Gabriela Williams: Executive Recruiter, Creative Circle
“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia when I was fourteen years old. Before moving to the States both of my parents worked full-time, and I was raised with a strong awareness that they worked very hard in order to provide my sister and I with the education needed to thrive and succeed in the future. From an early age, I knew that my mom’s income was allocated almost entirely to our private school education and we didn’t take it for granted. But it was also a reminder that I was not on the same socioeconomic level as most of my classmates. We didn’t have a housekeeper, luxury cars, or international vacations. Looking back, there were times when I was embarrassed by this but I’m now incredibly grateful for it because I learned the value of a dollar. I learned how hard it was to earn it and how far it got you at a very early age.
When we moved to the States, there was a sense of growth across all aspects of our lives and a lot more opportunities! There’s no question that access to those opportunities morphed my financial success to date.
I started working when I was fourteen years old. I babysat, worked at a local gift shop, and was a waitress and bartender throughout college… and I haven’t taken a break since I started. I treasure financial independence!
I landed my first ‘professional’ job after college through Craigslist. Yup, before LinkedIn, Craigslist was a gold-mine for job postings. It was the perfect entry-level corporate job to help me build confidence and get a taste of the corporate world. I was making $30k which was roughly $5k more than the average entry-level job in those days, and the main reason for it was because I had a B.S. vs. a B.A. degree - which is probably the only time in my life when that mattered! I felt rich but a BIG part of it was because I was not paying rent. I lived with my parents so I was able to build some personal savings during those two years. The sacrifice was worth it. ;)
I started to network and research for data points I didn’t have. For example, I’d ask my boss for a performance bonus, bluntly ask peers how much they were making, and talk with recruiters so I could have a benchmark.
After that, I transitioned into the creative agency world, moved out to LA and started supporting myself entirely on my own (the savings I had from my first job were a great help here)! It was then, in my mid-20s, that I really started seeing how far my actual net income covered. Talk about a nice reality check! The higher cost of living in LA was a big factor and it’s ultimately what pushed me to start taking control of my income in a more proactive way.
I started to network and research for data points I didn’t have. For example, I’d ask my boss for a performance bonus, bluntly ask peers how much they were making, and talk with recruiters so I could have a benchmark. Ultimately, I started to focus on professional opportunities that would propel me forward financially and professionally. I needed both because it was very important for me to be able to afford my cost of living while not depriving myself of some simple pleasures like concert tickets, a nice dinner with friends, etc. AND save money on top of that. I needed the trifecta!
One thing led to the next and I now merge my people skills, creative background, and business knowledge as an Executive Recruiter to help others navigate and negotiate their professional opportunities and compensation packages.
Since I was a little girl, I’ve always saved money. It’s been one of my financial rules to save something every month. When I was in high school, it was almost 100% of whatever I made. By college it was roughly 50% of what I made but once I started working full-time and living on my own things changed. There were times when all I could save was $50 a month but it was better than nothing. As my income grows, I ensure my savings-ratio remains proportional to my higher income.
I’m a huge fan of the 50-30-20 rule (divide your after-tax income as follows: 50% towards spending on needs, 30% on wants, and 20% to savings). Balancing the 30 & 20 portions can be difficult but once I started making over $100k (a.k.a. when I knew for sure I could save a bit more than $50-200 a month) I started an auto-withdraw from checking into savings every payroll. This was key! Out of sight, out of mind. It’s a great way to ensure your savings get prioritized and remain consistent. And, you can always adjust as needed because life happens!
This month, my husband and I bought our first home in Los Angeles which is a HUGE accomplishment being in my early 30s and living in one of the most expensive cities in the US.
Once I got a hold of that, I started playing with other saving avenues. I’m lucky enough to work for a company that offers stock-options, and I started to invest in the market. In a similar way though, my contribution to stock-options gets taken out of my paycheck before my net paycheck is deposited into my bank account. The stock market is an area where I’m still learning but I encourage all women to get some basic knowledge on this especially from knowledgeable women in the financial world. Lastly, I’ve always maximized my 401k benefits as long-term retirement savings. If your employer offers you a match, I’d say take advantage of it. Otherwise, you are leaving free cash on the table!
This month, my husband and I bought our first home in Los Angeles which is a HUGE accomplishment being in my early 30s and living in one of the most expensive cities in the US. I attribute accomplishing this milestone to both of us proactively combining forces with our personal savings and our investments and keeping an eye on our monthly budget and goals regularly.
To me, smart spending means that you actually know how much you can afford. I can’t be smart about my spending decisions if I don’t know my budget which is why that is my smartest spending habit.
I prepare an annual monthly budget based on our combined household income and using the 50-30-20 rule. I run it from June-to-June (like a fiscal year) because it helps me better balance the high spending months of the year like the holidays or Spring vacations.
I’ve also found that running my spending-saving analysis manually can be very useful. I love technology but because I love math and spreadsheets, our budget lives in Excel which I know can be a bit harder than using an app but it makes me take it more seriously and actually know the ins and outs of our money intimately. It makes me look at how much we can actually afford vs. how much we are spending and saving.
That said, I’m a big fan of playing to your strengths. So if you love technology or hate math, I definitely encourage taking advantage of all the digital financial tools and apps out there. You have nothing to lose and probably some dollars to save!”