A: When I think about trying to build a career while taking care of finances, different challenges come to mind. For example, women just starting out won’t have the same issues as women who’ve been at it for a while. Let’s start with someone who’s just beginning her career.


Women at the beginning of their careers are usually struggling the most financially. We don’t always start out earning a lot of money and we have student loan debt, credit card debt and many other expenses that our very limited resources are expected to cover. The thing we need to do is take a deep breath and say, “OK, today is a new day, how can I start to move forward?”

 

You might want to start by whittling down debt but you might feel that saving for the future is also important. Is it possible to do both on your salary? Well, five lattes a week add up to $60 a month. If you put that towards paying down debt and some towards a retirement fund, you’d be surprised at how well that decision can turn out for you. You’ll save money by paying less interest on debt and the money put towards retirement will likely be maximized right away, since higher education institutions oftentimes match all or part of their employees’ contributions.


At your really young career stage, you’re actually leaving money on the table if you don’t take advantage of your employer’s retirement match.


On top of that, your retirement fund has the potential to keep growing because of compounding. So even if you can’t contribute the full amount allowed, contribute anything you can. Additionally, that money comes out of your paycheck pretax and so really, in many ways you are saving on your taxes and you’re taking steps to maximize your retirement. I would recommend that any young professional take a look at how she could manage to live without one little indulgence — and sock that money away.


For women who’ve been working for a few years, moving ahead in a career requires us to be thoughtful about a host of other things. For example, is your personal mission still in alignment with your career advancement? You may have a family to think about now, as well as your community. If so, you might need to rethink your key strategies and maybe seek ways to manage the other areas of your life that complement your career goals. Have you looked around your institution or community and asked, “Where are the opportunities here? What changes can I make to keep my career moving forward?”


I was recently at the Women’s Leadership Institute where a woman was doing a presentation on wellness. She explained that with all the minutes there are in a day, women often don’t set aside even one to take care of their own wellness. By wellness, she meant not just physical and mental wellness, but financial too. All those things tend to get pushed to the side as our strong sense of commitment to our careers and to others pulls us farther away.


We need to set aside a certain amount of minutes each day to take care of our own personal and financial wellness. We need to demand that from ourselves.

 

What I have found is that, if we can make time for that kind of wellness, it makes a difference. So I go back to that word intention. There has to be intention around how one creates success for herself.

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