On Administrative Professionals Day, a look back at the 'secretary shortage' of 1957 and 'rebel secretaries' of the 1970s
When offices around the United States celebrate Administrative Professionals Day on Wednesday, they’ll be following the lead of more than six decades of businesses. According to the International Association of Administrative Professionals — formerly the National Secretaries Association — the day started as a 1952 celebration of National Secretaries Week; as of 2000, that celebration has been dubbed Administrative Professionals Week.
And in the ’50s, when the first such celebration took place, there was good reason for the American businessman (he was nearly always a man) to want to thank his secretary (nearly always a woman).
As TIME reported in a 1957 article about “The Secretary Shortage: They’re Either Too Pretty or Too Old,” the record number of women entering the workplace during that decade was not translating to a surplus of stenographers. The young, unmarried cohort that had traditionally served as secretaries was particularly small, due to the Depression-era birth-rate decline, and booming post-war business meant that demand was up. In addition, the opening up of a wide range of jobs to female workers meant that the women who were available for jobs were less likely to choose repetitive secretarial work. (Not that being a secretary was always boring: in a 1954 paean to the magazine’s administrative workers, TIME’s publisher praised bureau secretaries for being able to speak multiple languages, take dictation on two separate stories at once by using both hands — really! — and organize complicated international shipments for war photographers.)
Businesses tried a variety of tactics to change their minds, according to TIME:
Across the country businessmen beg for secretaries with bristling columns of help-wanted ads, promising prestige (“Your Own Office!”), or glamour (“Handle TV Stars!”), or romance (“Young Execs!”). Many big companies, whose long-set salary and seniority schedules make them less attractive than higher-paying small companies, try to make up the difference with a long string of fringe benefits. After a survey of several score firms in the New York area, the Commerce and Industry Association of New York reported that 78.1% offer profit-sharing plans, 52.7% pay full costs for employees’ health and accident insurance. But only the most exquisite melding of money, kindness and men leaves a girl impressed. “Fringe benefits are such old hat,” says one employment agent, “that the girls just want to know how many they’re getting—not if there are any.”
At the time, the magazine guessed at the maturation of the Baby Boom generation would mean that, given another decade, supply and demand would sort themselves out.
And yes, by the late ’60s there were more 20-something working women than there had been a decade earlier — but that wasn’t all that had changed. In fact, TIME articles about secretaries of the 1970s are also about the work shortage, despite what was at the time a high unemployment rate. Attitudes toward secretarial work hadn’t caught up with the rise of Women’s Liberation: Secretaries were thought to get little credit for their work and few opportunities to advance. Those young, educated women who had once been lured in with the promise of “Young Execs!” were giving it a pass.
As TIME reported in 1972, under the headline “Rebel Secretaries,” things were changing:
Last week, responding to complaints from employees, the U.S. State Department ordered its executives to stop treating secretaries as “char help,” to show a little more diplomacy toward them and to encourage independent secretarial decision making. Officials warned especially against the “reliable-old-shoe syndrome,” in which secretaries are assumed to be content with the same duties throughout their career while almost everyone else moves up.
…This week a group of New York City secretaries, backed by members of the National Organization of Women, plans to picket the headquarters of Olivetti Corp., which is running ads that infuriate feminists. The ads promote “brainy” typewriters that are supposed to eliminate some typing errors made by dippy-looking secretaries, who presumably lack the brains to avoid them in the first place. In the TV commercial, the secretary is shown as a vacuous sex kitten who finds that she can attract men by becoming “an Olivetti girl.”
More and more secretaries, like airline stewardesses, are rebelling against being viewed as objects of vicarious sexual pleasure (or being called “dear” and “honey” by men in the office). Linda Lervold, a secretary at a Manhattan ad agency, complains about an office “hotpants party” at which women employees were invited to “show their wares.” A N.O.W. member, Miss Lervold attended wearing distinctly unsexy culottes and gave the host, a vice president, a pair of men’s hot pants. “I don’t think anybody at the party got the point,” she laments.
But, one way or another, the message got through. At the time, the National Secretaries Association counted that half of its members had aspirations of using their jobs to work toward management positions; accordingly, training courses were moving beyond shorthand to include topics like accounting.
And, as computers became a regular presence at the average office, the typing and filing that had once filled a secretary’s days diminished, leaving room for much more and varied work — a change that eventually created the administrative professional role we’re familiar with today.
Read the 1972 report, from a special issue about the American woman, here in the TIME Vault: Rebel Secretaries
An Oberlin College student's Facebook post about the reason she believes a tech company cut her from its job applicant pool has ignited a firestorm of comment about proper interview attire and etiquette. Here's what you can learn from the incident.
An Oberlin College senior named Elizabeth Bentivegna recently vented in a Facebook post about being rejected for a programming job at a Cleveland software company. Specifically, she was outraged by what she feels is sexism in the tech industry, and her post has sparked fierce debate online about whether there are different standards for men and women and just what is appropriate conduct during and after a job interview.
As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Bentivegna said that a recruiter contacted her for the position, and after she interviewed with the tech company, passed along the feedback that she didn’t appear “put-together.”
“She said they’d love to hire me based on my technical ability and my personality, but were not going to because A: I looked like I was about to go clubbing and not be on an interview, B: I had a huge run in my tights and C: I was late. And I told them I was going to be late,” Bentivegna told the Plain Dealer.
The company said in prepared statement that Bentivegna was passed over for the job because they had more qualified applicants, not because of her appearance.
Regardless of gender—or your opinion on Bentivegna’s choice of interview outfit—there are a couple things every young person entering the job market can learn from this incident, says New York career coach Roy Cohen. Here are some takeaways.
1. Plan Your Outfit Carefully
Rather than going with your gut or an outfit that has worked for previous summer job interviews, research what type of interview attire is considered standard for the industry you’re looking to break into. Even if you know your industry or this company is more jeans and T-shirt than suit and tie, err on the conservative side with your fashion picks.
If you are working with a recruiter, ask for her advice. “Say: ‘I’m excited for the chance to interview and want to make the best possible impression, do you have any recommendations on interview attire?'” Cohen suggests. Alternatively, you can always seek guidance from your college’s career services center on how to prepare. You can even wear the outfit you’ve got in mind to your meeting with career services as a way of vetting it beforehand.
(For more tips on how to avoid making work-wear mistakes, see our summertime office ensemble guide.)
2. Be On Time
Just because a recruiter or company suggests an interview time does not mean you are beholden to it. If other engagements, say class or another job, conflict or overlap with the time they’ve slotted, simply explain why that time will not work and suggest an alternate time during typical business hours, Cohen recommends. Don’t hurt your prospects unnecessarily by scheduling the interview too closely to other engagements either. Give yourself space to deal with a traffic jam or whatever else life may throw at you.
3. Stay Off Social Media
It’s OK to post in celebration of landing a new gig. But ranting about a rejection or unfairness could lead you to make a career-destroying blunder as these social media users did.
If an interview experience goes poorly or you receive criticism from an employer or recruiter, keep your venting offline. Tell it to a friend. Write it in a journal. “No matter how the interview goes, if you post about an organization, you need to keep it positive. If you have nothing nice to say, it’s better to say nothing at all,” says Cohen. “Venting in that kind of public way could easily tarnish your reputation and raises issues concerning your temper, judgment, and loyalty in the eyes of future employers who fear a similar treatment.”
If you’ve already posted such a rant, purge it from your history. Hiring managers and the Internet have a way of uncovering your entire online identity, even those stupid offhand comments you may have made six years ago. If you don’t remember whether your web history includes such a venting session or something more offensive, a new app called Clear promises to search your social media accounts and flag anything questionable, then delete it.
4. Bounce Back from Rejection
“Feedback is always valuable. We can use it to become smarter interviewers and gain insight into how we are being perceived,” says Cohen. “We can’t personalize every rejection, it would distort our own value. After all, companies have to reject someone.”
But if you do feel the company misjudged you, maybe because of an outfit or a timing issue beyond your control, respond by sending the appropriate person at the company a thoughtful note expressing your disappointment at not being selected. Don’t challenge them on the reasons they or the recruiter might have given for the decision. Instead, outline the value you can add to the company once more and request another interview opportunity. You can also always ask to be kept in mind for any future openings.
Read Next: 5 Ways Women in Tech Can Beat the Odds
By Donna Rosato in Money
By Kate Hakala in Mic
By Erin Quinn and Chris Young at the Center for Public Integrity
By the editorial board of the Christian Science Monitor
By Jim Burress at National Public Radio
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email email@example.com.
A new report dashes stereotypes about older workers and their ability to find rewarding jobs.
Some upbeat news for older workers looking for a fresh start: It may be easier than you think to launch a second act—if you make the right moves.
Most older workers who seek career changes are successful, especially if they use skills from their previous careers, according to a new report out Thursday from the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a nonprofit organization dedicated to economic literacy. In the survey of 2,000 people, a career change was defined as a change in jobs that involves a new role with either the same or a different employer, in either the same or a different field.
According to the report, 82% of people 47 and older who tried to transition to new careers in the last two years were successful. Nearly 70% of successful changers saw their pay either stay the same (18%) or increase (50%), while 31% took a pay cut. As for job satisfaction, 87% of successful changers said they were happy with their change, and 65% felt less stress at work.
The findings fly in the face of stereotypes about older workers and their ability to find new jobs. It’s true that when older workers lose their jobs, it takes longer to find one. But many older people are in fact fully employed. The unemployment rate for workers 55 and older is less than 3.7%, compared with 5.5% for the national average.
And the number of older people working is growing: The percentage of people 55 and older in the labor force is more than 40%, up from 29% in 1993, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, the report is encouraging because an increasing number of older workers say they want to or need to work past traditional retirement age, but they don’t want to continue to do the same thing. Many are looking for a change and a new challenge, as well as less stress.
“Our research shows that older workers are finding rewarding careers, not just new jobs, later in life,” says Stephen Adams, AIER president.
The findings back up another recent survey by the AARP Public Policy Institute that was positive about older workers’ ability to make a career change, even those who had been unemployed for a while. The survey focused on workers 45 to 70 who had been jobless at some point in the last five years. Almost two-thirds of reemployed older workers found jobs in an entirely new occupation.
Of course, some of the unemployed didn’t choose to switch occupations; they were forced to do so by layoffs or changes in their industry. But for others, the change was a decision to do work that was more personally rewarding and interesting, or just less demanding with fewer hours.
It makes sense that pursuing a new career is a viable option for older workers, says Adams. “Older workers tend to have more experience and stronger networks, which they can leverage to make that transition.”
The AIER research found distinct patterns among those career changers who were successful compared with those who tried but didn’t make the leap into a new field or occupation. In some cases, workers remained at the same company but in a new role. For others, they changed where they worked, their occupation. and/or their field. Here are some lessons from the successful career changers.
Identify and capitalize on your transferable skills. The people who were successful assessed their skills and figured out how their job experience could apply to a new occupation. In some cases, changers took courses or additional training to hone those skills or develop new ones. But additional education wasn’t necessarily a hallmark of successful career changers. Many people become trainers in their field, consultants to their old firms, or teachers in their field of expertise. Others used their knowledge to launch a business. In one case, a medical school administrator left academia after 22 years and started his own business of freestanding clinics. In another, a truck mechanic who already had much of the required licensing started his own hauling business after taking seminars on relevant regulations.
Be realistic. People who weren’t successful tended to be those who wanted to leap into an entirely different line of work. It sounds great to open a restaurant or buy a vineyard, but it’s much harder to pull off. It’s a bigger risk financially, and your network of contacts will be less relevant. “The notion of ‘follow your dream’ is a wonderful sentiment, but you have to have a clear-eyed vision of what you bring to the table for your employer or a new venture,” says Adams.
It’s not good to be a lifer. Successful job seekers spent fewer years at the same employer and worked in a variety of roles for different companies over their lifetime. The longer you’ve been working, the more likely it is you’ve held several jobs, so the job-changing experience isn’t so new. But if you’ve been stuck in one job a long time, it’s going to be harder to make a transition.
Enlist family and friends. The most successful career changers said family support was important. That means having encouragement from friends and relatives, and a willingness for family to change their lifestyle to accommodate a different career. Successful career changers also asked for feedback from colleagues, friends, and family members about their aspirations. “People who were successful had encouragement and honest feedback from people who knew them well,” Adams says.
Q: I was recently being interviewed for a job, and it seemed to be going well. But then the interviewer asked if I was planning to have children. Is she allowed to do that?
A: If the question made you uncomfortable, there’s a good reason. It’s illegal to ask—and the person interviewing you may not even know it.
One in five hiring managers say they have asked a question in a job interview only to find out later that it was a violation of federal labor laws to ask it, according to a CareerBuilder survey.
In the same survey, one third of employers who were given a list of banned questions also said they didn’t know the queries were illegal.
Things that are out of bounds for companies to ask about include your age, race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, disability, plans for children, debt, and whether you are pregnant, drink, or smoke.
While it’s unlikely that an interviewer will bluntly ask your age or religion (though that does happen), a lot of interviewers veer into dangerous territory just by making small talk, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer at CareerBuilder. “Casual conversation is part of the interview process. When you’re chit-chatting, sometimes the conversation turns more personal.” In other cases, hiring managers want to make sure people are a good cultural fit, so they try to tap into other parts of a candidate’s life, Haefner says.
Sometimes it’s just how the question is framed that makes it illegal. For example, you can ask if a job candidate has been convicted of a crime, but not if he or she has an arrest record. You can’t ask a person’s citizenship or national origin, but it’s OK to ask if the person is legally eligible to work in the U.S.
Some hiring managers may be in the dark because they’ve never gotten formal training or don’t interview people often. But not everyone is just clueless. Anti-discrimination labor laws exist for a reason, says Haefner. “You shouldn’t be asked about information that’s not directly relevant to whether you can perform a job,” she says.
Understanding what’s allowed and what’s not is in a company’s best interest too. A job candidate who isn’t offered a position may say certain questions were used to discriminate against her and file a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or hire a lawyer. Though discrimination may be hard to prove, the company could face legal action and financial penalties.
If you’re the person doing the interviewing, check in with your HR department about training, and prepare your questions in advance so you are less likely to stray into illegal territory.
When you’re on the other side of the interview table, it’s a little trickier.
Whether you should answer a personal question is your choice, but if the question seems inappropriate, Haefner suggests responding with a question of your own. “Say, as diplomatically as possible, ‘I just want to clarify how that is relevant to the job.’”
If the questioner doesn’t take the hint, then it may not be a company you want to work for anyway.
50 Cent offers some career advice for young artists who want to break into the music industry. It's not what you'd expect.
Females in financial services suffer some of the biggest pay gaps—but farmers don't have it great either.
On this Equal Pay Day, let’s take a moment to acknowledge where the greatest strides have yet to be made.
While gals make 78¢ to the dollar that guys do on average, the differential in some professions is much greater. Female securities and financial services sales agents, for example, are the most underpaid professionals compared with their male peers, getting a mere 55¢ per $1 of their counterparts’ compensation.
The Census bureau tracks earnings by gender for more than 500 occupational categories; the table below shows 25 fields where, based on 2013 data, the difference in what she makes and what he makes is the biggest.
Nearly half the jobs on this list are in financial fields. It’s also worth noting that 17 out of 25 are majority male in makeup, compared with half of the fields where the pay gap for women is the smallest.
Need a pick-me-up after this list? Check out The 25 Careers with the Smallest Wage Gaps for Women. And read up on how to reduce the pay gap for yourself, no matter where your own field falls.
|Occupational Category||% Women in Field||Median Earnings, Men||Median Earnings, Women||% Women’s Earnings to Men’s||% Margin of Error|
|1. Securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents||30%||$93,795||$51,284||54.7||5.7|
|2. Financial specialists, all other||55%||$81,859||$48,869||59.7||7.5|
|3. Morticians, undertakers, and funeral dirs.||20%||$51,129||$31,023||60.7||10.5|
|4. Farmers, ranchers,agricultural mgrs.||11%||$41,691||$25,310||60.7||5.0|
|5. Personal financial advisors||31%||$98,126||$60,359||61.5||5.5|
|6. Financial clerks, all other||61%||$67,732||$42,122||62.2||5.8|
|7. Financial analysts||32%||$100,081||$63,424||63.4||7.9|
|8. Financial managers||54%||$90,278||$57,406||63.6||2.0|
|9. Supervisors housekeeping/janitorial||33%||$41,180||$26,860||65.2||2.4|
|10. Production, planning, and expediting clerks||57%||$56,437||$37,246||66.0||1.6|
|11. Credit counselors and loan officers||54%||$69,726||$46,394||66.5||4.2|
|12. Insurance sales agents||45%||$61,639||$41,250||66.9||1.4|
|13. Photographic process and processing machine workers||45%||$31,888||$21,348||66.9||14.0|
|14. Jewelers and precious stone and metal workers||30%||$36,494||$24,657||67.6||17.5|
|15. Driver/sales workers and truck drivers||4%||$40,865||$27,657||67.7||3.8|
|17. Tax preparers||52%||$70,641||$47,997||67.9||7.1|
|18. Artists and related workers||36%||$54,669||$37,261||68.2||9.0|
|20. Welders, solderers, and brazers||5%||$39,281||$26,893||68.5||3.6|
|21. Tax examiners, collectors, and agents||65%||$66,754||$45,704||68.5||9.5|
|23. Credit authorizers, checkers, and clerks||73%||$50,853||$35,037||68.9||10.9|
|24. Physicians and surgeons||33%||$202,533||$140,036||69.1||4.0|
|25. Cutting workers||20%||$31,113||$21,516||69.2||3.5|
More from Money.com on equal pay:
Plus, 9 fields where women actually earn more
Tuesday is Equal Pay Day, intended to raise awareness of the fact that women still earn less than their male counterparts. That’s 22¢ to the dollar less on average, in case you haven’t been paying attention.
This date was not chosen randomly: Equal Pay Day is purposely held in April to illustrate the fact that it takes four months into the year for the average woman to catch up to the average man’s earnings from the last year. And it’s on a Tuesday to show how long into the week it takes to match a man’s previous-week earnings.
Of course, in some fields, getting up to par is quicker than others.
The Census bureau tracks earnings by gender for more than 500 occupational categories; the table below shows 25 fields where, based on 2013 data, the difference in what she makes and what he makes is the smallest. (You can find out what each of these fields entails by typing in the category listed at O*Net Online, and find your own field’s pay differential via this Census table.)
As you’ll see, there are nine fields where the average woman actually outearns her male counterpart, though the margins of error on these are high enough as to possibly undo the findings. Also worth noting: Half of the professions in the top 25 are made up of a majority of women, vs. only six of the bottom 25.
Some have argued that if women simply went into higher paying fields they could eliminate a wage discrepancy, but the data argue against that. After all, physicians and surgeons—who take home very healthy paychecks—suffer among the greatest pay discrepancies, with women in these fields making 69% of what men do.
Instead, Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, author of Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women, attributes a higher salary differential to the fact that some fields disproportionately incentivize people to work long hours and certain hours. That punishes women who take time out from their careers and require some flexibility in their work lives to raise children.
In aggregate, earnings between men and women are not that different until women enter child-bearing years, Goldin says. “But in some occupations, there isn’t a large penalty for time out of the workforce or shorter hours,” she notes.
What often separates those fields, she says, is that another person with a similar title can take over to serve as a perfect substitute. It’s easier for a woman to leave at 5 p.m. to pick up her kids if information systems or a standardization of product makes handing off her duties costless.
Goldin gives the example of a pharmacist (a profession in which women earn a high 93% of what men do). In that role, a computer system provides access to standard data about the customer, so that the customer needn’t always see the same person.
Okay, good to know, but if your field doesn’t allow this flexibility you likely won’t be able to make changes overnight. Nor are you probably interested in changing industries now just to gain the greater equality offered by the jobs below.
And Goldin suggests that you might work toward getting the men in your company to work less. The less willing they are to put in long hours without phenomenally more money, she notes, the more likely companies will be to put in place systems that allow workers to be more interchangeable.
“Ironically, rather than women leaning in,” she says, “it’s about getting men to start leaning out.”
|Occupational Category||% Women in Field||Median Earnings, Men||Median Earnings, Women||% Women’s Earnings to Men’s||% Margin of Error|
|1. Media producers and directors||37%||$62,368||$66,226||106.2||10.3|
|2. Cleaners of vehicles and equip.||14%||$23,605||$24,793||105.0||9.6|
|3. Wholesale and retail buyers||49%||$41,619||$42,990||103.3||5.9|
|4. Transportation security screeners||36%||$40,732||$41,751||102.5||4.4|
|5. Social and human service assistants||79%||$34,967||$35,766||102.3||11.6|
|6. Special education teachers||85%||$46,932||$47,378||101.0||3.5|
|7. Transportation, storage, and distrib. mgrs.||18%||$52,017||$52,259||100.5||5.5|
|10. Industrial truck/tractor operators||7%||$31,002||$30,981||99.9||2.9|
|11. Massage therapists||76%||$29,272||$29,240||99.9||11.1|
|12. Counter and rental clerks||47%||$27,449||$27,194||99.1||19.6|
|13. Biological scientists||48%||$57,653||$57,107||99.1||9.8|
|15. Musicians, singers, and related||20%||$42,988||$42,279||98.4||13.7|
|16. Misc. personal appearance workers||79%||$22,047||$21,632||98.1||4.0|
|17. Meeting and event planners||81%||$47,876||$46,973||98.1||12.7|
|18. Security/surveillance guards||22%||$30,546||$29,883||97.8||4.1|
|19. Computer network architects||8%||$96,549||$94,445||97.8||5.7|
|20. Social workers||80%||$42,821||$41,795||97.6||3.9|
|21. Computer occupations, all other||23%||$66,971||$65,329||97.5||5.0|
|22. Nonfarm animal caretakers||69%||$25,025||$24,401||97.5||9.4|
|23. Dietitians and nutritionists||88%||$49,001||$47,717||97.4||7.7|
|24. Postal service clerks||50%||$54,166||$52,574||97.1||1.5|
|25. Hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks||65%||$21,995||$21,329||97.0||4.8|
More from Money.com on equal pay:
You shouldn't always wait until you retire to pull money from your retirement account.
The Roth IRA is a great tool for retirement savings. But here’s something not as well-known: It’s great for developing your career as well.
Many of my young clients in their 20s and 30s struggle to balance current spending, saving for the next 10 years, and stowing away money for retirement. With so many life changes to deal with (weddings, home purchases, children, new jobs), their financial environment is anything but stable. And their retirement will look completely different than it does for today’s retirees.
To my clients, separating themselves from their current cash flow for the next 30 years feels like sentencing their innocent income to a long prison term.
They ask, “Why should we save our hard-earned money for retirement when we have no idea what our financial circumstances will be in 15 years, never mind 30? What if we want to go back to school or pay for additional training to improve our careers? We might also decide to start a business. How can we plan for these potential life changes and still be responsible about our future?”
The answers to those questions are simple. Start investing in a Roth IRA — the earlier you do it, the better.
There is a stigma that says anyone who touches retirement money before retirement is making a mistake, but this is what we call blanket advice: Although it’s safe and may be correct for many people, each situation is different.
The Roth IRA has very unique features that allow it to be used as a flexible tool for specific life stages.
Unlike contributions to a traditional IRA, which are locked up except for certain circumstances, money that you add to a Roth IRA can be removed at any time. Yes, it’s true. The contributions themselves can be taken out of the account and used for anything at all at any time in your life with no penalty. And, like the traditional IRA, you can also take a distribution of the earnings in the account without penalty for certain reasons, one of which is paying for higher education for you or a family member. (Some fine print: You’ll pay a penalty on withdrawing a contribution that was a rollover from a traditional IRA within the past five years. And you’ll have to pay ordinary income taxes on an early Roth IRA withdrawal for higher education.)
Although you shouldn’t pull money from your retirement account for just any reason, sometimes it’s a smart move.
Let’s say you graduate from college and choose a job based on your major. This first job is great and helps you get your feet wet in the professional world. You’re able to gain some valuable real-world experience and support yourself while you enjoy life after school. And this works for a while…until one day, 10 or 15 years into this career, you wake up and begin to question your choices.
You wonder if this career trajectory is truly putting you where you want to be in life. You think about changing careers or starting a business, but you need your income and have no real savings outside of your retirement accounts.
Now, let’s also say that you were tipped off to the magic of a Roth IRA while you were in college and you contributed to the account each year for the past 15 years. You have $75,000 sitting in the account, $66,000 of which are your yearly contributions from 2000 through 2014. It’s for retirement, though, so you can’t touch it, right? Well, this may be the perfect time to do so.
I recently spoke to a someone who did just this. Actually, his wife did it, but he was part of the decisionmaking process.
The wife has been working for years as a massage therapist for the husband’s company. Things were going quite well, but she had other ideas for her future. She wanted to go back to school to get her degree as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist. The challenge was that this education was going to cost $30,000, and they did not have that kind of money saved.
So, they brainstormed the various options, one being to tap into his Roth IRA money. They determined that this would be a good investment for their future. Once the wife became a CRNA, her annual earnings would rise an estimated $20,000 — money they could easily use to recoup the Roth IRA withdrawal (though the 2015 Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 for those under 50 years old).
This decision gave them a sense of freedom. The flexibility of the Roth allowed them to choose an unconventional funding option for their future and gave the couple a new level of satisfaction in their lives.
And, that’s what it’s all about. We have one life to live, and it’s our responsibility to make decisions that will help us live happily today, while still maintaining responsibility for tomorrow.
Whether your savings is in a bank account or a retirement account, it’s your money. Although many advisers will tell you otherwise, you need to make decisions based on what is best for you at various stages of your life. The one-size-fits-all rule just doesn’t work when it come to financial planning. There is no need to rule out a possible solution because society says it’s a mistake.
Eric Roberge, CFP, is the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, where he works virtually with professionals in their 20s and 30s, helping them use money as a tool to live a life they love. Through personalized coaching, Eric helps clients organize their finances, set goals, and invest for the future.