Photo: Marc Royce
Q: I'm a 52-year-old single mother receiving no child support. Several years ago, I filed for bankruptcy, and we now live on my take-home income alone—no credit cards or loans. My job in the nonprofit sector pays around $40,000 a year. This covers our bills but keeps us clipping coupons and shopping in discount stores. I have no retirement fund. While looking for a new job, I've come to realize that in order to have a savings or retirement account, I would need to leave the work that's deeply connected to my soul. Any ideas on staying in the field I love but making the salary go further?
A: I find it so interesting that you say you love your work but, at the same time, you recognize that you aren't properly "loved" for your efforts. That is, your employer doesn't pay you what you need to care for your family and plan for retirement. What's so great about that? When you worry all the time about money, then no matter how much you say you love your job, the truth is you don't love your life. So while I can appreciate that a nonprofit might not be able to pay the greatest salary, I'm not going to let your organization off the hook for not helping you save, and I'm not going to let you off the hook for settling for less than you deserve.
If your employer can't raise your salary and refuses to contribute to a retirement plan on your behalf, it's time to move on. Don't be resigned to the fact that you won't like a new job. Are you sure you wouldn't enjoy doing something that paid you enough so you didn't have to constantly agonize? Are you positive you couldn't find another great organization that offers higher wages and a retirement plan?
Ideally, your new company will offer a 401(k) or 403(b) (for nonprofits). And because you'll have more cash in each paycheck, I also want you to open a Roth IRA account. Since you're over 50, you can invest $5,000 a year. I know that sounds like a lot, but try as hard as possible to find the money. If you manage to invest $416 a month (about $5,000 a year) and earn an 8 percent average annual return, you'll have a stash of $114,000 by the time you're 65, and that entire sum will be tax-free. That's one of the reasons I believe putting money into a Roth is the absolute best investment any woman can make for herself. Now go do it.