Today I have another entry into my series on amazing women – Busy Mom! Busy Mom is most certainly busy, as the equal earner in a high income household. She and her husband are on a journey to financial independence, saving and investing while raising their son. She’s a software engineer who has a lot of valuable lessons on money, and being a woman at work in a male-dominated field (like many of us!). I bet you’ll love hearing her story just as much as I did.
So without further ado, let’s learn about Busy Mom!
Tell us about yourself!
Hi! I call myself BusyMom because I think I am always very busy. I am a software engineer during the day, blogger early in the morning and a mom full time. My husband, BusyDad, is also a software engineer and we met when we were both 18. My biggest achievement to date is our 9 year old son.
We moved to Boston about 4 years back. I grew up in Kerala, India (check out some of the images on Google, it is awesome!) and lived in Bangalore, India for about 12 years.
When they said “Jack of all trades, master of none”, they really had me in mind. I have a bunch of hobbies and not enough time – I like making things. I can draw and paint, knit and crochet, and love crafts in any form. I also do some woodworking. However, the most consistent hobby I have had is reading. I can and do read anything and everything I come across.
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?
We are not millionaires yet, but we will get there sometime soon. Our net worth right now is about $570,000. Around $320,000 of that is in index funds (in 401(k) and post-tax savings) and $250,000 in home equity. We both are paid well – I earned around $175,000 before taxes last year. BusyDad earns similarly.
How did you get started in the workforce?
I started my career as a software engineer at a well known software company right after I finished grad school. I was recruited from college.
How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
I didn’t like my first job very much, and went back to college for my PhD. When our son was born, I dropped out and took a two year break.
I have since worked at three more places, all of them pretty big and well known. I haven’t yet worked at a startup – may be in future. I have been a software engineer throughout. I like writing code, but hate being in a cubicle and going to meetings.
Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?
Currently, we are attempting to get to financial independence. We define that as a million dollars invested in index funds and a paid off home. I would like to retire early as well. However, it will not be the traditional retirement as I do not see myself being completely idle. I think I will spend some time reading, and be employed part time. My hope is that I can stop calling myself BusyMom at that point.
Our goal is to get to that point in about 5 years. If the markets work their magic, that should be possible for us. I plan to not take on additional responsibilities at work until that point. Unless something really exciting comes my way!
We were both lucky. Education is highly valued in India, and the government subsidizes college fees for good students. My four years of college cost my parents all of $100. I got a very good rank in a centralized admission test for grad school, and was paid a stipend for those two years. I saved up over 40% of that after fees and living expenses. BusyDad did the same, except he had zero savings when he finished grad school.
So yes, we had an advantage over our counterparts in the US. We started with zero debt.
However, we worked for years in India. Living costs are way lower there, and so were our salaries. We always saved more than half of what we earned. It is still tied up in the two condos we own in India. However, if we sell them, pay taxes and convert the rest to US Dollars, they would amount to just $60,000.
We made the rest of it in the last four years. Another 5 years, and we should be financially independent.
What’s the biggest challenge in being the breadwinner? What’s the best part?
I cannot really call myself a breadwinner. Both of us earn comparable salaries, and are equally breadwinners. That makes it easy for both of us since we always have another salary to live on, if something goes wrong with one.
What do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?
In my opinion, the key to being valuable to your employer is being really good at what you do. Being in a high paying job definitely helps with the six figure salary.
When I first started working in the US, my salary was $96,000. My employer did a great favor transferring me here when I was about to leave my job in India to move here with BusyDad. However, they weren’t doing really well financially, and it showed in my salary. I stayed with them for about 2 more years, and found another job.
First key to a great salary is something most women find hard to do. Negotiation. Do not accept the first offer they make. Or the second. Hold out until you are really happy with the terms before you accept that job. It helps if you are not desperate to get that job.
Every time your salary is up for review, fight for it. No one at your office cares about your pay, but you.
And key to that is, know your worth. If you are a woman, chances are, you already work more effectively than your male counterparts. Just my opinion. You are probably better at multi-tasking, and you probably do not spend as much time socializing. Get people to see all the work you are putting in. Talk about it.
Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
My rant on workforce issues could go on and on.
People who don’t know me first assume that I work for Human Resources. I am pretty sure the guys in HR are irritated by assumptions that they are engineers. I have nothing against HR, but I hate that people have these assumptions just because I am a woman. It is not always in the office. I have been to career fairs where the students assume that I am from HR, and the guys are engineers.
I have had fellow engineers assume that I am not good at math. Or logical thinking. I hate it when I see the surprise on their face when they suddenly realize that I am good at it. I can also read maps and parallel park!
People just assume that I cannot travel, just because I have a kid. They are probably trying to be considerate, but I do not see these assumptions made of men with kids. CMO Note – I have had this happen to me before too. Not cool!
I have also found that I have to prove myself before I get an opportunity for something new. It is not just me – most women. Whereas the men just get the chance easier.
What makes it so bad is that it is widespread. I wasn’t talking about one of my jobs, I was talking about all of them. I usually speak up when I see this happening. That helps most of the time.
Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
I always saved as much as I could. I grew up in an affluent family, but we would still go through periods of no money because my parents did not save when they could afford to. I learnt to save up as much as I could from that. Even though money can’t buy you everything, it can make life really miserable if you don’t have enough.
I would do some research on the internet before making money decisions. If it weren’t for the ease of the internet, I do not know if I would have made some of the wise decisions I made.
However, I got really interested in money when I happened to stumble across MrMoneyMustache.com a couple of years back. I then binge read all of it, and some of the other blogs including jlcollinsnh.com. I started investing in the stock market the month after I read them. I have been reading personal finance blogs ever since. And I now write about our experience.
We both maximize our 401(k) savings every year.
I track our living expenses using mint. It doesn’t know about some of the fixed expenses that get directly deducted from the paycheck – our car, home and health insurances, and mortgage are examples. Without counting these, we live on around $40,000 a year and save the rest. We invest $5,000 in VTSAX (Vanguard total stock market fund) every month. Everything else that we can spare goes into paying towards the mortgage principal.
We have set up our direct payments such that anything beyond a fixed amount goes into another account which we use solely for making extra mortgage payments. By allotting a fixed amount for our expenses, and not increasing it when we get a pay raise, we keep lifestyle inflation in check.
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 am avoiding the usual suspects like stay away from debt and pay it off. If you have been reading Chief Mom Officer, you already know everything you need to know. These are the key points I want to emphasize.
- Be mindful of your spending. Don’t shrug it off because it is too small. How much difference can a dollar, or 5 dollars make to the rest of your life? It can. Because they all add up. And when invested for long enough, they grow enough to be really substantial.
- It is not too late. I know that there are all those tables that show how much better it is to start in your 20’s, over starting in your 30’s. But realize that starting in your 30’s and 40’s is way better than starting in your 50’s and 60’s. Even if you are in your 60’s now, your money could have quite some time to grow before you use all of it. Life expectancy is much more than it used to be.
- Watch out for lifestyle inflation. I have seen mainstream articles talking about saving a part of your raise. In my opinion, if your current lifestyle is not truly miserable, you should be saving all of your raise. If you could live fine for so long without that, you can continue.
Where can people connect with you?
I am so glad that I could be a part of this series. I hope you visit me at my blog and let me know what you think of it.
Thank you, Liz, for the chance. And to all of you for reading the whole thing. That was pretty long!
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Busy Mom again for coming by to share her story! I could relate to much of it, and she has wise advice for all women looking to succeed in the workplace. Be sure to leave her a comment with any questions, or to just let her know what you think!
If you haven’t already, be sure to swing by my 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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