Happy Wednesday everyone, and welcome to another awesome addition to my series on successful moms. Today I’m happy to have Mrs. Ditch, of Ditching Your Desk. She’s a breadwinning mother of two working in public service, working toward financial freedom. So lets get to know her better!
Tell us about yourself!
I am an administrator/mid-manager in local government. A bureaucrat, most would say! More importantly of late, I am a mom to two boys under the age of three. My husband also has a full-time job but I am the primary breadwinner. We have considered having him stay home part time or full time with the kiddos, and maybe we will do that someday. For now we are very lucky to have great childcare in the form of a supportive family member and a great day care/preschool for the boys, so he’ll continue to work full time for the moment.
When we’re not working you’ll find us all enjoying the outdoors together – on a local trail, at the beach, on one of our many walks or park visits, at the farmer’s market, or just in the front yard! My husband and I met cycling, and we did a lot of that as well as hiking, traveling, yoga, and anything generally active before the kids came along. Oh, and we enjoyed our share of wine and beer tasting too. We still have a very high level of activity – it just involves a lot more playground and chaos than it did before!
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 earn roughly $140k, and I’ve been in my field for over a decade now (that makes me feel so old when I see it in writing). We are not millionaires yet but we are diligently saving and building equity in our two properties. Frugality was a pursuit of ours before, but now that we are paying for childcare for two kids, it has become more of a necessity. So although our savings rate has taken a nosedive at the moment, in a few years when they’re in school we’ll be in great shape again.
How did you get started in the workforce?
My first “real” job was working after school at my dad’s office before I was old enough to legally work! I’m not even sure if he paid me minimum wage at the time, but I was told that if I’d be wanting a car when I was old enough to drive, I’d need to buy it myself. Once I was of legal age to work (and drive!), I also had stints as a hostess and a movie theater employee. The smell of the fake nacho cheese and stale popcorn still makes my stomach churn!
Though my parents could have given me the few thousand I would have needed for a used car, they insisted that I learn the value of work and money early. As annoying as it was at the time, I do have to say I appreciate the lesson now and hope to pass those lessons on to my sons too.
How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
Public service is not a career you get into for the money, that’s for sure! I developed an interest in policy in college, though I wavered between career interests in local government (in the U.S.) and international affairs. I dabbled with jobs in each after college, and then decided it was time for grad school.
Through a mix of hard work and good fortune, I obtained full academic scholarships for both undergrad and grad school, so I did not have to contend with student loan debt. That is one factor that made continuing a career in public service a financial option for me. My first salary after undergrad paid around $30k, and I worked up to roughly $60k before going back to school full time. I graduated with my master’s degree and decided I wanted to return to work in public service at the local level.
Unfortunately, I graduated during the recession, so I had to swallow my pride and take a job making $48k. Discouraged, I thought all those people who spoke about being over-educated were right. Well, I’ve since almost tripled my salary and have stayed in my original field. I don’t believe I would have been able to do that without going to grad school, but I’ll of course I’ll never have the counterpoint comparison to know for sure.
Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?
Most days I find value in what I do, and I enjoy the mental challenges and the professional relationships that come with a career. However, I can’t see myself being happy doing the same thing I do today for another 30 years until the traditional retirement age rolls along. For the time that I do have left in my career, I hope to continue to move into more senior management roles where I can be central to key policy decisions.
But, I also hope not to be in my career for all of those 30 additional years. Which brings me to where I want to go in my financial life.
My husband and I are pursuing financial independence. We are a long way off from having enough money to live on for the rest of our lives, especially with two kids. So for now we are saving all we can and getting through the day-to-day with young kids. We’re working on side income streams that would give us some location independence, even short-term. We’ve considered taking a break to pursue full-time travel for a year or two while are kids are still young-ish, though clearly that would delay a financial-independence-forever date.
What’s the biggest challenge in being the breadwinner? What’s the best part?
Finding the right balance between career and family is my biggest challenge. That balance is as elusive for me as it is for many women, but it does feel especially complicated for women who are the sole or the primary breadwinner. Right now, while my kids are young, it feels like my career is getting my better energy, my better hours, on most days. The hour or two that I see my kids before bed on weekdays just doesn’t feel like enough.
The best part about being the breadwinner is feeling a sense of accomplishment both professionally and personally. Being good at what you do and being able to use that skill to provide financially for your family is incredibly gratifying.
What do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?
Having a very strong work ethic has helped me stand out in my career. I do think women have to work twice as hard sometimes, or be twice as good, to get noticed. But male or female, taking your work seriously and being reliably excellent at what you do will go a long way.
Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
I was one of three finalists for a promotion at work. I found out that the only male finalist was talking with other colleagues and saying that I should not get the promotion because I just had a baby (gee, thanks).
In the interview for the job, I was asked point blank if it would be a problem for me to attend night meetings. Context: night meetings in our industry are standard, were part of the job description, and in the application I had already been required to indicate in writing that I could attend. Also, I had been attending night meetings regularly for this employer for 5+ years before the interview (and the baby). I simply said, “No,” it would not be a problem. Then five minutes of awkward talk ensued about how another mom at the table didn’t attend all of them, etc. etc.
I confirmed later that the other female finalist was not asked. She was, however, told during her interview (by a man) that the other women in the office may not like her. Relevant to her qualifications, just like having a baby, right?
Needless to say, the one male candidate was hired.
What did I do? Being our family’s breadwinner, I’m sad to say, I didn’t do much. I counted myself a little lucky that I wasn’t going to have to work for the horrible man doing the hiring. I got really pissed off about the unequal treatment, and even more upset that the candidate who was hired seemed objectively to be the least qualified of the three. But I needed to keep my current job, and so I did.
Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
Here are the nuts and bolts of our saving and investment strategy as it stands today:
- We make every effort to make out our 401k/457b plans each year.
- We are now saving small amounts for college for both boys each year.
- What savings is left (less now with two kids in full-time childcare), we put it into taxable index funds with low fees.
- We own a condo and a vacation home/vacation rental and we are building equity in both.
- We actively budget and adjust spending wherever possible to meet our monthly savings goals.
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?
- Just Starting Out in the workforce – Just. Be. Nice. – This sounds trite, but I have found that the workplace is as much about relationships as it is about skills sets. Or rather, being good at relationships is a skill set so rare that it can often become as valuable or more valuable than certain technical skills. Having a positive attitude and giving people the benefit of the doubt can go such a long way.
- Struggling with their career – See above. Just kidding. But not really. J One thing I’ve found helpful when I’ve struggled with my career has been to keep an eye on the job market. You might find something better, and if you don’t, it will likely help you feel better about where you are at. If you get a job offer, you may be able to use it to negotiate a raise or another benefit at work. If not, getting an offer always feel like a huge vote of confidence whether or not it is the right fit in the end. And perhaps the most valuable part for me has been going through the process—learning about various organizations and about myself.
- Looking to improve how they handle their money – This one won’t sound very unique, but the reason you hear it a lot is because it works. Track your spending for a month – every penny. See where your money goes. Your current spending is the thing you have the most control over in the immediate term. Things like income, savings vehicles, and investment strategies are also important but they take time to put into place. Start by knowing where your money goes. I’m also a fan of setting achievable goals. If you know you need your iced coffee most days to get through a challenging 9-5, budget for it (ahem, if you think it sounds like I’m talking about myself here, you’d be right). Cut out something else that’s less critical to you (fancy clothes, in my case, for example).
Where can people connect with you?
CMO Here Again
Thanks so much to Mrs. Ditch for coming by and sharing her story! I love learning more about amazing, successful, breadwinning moms who are money-smart and family oriented. Be sure to leave her a comment below!
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? Hop over to my “Be Featured!” page to access the request form.
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