Hi everyone and welcome to another Working Women Wednesday installment of Breadwinning, Six Figure moms. Today I’m fortunate to be featuring Morgan, an amazing content designer from San Diego who parlayed her blog into a full-time six figure position with Intuit, the makers of Turbo-Tax. As someone who also works in a highly regulated industry who workds closely with a lot of content designers, I can really appreciate the unique challenges of trying to make a complex industry easy for people to to understand. She has a very interesting story – you’re going to love it!
Without further ado, lets learn more about Morgans bumpy and unique journey!
Tell us about yourself!
My name is Morgan and I live in San Diego (I’m actually a 3rd generation San Diegan!). I have two daughters who are 7 and 10 and a husband, Erin. My daughters are from my first marriage – we divorced seven years ago and I’ve been remarried for three years now. I work on the experience design team at Intuit and I’m a Senior Content Designer on TurboTax, one of Intuit’s main products. Not a lot of people are familiar with what I do, but basically, I work to make the software sound human and seem as natural as possible. It’s actually really challenging because tax is so confusing and there are so many tax situations and types of customers to consider. I’ve been working for Intuit for nearly six years – I was a stay-at-home mom for four years before that – and I absolutely love my job.
Because I share custody with my ex-husband, I sort of live a double life. When the kids are with us, we are busy doing kid stuff: Girl Scouts, play dates, school projects and all that good stuff. Then they go to their dad’s house and my husband and I get to act like single people. We used to enjoy going out to dinners, but we bought a house last year, so we had to tighten our entertainment budget quite a bit. Both of us love to work on house projects and stay active, so we do a lot of work on the house or activities, like bike riding, exercise or camping, during our free time. And since we don’t eat out as often, we have people over instead. It’s really fun to open our house to our friends and enjoy each other’s company without spending a ton. We put a lot of work (and money!) into our house, but we get a lot out of it.
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?
When I got divorced, I didn’t have anything of value – just my car. I actually declared bankruptcy when it was all over because I was left our joint debt and nothing in savings. There was no way I could have dug out of that hole on my own. My ex-husband got the house, so I rented a little place and started over. At the time, I had been freelancing about 20 hours a week and I was lucky enough to get hired on full-time by Intuit. That was truly life-changing for me. I went from making $25 an hour to close to just under a year.
I also continued to freelance while I worked full-time because there was (and still is) always a little part of me that needed to feel like I had a safety net. Since I didn’t have a partner to fill that role, I had to do it for myself. Even after all these years I still always have a little side work going on just in case the you-know-what hits the fan. It’s really hard for me to just relax and feel like I’m going to be OK.
At this point in my career I make over $120k a year. Most of that is my salary and some of it is in the company benefits and freelance work. My husband didn’t have a career when we met, so he’s still what I’d call “early career.” He probably makes what an intern does these days (aka: not much). Part of me is ok with that because after struggling and working so hard to get where I am on my own, I always want to know I can make it if anything bad happens again. But it can be stressful – it’s a lot of weight to carry and I’d like to have less pressure to provide for everyone. It would be nice to know that if something happened to my job we could still eat and pay the mortgage and all that good stuff.
Ideally, my husband will increase his income soon so we can save more aggressively for retirement, which I’ve been really focused on since the divorce derailed all that. I also hope to continue to grow here at Intuit so we can have more cash flow and pay off the rest of my legal debt from 2015. I know it seems like we make a lot of money, but living in Southern California is insanely expensive – families making $100k a year still struggle. My husband and I have to live on a very tight budget to make it all work. We have a nice life, but there’s not much wiggle room. We aren’t millionaires, but our house is worth over a million dollars, thanks to an out-of-control real estate market, and despite my constant worrying, we are on track to retire with a 6-figure income and at an average age.
How did you get started in the workforce?
My career actually started from a blog I had when my kids were babies. Like many other “mommy bloggers,” I started documenting what was going on with my kids. Really though, I told the most absurd parts of life with kids: my hair falling out, my daughter pooping on my bedroom floor, the time I tried to wax my own bikini line (don’t do it) …all the ridiculous stuff that no one talks about. Pretty quickly I got offers to freelance for other parenting sites and do marketing work for some really cool brands. It was such a surprise.
In my previous life, I worked in financial services, so eventually my freelance writing met my financial experience and I started working in the fin tech space. A few years into it I became a featured writer for the Mint.com blog, MintLife, owned by Intuit. Then I got hired as the Managing Editor and Social Media Manager for Mint. Full disclosure, I got laid off from Intuit in 2014 but hired back a year later to work on TurboTax. Phew! That year was so stressful though – I did marketing work and financial writing for a few companies, but I had to take a 30% pay cut. When the Intuit recruiter asked if I wanted to come back I was like, “Heck yeah!” I think that’s also part of the reason I still freelance on the side. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get over the feeling I might lose it all. I joke with my husband, “That’s the problem with wanting things. It leaves you vulnerable to losing things.”
How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
Getting laid off in 2014 was definitely the most “interesting” twist I’ve experienced. It was truly awful – emotionally and financially. I know it wasn’t personal, but it was like going through a break up. I loved my job and my co-workers so much – I just couldn’t imagine not being part of the team anymore. And then the financial part was devastating. I couldn’t find a job making the same income. Despite a super high cost of living, jobs in San Diego don’t pay very well, which is actually a huge problem for the city as a whole.
We ended up renting out our house on Airbnb to make ends meet and yes, if you’re paying attention, I was renting out our rental. It was totally against the rules of our lease, which just added to the stress. And then I had this awful custody battle with my ex, which cost me $60,000. All in all, 2014-2015 was one big dumpster fire. But we made it through and I learned a lot.
Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?
I’m so happy in my career right now and there are many different paths I can take, so that feels really good – especially after so many years of uncertainty. I don’t subscribe to any of those financial freedom or passive income programs. I just work, put money in my 401(k) and IRA, invest a little, save a little and try not to take on debt. Our house will be paid off by the time we retire and we will probably get a little inheritance when our parents pass away, but we aren’t counting on any of that. We are over the idea of being rich or having millions of dollars. For us, our goals are to have the cash to get through any unexpected life events, like illness or job loss, and retire comfortably. We’ll probably end up with over a million dollars in assets and cash, but that’s what we are all going to need to retire.
I also feel like I need to acknowledge my privilege here somewhere: My family lives here and I have a huge network of support. I have a college education and a very small student loan. My parents helped us buy our house. My family has assets I will inherit when they pass away. If I had a huge financial crisis, I have resources to get help. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about these things and wish our systems were set up so everyone can have the same privilege. I do my best to give back – especially to single mothers. In addition to charitable contributions, I vote for candidates and initiatives that support racial and economic equality. I want to live in a world where a mother can leave her husband, find a job that actually pays a living wage and have the childcare she needs to make it all happen. We would live in a profoundly better world if we set single mothers and their children up for success.
6. What do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?
I don’t think there is one key. First, you need to be very strategic about networking and putting yourself in the right place. My blog success was a total accident, but everything I did to turn that into a career was 100% strategic. It’s important to do good work, but it’s equally important to make sure the right people are seeing your work. I sit down with my boss regularly and map out a plan of how to get where I want to be by the end of the year. I draw a timeline of the year broken down by months and what I need to work on during different parts of the year. I can do everything all the time, so I need to be strategic about how I spend my energy. For example, I might take on a huge project a few months before performance review time so that’s fresh in people’s minds. And then I might take on a side project that’s outside of my normal work so I can get noticed by people outside of my department the rest of the year.
7. Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
I am really lucky I work for a company that values diversity and regularly audits itself to make sure its meeting its own standards, but that wasn’t always the case. Right after I got married the first time I interviewed at a mortgage company and was asked if I was planning on having kids anytime soon. During that same time, I also interviewed at a very well-known brokerage firm and was told the assistant job I was interested in “was perfect for a mom.” This was after I asked about future growth in the role and what the path looked like to becoming an investment banker. I thanked them for their time and called HR right away. They were appalled and I can only hope it was handled appropriately on their end.
Spoiler alert: I didn’t take the job and I’m sure if I wanted it I wouldn’t have gotten it based off my response. I don’t care though. There is no room for this bullshit (excuse my language, but that’s what it is) in the workforce and too many people sweep it under the rug. Really though, I wish more men called each other out because women aren’t taken as seriously. I’m going to stop myself from going on a tangent here.
8. Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
Even though I work in the personal finance space, it’s definitely not a hobby of mine. I know a lot by default because I’ve worked in the industry for fifteen years, but like most people, I hate budgeting and managing my finances. I put as much as I can on autopilot. I have automatic transfers into my IRA every paycheck, I contribute the maximum to my 401(k), and I automate my employee stock purchase program. All my investments, except for the company stock, are in low index mutual funds. Once I can transfer my company stock I move it into low-risk funds, although I did cash it out last year to pay for our kitchen remodel. I’m not interested in playing the market or chasing big wins. Slow and steady wins the race in my book. I guess if there’s any sort of model I follow it’s the advice of Warren Buffet.
CMO Note – I also love autopilot and Warren Buffet. To me, the best investment plan is so automated you can just go live your life and not spend a ton of time worrying about “doing things” with your money.
9. What’s the top 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?
- Don’t be afraid to put yourself where you need to be. When I was writing for Mint I actually told my editor I was going to be in the Bay Area and asked if I could stop by the office to finish up some work. That was a total lie. I wanted to get hired full-time and I knew I’d have to get in front of her face for that to happen. So, I bought a ticket up there, crashed with a friend, and wiggled my way into her space. It worked – I was hired as her assistant a few months later and then, when she left the company, I got her job
2. I tell every single one of my female friends to get themselves in a position where they don’t need anything from anyone. This is especially true for single mothers. The second you don’t need a penny from your ex, you will truly be free. If they miss a child support payment or you get stuck with childcare costs, it will have zero impact on your life. Too many men use money to control and manipulate their exes and the more you can level the playing field the better off you will be. Relying on someone else to make your life work financially gives them too much power. I know it’s hard to change your life (it was seriously harder to leave my house than it was to leave my husband) or go back to work, but if you can do it – DO IT. Your kids will be OK. You will be OK.
10. Where can people connect with you?
CMO Here Again
A huge THANK YOU to Morgan for sharing her story! I love her advice to never be dependent on anyone else, even (or especially) when you’re a single mom or not the breadwinner. I’ve seen too many stories of women who were totally dependent on the men in their lives for either money, or to take care of certain financial tasks-and when that money or man was gone, they really suffered for it.
I also love that she’s open about the advantages she’s had with her support network and help buying her house. Too often people feel ashamed of their privilege or think they need to hide it for fear of others judging or being jealous. But you know what? I feel that we all have very unique advantages and disadvantages in life. I don’t think people should be embarrassed about their privilege, just like I don’t think they should be ashamed about their backgrounds if they were disadvantaged. Instead of feeling jealous of others we all need to focus on our own paths – using our unique advantages and overcoming our disadvantages.
Be sure to say Hello to Morgan in the comments, and let me know – what resonated the most with you about her story?
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!). Know someone that would be perfect for this series, or is that you? Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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