How woman executives can craft a financial plan
Bridge Venus Grimes new book "Corner Office Choices" puts the lens on life, career, investment and tax advice for women
Bridge Venus Grimes new book "Corner Office Choices" puts the lens on life, career, investment and tax advice for women
Book: Corner Office Choices: the Executive Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom
Author: Bridget Venus Grimes, CFP
Publisher: Lioncrest Publishing
Price: Paperback: $15.99
Who is it for?: Busy women looking for a new life plan.
What’s a “life plan”?: A roadmap to help you set short and long-term goals—with a to-do list of how to achieve them.
What’s the key message?: That average women executives leave up to $1 million on the table over the course of their working lives by not knowing how much they are worth and by not asking for what they deserve. Add in that women are less confident than men when it comes to financial literacy, regardless of their level of education or socioeconomic levels—and it’s no wonder women have distinct financial risks that aren’t currently addressed in traditional financial planning.
What are the major things that derail a good lifestyle for women?: There are four things and they include: lack of goal clarity, failure to manage Cash Flow, failure to manage their career actively and strategically as well as not having an action plan.
Is the book fun?: Yes, very much so. The book is chock full of anecdotes about individual career women’s struggles with financial freedom as well as a better life and career management.
Does it include practical info?: Yes, on cash flow management, a savings plan for short and long-term goals as well as tax strategies and investment management advice. Also look for extras in the appendixes with worksheets for net worth as well as financial literacy resources and checklists.
Key takeaway: When you know what you want, change is possible.
What’s the endgame?: Financial freedom—on your own terms.
The following is an edited excerpt from the book, Corner Office Choices, by Bridget Grimes.
For many executive women, life is a day-to-day tightrope walk while juggling career and family.
Many of these women have little time to live life on their terms, let alone have some sort of financial strategy for the future they’d like to enjoy.
After years as an executive in the financial industry, I know the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of women executives trying to live their ideal life. I also know that traditional financial planning underserves and even fails women executives. After repeatedly confronting the unique financial challenges that women executives face, I founded WealthChoice, a financial planning firm that provides advice and solutions tailored to women executives who want to craft their best life but lack the financial know-how and life planning experience to get there.
Like many women executives, you may feel as though you don’t have the time or energy to master financial planning right now. Maybe it feels too overwhelming to make space in your packed schedule for one more thing. Maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll find if you examine your finances. Maybe you don’t have hope that financial planning could have much positive impact on your daily life.
Let me introduce you to my client Sophie. She is a woman executive living her ideal life, pursuing her personal passions while developing and thriving in her career. Not only does she enjoy her day-to-day life, but she also enjoys a deep sense of security and freedom regarding her financial reality.
But it wasn’t always this way for Sophie.
Before we met, she struggled with a variety of personal, professional and financial challenges. As the next section will show, Sophie was able to incrementally overcome those challenges with the help of a continuously evolving life plan.
I met Sophie at a business seminar that I hosted for women executives. Like most of the attendees, her life on paper looked wildly successful. Only in her mid-30s, she was an equity partner at a prestigious law firm. She was great at what she did and had a staggering income to show for it, pulling in up to $1 million annually. She was married to a man who shared her passion for travel and outdoor sports. They took great vacations every year while splitting their time between homes in Colorado and Northern California.
However, Sophie was miserable.
Her story unfolded as we spoke after the seminar. She was working at an unsustainable pace, with no time left in her life for fun, adventure, or relaxation. Even while making money hand over fist, she felt the stress of being financially strapped. She had only $100,000 in her 401(k), not nearly enough to fund her lifestyle for a year. As we continued talking, her face, voice, and demeanor bore the evidence that she couldn’t keep up this pace much longer. I’ll never forget her words: “It feels like I’m on a treadmill that I can’t get off.”
I asked her, “How would you like your life to look, instead?”
Sophie confessed that she’d been dreaming for months about making a radical shift in her life. A few years back, she and her husband had traveled to Europe, where they’d fallen in love with a sleepy little seaside village. They imagined building a home there, right beside the water, where they wouldn’t have to work as hard and could spend more time together, sharing the activities they both loved. They vowed that someday when it made sense, they would downsize their lives and move to this village. But someday was still a long way off.
Over the next several weeks and months, Sophie and I began to meet regularly. We talked in more detail about the current state of her life. It turned out that she was working this crazy schedule because her lifestyle was considerably more expensive than it needed to be. Her home in California was a huge drain on her resources, but the demands of her client base kept her from spending more time in Colorado. Added together with the yearly vacations and the mindless spending habits she and her husband had developed, it was no wonder she felt strapped.
Our conversations had started with Sophie saying she wanted to be able to generate the income she needed without having to work incessantly. But as we talked, her dream became more specific than that. She wanted to work a part-time schedule that would give her more flexibility with her time. She had no objection to downsizing her extravagant lifestyle if it would allow her to spend more time doing what she loves with the person she loves.
With that in mind, we dove into the practical details around Sophie’s unique vision of a perfect life.
We looked at how much money she could expect to make if she scaled her work back to a part-time schedule with a handful of clients. We looked at how much she would need to have saved to retire completely by age fifty-five.
Once we knew the financial requirements around Sophie’s dream life, we could put a plan together for tackling her goals one at a time.
First, we designed a three-year plan for saving the cash required to build her home in Europe. Next, we determined how much she needed to live, and we used that to determine what income her part-time job would have to bring in. From there, we created a business plan for gradually winding down her practice, stepping away from her law firm and setting up her own practice, maintaining a handful of clients who would generate the income she needed to fund her downsized life. Finally, we set up a long-term plan for her to max out her 401(k) savings and save in an investment account after the house was built so that by the time she reached age fifty-five, she’d have the option to quit work altogether.
Over the years that followed that first meeting, it was exciting to watch Sophie’s strategy unfold. Today, Sophie is living in her new beachside home in the sleepy European village. She works a flexible schedule with a handful of clients who love her, while still having plenty of time to surf, go on trips, and, most importantly, relax and enjoy life with her husband. She’s able to do what she’s good at, while still enjoying a rich personal life.
In fact, Sophie’s new flexible schedule is generating even more income than she needs to live on. But by sticking to the budget we originally designed for her, keeping cash flow under control, having a business plan that generates the income she needs, and saving for retirement so she can stop work when she’d like, Sophie is living the life she wants and is on track to keep it that way.
I see her now and then when she visits San Diego, and the difference could not be more evident. It’s like a weight has been lifted off her shoulders. You can hear the confidence in her voice; her face is glowing with a new peace of mind.
This is what happens when you have a financial plan.
I constantly run into women executives who are in the same place where Sophie started.
After several years of climbing from one high-earning position to the next, many are still working their lives away with nothing to show for it. They spend most of the money they make, hoping it will give them the sense of satisfaction they’re missing.
This reckless spending pattern puts them in a place where they have to keep working at the same pace—it’s the only way they can keep paying for the things they buy to reward themselves. They’re caught in a cycle that makes them feel trapped in their own lives. Others are so busy that they haven’t taken the time to create a plan that assures them of the financial security so that they can live the lives they want.
When I ask these women executives, “What’s the purpose of all this? Why are you working so hard?” they tell me that they got into their careers for quality of life. But quality of life is exactly what they don’t have.
Many of these women executives don’t even know how to begin living their ideal life. They haven’t spent any time looking at the ebb and flow of their finances; the job is all they know. Without a second thought, they fund all kinds of things, from new cars to a child’s private school education to lavish family vacations, without knowing if they can truly afford to, and without knowing the financial implications of this spending.
When I work with these women, our conversation inevitably hinges on a single question: “What does your ideal life look like?”
Getting to that place doesn’t have to happen overnight. It didn’t happen that way for Sophie. We worked together for nearly ten years, discussing her goals and designing a list of action items. There were several times in those years when she would walk away with a great plan she wouldn’t follow. It took her a while to get to a point where she was finally ready to do something about her situation.
For so many women executives at this high-earning level, figuring out their finances is just one more thing to do. They feel as though they have no bandwidth for learning a new skill or changing their habits, so they just shut down and do nothing.
However, for the ones who do come back, their resolve is often triggered by something very personal. They reach a point where their financial plan stops being just another task and becomes the key to the peace of mind they crave. For Sophie, we put together a plan for how she could raise the cash in three years through strategic saving, and that’s when the light came on. Once she could see how to get it done, she went out and did it. As a result, her life today looks radically different. It should look different — it’s her life. A slowed-down existence in a little corner of the world isn’t everybody’s ideal life, but for Sophie, it’s everything she wants.
You should also know that you’re not alone on this journey, even though many women executives suffer from financial anxiety and tend to feel tremendous shame about it, believing they’re the only ones who struggle in this way. They think they should have known better, that they should be in a different place, that everyone else is happier and more secure than they are.
However you feel about your life and finances today—anxious, embarrassed, uncertain, terrified, defeated, or simply dissatisfied—you need to know that thousands of smart, hardworking women share those feelings alongside you.
This book is meant to give you more than just practical steps to get your finances on a good footing. It’s also meant to help you live your ideal life, life on your terms, with the peace of mind that comes from financial security and being on track. That’s why I’ve included numerous stories in this book about women executives just like you, who came to me in every kind of financial situation you can imagine. No matter what shape they were in, if the woman was ready to put the work into creating and following a plan, she was able to get on her feet and dramatically improve her quality of life.
I find that often women executives don’t realize the power of small, incremental change. Instead, many women view financial planning the way they view fitness or weight loss: it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. If their effort doesn’t “fix” the problem in a few days, they feel as though it’s not working at all. If they stray from the plan for a day or two, they feel as though they’ve washed out all the progress they made.
For women who have accomplished so much in their careers, it can be hard to give themselves permission to make incremental progress toward their financial goals. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate the little victories along the way. Individually, those victories might not represent thousands of dollars, but what they do represent is choice. By spending a few hundred dollars less on entertainment or a car payment, and instead putting that money into your retirement account, what you’ve done is take charge of your money. You’ve made the decision to prioritize what’s really important to you.
Those small decisions pave the way from where you are to where you want to be. The path to financial success is long and winding; it’s in looking back after six months or a year that you see how far you’ve come.
After helping hundreds of women executives manage millions of dollars, I’ve realized that real wealth comes down to living life on your own terms.
There’s no specific number attached to happiness or quality of life; it’s all about the choices we make. That’s the reason I named my firm WealthChoice. Everything you do is a choice—the way you spend your money, the direction you take your career, the order in which you take each action in your day. (And how lucky are we to have this much choice in living our lives?) Realizing the power of choice makes all the difference for women. It breaks them free from that trapped feeling.
Moreover, choice imbues spending with personal significance. When I create a budget for a client, I’m not telling them how to spend their money. I’m simply making them aware of where it’s been going, where the pitfalls are for them, and where their money should be redirected if they want their life to include the things they’ve said are important to them.
They can implement the budget, follow some of it, throw the whole thing in a drawer and ignore it—it’s up to them. It’s the choice that makes all the difference. Their money is no longer a mysterious force with a mind of its own. They’re the ones telling it what to do, instead of the other way around.
Ultimately, quality of life comes down to getting off that treadmill and reclaiming the power of choice over your money. As a woman executive, you have the power to make your life look exactly how you want it to look. To get started, all you have to do is stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Okay, what do I want?”
For more on achieving your ideal life personally and financially, check out Corner Office Choices by Bridget Grimes.
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