It’s tax time and so you, like me and the rest of us, are probably thinking about money. If you are pregnant, have a new baby, or are thinking about having a child, you may be thinking about taking a career pause so you can spend more time with your family. But, you may be wondering if you pause for parenthood will it kill your career.
I wish I had easy answers for you. I don’t. But I can share some lessons I learned around pausing and money.
After the birth of my second child, I quit my job as a vice president at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising. At the time, I thought it was my choice. Only now, years later, have I come to understand that it wasn’t. That the inflexible workplace, the frantic 24/7 work pace, and the conscious and unconscious bias against women in general, and mothers in particular, are what drove me out.
Their loss. And mine.
At the time, even though I had the bigger title and the larger team, my husband (who was also in marketing) was making significantly more than I was. We had fixed costs like school loans, a mortgage, car payments and all the rest. When you added it all up, the only place we could really save was on child care. We knew that if I stayed home, we could save thousands of dollars each month because we wouldn’t need a babysitter.
Sure I would be giving up a decent salary, a reliable bonus, and benefits including paid vacation days, paid sick days, and employer sponsored 401k matches that doubled the investment in my retirement fund, but saving on child care and spending precious time with my newborn seemed to make sense at the time.
What I didn’t take into account was the long term financial hit pausing my career would have on our family’s bottom line.
When I paused my career, I didn’t do the math to evaluate the compounding financial implications of the salary increases I would likely have gotten or what the consistent employer matching would mean to my 401K. I also didn’t take the time to truly understand the costs of raising a child. After school activities, braces, college counseling, college – none of these were in my sights when I went into my boss and told her I was done.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone. I interviewed 186 women and surveyed nearly 1,500 more for my book, Work Pause Thrive: How to Pause for Parenthood Without Killing Your Career and I learned that most women don’t do the financial math when considering a career pause. They do what I did and just quit.
When we rely on our partner to bring in the money, we are at the whim of that person’s career. Job loss, divorce, even death are all potential outcomes that can put us and our families at risk.
On the flip side, how do you put a price tag on those precious moments with your children? Is the risk worth the reward? Many of the women I spoke to said, “Yes!”
And yet, as one woman I interviewed told me, “I wish I’d known money matters.”
If you are considering taking a career pause, here are five things you’ll want to do to protect your family’s bottom line.
Run a Proforma
Guy Kawasaki, the original Apple evangelist and modern-day start-up guru, has written that “children are the ultimate start-up. When they leave for college, it’s their IPO. When they get married, it’s an M&A deal. And like most start-ups, these milestones usually take longer and cost more than you predicted.”
Boy is he right! The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates it will cost $304,480 (adjusted for projected inflation) to raise a child from birth to eighteen. That’s around $17,000 a year (not including the cost of college and a wedding).
$17,000 a year? Ha!
Just child care alone runs, on average, between $9,000 and $12,000 a month in this country. Then of course there are the little things like those expensive Mommy and Me classes and soccer camps and cell phones and braces and…the list goes on. If you are like our family, my guess is it will cost you a heck of a lot more that what the USDA claims.
Before you quit, run the real numbers and decide if you can forgo your income and for how long. You’d be surprised at how quickly those expenses can add up.
Evaluate the Long-Term Cost of Leaving
Michael Madowitz, an economist for the think tank Center for American Progress, and his wife were trying to determine the financial implications of a career pause. He was astounded to discover there were no systems to conduct this analysis, so he created a net price calculator that includes the cost of lost wages, lost wage growth, the lost benefits and retirement when one leaves the workforce to care for children.
The result: the average American woman taking a five year break from her career will lose out on $467,000. That assumes she starts her pause at age 26. If she starts at 30, the loss is much greater. Half a million dollars or more can buy you and your family a lot of things. Before you decided to pause, check out what it would mean to your bottom line by clicking here.
Consider Child Care as a Career Tool
When Sharon Meers left her career in investment banking to spend more time with her family, she decided she would keep her child care arrangement. Why? Because as she told me, “It’s about human capital. I valued my contribution and therefore it made sense for the five years I was not working full-time to keep the same supports in place. I didn’t consider it a luxury, I considered it a requirement for my future career.”
Sharon used her “free-time” to research and write a book. She also kept her network and skills alive through strategic volunteering. Today she is the Head of Strategic Partnerships at eBay, a role she believes she might not have if she had not invested in herself and her career by maintaining child care support.
Before you dismiss this as a solution for the one percent, think about it: It’s true most of us can’t afford to keep child care while we lose an income. But if you consider your pause as a temporary blip in the long-term arc of your career, then ensuring you have support (even if only part-time) allows you to keep engaged professionally.
I know women who’ve traded care with other mothers or pooled their money to share a part-time baby sitter. I have heard of others who have used drop-in day care at their local YMCA or gym. The reason these women did this wasn’t so they could perfect their yoga pose; it’s so they could use the time to commit to activities that kept them relevant and employable while they’re out of the full-time workforce.
Consider maintaining some sort of child care while you pause so you can be sure to continue to keep your career alive and well.
Be Sure You’re Insured
My neighbor and friend lost his wife to a lengthy battle against breast cancer. He was heartbroken and his kids were inconsolable. He chose to pause his career while he and his sons grieved. It was the right choice for him. He has since remarried and his sons are off to college. But while it looks rosy now, he will tell you it was painful and hard and that those years he paused were essential to his family’s well-being. The good news is his wife had great life insurance so he could afford to pause. Turns out, that is pretty unusual.
The Life Insurance Marketing and Research Association reports that only 52% of American women have life insurance and those that do have policies that are, on average, 31% lower in terms of dollar coverage than men’s.
Nilufer Ahmed, senior research director at the association says, “There is still the whole idea that if I don’t earn income, maybe I shouldn’t be buying insurance.”
If, God forbid, something were to happen to you, be sure you are financially caring for your family by having a good quality life insurance policy. They need your support even after you are gone.
Invest in Your Retirement
Ok, so you’ve run the numbers and have decided you can pause. What’s your strategy for taking care of the wise old women you will become? Or, more specifically, the wise old widow you are likely to become? The average life expectancy for American men is 76 years. Women? 81 years. Meanwhile, the average retirement age is 62 years. So, you’re likely to live twenty years after the last paycheck comes in.
What does it mean if that paycheck has come in only intermittently in the forty or so years before you retire? A 2014 Vanguard study revealed that men have average and median retirement account balances that are 50% higher than that of women’s. Why? Because most men don’t pause their careers.
Set up a Roth IRA and invest money each year. Yes, that money may come from your partner’s salary on those years you are not in the paid work force and are focusing on your family, but value your unpaid work and effort is priceless. Value your human capital and the contribution you are making to your family by investing in your retirement. Your future self will thank you.
In the end, only you and your partner can decide if pausing your career makes sense, but ignoring the financial impact of doing so doesn’t. Remember, money matters so plan accordingly.
You can learn more tips on whether pausing is right for you and, if it is, how to pause without killing your career by reading my book. Pick up a copy at your local book store or online to learn more.