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

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After growing her salary from $100,000 to $500,000 over a five-year period through switching jobs and negotiating, Amy, now 28, wanted the kind of work-life balance that would allow her to spend more time with family. She also hoped for more time to engage in interests outside of work, like real-estate investing, and her leadership role with 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 work 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 them as well as herself.

Amy started her career in 2016 after graduating from UC Berkeley. She felt lucky 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 was offered a promotion and a 3% raise.

She realized that to get more than an incremental adjustment, she would have to do some homework. 

“From now on, no one will be vouching for you unless you know what you’re worth,” she recalled thinking, “and you have to bring up these conversations yourself.”

She advises people to find out when their company gives annual raises, so they know their worth in the marketplace and at the company at least two months before a salary conversation.

And, to know what alternatives exist to their current job, so if someone says no, where else they could go.

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

For Amy, a significant pay bump wouldn’t come until 2018, when an offer came in from a tech company at roughly $200,000. She took it.

In 2020, she landed an offer from another tech company of about double that, plus stock options. The next year, she negotiated her way to $500,000. But toward the end of 2021, she says she quit. Health problems in her family made her want to shift priorities.

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

That spring, she had taken a leap, buying her first rental property. The home 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 toward achieving financial independence and having the option to retire early. 

She and her fiancé had already bought a home together, their primary residence, but this investment provided a chance 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’d joined in 2018 that was less than what she was making, but more than what she had made there previously. She had talked to them about taking on a lower-level role that would have fewer demands, and they were also more flexible about remote work. She accepted. 

Now she has the flexibility to make 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 the 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, Ariz., that she offers through Airbnb. She told MarketWatch she also invested in a commercial retail property syndication, and is actively looking for another short-term rental or multi-family property. Her real-estate assets bring in five figures a year, and she also invests in retirement accounts, stocks outside of those accounts, and cryptocurrency.

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

“Health is everything, freedom is everything, and having the time to do things that are not just work are just as important,” she said.

Brian Quist contributed to this article.

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