Your Greatest Asset: Investing in Yourself for Career and Financial Growth

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You are, without a doubt, your greatest asset. When looking at your career or financial plans, thinking of yourself as your greatest asset is just as critical as selecting the right investments. Investing in yourself consistently and with intention can help increase your earning potential and carry you throughout your life and career. Your “human capital” may include your:

  • Education
  • Experience
  • Training
  • Unique skills
  • Health
  • Passions
  • Personality traits

And so much more. Investing in yourself can genuinely contribute to your success at work and in life for many reasons. One example might be going back to school to earn your Master’s or a new certification to level up in your career. That said, you can invest in yourself in countless other ways that continue to pay dividends over time.

Investing in yourself is even more critical as a woman in the workplace. It’s no secret that the gender pay gap is significant across all industries – even in 2023. In fact, women who work full-time, year-round, are paid an average of 83.7 cents for every $1 made by men in similar roles. Pay gaps are even wider for women of color, women with disabilities, and women closer to retirement age. 

While we can work toward systemic change to continue making progress, it’s important to embrace your unique power and take actionable steps to increase your earnings – and your overall quality of life – by investing in yourself.

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Investing in Yourself at Work

As a woman in the workplace, it’s clear just how important investing in yourself can be. Women have historically faced many challenges in the labor force and continue to do so in many ways.

Financial Discrepancy for Working Women

Studies show that women are more educated than ever. They have outpaced men in college enrollment and graduation. They’ve accounted for almost all growth in the college attainment rate observed in the United States since 1980. They earn college degrees more than men and have better four-year, five-year, and six-year college completion rates.

Yet there’s still a disparity in pay. This trend in pay discrepancy even appears in occupations where women make up the majority of workers, such as the K-12 educator workforce. There, women account for roughly three-quarters of the teaching workforce but make an estimated $5,000 less than men annually.

Advocating for Your Financial Wellbeing: How to Grow Your Income

Because there is still such a large pay gap in the workforce today, it’s especially important for women to advocate for themselves to earn their worth. Talking about your compensation at work may feel uncomfortable, and asking for a raise may bring even more anxiety. Still, the numbers don’t lie.

For every 100 men who are promoted, only 72 women receive a similar promotion and pay increase. Women of color have even more daunting statistics to consider: 58 Black women and 68 Latina women are promoted to management for every 100 men who rise in the ranks. 

Often, there’s a misconception that hard work, acumen, or even time spent at a company will lead to a promotion. This may not be the case, especially when taking the above statistics into account. 

So, how can you advocate for yourself to increase your earning potential at work? And why does it matter?

How Earning More Can Make a Difference

The cost of living is steadily increasing across the country, and continuing to live on your existing salary may feel more difficult as the years wear on. What’s more, a salary increase can free you up to do multiple things, including:

  • Contribute more toward your retirement
  • Allow for more wiggle room in your daily budget
  • Put more funds toward debt repayment
  • Accomplish another “big” goal more quickly – like paying for your child’s college education or completing a substantial home project

With retirement savings, let’s look at a hypothetical scenario: A 5% raise on a $150,000 salary would increase earnings to $157,500 per year. A bump like this could make a sizable difference in your retirement investment account. If you started your retirement savings with that $7,500 “extra” from your pay increase, and then consistently continued to add $1,000 each quarter, you could potentially grow your nest egg to over $435,000 in 30 years (assuming a 7% return on investment). That’s a significant savings and investing win!

How to Ask for a Raise

If you haven’t asked for a raise or promotion in the past – or if you have and you’re feeling anxious this time around as you hit a new level in your career – here are a few steps to take:

  1. Understand the market value for your role. Check out similar positions on Glassdoor or another job-search site to better understand how other companies compensate for your unique skill set and job title. 
  2. Do local research. How are competitors compensating for similar roles at their companies? Do they offer additional benefits your company doesn’t?
  3. List your accomplishments. It can be helpful to keep a running document of all major tasks you achieve at work as they happen – projects you deliver, the revenue you manage, and team members you assist or lead. These things all add up, and it can be helpful to review your current list of “wins” when asking for a raise or promotion and pull out the most significant or relevant items.
  4. Know your “why.” It can be helpful to clearly outline your financial goals and the reasoning behind your request. It could be the cost of living, a desire to be compensated competitively based on your skillset and time in the role – any number of things. 
  5. Outline why it benefits the company. What will an increase in responsibility for your role, or you particularly, do for your employer? 
  6. Put your request in writing. Make sure you leave a paper trail. Submitting your request in writing before meeting with your manager allows you to follow up with any notes on your conversation. 
  7. Be prepared to negotiate and keep your motivation in mind. Know that your employer may negotiate with you – and that’s okay. Remembering your motivation and reasons behind asking for a raise or promotion will help you stay the course. For example, suppose you want a 10% raise to cover the increased cost of living as well as achieving a personal financial goal (like contributing more to retirement or funding your child’s or grandchild’s education expenses). In that case, you might start by asking for 12% to 15%, with the expectation that you’ll likely be negotiating on the final number. 

Not Looking for a Raise?

There are various other ways to invest in yourself and ultimately grow your financial well-being. Let’s explore company benefits, equity compensation, and more below.

When Your Job Invests in You: Company Benefits

It’s not just salary increases that can help you gain stronger financial footing. You can leverage your career in several ways to increase earning potential and overall quality of life, such as bonuses, employee benefits, and equity compensation. 

Investing in Your Skill Set

Whether or not you choose to go back to school, it can be beneficial to focus on investing in your skill set to increase your earning potential or open the door to future opportunities. This might look like: 

  • Continuing your education. Going back to school to earn your Master’s or Doctorate degree can potentially increase your earning potential. Studies show those who hold a Master’s degree earn approximately 20% more than those with a Bachelor’s degree. Additionally, those who have earned their professional Doctorate earn approximately 25% more than those with a Master’s. Check to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, which can help defray costs. If not, you can budget for continuing education as part of your holistic financial plan.
  • Gaining a certification. Even if going back to school and earning a degree doesn’t interest you, there are plenty of ways to grow and continue your education. For example, gaining certification in your field may help you earn a promotion or salary increase, or even add clout to your resume when looking for other jobs.
  • Asking for skills training from your employer (or pursuing it on your own). Taking a class or online course on a specific skill that your job requires can help you increase efficiency at work, and level up your expertise in your unique field.
  • Looking for transferable skills. When researching similar roles in your field, it can be useful to read through job descriptions to see what transferable skills you already have. Often, if you’ve been at a company or in a specific role for a while, you may not even realize everything you can do. Jot down skills that resonate with you or different job duties you tackle in your day-to-day that you may have overlooked as an asset.

Keep in mind, while many jobs or promotions say they require a certain level of education, job experience, or training, this may not always be set in stone. Studies show that women are far less likely to apply for a job if they don’t feel they meet well over half the listed requirements. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are comfortable applying if they meet around 52% of the listed requirements. 

Getting a job without meeting all an employer’s criteria won’t always be the case, but it’s important to remember you likely have skill sets for a new job that you may not be considering. Take your time and evaluate what you can do, and celebrate your “wins” when hunting for jobs. You can also think of a job hunt as an opportunity to evaluate any gaps in your skill set, and use that gap awareness to seek further training or education that moves you toward your goals.


Whether you’re offered a signing bonus at a new job or a performance bonus at year-end, increasing your compensation through bonuses can be a fantastic way to level up and move toward your lifestyle goals. 

Knowing Your Company’s Bonus Structure

Every organization has a different type of employee bonus structure, and it may even change depending on your position in the company. If you haven’t already, it’s worth asking HR or your direct manager for an in-depth explanation of how bonuses are calculated and distributed at your company. This can help you understand what to personally expect, and can also help you negotiate appropriate compensation when looking for a promotion within your company or at a new job. 

Handling the Windfall

While bonuses are a fantastic way to increase earning potential and invest in yourself (all while being rewarded for your hard work), it’s prudent to treat them correctly in the broader context of your financial plan. 

Counting future or potential bonuses as part of your “expected” compensation may be detrimental if they aren’t a sure thing. What happens if you plan to leverage an anticipated bonus to pay off debt, increase your retirement savings, or tackle another financial goal (like a down payment on a home), but your company ends up having a bad year? Be sure to not get too far ahead of yourself, otherwise you might be in a tough situation or have to choose between two financial goals because you didn’t plan accordingly. 

Instead, create a plan for how you’d like to use any potential future bonuses so you can have confidence if and when they happen. For example, if you know your company offers an annual bonus, you might decide to put 50% toward travel and the other 50% toward your child’s 529 Plan. But even if you don’t get an expected bonus, you still have education savings and travel in your financial plan. A bonus would just accelerate you toward your goals. 

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How to Review and Maximize Company Benefits

As we’ve established, salary isn’t the only way to continue investing in yourself at work. Benefits can play a huge role in boosting your earning potential and move you toward a lifestyle you love. Your benefits might include different types of health and life insurance, a 401(k) match, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs), and more. 

Why is this so important when it comes to investing in yourself? Because these benefits offer more than financial stability – they’re directly tied to health and security, which can be invaluable in creating a stronger financial future and a more joyful life.

Before taking a new position, or if you simply want to elevate your financial profile at your current employer, check out these potential benefits:

Employer 401(k) and IRA Match

Contributing to your retirement savings account(s) up to your employer match can help ensure you’re maximizing retirement savings. An employer match is essentially receiving free money from your employer to invest in your future. Even a few thousand dollars a year can make a significant difference over time.

Group Life Insurance

Does your employer offer some form of group life insurance? If so, this can be a huge advantage for your estate plan. Because your employer is purchasing plans at a group rate which is heavily discounted, life insurance offered through your employer is generally less expensive than a private policy. Take advantage of life insurance offered through your workplace to get more coverage for your family.

Health Insurance Coverage 

The same is true with health insurance coverage offered through your employer. Although many options exist in the healthcare marketplace, you may be able to get less expensive (and/or better) coverage through your employer’s group policy.

FSA and HSA 

If your employer offers a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) or a Health Savings Account (HSA), you may be able to defer a portion of your income to save for qualifying medical expenses while lowering your taxable income. 

Education Assistance 

Want to invest in yourself even more? Going back to school may be an option and your employer may be able to help you cover the expenses. Whether you want to get your Master’s degree or doctorate, tuition reimbursement programs are a fantastic way to increase your earning potential at little to no cost.

Fringe Benefits

Of course, part of investing in yourself goes beyond reducing your taxes or increasing your earning potential. Your employer may offer fringe benefits that lead to a more fulfilling lifestyle. For example, you may be able to access discounted mental health services, gym memberships, meditation apps, or even receive discounts from other large companies (think appliance purchases, etc.). Ask your employer what benefits are available to you and how it can positively impact your life.

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Equity Compensation 

Equity compensation is an employee benefit that gives you an ownership stake in the company once you meet internal vesting requirements; this may include stock options, Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), and employee stock purchase plans. 

Currently, equity compensation makes up nearly a third of employees’ net worth on average; for Millennials, it makes up 43% of their net worth.

Leveraging equity compensation in your financial plan, or asking to be compensated in equity, lets you diversify your finances and reach financial goals more quickly – all while having the emotional benefit of seeing your hard work link directly to your employer’s success and your financial gain.

When navigating equity compensation, you must understand several critical areas:

  • What type of equity compensation do you have? In general, you may have either Restricted Stock Units (RSUs), Incentive Stock Options (ISOs), or Non-Qualified Stock Options (NQSOs). Each type of equity compensation is taxed differently and potentially impacts your financial situation when you’re granted the stock options and when they vest. 
  • When do your options vest? Understanding when your stock options vest (i.e. become available to you), can help you make the best strategic decisions from a tax planning and investing perspective. 
  • Do your stock options positively impact your earning potential? In most cases, receiving equity compensation positively impacts your future earning potential. However, it’s wise to consider whether sticking it out at your current company until your options vest makes more sense than “jumping ship” to another employer who is willing to increase your compensation and potentially provide other benefits – like stock options or more flexible work schedules. Planning for stock options is a long-term game, but exploring all options may be even more beneficial before locking into your current job with your current employer.

If equity compensation is part of your compensation plan, or if you want to negotiate for equity compensation in the future, our Abacus team has several fantastic guides and resources to help you – just click here to get started.

When You Invest in You: Saving for Retirement when You’re Self-Employed

We’ve covered various benefits offered by employers, but what happens if your work doesn’t offer any benefits or you work for yourself? 

If your employer doesn’t offer a retirement plan, or if you’re self-employed, you may not have the luxury of employer-sponsored plans with cushy matches or pension plans. When you work for yourself, saving for retirement falls entirely on your shoulders. Luckily, there are several ways to save proactively for retirement

First, since you can’t count on money in your paycheck being diverted by your employer to a particular account like a company 401(k), you must be conscientious about your saving habits. You can leverage a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), or Simple IRA to start saving if you’re self-employed. These can help you divert a portion of your revenue to your retirement savings and reduce your taxable income (in the case of a Traditional, SEP, or Simple IRA).

You might also look into a Solo 401(k). This specific account is for business owners with no employees and they have a total contribution limit of up to $66,000 in 2023 (with an additional catch-up contribution of $7,500 for those 50 or older). 

Taking the reins to invest in your future is empowering, so don’t limit yourself. Even if you don’t have employer-provided benefits, you can still save toward a future retirement you’re excited about.

Investing in Yourself and the Future

Every woman has a chance to help break barriers, close the pay gap and to pave the way for future generations of women. Investing in yourself ultimately means maintaining a holistic view of your values, and how your career and finances can move you toward your ultimate goals. Focusing on increasing your earning potential by asking for raises and promotions based on your worth, boosting your savings and investments, and leveraging all aspects of your employee benefits can be worthwhile endeavors that honor what’s most important to you. 

At Abacus, we take pride in guiding people through the path of investing in themselves. Reach out today to talk with a financial advisor who can share the options available for you.


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