tax efficient. On the staying human side, we always donated to charities we feel strongly about. On the privilege side, he benefited from some temporary loans from his family that let him invest a good bit, and that grew over time, under my management. We made the most of every little bit of assets that we had access to and after many years, we broke through.
6. Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
Two of my early bosses were awful sexists. One said “I knew you had the job the moment I saw you. [implied leer]”, and repeatedly reminded me that I had to stay on certain projects because “they’re guys. They won’t be able to resist giving you what you want.” The other got disgustingly, literally slobbery drunk, and said “If I were twenty years younger, you’d be in trouble!” They also insisted that the only way someone could possibly ask them for a raise, despite doubling my workload and responsibilities in a year, was because of personal problems in the home and demanded details.
I’ve had male managers and bosses who implied that I was limited tenure risk. As a woman in my 20s, I was certain to just leave the workforce to go have babies, so why train me or why include me on high value projects? I had to work twice as hard to prove myself and pretend that I had no personal life. CMO note – this is horribly annoying and sadly common. It’s often said that women have to work twice as hard as men to be thought of as half as good
Needless to say, I had nothing but private contempt for these bosses and learned very quickly that it was imperative that I look out for my own interests financially and professionally.
7. Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
Savings and investments are my jam! As a personal finance nerd of many years, I’m 100% hands on and love every minute of it.
We max out my husband’s 401(k) and I contribute to my IRA every month. For the past 2 years, I’ve focused on building a separate portfolio outside of our tax advantaged for an extra income stream from dividends. We have company stock from PiC’s work, and that gets sold for income to fund the other investments so we don’t have too many eggs in that one employer basket. We own a rental property out of state that just pays for itself and may be leveraged into the purchase price for the next rental property, or may be the start of our mini real estate empire. (I’ve got a dream of owning a whole network of housing that’s both affordable for renters and well kept. No slumlording for me, thank you very much.) Next up, I’ll be researching index funds to see how they might fit into our overall investment and growth strategy.
8. What’s the top three pieces of advice you’d have for someone just starting out in the workforce, struggling with their career, or just looking to improve how they handle their money?
I don’t typically give general advice. I’m great at advising friends on their specific situations and have taught them to negotiate for huge raises in the past but I’m terrible at doing generic advice. Instead, I share stories.
- Career and money: Keep your eye on the ball because the freedom to make choices is amazing. This was a friend’s story, but the principle can be applied to any of us
- Career, management: If you’re going to manage or be managed, learn something about management. It’ll help whether you have to manage up or manage down.
- All about career and negotiation
9. Where can people connect with you?
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Revanche for sharing her story! I love how her story shows the power of saving and investing over long periods of time, and how a woman can be the breadwinner at a very young age. Often those of us who have a family (nuclear or extended) to support feel like we’re alone, but there are more of us out there than we might think.
Leave a comment below on Revanche’s story! And if you know anyone who is a breadwinning, six figure, and/or millionaire mom who I can feature on the site (or if that’s you!) drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you haven’t already, be sure to swing by my new one-stop shop page for Breadwinning moms, featuring all my prior articles and interviews (plus some updates on prior interviewees!).
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