Smart Spending

Women and Money: Tradeoffs Among Career, Family and Finances

Ashley went on to a top college and a top law school in Los Angeles.  When she was home for a summer vacation in her hometown around 40 minutes outside Pittsburgh during her first year of law school, she became involved with a teacher that she met through a friend.  She dated long distance for the remainder of the time she was in law school.

Ashley had grown up in a family where both her mother and her father worked. They divorced when Ashley was 13-years-old and she lived primarily with her mother after that point.  Her mother was in a professional position and there was plenty of money in their household growing up.  She saw her father regularly and he contributed to her support as well.

The importance of education was always stressed in Ashley’s household and she went to a private all-girls school where girls participated in competitive sports and a rigorous academic program.  There was always competition for grades and top positions on sports teams but it was mostly good-natured competition.

Ashley had worked only in internships and jobs intended to gain experience that would look good on a resume during the time when she was going to college.  During her second year in law school, she began to interview for summer associate positions that would, ideally, ultimately lead to a permanent position upon graduate as is customary for second year law students to do.  The summer associate positions were well-paying and she would be on track to earn $125,000 per year or more upon graduation if she was hired full time by one of the large law firms upon graduation.

During the semester of the interview process, Ashley was in a class on women and the law. Her teacher at the time happened to be pregnant and told a story about how a friend of hers who worked at a large law firm had gone into her bosses office to announce her own pregnancy.  The boss at the firm had taken out her Blackberry to schedule the C-section.  Although the class initially laughed at this story, it became clear that it wasn’t a joke: these large firms demanded a lot of their female associates and women who were serious about making partner didn’t let pregnancy get in the way.

Ashley began to think about what she wanted her life to be like, and she decided that she missed her boyfriend and she wasn’t sure she was cut out for “big firm” life.  She spoke to her mother who arranged an interview with a friend in a small law firm in their town.  The interview went well and Ashley spent her 2L summer working for that firm, after which she was offered a job there.  She took the job and, during her third year of law school, also got engaged to marry her hometown boyfriend.

Ashley moved back and started a job making $65,000 per year.  Even with this salary, which was significantly lower than she would have earned had she worked for a big firm, she was out-earning her fiancé.  The two got married but after discussing it, decided they would not completely combine their finances.  They would have a joint account to pay bills and cover their shared expenses and Ashley would contribute a larger percentage of the money in that account since she was making more money.

The two began saving for a house shortly thereafter and both Ashley and her fiancé ended up putting most of the “extra” money they had into that account, which meant that Ashley was contributing more to that account as well.

Each takes care of their own spending money for entertainment and fun activities. They share the cost of groceries, mortgage payments, insurance and other related costs. Both Ashley and her husband also max out their respective 401K/403B accounts at work, having the money taken directly from their paycheck.

Analyzing Ashley

Ashley was faced with a choice that many women are faced with: did she want to prioritize career or did she want to prioritize relationships and family.  Although this is no longer supposed to be a choice, the reality is that many women still do feel as if they cannot fully excel in both career and home.

Ashley also was faced with a situation that many young women are faced with today: she out-earns her partner.  Although they took steps to equalize the situation and make each party responsible for a fair share of expenses while leaving each financial autonomy, the reality of marriage and joint goals resulted in much of their money ultimately being combined.  Because their marriage is happy and there is no resentment on the part of either party, this works for them.  The hope is that over time, each will continue to be happy with the contributions they and their partner are making and the roles they play.

Having children will also present an interesting challenge when the couple attempts to work out how they manage the financial and other responsibilities of that endeavor as well.  Because Ashley’s career is more demanding and she contributes more of the family income, there is a strong chance that the couple will find that her husband ends up taking on more of the childcare role.