Leah Gaffey: How Her Savings Account Literally Saved Her
Today we have, Leah*, a hustler who managed a full-time job through college and is now an account manager at a startup.
Job Title: Account Manager Age: 24 Salary Range: $90K — $110K Location: Los Angeles → San Francisco Big Expenses/Debts: N/A Monthly Expenses: Amazon, Sephora, Netflix, Spotify, Apple Music, Hulu, gym membership
Kavya: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you go to college and when did you graduate? Leah: I went to school in the South and I graduated two years ago. I’m originally from the Southern California Area. I worked in LA post-grad and I moved to San Francisco about 5 months ago for a job. I’m super passionate about being outdoors, spending time with my friends and family, and my professional growth. Oh, I’m also trying to learn Arabic!
That’s awesome, so tell me about post-grad life, how has that been for you? Post-grad life has been exciting. I have been financially independent since I was 18 so I don’t think it hit me as hard as it did my peers and my friends from school. If anything, because I was maintaining a full-time job while I was going through school that required me to travel, I had to have really good time management and a greater sense of responsibility that made post-grad life easier. I kind of always had the mentality that I need to put my work life before my personal life, some people disagree, but that’s just how I’ve lived my life.
Talk to me about college, why did you decide to work full-time through college, was it out of necessity or was it out of this passion for this job? It was a little bit of both. I was responsible for everything from food to clothes to housing since the only things my parents paid for was my tuition. That was just the situation and I was happy to do it because it gave me a sense of responsibility.
In terms of passion for the job, I’ve always been a very loyal person. The job was a really great opportunity and was paying me well, so that’s why I stuck around for as long as I did. I think once I continued the job after I graduated, I realized that I had exhausted myself and that I wasn’t as passionate about what I was doing anymore. College was pretty crazy because I would have classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and then Friday morning I would fly out to wherever I needed to be. It was anywhere between San Francisco, New York City, Dallas, etc. and I would work Friday through Monday and then get back to classes on Tuesdays.
Wow, that sounds crazy, what was that like? It was very stressful since I had a very large amount of responsibilities. I couldn’t fail my classes or not do well on the job. It was extremely beneficial and I definitely don’t regret doing it but I did have to make some sacrifices. I missed football games, events, and what have you but I did what I did to make it work.
Did you think about your finances before college or was it when you started working at 18? No, it definitely started in college. I took a personal finance class with Professor Dugal. He seemed terrifying but actually ended up being such a sweetheart. I honestly think it’s ridiculous that we don’t have a required personal finance class and colleges are missing out on teaching us the necessities.
You’re preaching to the choir here, I hear you! Was it just that class that made you think about starting to handle your money? I think it was that and how my family handled money growing up. My dad actually handled all of the finances himself and never involved my mom. I really don’t believe in doing that at all because my parents ended up getting divorced and my mom got screwed over. She had to figure out everything for herself much later in life. At that age, I knew that I never wanted to be in the position of being financially reliant or dependent on anyone else.
So when you started, talk me through your initial steps. I did a lot of research on top of what I had learned in the class about what I wanted to do. I was getting health care benefits from my dad so I was mostly thinking about savings, 401(k)s and things of that nature.
The job I was working in college and ended up continuing once I graduated, unfortunately, did not offer a 401(k). Instead, I opened up a savings account and decided to take 10–20% from my paychecks and dedicate that to savings.
Did you try to negotiate a 401(k) or any other benefits for your job? No, they just simply didn’t offer anyone a 401(k), however, my second job offered me one. After that, I decided that I wasn’t going to take a job that didn’t offer benefits that invested me such as a retirement fund.
Tell me more about your savings plan, did you start in college or once you moved to LA? Once I moved to LA, the expenses piled up pretty quickly. I had to put a deposit down for an apartment and get my life together. I wasn’t able to take that 10–20% from the initial paychecks and unfortunately racked up some credit card debt too. Luckily, I was able to work myself out of it within a few months, but it was not a situation I was ever hoping to be in.
After that, I started to put 10–20% of each paycheck consistently into my savings account. Looking back, I am really thankful I did the 20% I did because I was in a tough spot 3 months ago and my savings really helped me. I could have possibly done more than 20% but that was what worked best for me at the time.
Are you comfortable talking about what happened 3 months ago? I had moved up to SF initially for this job that I was extremely excited about. I was being paid well and I had really great benefits as well so I felt pretty financially secure. Unfortunately, a couple of months in a situation came up and I was let go pretty suddenly and my savings or what some people call a rainy day fund saved me. If I didn’t have that, I would have been screwed and would not have been able to support myself in SF.
Call me stubborn, but I am also a fiercely independent and self-sufficient that I didn’t want to ask anyone for help either. My sister suggested I ask my mom or dad for some cash but I absolutely refused to do that. To me dipping into my savings, was a better solution than asking my parents for help.
Although it was a terrible situation to be in, I knew I could get out of it and it taught me a lot of important life lessons at the end of the day.
Looking back, knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently if anything? I think I should have started saving earlier or saved more when I did save. I never thought there would be a situation where I would become completely reliant on just my savings, but life happens.
When that stuff does happen, you have to pick your head up and move forward. I knew that I couldn’t be upset and do nothing so I tried to make the negative situation into a positive one.
That’s such an important attitude to have. What financial decisions are you thinking about for the future? I want to eventually start my own business although I don’t know what it would be yet. I want to also buy a house, but I am focused on my career right now. I am also hoping to eventually live abroad for a year. All I do know is that within the next 10 years, I hope to own a home and settle down somewhere.
Do you use any tools or services or apps to track your finances? I use Mint to track my spending and I recently downloaded Ellevest as I am thinking about generally investing my money.
If you could give your college self one piece of advice what would it be? Expect the unexpected. From my personal experience, start saving earlier, but whatever this is for you, do it early.
Even if you are dependent on your parents for your finances, start somewhere.
What credit cards do you own and why did you pick those ones? Discover — I have had this one since college.
Chase Sapphire Preferred — Recently got this one since people have been raving about it and for the benefits.
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Most personal finance blogs only share stories of the people who have it all under control, save 50% of their income, and retire early. While that is impressive, most of us don’t live our lives like that. Some of us want a career and some of us just need our almond matcha latte every morning. However, we all still face the same woes when it comes to managing our personal finances.MoneyStories is a series of interviews with young professionals and recent graduates sharing their stories on how they have and are navigating their personal finances.
*Name changed to protect identity.
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