Bath Iron Works Careers

Money Matters, Plan Accordingly

As long as you can handle the consequences, the time focused on your family is the best investment you will ever make.  Women on the Rise survey respondent

One of the biggest gifts my parents gave me was the ability to graduate from college with no debt. But I didnt fully understand the power of that gift until I married my husband. Bill was the first in his family to graduate from college. His grandparents on both sides came from Italy. In fact, the name of one of his grandfathers can be found on a placard on Ellis Island. His father, a mechanic, and his mother, a secretary, gave everything they could to help their son succeed.

Bill entered college with scholarship money, financial aid, and a job working in the school cafeteria. During summers he worked as a house painter, an air-conditioning installer, and a busboy. The first job he had that was more reflective of his future professional life was when he worked as an intern at Analog Devices, a semiconductor company based outside of Boston. He didnt make much more than he did when he was a house painter, but at least it was a step in the direction of his eventual career in the tech industry.

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As a child, Bill rarely traveled. When I met him, he didnt have a passport and had only once been on a plane. He fondly remembers the one big family vacation they went on when he was eleven. He, his two sisters, and his parents drove from Massachusetts to Disney World crammed together in their Chevy Impala, bickering over who got to sit next to the window. He loved that trip.

After college, Bill decided to get an advanced engineering degree and then went on to business school. Those seven years of education cost him (us) just over $300,000 in pre-tax money. We married the day before my twenty-fifth birthday and finally paid off those loans just before my thirty-fifth.

So you can understand what I mean when I say I truly know the power of the gift my parents gave me when they paid for my college education. My dream has always been to give that same gift to our three children. Weve tallied it up and the pre-tax cost to send the three of them to a private college like the one Bill and I attended (including tuition, living expenses, travel back and forth, and the attendant hidden charges that surprise even the best financial planners) will run around $1,500,000(!).

I didnt think about that when I called my boss at the advertising agency to say I wouldnt be coming back. The first few years I worked as a freelance consultant I made as much as I did working full-time at the agency, but when I transitioned first to become a social entrepreneur and second to become a writer and journalist, my income plummeted. For over ten years, it didnt match what I made at my big agency job.

Paid sick leave? 401k? Disability insurance? I havent had those since 1998. My ability to do what I do professionally rests fully on my husbands shoulders.

That is a lot of burden for one person to bear. We live in Silicon Valley, home of the gazillionaires you read about with their Teslas and private jets. But for every rich guy whose good idea, hard work, perfect timing, and dollops of good luck landed him with more money than he could possibly throw away in a lifetime, there are thousands of men and women who are doing well, providing for their families, and still counting their pennies.

Bill and I were incredibly lucky to be part of the Dot Com era. He was at a start-up that was bought by Cisco Systems. That money allowed us to buy a home and build a life for our family. But the Great Recession hit us, as it did the rest of country, hard. Much of our savings suffered. The money we had set aside for our kids college tuitions all but dried up. After careful thought, we have decided to downsize and sell the family home to pay for our childrens education.

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