Religion, politics, sex, money — they’re the topics we’re warned to avoid at the dinner table, but we believe these are the real-life issues that millennial women should be discussing on the regular. (Like, why are millennials cheating?) And while we may have come a long way on the first three (hooray for kickass female activists!), personal finances are something of a final frontier when it comes to openness. But we think that can easily change with this generation of forward-thinking women. We asked six successful women in their 30s — who’ve had some time to reflect on the major financial milestones of their lives (we’re talking babies, weddings, salaries, vacations, and graduate school) — to give their younger selves (AKA you 20-somethings) a money talking-to. Think of it as a group chat with your older, wiser, been-there-don’t-do-that besties.
Saving for Vacation
“Pick where and when you want to go,” recommends behavioral health therapist Allison, a 32-year-old who lives in the Chicago suburbs. “Take the total cost and divide it by the number of months/paychecks until the vacation. This is how much you must save/pay off to have the vacation paid for by the time it arrives. I like knowing that I’ve already paid for the vacation when I get on the plane — it helps me to relax and have fun! Also make sure you budget in spending money — I always overbudget, because I know myself, and, well, I like shopping and eating.”
Gina, 35, a nurse from Charlottesville, shares, “I paid for my vacation to Las Vegas last year by working a few shifts of overtime over two months. We also kept costs low by traveling from Tuesday to Saturday and choosing a hotel package with a few meals included.”
Having a Baby
“Eek! The scariest of them all!” admits Allison, whose first baby is due this winter. “When I found out I was pregnant, I looked at my monthly expenses and multiplied that number by how many months I had until my due date. That was the amount of money I needed to [save] each month. I feel secure knowing I will have my bills covered (and then some) when I’m half-asleep 24 hours a day with a crying newborn.”
Thirty-three-year-old Andrea, a data manager in Philadelphia, PA, shares, “I wish we would have started saving for college early (like, the day we found out we were pregnant). We got a leg up from her grandparents last Christmas, when they opened an account for her and deposited about $10K into a low-risk Roth IRA. We try to add a little each month, but we’ve just recently made it a larger priority in our monthly budget. We add about $300 per month.”
“A friend recently told me that she is spending the equivalent of her total wedding costs on daycare this year,” reveals Maggie, a 34-year-old program manager in Washington, DC. “This quickly put my upcoming wedding concerns in perspective, so after the wedding bills are paid, we will absolutely open a savings account for daycare. Daycare is a temporary expense — maybe five years — but my goal is to plan for that expense.”
Planning a Wedding
“One thing I regret spending so much money on was flowers,” says Kristin. “Don’t get me wrong — I loved my flowers, and they were absolutely beautiful, but we could have easily cut the flowers in half, and it still would have been just as great!” She ultimately affirms that “if I could do it all again, I would definitely bring my family and a couple of my closest friends to some cool location and have a no-fuss ceremony there!”
Andrea agrees: “Nobody is going to remember what your wedding invitations looked like or if your wedding cake had three or four tiers.” Instead, “When we started wedding planning, it was clear that we both prioritized celebrating with our family and friends foremost, and that a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon was more important than having a designer gown or a huge wedding with all the posh trimmings. So my advice would be to make a list of your priorities and then decide how many you can realistically handle given your budget.”
Buying a House
“Definitely, definitely, definitely try to put down 20 percent on your house when you purchase,” urges Kristin, 33, director of communications at a non-profit in Richmond, VA. “My husband and I put down 10 percent when we bought, thinking we’d get up to that 20 percent mark in a year and not have to pay private mortgage insurance anymore. What we didn’t realize is that the majority of your monthly mortgage payment goes toward paying the interest first. Barely any of your mortgage payment goes toward paying down the principle (which is what counts toward that 20 percent). We’ve been paying off our mortgage for four years now and still have at least a year to go until we no longer have to pay private mortgage insurance. That’s $81 a month we are basically throwing down the drain!”
Going to Grad School
“Paying for graduate school was the most stressful financial burden of my life so far,” relates Emily, a 32-year-old environmental project manager from Denver, CO. “I thought, ‘Oh, everyone is going to grad school — I’ll figure out how to pay for it.’ My monthly required loan payment was $560/month (for 10 years), and that started during 2008-2009 when job availability was slim.
“With that said, look into whether your company will offer some form of tuition reimbursement to take some of the financial burden off of you. In my case, the company was offering a fraction (10 percent) of total tuition costs and required you be a full-time employee, with a three-year commitment to the company afterward. For me, that didn’t seem worth it. My current company offers a much better reimbursement program, and I would have gladly worked a full-time job (full salary coming in!) and gone to school full time for two years had I come out debt-free in the end. The long-term commitment (10 years) of a grad school payment sounds way more painful than those two years of full-time school and work.
“Lastly, if you do end up paying for it yourself, don’t pay just the minimum loan amount if you can afford to pay more. I started overpaying my loan by a few hundred dollars each month when I could. That way, if I had a big purchase (flights/vacation/etc.), I could pay a lot less during that month because I had overpaid for so long. By taking this approach, I ended up cutting three years off my loan and saving close to $10,000 in interest payments.”
Negotiating a Salary
“Knowing that you should negotiate is a good starting point,” Maggie tells us. “I didn’t know that for my first job offer out of college. These days, there are so many resources available (Glassdoor, PayScale) to do your research for the job level, company, city, education to help you know your worth. I always remain gracious and appreciative during salary negotiations, keeping it all positive, while still asking for what I want. It’s important to feel calm — not pressured by deadlines or other constraints that will cause you to cave before you’re satisfied with the deal.”
Emily recommends that we “[shouldn’t] always focus on the salary number alone. Think about the other benefits they are offering and how that compares to what you receive now. How much do they match in 401(k) contributions? How much vacation time do they offer? What is the monthly insurance payment versus the benefits? If one of these is less than what you’re receiving at your current company, use it in negotiating a higher salary. Also, don’t offer excuses or soften your request by saying, ‘I know the market for XYZ is slow right now, but I have over 10 years of experience…’ Oh! And if the negotiation is over the phone, make sure you have your reasoning written down before having the call. Having a clear and concise message and reasoning goes a long way.”
Allison leaves us with a few quick tips: “If you have a pet (especially a high-maintenance pet like mine), make sure you factor in their expenses to your budget. They can add up quickly! Using an FSA account is a great way to put away money for medical bills — tax-free — and helps with stress when those bills come rolling in. Oh, and cutting out Target runs was the quickest way for me to save money, but, boy, did it work. I feel super-rich when I’m not spending $200 a week on random stuff I don’t need!”
Do you have any financial words of wisdom to share? Tweet us @BritandCo to share!
(Photos via Getty)