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Career and Work

We all know about the history of salary disparity between genders. But do you know where our country currently stands, and whether women have gained the upper hand in any industries?

Let’s start with the bad news. There is no country in the world where, on average, women make more than men. In fact, the global average pay gap suggests that women are paid 24% less than men.

The granular picture is somehow even more painful. Average pay gaps, on a national level, run from the frankly shocking 36.6% gap in South Korea, to the best of the bunch: a still-alarming 5.6% in New Zealand. So, even in the most equitable country in the world, a woman is paid, on average, 94.4 cents in the dollar compared to a man — a difference that mounts up quickly over a working lifetime.

In the USA, the big headline number is a 21% pay gap. However, we all know that statistics can mask a multitude of issues. Whatever else you can say about gender pay disparity, you certainly can’t describe it as simple.

So for American women (as with those all over the globe), salary parity with men will depend on a whole raft of other factors as well. Ethnicity, working hours, age, location and whether or not you have children shift the pattern significantly.

AAUW explains, for example, that in the USA:

“Women typically earn about 90 percent of what men are paid until they hit 35. After that median earnings for women are typically 76–81 percent of what men are paid.”

So the chances of salary parity vary from country to country, and state to state. But they also vary based on the type of industry and role in which women work. Here, perhaps, is a small light burning at the end of the tunnel.

Jobs with Salary Equality

A recent report by Glassdoor looked at over half a million salaries shared on their site, and examined this data by gender and sector. Salaries were ‘adjusted’ to ensure that like was being compared with like, as closely as possible.

It found the adjusted gender pay gap in the USA was largest in the following roles:

  • computer programmer
  • chef
  • dentist
  • C-suite professionals
  • psychologist
  • pharmacist
  • CAD designer

However, the gender pay gap was reversed — meaning that women are actually paid more than men — for certain occupations, such as:

  • social worker
  • merchandiser
  • research assistant
  • purchasing specialist
  • physician advisor
  • communications associate

In total, eleven of the occupations reviewed showed women’s pay was higher than men, with the highest margin in social work and merchandising (7.8% and 7.6% respectively). To put that into perspective, this means that a female social worker in the US is paid $1.08 for each dollar her male counterpart is paid.

It’s true that the reverse pay gap in these industries is nowhere near high enough to bring the overall average (negative) pay gap down. It is also true that many of these positions are relatively low paid, and in typically ‘female’ industries.

Ultimately a pay gap in either direction is undesirable. Gender should not affect remuneration at all. Current predictions say that it will take a century to wipe out the pay gap entirely, at current rates of progress. As such, any positive movement is welcome.

Does it matter?

So there are some industries and roles in which women may hope to be paid the same, or even more, than men doing similar jobs. But does it really matter?

On an individual level, it makes much more sense to go into a sector that holds genuine personal appeal, and where you can deliver a truly great job. Pay gap stats are all about averages. The top performers in any role will always be rewarded better than average. So for women considering a career move, perhaps the choice of an industry or segment which is pay biased in favor of women is not so important.

What you can do, however, is keep your skills and qualifications updated. Be sure to deliver an exceptional-quality job, whatever you do. You can learn to negotiate for salary without embarrassment (something men still do far more readily than women). And you can call any discrimination if you see it.

That way, perhaps, we will profit as individuals, but also by contributing overall to the progress being made in pay equality for ourselves and our daughters.

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Accumulating money is not a real goal for anyone’s life. Growing wealth is not the point. People don’t work hard because they want to see their bank balance grow; those of us who track our finances and chart our net worth over time aren’t trying to compete in some financial competition.

I imagine there are individuals who do have an approach to money wherein the increase of the bank balance is the ultimate goal. But this approach misses the point. Perhaps these savers and earners haven’t given enough thought to why they want to grow their wealth, other than believing that society dictates that they do so — or they idolize people in the media who flaunt their wealth.

Money exists to be used in some kind of transaction — that’s all. So there’s no point in accumulating money just for money’s sake.

This is a concept I’ve covered on Consumerism Commentary in the past, but I bring it up again because it’s always relevant, and maybe it’s good to have reminders once in a while.

I don’t write about my own business much on this website. My business is based in the act and process of blogging. Consumerism Commentary has been my business. And while I think it would be fun to write about it more, as any business owner would like to write about his own business, I wanted to avoid that. If my business was a store I had planned with a friend, I would write about that here.

Writing about blogging as a business just didn’t seem right for this website, because I’d be “blogging about blogging.” The only people who may be interested in that are other bloggers, and Consumerism Commentary reaches a much wider audience than “other bloggers.”

Therefore I’ve stayed away from writing about how I earned money from my business, how I built that business, and how I eventually sold that business for an amount of money that would be potentially life-changing. And it’s a shame I’ve avoided the topic, because it’s really interesting, and I think other people, both those who consider themselves bloggers and those who don’t, would like to hear more about it.

I took the opportunity to write about my experiences and what I’ve learned from turning a hobby into a business for the new Plutus Awards website.

(For those of you who don’t know, The Plutus Awards is an award ceremony I founded. The awards highlight the best in financial media and products. It was born from my own enjoyment of running awards ceremonies, something that started in college with my creation of awards with superlative and funny awards for members of my university’s marching band, with the ceremony at an annual banquet.)

This epic article was influenced by questions I get all the time from other bloggers who want to find a way to earn consistent income from their websites. Of course I’m happy to answer any questions privately, but I haven’t had an outlet in which I’ve felt comfortable sharing all the details.

And the massive more-than-4,000-word article just touches the surface — I could write a book about what I experienced over the past twelve years with my unintentional business.

I expected to receive some criticism from the article. I wrote about how I focused primarily on this hobby-turned-business and didn’t seek work/life balance between my work and social life. One reader felt sorry for me, as if I had missed out on something in pursuit of the almighty dollar. I probably took more offense to the reader’s remark than I should have.

There are probably some things that I’ve missed out on in life. I guess I could have spent more time watching movies with friends. I guess I could have tried harder to start a family. But I don’t think my life is any less whole right now.

But for me in the year 2000, earning a tiny salary from a nonprofit and living in one of the most expensive areas of the country, I had to do something about my financial situation. Life wasn’t about the money, but I needed to start paying attention to my finances, and I needed to figure out how to get my life moving in the right direction.

When you have no money and you begin thinking about what the future consequences will be, money starts to plays an important role in your life. The trick is being able to prevent yourself from seeking money above all else. You can prevent that by keeping larger goals in mind, by thinking about what the point of having money is. It’s more than just “freedom.” What would you do with “freedom” if you had it?

For me, it was starting a foundation. In 2000, I knew that if I had enough money, I’d start a foundation that focused on arts education. It might have been a little naive to have that as my plan, but the idea isn’t too far-fetched.

And if you’ve read How I Built a Seven-Figure Blog, you know that I didn’t start a business to reach that goal. I didn’t start a business at all. I focused my blogging, something I had already been doing for years, on a topic I wanted to learn more about — personal finance and money management. All I wanted to do was get better at managing the money I had.

After several years as an adult ignoring my finances, I had to make my life about money, at least a little bit, in order to improve my situation. Having been born into a middle class family in the wealthiest country in the world, I had been failing at maintaining that level. My situation, goals, and needs would have been different had I been born in poverty or to a wealthy family.

Now that I’m in a different financial situation, after seeing that hobby turn into a successful business that I later sold, perhaps it’s easy to say that life isn’t about money. When you have enough in the bank to be secure — you don’t have to rely on income from an employer, for example — it’s easier to focus on the grander goal.

Speaking of which, I’m happy that I’m able to reach some of my bigger goals before the age of forty. Remember that arts foundation I’d dreamed about? Well, I’ve changed my approach, but I’m still in the general vicinity.

I’m establishing a scholarship at my undergraduate university for music interns. Did my music education degree relate to how I’ve built my “career” over the last decade? Not directly, and that’s why it might not make sense to people why I want to give back to my university. But my experiences at my college did shape me and my approach to life.

But more importantly, I was required to take an internship for my minor that got me started with the organization that allowed me to get into a financial mess in the first place. The stipend through my scholarship should help students be able to afford to take the best internship opportunities without having to worry about how they’re going to earn a living while working for little or no money.

This will help level the playing field, so the best internships can go to more than just the wealthiest students who can afford avoiding work for a semester.

In addition, I’m also starting a foundation — but this will be related to financial media, like the Plutus Awards. I’ll be announcing more information about that soon.

So I’ve written quite a bit about the work side of my life, and lest anyone thing I don’t have perfect balance between work and non-work aspects of my time on this planet, there’s been a lot going on. Last month, I mentioned my apartment received storm damage. The landlord is still trying to repair the apartment — this is over a month after the incident — and I decided to exercise a clause in my lease that allows me to leave.

There is a world of choice available to me right now. I could do virtually anything. But, I made a commitment to work with a music group based in Princeton, New Jersey throughout the rest of the summer, so I won’t be leaving. I am signing a seven month lease, moving just over the border to Yardley, Pennsylvania, to an affordable but smaller apartment.

I’m downsizing, getting rid of some furniture and other items I’ve accumulated over the years. The lease will get me through this year’s Plutus Awards, and once that is over, I’ll be ready to think about leaving the area, spending the winter on the west coast with my girlfriend and family, and giving myself the opportunity to travel more.

Of course, I’ll need to “balance” these changes with working on my new projects.

Unless I decide to stop and live off my investments for the rest of my life. I’m just not ready to retire, though.

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How much is your time worth?

This is a terrible question, and it usually begets a terrible answer. It’s a question that motivational speakers use to encourage people to make sure they’re optimizing their ability to earn an income. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it leads to some poor conclusions.

For instance, if someone earns a salary that works out to $2,000 a week and works 40 hours a week, the immediate conclusion could be that this worker’s time is worth $50 an hour. It’s a simple way of looking at a financial equation and neglects to incorporate important aspects of compensation like benefits and job security, but it’s usually the baseline that employees use when trying to determine how much money their time is worth.

Calculations like these lead to bad conclusions. You might avoid certain tasks, like household cleaning, because the task isn’t worth your time and you could hire someone to do the same work for less money. Your hourly rate for work may be $50, but that doesn’t mean that all your time is worth the same amount.

In my first main job out of college, I was working for a nonprofit with a salary of about $2,700. It worked out to about $550 per week, or $11 an hour. But wait — I actually worked closer to 80 hours a week most of the year, so the value of my time, using this calculation, would have been $5.50 an hour. The minimum wage in New Jersey at the time was $5.15.

For an Associate Director of a far-reaching program with a lot of responsibility, that’s probably not a fair rate of compensation. But I believed in the organization’s mission — and prior to being an employee, I was an unpaid intern with the same organization, and I wouldn’t believe that the value of the value of my time was $0.

Unpaid internships are like slave labor. Even though there are strict rules that govern whether an unpaid internship is legal, there’s a fine line, and companies seem to have a lot of leeway. Unpaid internships are practically necessary in some fields, taking the place of entry-level jobs, and this is especially true in nonprofit.

(That’s why I’m in the process of establishing a small stipend at my undergraduate alma mater for students in the arts who need an internship to complete their degree. Not all students are able to spend a semester or summer working for free.)

But once you’re established in a field, there should be no reason you are expected to work for free.

This is true for employees. Business owners, on the other hand, have a different approach to compensation for time and effort.

After I started Consumerism Commentary, I began working really hard to build this website from the ground up. I usually worked about eight hours a day, writing, conducting research, building some of the technology, communicating with colleagues, and eventually dealing with advertising clients.

For a long time, there was no money involved. I was essentially working for free, but I was doing something I really enjoy: building a fantastic community of people interested in personal finance. It didn’t feel like work, even though I spent more time and effort on the project that I put into my day job.

I eventually realized that I was building something, something of value. And that helped me focus on growth and working hard even when I started to make some of those calculations. When advertising revenue from the website was approaching $2,000, I started to see major potential, but I was still concerned. Even working 40 hours a week to build the site (in addition to 40 hours at my day job), the work I was doing was “worth” only about $11 an hour.

But I was creating an asset. I was creating an asset that had an important feature: cash-flow. I was building something in my own name, something I could own. I was working for a what was effectively a small wage, but it had the potential of paying off for me in the long-run.

When you work for a small wage for an employer, the only way to use that to build something for the future is if the low-paying job helps you move forward in your career. There are no guarantees that will be the case. And there are no guarantees that spending a lot of time working for yourself will result in something of value, but chances seem to be better. You have more control over your destiny.

In the nonprofit world, privileged employees, those who retired from a lucrative career and don’t really need the income or those who come from wealthy families and are supported by their wealth instead of working, ruin the industry for everyone else. If nonprofits can keep finding people who don’t need money to work practically for free, those of us who want to work in that industry but need to make a living will never be able to find good work.

There’s a lot of correlation between nonprofit work and early work at a tech start-up. Usually, the company’s leader, with a vision, encourages people to take a chance on an emerging business, and those at the beginning of a budding company are highly motivated and generally don’t care too much about salary. Again, that’s really only possible with a good amount of privilege or a willingness to live in a slum.

But there’s a key difference. When you join a start-up at that point, there’s usually a promise of later compensation. Early employees are often given equity, which encourages workers to increase the value of their equity by doing fantastic work for making the business an early success. A bootstrapped company has not a lot of cash from profits to work with, so equity is a way to fairly compensate employees.

The picture changes abruptly when that start-up receives capital, whether from angel investors, venture capital firms, or an initial public offering on a stock exchange. That equity now has some real value, and the company now has cash. And when attitudes at that company don’t change inline with their multimillion dollar funding, it creates a significant conflict, especially when the company prefers to partner with individuals through good will rather than compensation.

Here’s when it makes sense to work for free, whether you’re an employee, self-employed, or a business owner.

Work for free as an intern if it’s the only option you have for getting into the field you want and it will lead directly to a paid job. It’s usually not the only option, and many times interns are turned away when their trial period is over. If there are so many people who want to work for a company or an industry that they’re able to take advantage of a large number of interns, the benefits of being in that field better be worthwhile, and they better be almost guaranteed to those who survive.

Work for free if you’re building your own asset that will provide you a good life in the future. There are no absolute guarantees, but this is the kind of free work that has the best chance of really paying off. Your working for free, but the work you’re doing directly benefits you.

Work for free if you want to help an emerging company whose mission you believe in. But don’t continue working for free once the company can afford to pay you for your work. And this doesn’t include working for free as an employee, where you should be compensated always, at least with equity.

If you are a freelancer or a consultant, you can build some relationships by working for free, but only if that leads to something of value once the work you do contributes to the company’s success.

Work for free if you can afford it and the work gives your life meaning. If you don’t need to earn money from how you spend the bulk of your time awake, then why bother pursuing compensation? If you can spend your time doing work for something meaningful and something that you enjoy while still meeting or exceeding all your financial goals, the added stress of a job — of working for money — seems unnecessary.

Have you ever worked for free? What did you see as the benefits? Do you regret it, or would you do it again? Has working for free ever paid off in the long run for you?

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Update: I can’t believe this. I received a second notice from these hustlers — asking for even more money! Read the details at the bottom.

Here’s an idea for all you people who like to “hustle” to come up with ways to earn extra income. This has happened to me many times, and it comes it many forms. So far, I haven’t fallen for what I think is at worst a scam, but sometimes, one could argue, is a legitimate way to provide a service. I almost fell for this latest attempt, however, because it involves the nonprofit organization I recently formed. This business solicited me using a fairly popular and likely lucrative technique, which is basically as follows:

  • Receive lists from state governments that contain newly registered businesses.
  • Offer to provide a business-related product or service normally offered by the state, for a significant mark-up.
  • Give your business a name that can be easily confused with an official government entity.
  • Prepare and send through the mail a solicitation that looks like a bill or an invoice.
  • Provide a deadline and create a sense of urgency.

I have to imagine that a good number of business owners respond to these solicitations believing it is part of a government requirement. After all, there tend to be many government requirements when you file paperwork for a new business. There are two ways to look at these businesses that take advantage of people’s fear or apprehension of non-compliance with government. If you tend to believe that there’s a market for everything and all bad aspects of economies sort themselves out on their own, you will see this as a business simple providing a service to make money, catering to a specific market — even if that market consists mostly of people who are unsuspecting and ready to part with their money without doing much research.

On the other hand, you might see this as a sleazy and manipulative sales tactic, coming awfully close to impersonating a government official. Here is the most recent solicitation I received in the mail.

I didn’t scan the envelope before throwing it away, but it looked similar to envelopes I’ve received in the past from the state government. But all number 10 envelopes with address windows tend to look the same, anyway. I saw the name of the business in the return address as “New Jersey Business Filing Services,” so it immediately sounded official, but I am by nature somewhat skeptical. The mailing address was my first hint that something wasn’t right. An official state government organization should be based in Trenton, not East Windsor (where I grew up). But people living elsewhere in the state may not be familiar with the geography to know that this was not likely to be a state government address.

As you can see from the “bill” in the envelope, the New Jersey Business Filing Service’s designer did a good job of making the solicitation look like a bill from the government.

“Certificate of Good Standing.” First, in the top right, there is a reference to a “Certificate of Good Standing.” This is a legitimate type of document you can order from the state government. It’s not generally a necessary document, though it’s possible that you would have some business partners who might ask for it. It is, however, absolutely free to search the state’s business directory and determine the status of a corporation’s standing.

“Important! Follow instructions exactly when completing this form.” This notice under the address gets the readers attention, and directs him or her to read the instructions in fine print in the middle of the page. This equates the form with the government, because of the heightened importance of completing government forms accurately and honestly. Citizens generally understand there could be penalties for making mistakes on official forms; and this gives the reader the idea that the same might be true here.

Business identification number. This “bill” contains my business’s identification (ID) number in several places. The business ID number is assigned by the state government, so this easily puts the idea in the reader’s head that this is an official government bill. After all, how else would someone know your business’s identification number? It’s actually simple — the numbers are public, and anyone can find the identification number for any registered business in the state. Its presence on the form gives the impression of government authenticity. In any solicitation for a service, there would be no need to include a business’s own state identification number.

Dates in boxes. This is a standard feature on all invoices. Invoices are issued for services purchased or rendered, and are usually issued once an agreement has been made to purchase a product or service. By including two dates in boxes, with one being a larger date similar to a due date, this gives the impression that this is an invoice for an all ready agreed-upon transaction. “Don’t you remember making this agreement? Here’s what you owe.”

Bar codes. I covered up the two bar codes in this solicitation, one in the middle of the page and one on the remittance voucher, because I my bar code reader couldn’t decipher the message. It could simply be a pattern designed to look like a real bar code, or it could be an encoding of personal information. Either way, it has the same effect: it adds an impression of legitimacy to the mailing.

Remittance voucher and self-addressed return envelope. The lower portion of this solicitation is a remittance voucher. This is a common feature of bills sent through the mail. It signifies to the reader that he or she already owes the amount listed as the price of the product or service, and someone is waiting for that payment.

“The Certificate of Good Standing bears the official seal of the New Jersey State Treasurer.” This statement is the last, and probably most often read, sentence of the solicitation’s text. Combine that with the first sentence: “Congratulations on registering your business with the State of New Jersey.” These two statements together sound as official as any communication actually from the State of New Jersey would sound.

Form numbers. In small print at the bottom of the solicitation are some letter and number combinations that look suspicious. The government tends to include form numbers and revisions on their official applications and forms. For example, Form 1040-NJ is the form number used for one of the many forms available for filing state income tax returns. This is form “DR-392.” There is no need for this to be on a solicitation. It’s simply there to make the letter look official.

The same is true for the text that says “R.01/14.” This could mean this letter was last revised in January 2014. And perhaps that is true. But there’s no need to include that on a solicitation. There are reasons for state or federal governments to include revision numbers on forms and applications.

Despite all the above attempts to fool readers into thinking this is an official government notice, there is, however, one sentence on this solicitation that could help readers understand not only that this is not coming from an official government source, but it also not a necessary service. The solicitation includes the following text:

This product or service has not been approved or endorsed by the government, and this offer is not being made by an agency of the federal or New Jersey government.

Enough said. Or is it? I believe that most people will ignore this warning as they quickly complete this order form, as they are accustomed to doing for official state business, particularly when it comes to state taxes.

A short form standing certificate from the State of New Jersey is $50 for LLC and LLP organizations or $25 for other corporations, and you can order one for any company registered in the state. What this company, the “New Jersey Business Filing Services” company, is doing, is taking $74.98 from customers, ordering a $50 or $25 short form standing certificate, and passing it along to the customer. That’s a 50% or 200% mark-up, or not a bad business idea. The company is also offering a “package containing agreement templates for your business,” so they are potentially adding some value. That may be worth the additional $24.98, but certainly not $49.98. In fact, you can easily find free agreement templates online. What this company provides likely won’t be any better than what’s available online, and definitely wouldn’t be better than what your business attorney might write up for your business specifically.

When I received this envelope in the mail, I opened it right away. I’m eager to comply with any type of requirement by the state so I can continue doing business. I knew right away this was not a communication from the state, and I knew I had better options for what this solicitation was offering. I saw right away that this wasn’t a real invoice or a bill despite the company’s attempts to emulate one.

So is New Jersey Business Filing Services a scam? Well, it’s certainly misleading. There’s a disclaimer that should prevent people from calling it an outright scam, but I’d say it’s borderline. It’s a for-profit business, and the owners are just trying to use whatever tools are available and legal to earn a profit.

But business owners should be on the look-out for solicitations like these.

March update: I received a second notice asking for more money!

A month later, I received the same notice. They are truly trying to get me to spend money completely unnecessarily. I hope other business owners aren’t duped into paying “New Jersey Business Filing Services.”

This second notice has a new response date — March 14. The bottom of the form notes “R.01/15,” which I assume represented a more recently updated version of the form. But instead of asking for $74.98, these vultures are asking for $98.99! The same document costs a lot less money if you order it right from the State of New Jersey.

I wonder whether I’ll receive another notice after this new “deadline” passes, asking for even more money.

Please business owners, don’t fall for this.

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Hard Work and Practice Can’t Guarantee Success

by Luke Landes
Children Playing Chess

I’ve written extensively about taking control of one’s own finances. My life changed for me when I realized I had more control over my personal situation than I previously believed. Every human has the power to make every decision based on a future benefit. One can choose to use a pay raise to pay off […]

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Tipping Housekeepers: Whose Responsibility Is It to Pay Hotel Staff?

by Luke Landes
Hotel Room

The prevalence of tipping is simply a fact of society. On several occasions, a friend of mine bemoaned the perceived necessity of tipping a specified amount to restaurant servers while dining out. He would ask the rest of our friends eating together at a restaurant, “When did the expected base tip go from 15 percent […]

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Beware the Inspirational Story or Your Wallet Will Suffer

by Luke Landes
Story

Storytelling is powerful, and is the smart marketer’s tool for separating consumers with their money. Watch out for inspirational stories.

3 comments Read the full article →

How Does a Company Care About Its Employees?

by Luke Landes
Building

I’m in the middle, well probably the beginning, of a long-term organization project. I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years, particularly since moving into a larger apartment seven years ago. If I want to live a more mobile life, I need to downsize somewhat. In this process, I came across a plaque I […]

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Microsoft to Lay Off 18,000 Employees: How an Acquisition Affects Your Job

by Luke Landes
Microsoft

Over the next year, Microsoft’s executive management plans to lay off 18,000 employees, including factory workers and those in professional positions. Redundancy. As Microsoft acquired new companies, at least according to the news reports that tend to take a company’s press release and spokesperson responses at face value, they have the potential to take advantage […]

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If You Don’t Like Your Job, Get Another One

by Luke Landes
Fluffy Clouds

This “duh” advice is handed out frequently, but it may not be applicable to everyone who hears it.

5 comments Read the full article →
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