How a 28-year-old negotiated her pay to $500,000 — and found work-life balance

After increasing her salary from $100,000 to $500,000 in five years by changing jobs and negotiating, Amy, now 28, wanted the kind of work-life balance that would allow her to spend more time with her family. She also hoped to have more time to pursue interests outside of work, such as investing in real estate, and her leadership role in the Asian Investors Network, a Facebook community group.

Amy, who asked that we not use her full name in this story, lives in the Bay Area and is a daughter of Chinese immigrants who hold blue-collar jobs and speak limited English. Her parents raised her in Los Angeles with strong family values, and her goals include creating generational wealth and securing financial freedom for both themselves and herself.

Amy started her career in 2016 after graduating from UC Berkeley. She was lucky enough to land a job in product management at a global software company, but when it came time for her first salary negotiation, her expectations fell short: She said she had been offered a promotion and a 3% raise.

She realized that to get more than a step-by-step adjustment, she would have to do some homework.

“From now on no one will vouch for you unless you know your worth,” she recalled as she thought, “and you have to bring up these conversations yourself.”

She advises people to find out when their company gives annual raises so they know what they are worth in the market and with the company at least two months before a salary interview.

And to know what alternatives there are to their current job, so that if someone says no, where else to go.

“Set expectations with yourself and your manager, so when you come to that meeting, you’ve already set that bar high.”

Amy wouldn’t get a significant pay raise until 2018, when an offer came in from a technology company of about $200,000. She took it.

In 2020, she received an offer from another technology company of about double that, plus stock options. The following year, she negotiated her way to $500,000. But by the end of 2021 she says she will stop. Due to health problems in her family, she wanted to shift priorities.

“Life is so short, you really have to find time to spend with the people you love, and that’s not possible with a W2 job,” she said. “That was really the point that sped everything up for me.”

That spring, she had taken a leap and bought her first rental home. The house was in Memphis and she bought it sight unseen.

She had learned about real estate investing through YouTube and personal finance books, and was intrigued by the FIRE movement, which advocates saving and investing to achieve financial independence and the option of early retirement.

She and her fiancé had already bought a house together, their primary residence, but this investment presented an opportunity to earn rental income and build more equity. She hired a property manager to make it more hands-off.

In 2022, she got a new offer from the tech company she joined in 2018, which was less than what she was making, but more than what she had made there before. She had talked to them about a lower level role that would be less demanding, and they were also more flexible about remote working. She accepted.

Now she has the flexibility to have lunch with her fiancé in the middle of the day, take a walk or play basketball at the local community center, or meet online with the Asian Investors Network or accountability group she shares with her real estate friends.

In 2022, Amy added another investment property to her portfolio, a short-term rental in Scottsdale, Arizona, which she offers through Airbnb. She told MarketWatch that she has also invested in a commercial retail property syndication and is actively looking for another short-term rental or multi-family home. Her real estate net worth brings in five figures a year and she also invests in retirement accounts, stocks outside of those accounts, and cryptocurrency.

So after completing her impressive upward trajectory in terms of compensation, she mastered getting more than just a number, but benefits like a great company culture and better work-life balance.

“Health is everything, freedom is everything, and having time to do things that aren’t just work is just as important,” she said.

Brian Quist contributed to this article.

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