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Last week I spent time in the Bay Area visiting clients, listening to them talk about their jobs and careers, getting treated to free meals at their workplaces, and generally standing in awe of the wealth on display in their company headquarters.

While none of my clients dislike their jobs, there was a surprising amount of “meh” and ambivalence. These people are good at their jobs, they regularly learn new things, they enjoy succeeding and solving hard problems, the pay is good, the perks are great.

But some of them clearly aren’t fully satisfied by their current jobs. And what’s more, they don’t know what else they could or should do.

And I think the current role of tech employer as “benevolent dictator” is much to blame.

It’s Hard to Imagine a Different Life

These conversations reminded me of an exercise I do with clients when we begin working together. I ask them, if they had enough money to take care of their needs now and in the future, what would they change about their lives? What would they keep the same? (This is one of George Kinder’s famous-to-financial-planners three questions.)

More often than not, clients say they would like to do more of what they’re already doing. More travel. More video gaming. More time with kids. More volunteering. Rarely does someone suggest a radical change in their circumstances. The changes are quantitative, not qualitative.

Now, you can interpret this positively: “Wow! These people are already living their best lives and simply want more time for that same life.” And I gladly report that I think this is largely the case for many of my clients, who are pretty thoughtful folks.

There’s also a negative interpretation: that they simply can’t imagine a life other than the one they already have. I know I suffer from that lack of imagination.

So, here we have these people who aren’t unhappy necessarily, but yet they’re not particularly gratified in their careers in tech, and they don’t know how they should change it. Which, as you can imagine—or perhaps even identify with—can itself make you unhappy.

And Modern Tech Companies Make It Even Harder

I’m having these conversations, thinking these thoughts, while sitting in these gorgeous offices, eating free, delicious, freshly cooked, organic vegan meals, at one of several places in the office you can get food. Co-workers bring their dogs to the office. Some employers offer on-site childcare, free on-site massages and mani-pedis. And so on.

Hard to imagine feeling “meh” in the midst of all this, right?

Except, as I started to reflect, it makes Total Sense.

It is experience of and exposure to different ways of life, different ways of thinking, that enables us to imagine something different for ourselves.

A toddler has no clue what a fork is until they see their parent use it. Then the fork is no longer this foreign object; it’s something that can be a useful part of the toddler’s life.

Or, an example from my personal life: I had never camped a day in my life until my 20s. (I know, right?!) And I simply couldn’t wrap my head around how you camped, so I continued to not camp despite wanting to. Until I accompanied a girlfriend on a camping trip that she planned and executed. Once I saw and experienced it, I got it. I now started planning camping trips for myself, and it’s become a joyful part of my life. I just needed that up-front-and-personal exposure to cut through that mental paralysis.

How does this relate to working in tech,  you (rightly) ask?

As tech companies increasingly provide for your every need, you have less and less need to venture into the “outside world,” the world outside of your company/office/job. Either figuratively “outside” or, in the case of many offices in certain neighborhoods of San Francisco, very very literally.

Your entire life becomes increasingly integrated into your company/office/job. And, of course, living in some place like the Bay Area (or Seattle), even if you leave one company, you likely wouldn’t leave the tech industry in general because…well, what is there but the tech industry? Thar be dragons.

When you stop going outside, you stop spending time with people who have different careers in different industries, who have different hobbies, who spend way less or way more or way differently, who volunteer for different causes, who have different values. You stop seeing and experiencing different ways of living, working, and being.

The good pay and the awesome perks make it hard to leave a job in part because they’re “golden handcuffs,” to be sure. But I think these “all your lifestyle needs are belong to us” perks also create a more insidious hurdle to making a change.

When you no longer see and experience other ways of living, working, and being, you eventually stop being able to imagine other ways of living, working, and being. I think this increasingly all-consuming relationship you have with your employer might be crushing your imagination.

Many people in this world are stuck in a job or a life because they can’t change. They don’t have the money. Family considerations. What have you.

Most likely, you’ve got the financial resources necessary to change. You simply might just not have the imagination.

This benevolent dictatorship of tech companies is perhaps unavoidable if you do or want to work in tech. Certainly I cannot think of a major tech company that doesn’t provide many of these lifestyle perks. So, if we “have to” work in such an environment, how we can still maintain our ability to imagine an Other?

How can we still get exposure to other ways of living, working, and being? Exposure that might inspire us to make a change ourselves?

I don’t have an answer to that.

Travel is a classic answer to “how do I get exposure to other ways of life?” Except a lot of my clients travel, and it doesn’t seem to change the rest of their lives. And I don’t pretend to be anything more than an occasional armchair philosopher (is that redundant?), who is perhaps getting a bit intellectually self-indulgent with this post.

But I know that what I’m seeing in tech worries me for my clients because the abundance and wealth that seem so awesome have this dark side with the potential to leave us unfulfilled, and unable to find our way out of that morass.

You need two things to make significant change in your life, if you’re anything like me:

  1. Financial resources
  2. An idea of where you’re going

What are you doing to nourish both of those?

Do you want some help setting up your finances to give you more choice in your life? Please reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

Sign up for Flow’s weekly-ish blog email to stay on top of my blog posts and videos, and also receive our guide How to Start a New Job (and Impress Yourself and Everyone Else) for free!

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

The post Don’t Get Trapped by the “Benevolent Dictatorship” of Tech Employers appeared first on Flow Financial Planning.

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Do you find yourself, after a few years of working at the same company, the proud owner of a whacking big pile of company stock?

Several of my clients originally reached out to me because they were in this very position…and were uncomfortable. They knew they should probably do…something. They were aware, at some level, of their lack of “diversification,” but didn’t have any idea what to do. Maybe they should sell all or most of it? But then what should they do with the cash from selling? Annnnd so the stock just continues to sit.

This is not going to be an article about how you should sell it all, every single time. (Though, admittedly, I tend in that direction.) It’s more an article about how you need to make a plan for this stock, informed by your current financial situation, how you feel about risk, and what you want out of life.

Make it intentional, whatever it is.

How Do You Get Into This Situation?

Most of my clients get into this situation because they have Restricted Stock Units that have been vesting for a while now.

The thing about RSUs is: As long as you wait around long enough, continue to work at the company long enough, the RSUs will vest, and you now own more company stock. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to make any choices. The stock just shows up. And piles on top of the last bunch of stock that showed up.

You can still get into this situation through stock options or 401(k) match or Employee Stock Purchase Plans. I simply see this much more with clients who receive RSUs.

To be fair, of course, in the last several years, unwittingly hanging on to a growing pile of company stock has worked out (really) well for many of you in tech. In the last five years, several of the big companies’ stocks have risen a lot*:

  • Google: 95%
  • Apple: 160%
  • Facebook: 180%

And the winner of the “You want me to sell my company stock? Are you crazy?” contest:

  • Amazon: 330%

*  These numbers are approximate, and measured after the recent market … “unpleasantness.”

So, step 1 to getting into this situation is to simply not sell the stock as your company gives it to you. Step 2 is to have the stock grow like gangbusters. Voila! Big pile o’ company stock.

Why this Position Is Risky

“Luckily,” the last month has shown us exactly what the risk is. In the month of October, Amazon lost almost 500 points, about 25% of its value, dropping from about $2000/share to about $1500/share. If you have most of your wealth in Amazon stock, you would have lost a quarter of your net worth.

‘Tis true, the broader stock market can also go down 25%. Hell, it went down over 50% in the Great Recession (2007-2009). It then, however, proceeded to roar back to life, reclaiming that loss by April 2012, about 3 years after rock bottom.

Anyone other than me work in tech through the Dot Com Crash of the early 2000s? Here’s a list of high-flying dot com companies that didn’t survive. As in, their stock became worthless. Forever.

“Facebook/Google/Apple/Amazon become worthless?” you might scoff. “Hardly.” Okay, I tend to agree. (Although, hello, Enron?) So let’s look at a less egregious, but more relevant, example: IBM. You know, once the darling of the tech industry.

In the 1990s, the last Dot Com go-go-go era, IBM gained almost 800% in the 5 years starting June 1994 (ending June 1999). I imagine IBM employees were feeling miiiiighty good about their company stock. Want to know how IBM has performed in the last 5 years? It has lost about 33% of its value.

Yes, maybe it’ll eventually recover. But there’s no law saying it has to. And there’s no law saying that Google/Amazon/Facebook/Apple won’t become “second tier”/”old technology” at some point. Losing 33% isn’t the worst thing ever, but it is a hell of a lot worse than simply owning the entire stock market, which has returned 50% in the last 5 years.

I’m just sayin’ that as “surefire” as your company stock seems now, after years of rocket-fueled growth, any single company is a huge risk. If it’s your employer’s stock, then it’s even bigger, as you could easily lose your investment money and your paycheck at the same time.

What You Should Do Now

Let me quickly dispatch with the high-level advice: It depends. Whew, now that’s over, we can into something more, shall we say, useful.

We financial planners tend to be a conservative lot. “Spend less! Save more! Buy insurance! Invest like a boring person!” Why do we recommend that course? Because you can control it. Anything else is a gamble, out of your control.

In that vein, the typical advice we give is to have no more than 5% of your investment portfolio in a single stock.  Does your company stock make up more than 5%? If so, you could simply sell everything above 5%.

It’s certainly not unreasonable to hew to that rule of thumb. It’s prudent and conservative (as investing goes).

On the flip side, there ain’t no way that selling all your company stock as you get it and investing the proceeds in the typical inexpensive, broadly diversified portfolio is going to make you rich. It just doesn’t happen.

You get rich through a “concentrated” holding. The equivalent of putting all your money on Red 22. (You can also, as seen in the above section, become unrich through the same holding, but we’ve already covered that.)

So, those are the two ends of the spectrum:

  1. Sell it all and invest in the typical, yes boring, inexpensive broadly diversified portfolio I recommend to all my clients OR
  2. Keep it all and hope to hell your company does well because if it does, you’ve got it made (financially, at least).

The right answer probably lies somewhere in between. And whether it lies closer to the “Sell it all!” end or the “I’m going for broke!” end depends on a few things:

  1. How you feel about risk.
    Will you be able to sleep at night if you keep all that company stock and the stock market dips or even crashes?
  2. The rest of your financial situation.
    Are you on strong financial footing outside of this company stock? Can you “afford” to take more risk because losing all the money won’t be catastrophic? If you don’t have an Emergency Fund and you don’t already have a good start on saving and investing (boringly) towards financial independence, then you really need to take the safer route (“sell it all”) until that foundation is laid.
  3. The flexibility of your goals, in terms of timing and dollar amount.
    If you keep all the company stock, you could end up with no, some, or lots of money. If you’re willing to, say, delay buying a home because your company stock just tanked and now you need more time to save up a downpayment, that flexibility works in your favor. But if you need to buy that house at that time, you need an approach to investing and saving that is more under your control.
A Thought Experiment

How much money do you currently have in company stock? Now, take away 60% of that. How about 80% of it? How much $ is left? What just had to change about your life?

  1. Did your “early retirement” just become plain old “retirement”?
  2. Did your upcoming condo just evaporate? Or get much smaller or in a different location?
  3. Do you have to wait another 5 years to change careers?
  4. Can you no longer afford to stay home with your kid for a while?

If those changes are acceptable to you, then okay, you have not-quite-my-blessing to hold more of the company stock.  But if those changes aren’t acceptable, then holding all that stock is too risky.

See? It really does depend. This is one of those situations where I can’t imagine working in the tech industry…because you aren’t paid to be investment and planning gurus! You’re paid to be UX design/programming/database-ing/management/law gurus.

This is no small question to wrestle with. But wrestle with it, you must!

Do you want help figuring out what to do with your giant pile of company stock? Please reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

Sign up for Flow’s weekly-ish blog email to stay on top of my blog posts and videos, and also receive our guide How to Start a New Job (and Impress Yourself and Everyone Else) for free!

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

The post I own a ton of company stock. I’m supposed to be doing something with it, right? Right? appeared first on Flow Financial Planning.

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Have you ever wanted to work in a part-time role in a technical field but fear that it will stall your career? Are you a manager and feel that hiring part-time employees will be a death knell to your team’s productivity?

These unfortunately common misconceptions are based on a negative stigma around part-time work and rigid notions about what technical roles should look like. These notions, along with inflexible and ingrained corporate cultures, lead to a dearth of part-time opportunities in technical fields.

However, reduced work weeks are in demand, and not just from part-time mothers (which is what everyone assumes). The lack of these positions can drive people out of their companies, or out of the technical workforce altogether. According to a 2017 study by FlexJobs.com, “The number of people who say they’ve quit a job due to lack of flexibility has nearly doubled from 17% in 2014 to 32% in 2017.”

If you are an individual contributor and interested in part-time work, this post will give you some tips on how to make such a position work well for you and your team.

If you are a manager, please open your mind to the possibility that part-time tech team members can help you meet your hiring and project goals, while increasing loyalty

and attraction as an employer and meeting the needs of an ever-growing population that wants more flexible work options.

[Meg’s Note: This post was written by Sarah Henrikson, a Data Engineer at Amazon on the Amazon Lending team under the Consumer Payments org (and also my delightful roommate at Grace Hopper 2018 in September). She holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Information Systems and has worked in tech roles for over 22 years. Sarah is an avid mentor and is passionate about supporting the growth of women in tech.  Most relevant today is that she has worked part-time at tech companies twice during her career, and she figured out how to make the experience benefit both her and her employer. You can find Sarah on Twitter and on LinkedIn. Please reach out to her if you have questions or would like a copy of her Grace Hopper 2018 Presentation: “Part-Time Tech: Tips for Success.” She’s quite the Popular Lady after that talk!]

We Need to Start the Conversation Around Part-Time Tech.

Despite the difficulty finding part-time tech jobs, I think we can change that. Call me an optimist, but my research, my own experiences, the demand from tech workers of all types for this type of role, and a hefty dose of faith in the power of group-powered change make me believe that we can make part-time technical roles more prevalent and successful for employees as well as employers.

I recently spoke at the Grace Hopper Celebration in Houston about this very topic.  Going into my presentation—“Part-time Tech: Benefits and Tips for Success”—I was eager to share my own experiences so that others may benefit from the tips I provided on making it work, as well as encourage managers to offer more part-time technical roles in their own organizations.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how much more passionate I would feel about this after hearing from so many women after my talk, women who wanted part-time work, but either found their companies unsupportive or were afraid to ask in the first place.  

And it’s not just working moms who feel this way! People nearing retirement age are another group keenly interested in being able to convert to a part-time role rather than retire completely. And I have male co-workers and friends who have expressed interest in part-time work but never felt like it was possible.

Their worries are real. We may have smartphones, self-driving cars, and talking digital home assistants, but when it comes to flexible hours for technical employees, we’re practically in the Flintstone era. Remote work is becoming more commonplace, but working fewer hours is usually unheard of.

For the few who manage to find part-time work, they often suffer because their coworkers often think that part-time work means a lack of career focus, or they are not as appreciated for their efforts as their full-time counterparts. This is a crazy mindset, in my opinion. Flex jobs are increasingly in demand. Companies that offer more flexible options and understand the value of the employee, no matter the arrangement, will reap the benefits.

One woman told me that she had totally disregarded a part-time employee in IT at her company and, after listening to my talk, she changed how she felt about the woman. I was touched and thankful that she shared this with me, and that what I said changed her perception. I have had at least thirty smart, technical men and women reach out to me since my presentation asking for advice or being able to relate to things I said.

I spoke with one woman for about an hour about her current part-time position, which is limited in length and impacting her career growth. She is not receiving support from her manager and is disappointed that she will soon return to a full-time schedule. If she could find a flexible opportunity elsewhere, she might leave the workplace altogether, despite enjoying the company and the work.

This would be a loss for her and the company, as she has been a valuable employee for many years. My advice to her was to talk to her manager—put together a retrospective about the time she’s been working part-time, including the work she has accomplished in that time. We need to speak up to make these roles more commonplace and supported. We need to fight for what we want and show management that it can be a win-win situation for employee and employer. It may take time. One manager may not be supportive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find someone who is.

Why Employers Should Explore this Opportunity

To quote a theme from this year’s Grace Hopper conference—WE ARE HERE. We are intelligent, technical, strong, loyal and human.

Employers… wake up! This is a huge opportunity for you to grasp.

As an employer or manager, if you allow and support part-time roles, you can:

  • Increase diversity and inclusivity
  • Access a larger tech force
  • Increase loyalty and morale
  • Reduce turnover and absenteeism
  • Possibly convert part-time workers to full-time, ultimately
  • Improve attractiveness of your company and the role
  • Help your employees retain skills that help your team and company
  • Reduce hiring and training costs
  • Drop costs faster than productivity

Lessons from My Own Experience in a Part-Time Tech Role on a Full-Time Tech Team

As with anything at work, I found that it totally depends on the manager, the company and the people you work with.

I was fortunate to be able to work twice throughout my career in part-time roles.

Both times, I asked to go part-time when circumstances in my life demanded that I reduce my hours. If my companies had turned me down, I would have looked elsewhere for part-time work. If I couldn’t find any, I would have been forced to find work outside of IT and possibly walk away from the knowledge and skills I had gained over the years.

I didn’t want to do this—my career was important to me. Just because I needed to work fewer hours didn’t mean that I didn’t care about my jobs and my companies. I was lucky both times to find part-time work at my then-current employer, but not everyone is so fortunate. There are people with even more years and depth of experience as I that leave their companies or technical work altogether in order to find a position that fits with the demands their personal life puts on them.  

This is a true shame. I’m not talking about uneducated or unqualified employees—but ones full of talent, loyalty and bright ideas. When a company loses a person such as this because they need a more flexible schedule and can’t find it, it’s a waste of talent and training.

My First, Challenging Part-Time Role

My first technical part-time job came when I worked as a database administrator after the birth of my second child. I found myself overwhelmed by having two small children at home, nursing the baby, and a job that kept me away from home for 10 hours a day after commute.

I was fortunate to be able to return part-time and remained so for about a year until my baby was older and I felt ready to tackle a full load again. During this time, I continued to work hard, learn new things, and satisfy my customers. However, I did suffer a few challenges:

  1. I struggled to keep my hours part-time.
    There was  a large workload and a lack of proper mechanisms to keep it in check.
  2. I wasn’t considered for a promotion.
    During this year, my manager left the company and a new one had to be named. At this point, I had worked for the company 3+ years as a Sr. DBA and they chose someone else that had recently joined the company to take over as manager, specifically telling me I was the first choice but passed over because I worked part-time.

    No one had ever asked if I were interested in returning full-time to take this position. I was immediately discounted and my career thought of as a dead-end by my managers. This was, as you’d expect, extremely disappointing.

    This is why  part-time work can turn out poorly: it’s not properly appreciated or managed. For some, this may be good enough—to be able to have part-time work and be okay with not having any career growth, but I’d like to think we can do better than that.
My Second, and Much Better, Part-Time Role

My second experience working part-time blew the first one out of the water, and is a better example of how a part-time tech job should be. However, the road to part-time was not all gold.

Two years ago, as a data engineer (DE) working at Amazon, I decided that I needed to go part-time again, this time to reduce stress and hopefully resolve some health issues I’ve suffered from in recent years. I researched company policies and knew Amazon had policies for part-time employment, but I knew this was not common, and that it was handled on a case-by-case basis.

When I approached my manager about working a reduced schedule, she was not receptive. I understood this concern as I was the sole-DE on the team. However, when I approached two other teams, both declined to accommodate this despite having multiple positions open.

One of these managers even told me that he could give me a full-time job and I could just work fewer hours without advertising the part-time status. I turned him down, thinking that would certainly not garner me any respect with the rest of the team, not to mention that the part-time verbal promise likely wouldn’t fly once I started on the team.

Fortunately, a Data Engineering manager whom I had worked with on an internal conference knew I was looking for a new home within Amazon. When I mentioned that I was looking for a 30-hour per week job, I had fully expected a refusal. However, he readily agreed and said he’d be thrilled to have me on the team. He mentioned that his VP was a huge supporter of other flexible work arrangements—the VP had founded a get-back-to-work internship program for moms who had been out of the workforce—and would support this.

Sure enough, he double-checked with his management chain, and I was hired into a 30-hour per week position as a data engineer in Amazon Lending, where I still work today. Funnily enough, two of those managers that had turned me down (my own previous manager as well as one of the others) have since changed their mind and told me they’d be willing to support a part-time schedule because they had positions to fill and realized a partial-BIS (butt in seat) is better than none.

Working part-time on this team was practically seamless. How could that be?

  • My manager put several mechanisms in place, such as agile development, that made it easier to stick to 30-hours per week.
  • I had full support from my management chain and team.
  • I was treated the same as full-time employees when it came to career growth, benefits, and more.
How You Can Make Part-Time Tech Roles a Success for Both the Employer and the Employer

It was in fact my managers who encouraged me to share my story at Grace Hopper.Even today they are just as passionate about increasing part-time opportunities across organizations as I am. Below I’ve shared the tips from my Grace Hopper presentation—which came from my experience working part-time at Amazon—with the hope that employers and those wishing to work part-time can benefit.

Tips for Part-Time Employees
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Make yourself heard.
  • Be strict with hours. Most of the time. Flexibility is the name of the game.
  • Prioritize. Choose meetings with care and eliminate unnecessary work. Take time-outs from checking email to have core focused work time.
  • Set an example—be a pioneer for others that want to do the same.
  • Keep track of accomplishments. Be proud of what you do.
  • Be organized—set aside time Friday afternoons to check off work tasks done and plan key tasks for the coming week.
  • Manage your own expectations. Own the position and don’t let imposter syndrome sneak up on you.
  • Meet with your manager and set goals and career plans, just as you did in a full-time position.
  • Be open with your manager when things aren’t working as seamlessly as you feel they should.
  • Until this becomes commonplace (one can hope!), contribute to an annual retrospective for senior leadership. Detail what worked and what didn’t, as well as what mechanisms have been put in place to make it work more effectively. Voice your appreciation.
  • Acknowledge your strengths and what you bring to the team.
Tips for Managers of Part-Time Employees
  • Ensure full support exists all the way up the management chain.
  • Implement agile work methods for your team (part-time employees can simply take on fewer points than full-time employees).
  • Encourage transparency with team, project manager. Everyone else is on a need-to-know basis.
  • Set “core” team hours for meetings.
  • Hold regular 1:1 between manager and employees (all employees).
  • Work with employee to provide together an annual retrospective to leadership and revisit what’s working and what’s not.
  • Manage expectations of others, and also keep an eye on your own, that they are in-line with the reduced schedule.
  • Ensure career track options are the same as full-time employees.
  • Be a pioneer for managers to implement similar programs, within your company and externally.
It Takes A Village

Maybe you, too, can be a pioneer in your own company and cultivate part-time positions for yourself or others. I hope that together we can each make a little improvement in this area, so that, before we know it, part-time tech work is commonplace and those who work in tech roles part-time are supported and valued just as any full-time employee is.

Do you want to make sure the transition to a part-time role works for you financially? Please reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

Sign up for Flow’s weekly-ish blog email to stay on top of my blog posts and videos, and also receive our guide How to Start a New Job (and Impress Yourself and Everyone Else) for free!

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

The post How Can We Make Part-Time Tech Roles Work For Both Employee and Employer? appeared first on Flow Financial Planning.

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I’m starting to hear this message more and more from clients and other women in tech. If your personal situation looks rosy, but the country and larger economic situation make you despair, how are you supposed to approach your finances?
What can you do to prepare for the worst, while things are still going well for you?

You're Optimistic about Yourself. But Not about the World Around You. What Should You Do? - YouTube

Do you want a partner and guide through all your financial decisions? Reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

Sign up for Flow’s Monthly Newsletter to stay on top of my blog posts and videos, and also receive my guide How to Start a New Job (and Impress Yourself and Everyone Else).

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

The post You’re Optimistic about Yourself. But Not about the World Around You. What Should You Do? (Video) appeared first on Flow Financial Planning.

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In tech, it is possible that you can turn into a (multi-)millionaire overnight. And that can be a really confusing change if you’re accustomed to being a well-paid worker bee with an assumption of working kind of indefinitely.

Now, tech industry mythology would have us believe that overnight riches happen all the time. And it simply doesn’t. A very small percentage of people in tech hit the gold mine in this way. It’s just that we hear allll about them when they do.

But let’s say you are one of the lucky few.

Maybe you work for Uber and just went through their two tender offers.

Or maybe your company just went IPO, the 6-month lock-up period is over, and suddenly all that stock is actually worth something. A lot of things, in fact. (See SNAP for counter-example.)

Or you used to work for a podunk startup and when you left, you exercised your options  (because, hell, who knows?!). Now they’re public and the stock is doing well.

In the tech industry, sudden wealth is usually going to trace back to company stock in one form or another. But however it happens, it is jarring to all of a sudden realize, “Holy crap. I think I’ve got FU money. I think I might be able to never work another day in my life if I so choose.”

I’ve worked with a few clients who’ve gone through this transition. In fact, that transition is often why people seek me out. These lovely, lucky people can be pretty overwhelmed, and understandably so. In an instant, their lives have ventured into The Unknown, and that Unknown can be a lot more complex.

Not everything is more complex, though. And it’s important to keep what should be simple simple, and only spend your money, time, effort, and anxiety on the things that are unavoidably complex.

Investing Is Not That Much More Complex.

The first thing most of us think about when we think about our personal finances is investing. It’s the most talked about part of personal finance. It’s certainly the part that the most businesses and services target.

Not surprisingly, “How do I invest all this money?” can be one of the first questions that occurs to you if you do become an overnight millionaire. I can’t help but envision Bill the Cat when I think about people’s anxiety and confusion about this question.

I’m here to tell you, insist to you, shout it from the internet rooftops, even, that investing is not more complex just because you have a few more 000s than you used to.

I’ve been wondering how to “prove” this opinion of mine. I think the best I can do is to point to large organizations that manage way more money than you have, and who still keep it simple.

  • Nevada’s state pension, at least as of 2016, was managed by a single dude, and pursued a low-cost, passive investment approach. With great success.
  • Vanguard will manage your money for you, for a low 0.3%, and they use a low-cost, passive investment approach, no matter the portfolio size. (Surprise, surprise.) They manage over $100B for their clients.
  • And then there’s Warren Buffett’s famous advice on how to invest money for his wife after he dies: “Put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund. (I suggest Vanguard’s.)”

I know that you can find many more examples out there of people suggesting complicated, maybe even exciting and interesting, ways of investing your money. I’m willing to bet a donut that they’re getting paid, directly or indirectly, to promote said complicated processes and products.

The Dangers of Complexity

Not only is there no need to get complicated, there’s significant danger in doing so. The more complex or arcane your investment choices, the more  likely they are to be:

  • harder to understand. One of the basic rules of investing is “Never invest in something you don’t understand.” Not obeying this rule was a large part of the market and economic implosion of 2007-9.
  • more expensive. Investing is one of the only times when you get what you don’t pay for.
  • less diversified and therefore more risky.
  • less liquid, that is, you can’t get your money out of it easily.
Some Complexity Can Sneak In

The three most common ways I see people’s investing get genuinely and reasonably complex, in the tech world, are:

  • Stock concentration: Possibly a lot, if not most, of your wealth is in company stock. That stock is what got you here (“here” being “wealthy”), but it won’t keep you here. You need to diversify, baby! And figuring out which shares to get rid of and how and when can get tricky. And while you’re still highly concentrated, you might need to tweak the rest of your portfolio to balance that out.
  • Charity: Instead of giving simple cash to the causes you care about, gifting company stock becomes more appropriate. Which shares to gift? Which shares to keep? Which to sell? And when?
  • Taxes: If you’re sloshing around lots of money at a time in your investment portfolio, you could trigger high taxes. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, to create a better investment portfolio. But it’s always something you need to keep an eye on because the numbers are Big.
What Is More Complex?

Even if investing doesn’t require that much more attention, there are plenty of other things that do. And these are where you should spend your effort, time, and anxiety.

Estate Planning

If you’ve got a lot of money, you’re going to need to think more about how to protect it, and how to protect you and your family because of it. If you get married, you need to think through a pre-nup. If you’ve got kids, you’ll need to think through how to pass the wealth down without corrupting or endangering your kids.

All of this is stuff you should work through with an estate planning attorney, ideally one who will take you through a robust process that helps you think through what you want from your money, what you want for yourself, for your family.

Liability Insurance

Not that this is a particularly complex topic, but the more money you have, the more likely you are to be a target of lawsuits. So, maxing out liability protection and getting an Umbrella Liability Policy should be on your list of To Dos.

Taxes

Mo’ money = mo’ taxes. (Warren Buffet famously commented that his tax rate was lower than his secretary’s. But the absolute dollar amount was surely much higher.) Certain investment choices can significantly affect your taxes, either up or down. You’re really going to want to work closely with a CPA.

Charity

If you are charitably inclined, you now have enough money that you could make significant contributions to causes you care about. And that means you need to be even more thoughtful, and more intentional with your giving than you were before. When you’re “only” giving a few hundred or a few thousand dollars a year, the details matter less.

And once you think through that, then there are tactical considerations: what to donate (cash probably doesn’t make sense anymore; company stock probably does); when to donate (bunch it all into one year? Which year?); and how to donate (directly to charities? To tax-deductible charities or non? To a donor-advised fund or community foundation?).

Personal Relations

Even ignoring the grifters out there, you’re going to have plenty of beloved family members and friends hit you up for money. To pay for school. To help with a down payment. To help launch a new business.

And it’s quite possible you can and want to support these people. But now your money gets wrapped up with your personal relationships, and that can get yucky real quick. Lending someone $100 is a lot different from lending them $10,000 or $100,000.

How a Financial Planner Can Help You.

All those things I listed above? Absolutely. A financial planner needs to be working on you with those issues.

But, to step back a bit from the technical considerations, what you want, no, need in a financial planner is a thinking partner. You’re now in a realm where money doesn’t have to dictate your life. Ideally, you dictate your money. And frankly, that’s just more complicated.

You now need a trusted, competent person who can:

  • Consult with you before you make significant life decisions, like buying a home or quitting work.
  • Protect you from other people’s ideas for your money. Someone to help you think through other people’s ideas for your money. And trust me, once you come into some money, lots of people are going to have lots of ideas for how your money could be theirs. From distasteful salesfolk to friends or family who truly believe in whatever idea they have and just need a little financial help from you to realize it.
  • Connect you and coordinate with other professionals to take care of the important bits, most notably an estate planning attorney and an accountant. But also perhaps a career coach, because I’m guessing your attitude towards your career has shifted mightily.

The way I think about it,

the most important quality you want in a financial planner is the ability to Ask The Right Questions.

Questions that make you truly think about what you value, what you want your life to look like, what you’re afraid of, what you regret, what you want. Because you’re now at a point where the answers to those questions should dictate your life, not money.

Questions like:

  • If you died tomorrow, what would you regret not having finished or done? 
  • Is this (whatever “this” is) something that you truly value? Remember when we discussed [such and such] and you said what you most wanted was [this other thing]. Has that changed?
  • How will you feel if you lend that person that money and they don’t pay it back? Or if you give them the money and then their business fails anyway?
  • For most people, the need to go to work gives their life structure and meaning. But for you, from a money perspective, you no longer need to go to work. What gets you up in the morning? What excites you? What do you like to spend time doing?
  • What social, political, environmental causes do you want to support with either your time or money?
  • What would happen if you took an extended sabbatical to think about it all in a leisurely way?

Asking the Right Question is so important because usually the Right Answer doesn’t lie in the financial planner. Sure, we can explain technical issues, point out things that we’ve learned through experience or training that might apply in your situation. But in your new situation, it’s what’s inside your head and heart that counts much more.

Now, all of these things are helpful no matter where you are on the Net Worth Spectrum. But the stakes get higher the more money you have. And, at a certain level of wealth (colleagues of mine think it’s at about $4M), things are just different. It’s not just quantitatively different anymore; it’s qualitatively different, too.

So if you do happen to be in the right place at the right time, and you do become that overnight millionaire, then your biggest challenge is going to be figuring out what your new world looks like. What you need to worry about. How to protect against those things. Who can help you. Whom to beware of. What’s of core importance to you. Those are the things you need most help with, not which stock or mutual fund you should buy.

Are you overwhelmed by sudden wealth, or are you about to come into it? Reach out to me at meg@flowfp.com or schedule a free consultation.

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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.

The post Did You Just Come in to a Whole Lot of Money, and, uh, What Next? appeared first on Flow Financial Planning.

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