How a Woman Who Navigates the World as Her Own Savior Does Money

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Elizabeth is a 31-year-old lawyer in Washington, D.C.

ND: So, Elizabeth, tell us a little bit about your finances.

Elizabeth: Well, I’ve always been a saver. Even as a kid, I thought we were so poor and I would worry about my dad getting robbed in the city or paying too much when we ate out.

I was the most anxious child ever.

I got a credit card when I was 17 and my parents never told me that you could spend more than the amount of money that you had. So I never did.

Then when I was 22, I read this personal finance book and got all worried that I wasn’t saving enough for retirement. I opened up a Roth IRA for myself and made my siblings open Roth IRAs too.

Do you remember which book?

Financially Fearless By 40. I really liked how the author [Jason Anthony] dove into the emotions behind spending money.

All right, so you’re halfway between 22 and 40. Are you Financially Fearless?

I think I’m getting there. I’m much less anxious about money than when I was a kid.

How do you feel about your finances today?

I’ve finally realized I can have nice things rather than just admire from afar.

When I was 22, I made about a quarter of what I do now, but I still had everything I wanted. I don’t feel like I live such a different or better life now and that’s really comforting. No golden handcuffs.

I should also mention that I paid off all my law school debt last year, so that’s probably why I’m so zen.

That’s excellent! I’ve lived in D.C. before and I know that the cost of living is reasonably high compared to other areas of the country. What is your housing situation like, and what percentage of your income goes to housing?

I live alone in a single bedroom apartment in the ‘burbs. It’s crazy expensive but it’s about 25 percent of my after-tax income.

Maryland ‘burbs or Virginia ‘burbs?


Twenty-five percent isn’t bad, though. The Financially Fearless author would probably approve! Since your debt is paid off, what are your other major expenses? Are you maxing out your Roth IRA? Saving for retirement? 401(k) with company match?

I max out my 401(k). My income is too high for a Roth. My biggest expenses are charity and food.

I’m also saving for a house down payment, probably a one-bedroom condo, which will take me about two years.

Are you hoping to buy in your same suburban neighborhood, or are you thinking about moving somewhere else in the D.C. metro area?

I’m hoping to buy in the same general area but I’ve heard you get more bang for your buck in Maryland. I’m a long-time Virginian, though, so I think I would die a little (or a lot) if I lived in Maryland.

Fair enough! So when you wrote to us, you compared yourself to the Hairpin Self-Care series about women who are “navigating the world as their own saviors.” What does that mean to you?

I’ve thought about being rescued twice from my finances. Once while I was aggressively tackling my law school loans and there were all these political talks about loan forgiveness. But, as my law school friend correctly stated, no one is going to rescue rich lawyers from their debt. In the end it was good. I just wanted to make sure I wouldn’t be the chump that paid off her loans early.

The second time was when I told my parents I was interested in buying real estate. And they said, shouldn’t you wait until you’re married first?

And I thought, well that would certainly be easier. But I don’t know how long I can really wait for that to happen. Or how much he’ll contribute.

Very true!

So both those times I felt a little bit alone, but also empowered that I would be the one that I could depend on.

That is fantastic. Being able to depend on ourselves is an important adult life skill.

Also I know so many stay-at-home mothers now my own age. That’s obviously not an option for a single woman.

Well, there are plenty of single parents making it work.

True. Those people are amazing.

So thinking about “other women your age”: How do you feel like you compare to your peers, financially? 

I have no idea. I try not to think about it because it would make me go crazy. I am mindful that some of my friends earn less, but I’d rather have people over to my place than go out anyway.

Is your home a good space for entertaining?

I’ve had a few parties here and there. I have this huge balcony the length of my apartment so it’s great in the summer.

In addition to your down payment, what are your other future financial goals? Early retirement? More charitable donations? Something else?

Well, I have some short-term goals. Replace my 7-year-old laptop and 17-year-old car.

I’m starting a very small business.

Early retirement would be great, but that’s still a while away. I’m not that old yet! And I definitely don’t have enough savings for that.

You know our commenters will say (and I’m thinking it myself): your income is outside the level where you qualify for a Roth IRA. Buy that new laptop already! Is it this sense of “use it up, wear it out” that has helped you be financially successful?

Actually, I just love my laptop. I love my car too. It’s almost at 200,000 miles.

Okay, what are the makes and models of both! What has lasted that long, because you have clearly picked the best ones!

It’s the first model MacBook Pro with the silver keyboard. I love the silver keyboard. I thought it might come back but it hasn’t.

The car is a 1998 Honda Accord.

Yup, both are classics. All right, so one last question: what advice would you give to Billfold readers?

The best advice I’ve ever gotten is “clean while you cook.” But I take that to mean: tackle your problems when they’re smaller and more manageable.

Also, actually clean while you cook, otherwise your kitchen will be a mess, and you won’t want to clean after you’ve eaten.

It’s just good advice.


Photo credit: JeanbaptisteM



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