• Kavya Ravikanti

Sara Haak: The Power of the Ask


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

This week we have Sara* who shares her parent's influence on managing her money. She sheds light on the relationship women have with money and the power of the ask when it comes to negotiating.

Bio

Occupation: Leadership Consultant

Location: San Francisco

Monthly Expenses: Rent, Car Payment, & General Bills


Interview


Kavya: Tell me a little bit about yourself?

Sara: I went to school at UC Santa Barbara, I am about 4 ½ years out of college and post-college I moved to San Francisco.


I think the concept of money and financial wellness became very important to me, especially now being in the current role that I'm in. I work in women's leadership so it's a really big theme that comes up. Understanding women and money, how things are changing, and how much women are going to be owning in the future in terms of wealth - it's fascinating.


My parents have three daughters, and early on my father shared money tips and anecdotes to get us thinking about our futures. He really tried to inspire us and pushed us to care about money, so a lot of my interest came from him.


Kavya: When was the first time that you remember engaging with money, whether it was by yourself or otherwise? Was it with your dad?

Sara: I was 15 years old and going to study abroad in high school so my mom took me to the bank to get a credit card. That's my first memory with money and they had given me some cash to spend and opened up the account for me.


My dad's big influence on me was really with investing. He always pushed me to think about stocks and told me to read Barrons. 😃 I always felt grateful that my mom took me to the bank and did that for me. I know that some people don’t open credit cards until much later in life, and I appreciate that I now have good credit because of that. And the fact that I’ve always been responsible about my spend.


Kavya: What was it like building from that experience in high school to when you were in college? Did your engagement with money increase?

Sara: It definitely changed a lot from high school to college. In high school, I was living at home and had limited costs. I've never been a big spender so I never felt like I was in a bad place with money. In college, I always worked a summer job or took up a part-time project for some extra money on the side. I was also lucky that my parents helped me out by paying for school and I got financial aid as well so the money I was bringing in was usually money to be saved.


Post-college is when things got very real, very quickly. I needed to pay for everything on my own, especially with San Francisco being the most expensive city, next to NYC to live in the U.S. I started to care more about my compensation and now I've gotten good at asking for what I believe I deserve and what I need to live comfortably. This newfound interest and priority of money matters pushed me to read books and listen to podcasts about personal finance. I've become more money-driven in my career than I ever used to be and for me, that has never meant leading with money as my top priority, the core impact of my work is most important to me, but money is now a close second :)


Kavya: What did you do in college to engage with your money?

Sara: In college, I had some money in mutual funds, which was the first step I took with investing. Other than that, I would work jobs to bring in money through a stipend or by interning. Most of it was around, how can I bring in more money for my own spending and saving?


Kavya: Did you track your expenses or was it just being conscious about how much you were bringing in and how much you were spending?

Sara: I never fully tracked my expenses hardcore because I've always been on top of what I spend and am good about living within my means. I just make sure I'm never pushing the boundary of what I'm bringing in and what I want to save. Post-college I save 20%+ per paycheck and have made that a major priority for my savings and investing in my retirement.


Kavya: How did you go about investing in mutual funds in college?

Sara: I opened a brokerage account through Charles Schwab and invested in their lowest risk mutual funds. I didn't have to do much at all to manage it and I think it’s a big misconception out there that you have to be a stock trader to be an investor, and that is simply not true.


Kavya: Talk to me about post-grad life. When you picked your first job did you think about how much you wanted to make? Or did you become more money-driven after starting your job?

Sara: When I got my offer for my job, it sounded good {enough}. First of all, I didn't know what my value was because it was my first career out of school full time. I did compare it to other places but it was hard to know since I didn't have a baseline to compare it with and truly, didn’t know what I was supposed to be paid. What is tough, however, is that from that first job, you are building the foundation for your career salary projection. I think having more mentors going from college to your first full-time job, could be extremely strategic and helpful.


I wasn't concerned with the pay and my family has always been like your first job is for the experience, don't worry so much about the money. That's how I was brought up. Do something that's good for you and your growth and the money will come.

I started caring more about money as I felt I was more valuable in the role. I've been at the same company for almost 5 years so I became more strategic as I put in more time. That’s not the case for everyone, but for me, if I can truly feel that I am contributing to my top potential, I feel more confident to ask for more.


Kavya: What was adjusting your finances like, post-grad? Did you do anything differently with your finances from what you did in college?

Sara: Definitely. Since college, I have made investing more of a top priority. I'm not a big expense tracker but I definitely look at my finances more and have tried out apps like Mint. Through my employer, I opened up a 401K and started contributing to multiple retirement accounts.


Kavya: How did you know where to start?

Sara: It’s very self-service. If I had to give advice about it to anyone, I’d say you have to make yourself knowledgeable. My company offers our 401K through Fidelity so I picked up the phone and had tons of conversations with Fidelity advisors and asked a lot of questions. I would consult my dad about how much, percentage-wise, I should be putting away. I didn't know the difference between a Roth IRA and a regular 401K, whether it’s better to invest your money pre-tax and post-tax. What I learned, though, that as complicated as it is, it sounds more complicated than it truly is. But these are decisions you have to make at the end of the day. I know there's a lot I don't know but through my own research, my dad's advice, and the Fidelity/advisory reps I’m making the most informed decisions I can.


Kavya: It's definitely a learning process. What were some of the questions you were asking?

Sara: I asked: What were the benefits of putting money in a pre-tax account, vs post-tax account or, both? How much percentage should I be putting away to my retirement accounts versus saving in a savings account? Should I be opening multiple accounts for things like putting money away for a house and a car? Should I not just be investing in my mutual funds but more actively trading?


Kavya: Great questions to ask! Can you walk me through how you engage with your money? Do you do things on a weekly basis or monthly basis? Do you check all your accounts, what process do you have in place and what does it look like?

Sara: So I break it up into a couple of things. My main bank is Bank of America, and I have accounts with Fidelity and Charles Schwab. These are the three accounts/apps I check often. Bank of America is what I use to pay my bills. I check my mutual funds in my Schwab account and also to track some of the companies I want to buy stocks of. So I put those companies on my watch list. I also check my Fidelity once a month to see how my money's growing.


Kavya: What is one piece of advice that you've received or that you've read that really helped you with your relationship with money?

Sara:

Take ownership of your financial wellness, it's up to you. Get the knowledge that you need, read about it, ask people because it's in your hands and you can't depend on anybody else for it unfortunately.

Find a mentor, advisor, friend who can help and remember at the end of the day, all you can do is do your best with the knowledge you have at that moment


Kavya: What financial decisions are you currently considering for the future? How have you been thinking about those things?

Sara: I'm currently exploring buying a home versus renting. How much money do I need to be able to buy a home and what can I be doing to diversify my income and investments. Career-wise, how am I going to take a step up in my salary? I just made a career pivot so that brought a salary increase but from here, where can I go to really take it up a notch?


Kavya: Have there been any like hiccups in your own journey with money? What mistakes have you made and what would you suggest people avoid?

Sara: Research and learn about money even before you have the power to make that decision. For example, I didn't know how to save for retirement before I started my job, but if I knew earlier, I would have started on day one and been saving earlier. When you really take a look at contributions like a 401K account, you realize how much your money can grow merely by having it in the right place I could have also started off with a higher contribution. So going in with more knowledge so that you can start these money-saving techniques from the beginning.


Kavya: What do you think is kind of like the biggest misconceptions surrounding personal finances?

Sara: That money controls us versus we control money. I know it can get more difficult if you're in more difficult situations. So, I don't say that without the understanding that it could have been very different for me if I grew up differently or if I was in a situation that I didn't feel like I could get out of. But my hope is that all of us at one point can feel like we are controlling our money, vs. the other way around.


Kavya: What have you learned about women and wealth while working in women’s leadership?

Sara: Working in women's leadership means I help our internal women employees advance their careers. We've put on a lot of workshops, networking, and mentoring events and these have also included financial wellness. One of our speakers, Jean Chatzky who is the best selling author of Women With Money, has shared numerous tips for women specifically on money matters The book is known as a judgment-free guide to creating a less stressed and more rich life.


It has a lot to do with understanding money from the influences you had growing up and how that will show up later in your own decisions relating to money matters and in your relationships and in your partnerships. It's something I've become very curious about. In the next 10 years, women are going to control 75% of discretionary spending. We are also going to inherit 70% of intergenerational wealth whether that's from a partner of ours or a parent. So it's fascinating that some of us might feel very uncomfortable with our money and want to leave it to our spouse or someone else to take care of. However, the stats and data show that it's going to be in our hands so if we don't know how to deal with it, we're going to lose it. That can be very overwhelming to think about, but it can also be very empowering.


Kavya: What are actionable things that would make women take advantage of the power that they do have?

Sara: One of the things I learned was that women need to understand what kind of life they want to create. What's really driving you, why you want money and what you need. I think it's really defining for ourselves, personally, what your goals are and the path you want to take.


Kavya: You talked about navigating negotiating as a woman, what are your thoughts on that?

Sara: So here's another data point for you. 50% of men negotiate their first job while only 7% of women do. I didn't negotiate my first job and honestly, I don't know if I would tell someone to negotiate their job. I don't know why there's a fear with it, almost like you feel like you don't deserve to negotiate which is crazy. I think that's something I learned. The power of the ask. If you're not negotiating then you're actually setting yourself up for a much lower salary in the future because it's all based on the first job, really that’s the foundation.


Kavya: What has your own experience with negotiating been like? What has really helped you make sure that you are measuring your worth and asking for it as well?

Sara: I think just being real with myself. How much value am I bringing to this role? If I can look at myself and look at my work and know that I'm doing the right thing. That's when I have the confidence to go to my boss to say here's x, y, & z reasons, here's what I've done, and here's how I've over contributed. Let's have a conversation, do you think this warrants a greater conversation? Just knowing how to advocate for yourself, even when it sounds scary or uncomfortable. A part of this is also making ourselves visible. Share the great work you are doing so that when it comes time for these conversations, you are well equipped with the supporting evidence :)


Kavya: Any resources or like guides that have kind of helped you learn more about this and take action?

Sara: Different podcasts, Jean has a podcast called HerMoney, where they have talked about negotiation on. I’ve been to a lot of different conferences in my current role, and they talk a lot about the power of the ask, communicating for influence, and other concepts in that space. There’s a lot of online resources and articles about negotiating. Read through them but find what makes sense for your talk track. I do think it has to be very specific to your own voice, you can't just "insert line here".



Rapid Fire

Kavya: What credit cards do you own and why did you choose these ones?

Sara: Bank of America Cash Rewards card with 1-3% on certain things. You can pick a category a month and it's nice because it has no annual fee.


American Airlines Executive card because I used to fly that airline a lot, so I think just being strategic with airline credit cards. These have high annual fees so it's not the best in that case.


Chase Sapphire card that I use for travel and eating out because of the rewards. It doesn’t exist anymore.


Usually, I look for rewards, and then low annual fees after that.


Kavya: How much of your income do you save annually?

Sara: I save ~20% for my retirement - 13% in my 401K, and 7% in my Roth IRA.


The rest I keep in my Bank of America savings account. Some of that goes to my mutual funds and individual stocks with Charles Schwab.



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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, 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 for anonymity.


Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the interviewee, not the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee, or any other group or individual.

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