Breadwining, Six Figure Moms – Kristine Barnes, Engineer

Breadwinning Six Figure Women Kristine

Today I’ve got another entry in my award-nominated Breadwinning, Six Figure women series that you’re going to absolutely love. Kristine reached out to me to offer to tell her story after reading many of the other amazing interviews shared on my site, and I’m so glad she did.

She noticed I didn’t have the stories of many engineers, and offered to share hers to help other women. I love that. The whole reason I started this series was to try to find, and share, the many diverse stories of career and financially successful women. So I’m excited today to add an amazing engineer to this site.

You’re going to love her story – but I don’t want to spoil it. So lets dive right in.

Tell us about yourself!

K. Barnes Family Pi Day - Kristine Barnes

I am a 36 year old mother of 2 young kids under 10 with my stay at home husband of 13 years. My husband worked retail part time and followed me across the country during my rotation program. He’s always been the primary caregiver for our children and he quit work to be a stay at home dad after our 2nd was born.

For the past 3 years, I’ve work in the automotive industry in the metro Detroit area as a senior engineer. Prior to that I worked for over 9 years in the nuclear power industry as a structural engineer. I have lived in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, and Michigan and have had assignments at nuclear plants in Florida and Louisiana for extended periods of time.

I am a licensed engineer, hold a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Civil Engineering, and an MBA in Engineering Management. I am a Life Member of the Society of Women Engineers and have volunteered with the organization for over 18 years with many different leadership roles including Finance Committee Chair.

When I have time for hobbies, I like reading sci-fi, gaming (table-top, RPG, and video), designing table-top games, and swim/bike/running the occasional triathlon.

K. Barnes with Nano - Kristine Barnes

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 now make in the range of $130k-$140k per year depending on my annual bonus. When I was first hired as an entry level engineer after grad school I was making around $55k-60k a year. I am well on my way to being a millionaire with a net worth around $500,000. We’ve kicked it into high gear since that has almost doubled in the past 2 and a half years.

How did you get started in the workforce?

K Barnes Site Work - Kristine Barnes

I didn’t always want to be an engineer growing up, but as a 3rd generation engineer, family was a big influence on me. Junior year in high school was really the turning point when I got to physics and loved it. My original dream was to design roller coasters, but found out that I liked concrete design better than steel design.

After grad school, I had 2 very different job offers, one for working at a construction firm that specialized in parking structures and the other working on nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants sounded much more interesting and the location and pay were both more desirable. It was an easy choice.

How did you get from where you started to where you are now?

I’ve always been on the fast track and have accelerated through promotions thanks to really hard work and dedication to learning. I got to where I am now by always being open to new opportunities.

I said yes to a rotation program and site assignments that meant my husband and I moved 6 times in our first 8 years together. When I started looking for a new job, I said yes to an inquiry by an automotive company to talk to them at a career fair even though I had never considered working in the automotive industry.

Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?

Career wise, I’m always looking up. I’ve got a 10 year plan, but if I’ve learned anything in the first half of my career, it’s that a plan is good, but you have to be open to the unexpected.

I feel financially independent right now since we have no major debt outside of our mortgage and have been student loan free for over 10 years and can comfortably afford our needs and wants along with providing recreation and extra curricular activities for our kids. I would love to travel more when I retire so we’re on track to make sure we can make that happen.

What’s the biggest challenge in being a breadwinning woman/mom? What’s the best part?

K. Barnes Family at the Beach - Kristine Barnes

The biggest challenge is fighting the assumptions that you’re not. At first meeting, no one, and I mean no one, assumes I am the breadwinner and my husband stays at home.

The best part is being very vocal about challenging those assumptions. I’m on a one woman mission to change minds and open them up to the possibility that women can financially support a family.

I get loaded questions or comments all the time from people assuming that my husband is the breadwinner and I’ll always ask them why they would assume that or if they realize that’s an underlying assumption in their question. If my husband and I attend my work or school events together, more often than not, people will assume he’s the alumni or engineer. His go to line is “I’m not the engineer, I married one!”

What do you see as the key to earning such a high salary?

Hard work, asking for what you want, and being willing to walk away or find a different path if you don’t get it. Ask for that promotion, ask for that raise and be sure you have the list of accomplishments to back up why you deserve it.

You can’t wait for your hard work to just get noticed. Know your worth and make sure others know it as well.

Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?

Oh many, many times. Did I mention I’m in engineering? I had an interviewer tell me in college that women didn’t stay long at their company because they liked to do things like get married and follow their husbands or get pregnant and quit work. What?!? I was more polite back then as I was still in college and it was my first real taste of bias against women, but I did let our career center and Dean of Engineering know so hopefully the company received appropriate feedback.

Along the same lines, I had a co-worker complain that the company wasted money hiring women when all they do is get pregnant and quit in reference to a female co-worker who made the decision that the best thing for her family was for her to stay at home with her kids (kudos to her!). He wasn’t directing the complaint at me, but I was standing behind him and was happy to let him know what I thought about that. He had to suck it up 4 weeks later and congratulate me when I announced my own pregnancy (1st kid for me) and then called me to welcome me back after I returned from maternity leave.

For some reason I had issues with payroll during both of my leaves. During my 2nd, the person supposed to fill in my time card while I was out messed up and resulted in me not getting a paycheck. I had to call my manager while on leave to see what was up. Unfortunately, the payroll person I then talked to assumed that it was just fine if they skipped this one and paid me double at the end of the month instead of cutting an extra check now. Um… no! I have bills due now and count on that paycheck! Would you have asked a male employee to just skip a pay check? She didn’t have an answer for me on that.

Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy

I’ve always been interested in my own finances. I track our finances very closely doing cash flow and balance sheets monthly. I build cash transfers for our goals (college, home remodel, emergency savings, etc.) into my budget so I make sure we have funds consistently going towards them. In addition, whenever we have a windfall, I take some fun money out (what’s life without a little fun!) and then parcel the rest across paying down debt and into those saving buckets.

My husband just lets me do my thing (he hates discussing money though I’ve brought him around a bit) and I send him updates every once and a while. The last time I made him look at our balance sheet, he was surprised how much we had saved up for the kids college funds and our retirement.

I love sitting down with our financial adviser each year and checking in on how we’re doing. We mostly invest in index funds, but we’ve taken my husband’s IRA and put that into a few stocks of our choice. That was a fun revelation when our adviser told us we were doing well enough we could take some of our funds and play with it in the stock market.

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?

1) Make a budget and track your spending!! I’ve been doing financial training for my professional society and I’ve heard a bunch of excuses as to why people don’t track like “I come out ok and can pay my bills, why should I track?” Do you know what your money is going to? Could you be saving more? You won’t know either answer if you don’t track your spending.

2) Start investing in your 401k on day one and put enough in to at least get your employer’s match if they have that! I had a discussion years ago with a younger co-worker who had just started and commented on our revamped matching policy and was astounded to find out she hadn’t bothered to put anything in. She was giving up 5% of her salary!

3) If you’re struggling in your career and it might be time to make a change, don’t limit yourself to your current industry. Make sure you take full advantage of transferable skills and highlight those if you are making a jump.

CMO Here Again

Isn’t Kristine’s story amazing? I especially love her advice. So many time, we can get wrapped up in our current industry or role, and forget just how transferable our skills might be. If you’re looking for a change, don’t limit yourself or sell yourself short. You might find a great fit in another industry.

Also, if you would like to read one of the dozens of other interviews I’ve done, be sure to stop by this page.

2 thoughts on “Breadwining, Six Figure Moms – Kristine Barnes, Engineer”

  1. Great story Kristine! I love when women are doing well in a predominantly male industry. It removes some of the stereotypes. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Kristine,

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m a 36 yr old fellow engineer and mom, though I’m in a different specialty (chemical) and industry (pharma). I can relate to so many of your experiences both as an engineer, mother and someone interested in personal finance. Best of luck to you in moving forward in your career and with your family.

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