Most of us don’t think about our earning power when we marry. Our lives are full of many to-dos beyond career— from maintaining a home (and relationship) to caring for our children.
But, when divorce happens, we are often awash in fear and confusion, since this life event can mark the first time in a potentially long while that we will have to manage our personal finances (and pay our bills) on our own.
Often, we do not have the financial resources to maintain the lifestyle we potentially took for granted during our married years. Earning issues eventually come up when you no longer have a partner who can contribute to the monthly expenses.
Said another way, you can’t afford to be an “underearner” in your new life. Underearning is sometimes defined as the pattern of earning less than you need or below your true earning potential. This pattern often gets masked while married since you may not have been the sole bread winner or, perhaps, you even stayed home to maintain your household.
Are You an Underearner?
Under-earning can be particularly problematic for women, as research shows they still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. This wage gap is truly a silent epidemic — countless amazing women earn far below their potential, whether they are married or single. Even more frustrating, this epidemic knows no professional boundaries; it affects consultants, doctors, therapists and entrepreneurs.
Sometimes women in lucrative professions don’t see themselves as underearners because they know others don’t view them that way. But just because you “should” be making a lot of money doesn’t mean you do. Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you may be an underearner.
- Do you earn at the low end of the scale for your industry?
- Have you decided not to ask for a raise or not to raise your fees for more than two years?
- Are you unsure of exactly how much money you need to earn?
- Are you dealing with deprivation — no decent vacations, no money for home/auto repairs or extra cash to treat yourself?
- Are you experiencing a pattern of feeling overworked and underpaid?
- Do you know in your gut you could make more?
If you find yourself answering yes to these questions, then, chances are, you should — and could — be making more money. With this in mind, here are three items to think about as you focus on increasing your earnings.
1. Determine How Much Money You Need
Take the time to think carefully about how much you actually need to earn. I’ve helped many women craft a spending and income plan for their new life that addresses new expenses. Often I have women track their spending for a while before creating this plan, so we can see where their money is actually going. We also look at any potential new forms of income, such as child support and spousal maintenance, in determining what needs to be earned.
You may want to consider tracking your spending to get a deeper sense of what you actually need. This information can help you make many decisions about your finances from what type of job you are looking for to deciding if you will keep the house, and how to address certain expenses. You don’t want too much financial pressure as you rebuild your new life.
2. Research What Constitutes a Competitive Salary in Your Field
When thinking about applying for work, asking for raises or getting contract jobs, you may want to research what you can command. Don’t trust your gut; women may de-value their work and often don’t ask for enough money. Divorced women may be even more prone to doing so, since they may have taken a break from the workforce during marriage.
Let the market guide you. Trust me: An employer is extremely lucky to have you. It’s in your best interest to make sure you do your research about what a good one will pay. Some websites can help you gauge what competitive salaries in your field are and you can also talk to knowledgeable friends about what they think you should ask for before formally accepting an offer. You are likely worth more than you feel.
3. Don’t Worry About Being Behind
You may want to stop worrying about being “behind.” In my role as a money coach, l’ve talked with many clients over the years that lament making less than their male counterparts. While this may be the case, you don’t have to let under-earning in the past hold your future salaries back. Keep in mind, many women hit their career strides later than men — and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Women in all phases of life can be extremely powerful. We are like a mighty phoenix rising from ashes and are capable of commanding a lot of money and respect.
I’ve seen many women, post-divorce, create amazing lives for themselves and their families. If you value yourself and what you do, know what you need to earn and research what you can command, you can make enough money to alleviate financial stress. More than that, you can create an amazing life that you love. Your new life is waiting.
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